Getting a middleweight motorcycle right is tough. It needs to appeal to newer riders, yet also offer enough performance to satisfy experienced ones. Well our two wheeling guy Brian Robinson fills us in on how Honda’s CB650R walks that tightrope.  

BRIAN ROBINSON: Well the bad news is, if you're looking for a sweet stripped down middleweight performance machine from Honda, the CB650F is no longer available.  But the good news is it’s been replaced by this even sweeter CB650R.  

And, we all know that R stands for race, which immediately makes this 2020 Honda CB650R that much cooler.  

But the transformation here is much more than just a letter change; the suspension has been upgraded, with an inverted 41mm Showa fork now stabilizing the front end, joining the single rear Showa shock.  

The attached brakes are new as well; floating rotors with 4-piston calipers, ABS is now standard.  

The 17-inch wheels are also new; 120/70 up front, 180/55 in rear.  

The steel frame itself has also been revised, mostly to shave weight; part of an overall 11.6-lbs. weight loss plan the CB650R has gone through.  

There’s a full LCD digital gauge array; info is fairly comprehensive and it remains easy to read even in direct sunlight.  

Now getting to the really good stuff, the inline 649cc liquid-cooled 4-cylinder engine gets a makeover as well.  Both intake and exhaust have been revised, with new cam timing, and an 11.6:1 compression ratio to take advantage of it.  It also revs higher than before, close to 13,000 rpm.  Honda doesn’t release horsepower numbers, but it’s safe to say you’re getting more than 80 at the rear wheel.

There’s a 6-speed transmission naturally, with an assist/slipper clutch to smooth out downshifts.  

Now if you’re the kind of rider that likes to short shift your way through life, you’ll never get a grasp of what this machine is truly capable of; as while this inline-4 feels adequately torquey off the line, it doesn’t really show what’s it’s got until the virtual dial passes 6,000 RPM or so.  Things can get a little buzzy through the bars once you get up there, but you’re having such a blast doing it, backing off never really feels like a necessary option.   

The bike itself feels very lightweight, with a riding position that is sportier than most standards, but stops well short of being pain inducing or limiting ride time.  Suspension adjustments are minimal, but it seemed to soak up all but the harshest pavement imperfections relatively easily.  

The ABS is standard for 2020, and not only eliminates wheel lock-up on hard braking, but includes Honda’s Selectable Torque Control reducing rear-wheel slip. 

As for the all-important looks, there are a multitude of finishes: painted, polished, blackened, burnished bronzed, chromed, you name it; along with a chiseled 4.1-gallon gas tank and an exhaust system that is truly a work of art.  All without the overachieving sci-fi look of many sporty standards in the market today; nothing crazy here, just a well-designed modern-looking motorcycle. All lights are LEDs.  

Switchgear is typical Honda, mirrors are out wide enough to be very useful, and there’s even a little bit of storage space under the 2-piece seat. 

Honda keeps it simple, just one Neo-Sports Café classically-styled CB650R to choose from in Chromosphere red for $9,199.  

For that, you get just about the perfect middleweight motorcycle.  The 2020 Honda CB650R is cool to look at, and fun to ride, with a serious performance punch that should keep you satisfied for a long time.  Middleweight magic; the R has it!