I’ve ridden Honda CBR600’s quite a few times now and I have to say that I think for riding pleasure I enjoy this bike more than the others I’ve tried. After riding the Blackbird recently, which is an exceedingly well balanced bike for its size, the CBR600 felt extremely light. That is the real benefit of the 600’s – small size and excellent manouverability. I really like the riding position which feels like you’re right over the front wheel and is very stable.
The 600 has nowhere near as much low-end power as the Blackbird’s big 1100cc engine and to drop down takes a bit of getting used to. It all becomes a matter of picking the right gear, though. At around 50 to 60mph you really need to change down to 3rd gear to get some good power for overtaking and the bike responds instantly. At this speed in 4th there’s a bit of a lag and if you’re short of road you really don’t want to have to wait for the engine to catch up. The good news is that 3rd gear will then take you past 100 easily, which should be enough to get past most things.
I’m often riding with a pillion passenger, not something that’s possible (realistically) with an R6 or GSXR600, but Honda’s seem to consider versatility much more in their motorbike designs. As a result the bike handles exceptionally well although there is a noticeable reduction in torque (making choosing the right gear even more important) but it’s a perfectly good ride all the same. The exhaust pipe is also low enough to carry some luggage. The only downside of middle-distance travelling is the tank capacity which doesn’t have much past around 120 miles. A small tank is the price to pay for good balance and riding position, I suppose. The front faring is also not really up to long-distance at speed as the wind hits your head fairly hard at around 80mph and can give some serious neck strain after an hour.
If I was going to buy a bike now, the CBR600 would be the one I’d go for. It’s got more than enough power and cornering ability for riding more agressively but is also smooth through the gears and evenly powered enough to make slow speed, bad weather or in-town riding all quite easy. It’s also possible to travel mid-range (a couple of hundred miles) carrying luggage and a passenger (although the high revving can leave your arms tingling after a couple of hours). The Blackbird, with its bigger faring and bigger engine, is much better over longer distance but to be honest I don’t find it quite as much fun. I think possibly I just enjoy having to work the gears a bit more to get speed out and the riding position of the smaller bike really makes it.