Forged camshafts open the valves, but the exhaust valves now close by means of a single spring rather the pair used previously, and this combines with the lighter piston assembly to produce quicker revving characteristics and less stress on components.
Total engine weight for the 954cc mill is now 134 pounds. A new compact generator assembly using rare-earth components is housed in a revised outer cover, and bank angle (read scrape & drag) is increased one degree on the left side. Throttle body size has increased from 40mm to 42mm and new injectors utilized.
Similar electronic voo-doo cooks up a new generation electronic control unit, ECU, with more memory, new mapping and faster processing speeds.
Honda's PGM-FI fuel injection also receives new sensors and injection mapping tilted towards increased response and performance parameters.
Honda's claimed numbers for this powerplant combination are a maximum 154 horsepower at 11,250 rpm and 77.7 foot pounds of torque at 9,500 rpm. Healthy numbers in anyone's book. Of course, California market machines wear the requisite evaporative canister, catalyzer and tweaked mapping and are down a whopping one horsepower. They meet 2004 emissions standards today and deserve a green halo award or similar accolade.
Las Vegas Motor Speedway greeted us with sunny skies, temperatures in the cool forties and seven Michelin Pilot shod 2002 CBR954RR machines. I immediately felt a preference for the black and silver version, very striking in the flesh with the pointy nose and tail.
The new 954 does not feel large, once aboard and is surprisingly thin and wasp waisted in the seating area, allowing for easy shifting of your body from side to side. The controls, the level of fit and finish , all top shelf and you simply know you are on a Honda.
Some patience was needed scrubbing and heating up the tires and this allowed me to settle in to the feel of the 954.
Being over six foot height I'm able to crouch down and position a large portion of my weight over the front half of the bike, and the Honda feels sweet. The front yields effortless turn in capabilities, feels stable and friendly as I drop it into and out of all lean angles. Fork springs are progressive, specified as being from .70 to 1.0 kg and the suspension is plush.
Same weight as the F4i, yes siree, and very chuckable.
As I check lower revs I notice but a slight on-off throttle snatch, nothing problematic and transparent at any real level of speed.
The Honda people...they kept mentioning all their work focused on improving the mid-range of the CBR954RR, and I'm feeling it as I circulate around LVMS.
I have yet to see any horsepower curves for the big Honda but it should prove interesting, on track there isn't a peaky hit to the power, just the booming linear grunt out of the corners and up onto the banking. At this morning pace there are a couple gears good for most corners and I can short shift down the straights without any apparent loss in acceleration.
Turn one, a left hander off the front banking becomes the impromptu brake evaluation point. There is a big transition in the pavement as you come on the infield, all the braking needs to be done early not to bottom of the front end, but there is big time to be made staying on the gas.
Killer brakes, simply awesome. The new caliper and pad combination is sending back incredible feel at the lever and really haul the 954 down from sixth gear. I'm dragging the footpeg feeler here and there but only on the right side, no hard parts make contact.
I start pushing harder, working on my drive exiting corners and find the power delivery of the CBR becoming quite entertaining.
Lap times start dropping and that's when this little gremlin of fork chatter or more likely, brake hop started to occasionally surface. The brakes are fantastic but when I started really honking the binders on, the front end gets down into the harsh zone of the suspension and, in two corners in particular, the CBR would hop the front wheel for a hundred feet or so on the brakes. This did not occur every lap, but seemed to relate to how suddenly I tried to brake.
When my group was not riding I went out to observe others and noticed I was not the only one experiencing the problem. There is likely a relatively easy fix for this, either through rebound adjustments or fork and spring tuning that hot-shoes will undoubtedly perform, but as is, it was unsettling at times.
Kevin Erion shared some comments on the CBR954RR and the Erion Honda race effort which were interesting. He had just returned from testing at California Speedway and was very upbeat. They have increased their testing program far beyond what it has normally been and are expecting great things with rider Mike Hale on board.
Bulls In A China Shop
2002 954RR vs. 2001 GSX-R1000
The one big dragon the CBR954RR needs to slay is Suzuki's GSXR-1000, and it's worth making a few comparisons. I rode the mighty GSX-R1000 for Soup at the press intro last year, and had one in my garage for most of last Summer.
The Honda rolls on a wheelbase that measures .6 inches less than the GSX-R and it indeed feels shorter. The CBR954RR probably has the edge in lightness of steering effort, quickness of turn-in. Why? I'm guessing a lower center of gravity, better mass centralization on the Honda.
The other side of that coin being that the GSX-R feels more stable and very unruffled at all speeds, crucial with a 150 hp machine. And the Suzuki suffers not from any lack of steering prowess. The seating positions have the rider feeling more "in" the CBR954RR and more "on" the GSXR1000, perhaps reflecting the narrow midsection of the Honda.
The new front caliper set-up on the 954 provides fantastic levels of braking performance, to the point that the stock front suspension may need help coping with that power.
Engine comparisons are totally subjective at this point. I doubt that the GSXR-1000 is going to be outgunned by the new 954 by horsepower alone, but the Honda will be close enough to make a go of it. Honda's hi-tech exhaust power valves and airbox servo flappers have done wonders to fatten up the midrange, good power is simply always there. Suzuki's approach uses things like dual throttle valves in its throttle bodies and of course the SRAD ram air system, it's the current bike to beat in horsepower wars, and rightly so.
Aerodynamically, Honda claims to have made great strides in this area on the 954. Top speed numbers are as much about drag as they are about horsepower, no predictions there.
If the CBR954RR it going to try and prevail, its best asset is going lie in overall balance.
- John Ivy
Erion feels the chassis is noticeably better than the 929 version they campaigned last year and says it is exactly what they need to run up front in 2002. They have a new engine program underway that is yielding good results, and implications were made than the inline four cylinder powerplant holds a future in Hondas future Superbike plans. If you could just see Kevin Erion smile.
After the lunch break we get to ride the CBR954RR with Michelin Pilot Race tires mounted and I was looking forward to continuing pushing the 954.
The first session was a disapointment however. As is sometimes the case, the fitiment of race tires changed the 954s handling and it wasn't an improvement.
The tires took some time to get scrubbed and heated up, noticeably longer than the OEM Michelin tires. And the stability of the CBR suffered, especially at high speeds it seem to dance about and was just twitchy and skittish in places were it had been rock stable, my guess is the stiffer carcass construction and sharper profile were the culprits. That, combined with the race tires reluctance to heat up made for a confidence sapping session.
Next time onboard my inner dialogue was to just dismiss my concern with the subtle handling gremlins, I know these tires are sticky and the 954 is superbly balanced and friendly, just get over it and get after it.
And it was again a sweet thing. With the tires up to operating temps there was a new reward, the ability to roll on serious power while cranked way over and feel the CBR954RR calmly hook up and slingshot away into the next timezone. Throttle response was faultless and Honda's tuned-flex chassis and pivotless swingarm design have definitely found their target.
A brief stint aboard an earlier 929 machine instantly confirmed the progress in power delivery and braking prowess achieved with the 954, and the older engine also transmits more vibration to the rider. The CBR954RRs gearbox worked flawlessly, I didn't miss a shift all day.
We did not get the opportunity to ride the 954 on the street or to evaluate behavior in traffic and other such civilian duties, but the balance of the CBR954RR is such that I would expect above average levels of competence in all aspects. It was a great first impression of the 2002 CBR954RR, Honda certainly has stepped up its ante for open class competition. How is fares in head to head competition with its noticeable rivals from Suzuki and Yamaha remains to be seen.
MSRP is $10,599 and expect it at your local Honda dealers by early February.