The official importer-cum-local-distributor of Honda motorcycles in Malaysia, Boon Siew Honda, rarely organises a First Ride event for the motorcycling media. Members of the local media get to test ride any new Honda bike individually, one after another.

With only one unit road-registered for use as a media test ride unit, by the time anyone reads a local review of a Honda motorcycle, it is more or less outdated.

With that in mind, yours truly decided to forgo the usual review format for the 2018 Honda CB650F. There’s a reason for doing so.

Forstarter, it’s no difference than the 2017 version apart from the colour options. Every specs remain the same. Oh yes, there are some upgrades over the 2014 edition namely the front forks, a new exhaust pipe and LED headlights/taillight.

The 2018 Honda CB650F has 90hp, boosted from the 84 ponies of its 2014 predecessor, and a newer exhaust pipe, which Honda claims to give out a more audible note. It does give out a louder exhaust note than the older exhaust but only noticeable when wearing an open face helmet.

With a high quality full face helmet, it would be hardly audible of the new exhaust note other than a faint growl when the 2018 CB650F is being ridden at a faster pace. However, I could hear the new growl note upon harder acceleration from any idle point but it did sound like an echo of another bike coming from behind.

The 2018 Honda CB650F has more or less the same performance as its its sport sibling, the 2018 Honda CBR650F minus the full fairing panels and clip-on handlebars.

Practically everywhere else on the Internet already has reviews of the 2017 edition, so there’s no point in repeating what others have already done. But I am more curious as to how the bike performs in the real world than mere riding it to the nearest cafe for coffee or tea.

This first ride trip took me from Kuala Lumpur all the way to Semenyih and Broga towns via PLUS and Silk Highways, at an average speed of 98km/h. Although there’s no worries of any speed trap camera, riding the 2018 Honda CB650F at this cruising speed is to determine its handling ability and behaviour.

The ride to Semenyih and Broga took  nearly 35 minutes, thanks to the afternoon lunch hour traffic. The time spent may be considered slow but the 2018 Honda CB650F handles beautifully with its super smooth acceleration and rather tall 5th and 6th gears!

The taller top gears enable this naked sports to cruise smoothly during slow traffics without reversing to low gears, including overtaking.

Its 649cc liquid-cooled inline four engine is tuned for low and midrange torque, making the 2018 Honda CB650F surprisingly agile and compact to navigate any rush hour traffic with ease, thanks to its narrower width despite fitted with a touring type handlebars.

Like all Honda bikes, the steering geometry of the 2018 CB650F is generous with a wider ratio, enabling it to turn/change direction with ease, particularly into tight places and making a 1-pointer U-Turn. It also helps to navigate out of a tight gap situation where the traffic had stopped to a standstill during rush hours.

The generous steering geometry allows the CB650F to be more efficient than most kapchai bikes when getting out of a tight situation.

And it is pretty much evident when riding from Broga towards Lenggeng, and the slip road (Route N30) thereafter that connects the latter to Kuala Klawang via Route 86. Previously when reviewing most other bikes, I had to use either 3rd or 4th gear for these routes but with the 2018 Honda CB650F, just 5th/6th gears would suffice.

From Kuala Klawang to Titi Kong, it was another satisfying route to ride as this segment was recently repaved, making it easier to ride and navigating the several S-bends in-between both towns.

After a brief stop for lunch and photo session of the bike against the new pineapple mural (above photo), the real challenge for the 2018 Honda CB650F was the 40km-long and twisty road to Semenyih Dam. That route is a favourite among weekend ride superbikers, some of them who could complete the segment within 18 minutes!

My personal best previously on this route was 20 minutes while reviewing the Ducati Monster 821, shodded with Pirelli Diablo Corsa III. With the CB650F, I managed to repeat the same feat despite it being fitted with lower specs Dunlop Sportmax D222 tyres!

I have a love/hate relationship with the default Sportmax D222 tyre Honda decided to fit the 2018 CB650F with – it’s the same tyre fitted on the CB500F/CBR500R and CBR650F. For the most parts, the default D222 tyre performed very well, as long as the tarmac isn’t damp and the weather doesn’t unleash its forces.

I had experienced the rear tyre’s tendency to slide/drifting sideway when powering the bike out of a wet or damp corner. This happened with most of the bikes fitted with the D222 rubber including the Honda CB500F/CBR500R and Kawasaki’s Versys 650, and not just with the 2018 Honda CB650F alone.

Posted by Philip Chong

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