It may seem strange to compare a CBR 600 (small sports bike), a Deuville (small tourer), VFR 800 (sports tourer) and Blackbird 1100 (sports tourer) as they’re all quite different bikes. From the small and nimble CBR 600 to the big, super-fast Blackbird, and then the Deuville with its low revving, plodding engine. They do all have something in common from my point of view, however, and this must be something that makes Honda motorbikes so popular: you can go away for a weekend and take a pillion on each one. So, what are the differences?
Starting with the obvious: the 1100 is very fast with one or two people on it, the VFR is not quite so fast, and the 600 is still fast with one person and surprisingly good with two up. The Deuville lags a long way behind here; even with its 650cc engine it struggles to get past 100mph. The CBR 600 is the bike that gives you a real feeling of riding a racing bike, with its high revving engine, but the Blackbird is the only bike where you don’t notice the weight of a passenger. Add luggage and the difference in 5th or 6th gear is noticeable on the 600, although it’s still got a very decent pull in lower gears. The three sportier bikes are all quite fast enough even loaded down, although on the 600 you’ll end up having to work the gears a bit harder (a riding style which I personally enjoy). Out of the four bikes, the Deuville is the only one where you won’t be passing traffic with impunity.
All four bikes are actually quite comfortable but over time the differences are magnified. As might be expected, the Deuville is very comfortable both for rider and passenger. A five hour journey in a day isn’t exactly a ride in the park, but it won’t leave you crippled the next day. The Blackbird is pretty much equal and has a good faring which keeps the wind off and neck strain down. The CBR 600 comes in last place with its small faring, slightly more hunched riding position and, most noticeably over a long distance, the high revving engine: my arms were still vibrating for half an hour after a 180 mile journey. Still, it’s quite impressive to be able to do this distance (with a short stop of two) on a small sports bike. I think I would consider 3 hours in the saddle to be the limit of the 600, though, whereas the Deuville can give you another hour or two more; in these cases, boredom is more likely to be an issue than cramp.
Although the VFR 800 is a comfortable bike for the rider, my passenger didn’t find the grab rail (that doesn’t go all the way round the back) to be optimal, resulting in holding on too tightly and getting extra tired. This combined with the slightly more upright riding position make holding on more of a chore than on any of the other bikes, including even the power-pulling Blackbird. The good thing about all the Hondas, from a pillion’s point of view, is that the seat is one piece and just as comfortable as the rider’s.
The biggest issue with the CBR 600 is its range: only around 120 miles in the tank. The Deuville and the VFR go a bit further (around 150) and the Blackbird even further at around 170. (This is all with two passengers and luggage.) The difference may not seem big, but the small (20 odd mile) reserve tank on the CBR means that where the petrol is going to come from is always on your mind; at 100 miles, it’s time to look for somewhere to refuel, whereas on the Blackbird you don’t have to think about it for another 50 miles or so. The VFR provides the most help here with a real fuel gauge rather than just a reserve indicator.
The other thing that makes all these Hondas good all-rounders, despite their speed differences, is the lower exhaust pipes which allow soft luggage to be slung over them. With a tank bag too it’s easy enough to pack away a weekend’s worth of luggage. The Deuville has built-in side-pods which, although not as big as full panniers, are fairly handy for stashing gear once you reach your destination. With a top-box there’s enough space for a full week away. For this, the Deuville wins hands down here. There’s no real difference between the other three bikes as soft panniers can be hooked on without interfering too much with the pillion pegs or the exhaust pipe (something that rules out an R6, R1 or GSXR for me).
I know I’ve done speed once already, but it’s such a good reason for riding a bike. The CBR 600 can still reach 140mp in 5th gear with a pillion, which is pretty impressive, and the VFR and Blackbird more of the same. On a Blackbird you’ll hardly notice the extra weight which is a good feeling.
For me, the 600 wins outright here. I like the riding position and it’s very reactive. Great for darting in and out of traffic (just watch out for the panniers, and your passenger’s knees). The bike also feels light when stationery, but then it is a lot lighter than the other two.
Close behind in handling is the Blackbird. The other three bikes actually all weigh a similar amount but the 1100 feels the lightest. The VFR always felt quite top-heavy to me, and the Deuville sometimes feels like a tank. With both the Blackbird and the VFR I never felt quite as sure of the front wheel as with the 600. The Blackbird is still very solid, however, and even feels light moving through the traffic.
The Deuville, on the other hand, feels like a tank. There’s no escaping it.
For a weekend away: a 150 mile journey to get there and them so riding around country roads. I’d go for a CBR 600. It’s comfortable enough for that distance, you can take some luggage, and then it’s great fun on the open roads.
A week away: a 250 mile journey and then open roads would tip the balance in favour of the Blackbird. Even more so if you’re planning a longer journey with stop-overs. The extra faring and lower revs make the long distance much easier.
Are there any circumstances in which I’d choose the Deuville or the VFR? For me, no. The VFR doesn’t seem distinctive enough and I didn’t enjoy the ride as much, whereas the Deuville just wasn’t exciting enough to ride. The main advantage is the built-in side-pods so you don’t have to carry your gear everywhere, but hard luggage on any of the bikes would fix that. They’re all good bikes in a lot of ways but it’s between the two CBRs for me and down to how far you’ve got to ride and where you like to be on the power/manouverability scale.