The CBR600F and CBR600F-Sport are the last of Honda’s ‘true’ CBR600F models, before the F model was killed off and then reborn as a pale imitation of its former glory. These were two bikes that represented the culmination of the CBR’s years of evolution and development, designed to deal with the humdrum monotony of modern life during the week before coming alive at the weekend and even taking a World Supersport title along the way…
The CBR’s liquid-cooled inline four engine was thoroughly updated in the 1999 evolution of the model where it grew in bore to 67mm from 65mm and shortened in stroke, however this bike still carried carbs and for 2001 the CBR600F gained a fuel injection system. New 38mm throttle bodies replaced the old 36.5mm CV carbs and were a dual-throat design, which basically means they were joined together in pairs, a design that Honda hoped would cure the snatchy issues of their previous injected sportsbikes, the SP-1 and Blade. The CBR not only boasted this new style of injection system, it was linked to an upgraded ECU that was a claimed 130% faster than before and now had throttle, cam position and coolant sensors, giving it more streams of data to process. While this was all very impressive, the most exciting part of the 2001 CBR’s update was the introduction of the Sport model with its altered engine…
Designed to help Honda win the World Supersport title (and also a tester to see if CBR buyers really wanted a more track-orientated model before the RR arrived in 2003) the Sport’s engine featured a few subtle performance upgrades. Within its head Honda fitted dual concentric intake valve springs where the F only had single springs. Producing more force, they closed the valve faster, reducing valve float at high revs and allowing the motor to be tuned for more power in supersport trim. The valve lift was also reduced by 0.3mm to 8.2mm, the valve seats strengthened and the flywheel lightened slightly with an eight-plate clutch fitted (the F has seven plates) and lowered fifth and sixth gear ratios – again, all race-focused upgrades. Although how much performance gain the F-S’s gold painted cases added is questionable…
As with the motor, the CBR’s chassis was evolved in 2001 rather than radically altered. The steering head was strengthened through ribbing just behind the headstock, the swingarm pivot point modified, three-spoke wheels fitted and the wheelbase reduced by 5mm, but the dual-spar aluminium frame is effectively the same design as before and its geometry is identical. However while the F model came with a black frame, the stock F had a silver one as black is faster than silver… Oh, and the F-S lacks the F model’s centre stand because in WSS you have a man with a paddock stand!
Both CBR600F models feature 43mm telescopic forks, which are fully adjustable, however the F-S has aluminium cartridges within its forks, which are unnoticeable to road riders but apparently helped race teams. The CBRs share the same fully-adjustable shock. Interestingly, toward the very end of its life the 2005-2006 CBR600F’s suspension was downgraded by Honda with the forks becoming non-adjustable and the shock only having preload adjustment.
Twin four-piston conventional Nissin brake calipers grip 296mm discs on both CBR models and they also share the same 220mm rear disc with a single-piston caliper. ABS was never an option.
Come on, fuel-injection was a big enough step for Honda in 2001! The CBRs have a fuel gauge and a digital speedo with an analogue rev counter and HISS immobilisor system fitted as standard, but that’s it.
In the late 1990s/early 2000s supersport bikes were very much do-it-all bikes and the CBR reflects this trend. Where the tiny 2003 CBR600RR is torturous to ride for anyone taller than a jockey, the CBR600F is lovely and relaxed with a sporty but not over the top riding position. The clip-ons are set nice and high and the CBR’s narrow tank helps you plug into the bike. You can certainly cover miles on a CBR600F or CBR600F-Sport, as many riders will happily confirm.
This is one area where the two bikes differ. The F model has a single rider/pillion seat where the F-Sport has split seats to give it a racier look. The standard model is the better passenger machine for most pillion’s tastes, especially as it comes with a grab rail as standard where the F-S doesn’t, but some pillions may prefer the Sport’s set-up. In typical Honda fashion, the CBR is actually quite a relaxed pillion machine, despite it being a supersport bike.
In 2001 the supersport world was on the cusp of transforming into a full-on track-based war and as a result there was an interesting blend between the full-on YZF-R6 and GSX-R600 and the more relaxed older ZX-6R and CBR600F. The CBR sat just behind the two track-focused 600s in terms of outright performance, but what it lacked in a few tenths of a second around a track, it more than made up for on the road ride and was always the bike that riders opted to take for the journey home. This middle ground proved a master stroke by Honda as the CBR sold like hotcakes – especially the Sport model which looked more aggressive but didn’t overstep the mark for Honda’s traditionally quite conservative customer.
A used CBR600F or F-Sport makes a brilliant bike for anyone wanting a bit of performance in a day-to-day supersport bike. Pleasingly cheap to buy, run and insure, there is almost nothing the CBR can’t do and its inline four engine has the kind of mid-range that a modern supersport bike would kill for. It’s wonderfully relaxed when needs be and yet has more than enough spirit when the sun comes out and the pace ups. When you compare the CBR600F to the horrible ‘next generation’ 2011 CBR600F, which was basically a Hornet with a fairing, it will happily nail its hat on and while the upgraded CBR650F is probably a bit better handling and faster, it wouldn’t take much to transform the older CBR600F into a bike that could would merrily beat that either. Remember, this is a machine that took the 2002 World Supersport title and has racing DNA flowing through its veins…
The CBR600F has a reputation for reliability and despite its age, buying a hound is actually pretty tricky as long as you watch out for a few gremlins. First on the list is the old cam chain tensioner, which has plagued CBR models from the start. If there is a rattle when the bike starts up, assume it needs a new tensioner and a bill of £150 will be heading your way as changing it is a bit of a fiddle for a mechanic to fit. Occasionally charging issues can mean the reg/rec has gone down, but this is an easy fix, and the OE exhaust can rot from the inside out, but replacements are cheap and plentiful. Be very wary of crashed CBRs, especially ones that won’t start as a spike in the electrical system caused by the cut-out switch can fry the ECU, which is an expensive part to replace. Speaking of electrical issues, watch out for poorly fitted aftermarket parts such as mini indicators or heated grips (loads of CBR are used as commuters) and ensure they don’t foul anything. The good news is that Honda’s
HISS immobilisor system doesn’t require a ‘master’ key to get replacement keys matched to the bike, so one working key is all you need.
With a CBR600F the rule of thumb is that if the bike looks well cared for, it is the consumable items that you need to check – tyres, chain and sprockets, brakes, bearings – as when you start replacing these items the costs very quickly mount up.
The CBR600F-Sport was dropped from Honda’s model range in 2003 when the CBR600RR arrived and took over as the firm’s supersport weapon however the CBR600F ran until 2006 as the more relaxed CBR for those not wishing to break lap records. In the final years of its life (2005-2006), Honda downgraded the F’s suspension for non-adjustable forks and a shock with only spring preload adjustment.
A 2001 CBR600F or CBR600F Sport can be found for as little as £2000 in a private sale, which is a lot of bike for your money and if you up the price to £2500 you can find a beauty. Some dealers try and charge a premium for the Sport, but they are just as common as the F, so don’t pay any extra. A lovely 2002 Sport will set you back under £3000 while a very late CBR600F should be no more than £3700.
Engine: 599cc, liquid-cooled DOHC inline four
Power: 109bhp @ 12,500rpm
Torque: 48ftlb @ 10,000rpm
Weight: 200kg (wet)
Seat height: 810mm
Tank size: 18-litres
Minor: 4000-mile/yearly – expect to pay in the region of £150
Major: 8000-mile/ two-years – expect to pay in the region of £200
Valve clearance: 16,000-miles – expect to pay in the region of £400