Fun, pure and simple

The first time I ever laid eyes on the newest iteration of Honda’s iconic CB650, I must admit I was instantly smitten by it. I was visiting our friends at Cycle World of Athens, when I saw one sitting on it’s kickstand on display out front. The round headlight, short tail section, and upright handlebars just looked right. Then I noticed the bronzed engine covers, valve covers and rims, and those gorgeous 4-into-1 curvy pipes, and I was knocked out by it. This latest version of the CB650R is just beautiful to me. I’ve been itching to get my hands on one ever since.

The older I’m getting, the more I’m enjoying and leaning toward smaller displacement motorcycles. I love bikes at and under 650cc for their affordability, ease to ride, and often their technical and electronic simplicity. After sampling Honda’s CB500X recently, which gave me renewed confidence in mild off-road riding, their CRF300L dual sport, which I confidently spent a weekend riding last year in the annual Scull Shoals ADV Rally,  as well as all the Royal Enfields we’ve ridden in recent years, small bikes just suit this small (5’8”) guy.

The perfect middleweight naked sportbike?

As my friend Phil G recently opined, “That CB650R just fits you, man.” Yes it does.

Honda’s acclaimed CB series is one of the most celebrated motorcycle lines in history. The vaunted 1969 CB750 singularly turned the motorcycling world upside down when it debuted. It sparked a “Superbike war” we wrote about a few years back. Over the decades since, Honda has refined the bikes and expanded the CB line, from small singles to 1000cc fire breathing inline fours, all with great success over the line’s lifespan.

The legendary CB750, from which all future CB models would draw their pedigree.

We enjoyed the high-tech thrills of their CB1000R back two years ago, but honestly, I’ve enjoyed this simpler CB650R even more. No multiple ride modes, no multi-level ABS and traction control settings, no customizable electronics package to learn. It does have ABS (non-switchable) and an on/off traction control, but the ride mode is your wrist and willpower. I like it.

Aesthetically, those 4-into-1 curved pipes are just gorgeous to me. They are an homage to the 1975-77 CB400 machines with their curvy right side pipes that I remember being enthralled with as a kid, and later as a vintage motorbike enthusiast. Very classy touch, Honda. Here’s photos of both. See if you don’t agree-

Some of motorcyclings’ most beautiful pipes, past and present.

I also love how they’ve tuned this 4 cylinder powerplant for high revving power. Winding up through each gear, shifting at or over 8-10K rpm, the rev monster seems to find a second wind, like another gear on its own. The 650 mill absolutely howls, and surges forward with screaming eagerness. With an aftermarket exhaust system or even a slip-on end, I’m certain this CB would roar magnificently.  Note: Yoshimura, Arrow, and SC Project, among others, make fantastic looking and sounding canisters for this bike.

Okay, here’s the customary significant digits we like. The 2023 CB650R runs on the proven 649cc inline DOHC four, with a bore/stroke of 67.0mm x 46.0mm and a compression ratio of 11.6:1. The mill pushes a 6-speed gearbox and puts down 94 horses at 12K rpm, with a max torque of 47 lb/ft at 9,500rpm. Just for comparison, my old restored 1978 Kawasaki KZ650 inline four makes 66 horses at 8500 rpm. They’ve come a long way, baby. This little modern dude is pushing some serious ponies for its weight class.

Out rolling with the boys.

With a very comfortable rider triangle for those us around 5’8”ish, a flat footing 31.9” seat height at the narrow portion of the tank and some 445 lbs wet, I’ve found unbounded fun at an all-day comfort level. My friend and Road Dirt colleague Phil G and I met with some friends recently and rode up into the north Georgia hill country. After riding nearly all day, curve carving at elevation, my back never hurt, my wrists didn’t ache, and I felt no neck strain. The comfort made for more fun and confidence. I’ve often said that if you’re not comfortable on a bike, you won’t ride it well, and could put yourself in danger. The opposite is equally true- when a motorbike fits and suits you, the ride is more enjoyable, and you’ll ride it more confidently.

I’m supremely comfortable and confident on this CB650R.

For anything more than day tripping, joy riding and commuting however, you’ll be hard pressed to find any luggage that would adequately equip the bike for multi-day trips. With that short tail, even a decent sized tail bag is hard to fit and strap. Road tripping would necessitate a rider back pack (REV’IT! has a great selection), a fitted tail bag, and a generous friend with larger saddlebags or panniers for your essentials. So it’s doable! It’s got a sizable fuel tank at just a tick over 4 gallons, meaning the little 650 is capable of 180+ mile stints between fuel stops.

Nothing like September in the South.

Aside from that, there really isn’t much I dislike about this bike. I do wish they offered more color schemes. For this year, you can have any color you want, as long as it’s “Matte Grey Metallic.” If I bought one, I’d ditch the long extender for the license plate for a tail tuck kit, I’d slip on a SC Project end pipe for the best look and sound, I’d affix a short fly screen over that cool round headlight, and I’d love to see Honda bring it back in their awesome blue and red configurations from a couple of years ago. Perfect.

Here’s a cool feature I found early in our time with the CB650R as well. The model doesn’t come equipped with a quickshifter, yet it does have a slipper clutch, which means super smooth clutchless upshifts. Clutchless downshifts are a hair more tricky, with a necessary blip of the throttle to click down without clutch pull. I didn’t master clutchless downshifts, but upshifts with no clutch pull became my modus operandi. Seamless and easy to master.

Fading light of day is no deterrent. Cool early evening temps.

When I rode the CB500X back to Honda HQ north of Atlanta to swap it for this CB650R, Honda rep Jeff W met me with the bike, and after taking me through the features, he quipped, “Rob, you’re going to love this bike. It’s so easy to ride and enjoy. We’re about the same size, and this is definitely one of my favorites in our lineup. I love this model.” I must admit, I knew I’d love it from that first time I saw one, and actually riding it just reinforced my bias. If I didn’t already own my dream bikes (2017 Triumph Bonneville 900 and that 1978 Kawasaki KZ650), I’d be making plans and making room for one of these. Alas, the wifey says the motorcycle garage is full enough. But maybe at some point in the foreseeable future…

This little sibling of the CB1000R isn’t really built for riders over 5’10” in my estimation. But of course, I’ll stand corrected by readers and viewers who are taller and claim they own and love the bike. And that’s cool with me. I just know us shorter-inseamed riders definitely find this bike a perfect fit and a fun ride. What’s not to love?

Hmm, there’s a little bit of sunlight left to chase…

I don’t know what else to convey about Honda’s fantastic CB650R other than if you get a chance to sample one, definitely take the opportunity. But be prepared, as its very reasonable price (about $9400), approachable fit and feel, and pure performance might convince you to drop some quid for one. It’s that great a value. And if you’re shopping in the used bike space, these newer iterations (2019 ff) can be found for around $8K or less.

Maybe I can convince the guys at Honda to let me keep it another month or two, add some of the aforementioned tweaks I’d fit to one, to show what a little customization can give this bike. What do ya say, fellas?!

For more on the Honda CB650R, check them out here-

Honda CB650R


Rob’s Sponsored Gear:

Bell Stockwell Eliminator helmet
REV’IT! Restless leather jacket 
Indie Ridge Powersports gloves 
REV’IT! Davis TF jeans 

Check out our video review here, without ever leaving this page:

Cycle World Athens


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *