Honda's motorcycle division isn't prone to grand gestures or flashy announcements. Instead, it seems mostly content to quietly engineer and produce competent, well-engineered motorcycles for people of all skill levels.
Because of that, it may be a surprise to some of you that Honda's updating a couple of its most popular bikes -- specifically the Rebel and the CBR1000RR, aka the Fireblade -- for the 2021 model year, a move which it announced on Monday.
The Rebel line has been one of the most popular and long-serving nameplates in Honda's history and while it was relegated to the status of "that thing you rode during your MSF course" for decades, the new Rebel 300 and 500 that Honda introduced back in 2017 have gone a long way toward breaking it out of that mold.
The little Rebels are still well-built and un-intimidating motorcycles, but for 2020 they get some simple but highly-effective technical updates that should make them more attractive than ever to new riders.
To start, both the 300 and 500 get a new slipper clutch. This design reduces the force needed at the clutch lever by around 30% and helps to tame the rear wheel under deceleration, which builds confidence. Next, it gets a much-needed stiffer suspension, both front and rear, with the front, in particular, benefiting from a change in fork oil specification, improving the damping.
Also new for 2020 is a revised gauge that offers riders more information including a gear indicator and fuel level -- both things that new riders coming from cars can take for granted but which didn't use to be so prevalent in the two-wheeled world.
Honda didn't mention a price bump for the Rebels in its press release, but we'd expect there to be a modest increase over the $4,499 and $6,199 for the 2019 Rebel 300 and 500, respectively.
CBR1000RR-R Fireblade SP
If there's one thing that we as automotive journalists know to be a universal truth, it's that adding R to a vehicle's model name makes it faster. Honda -- in a decidedly atypical "Hold my beer, watch this" move -- decided to take that ideology to heart. The brand's top-tier sports bike now has no less than four Rs in its name (not even counting the one in Fireblade), but what does that final R portend?
Well, a whole hell of a lot of performance tweaks, as it turns out. Honda's new RR-R borrows heavily from the brand's MotoGP program to eke more efficiency out of the tried and true inline-four Japanese sportbike formula.
To start, the bike gets a brand-new frame. The design promises increased torsional rigidity and vertical rigidity, but reduced horizontal stiffness. If you're not familiar with motorcycles, especially ones at this end of the performance spectrum, having the bike able to move around allows the tires to work a little less hard, improving both grip and feel.
The bike also benefits from a new, longer aluminum swing arm that Honda says is made from 18 different thicknesses of aluminum for optimized weight and rigidity characteristics. Gnarly, right? Just wait, it gets better. The Fireblade's engine is new and more compact than the old unit. It also has trick racing bits like titanium connecting rods and forged aluminum pistons, which help it rev to the moon.
Honda's keeping mum about the power output for its newest technological terror, but we'd safely bet that it's "a lot," considering that the previous generation offered 189 horsepower at 13,000 rpm and this engine has been upgraded.
Things on the electronics side of things are improved as well. The RR-R Fireblade SP gets an update to the already-advanced engine control software with the addition of Honda Selectable Torque Control and an adjustable start mode. The suspension is also electronically adjustable, thanks to Ohlins and the dash is now a full-color TFT display.
Needless to say, this isn't your dad's CB750, and we can't wait to throw a leg over it when it comes out in June of 2020. Pricing has yet to be announced, but we'd peg it somewhere in the mid-to-high teens.