Honda CBR150R: Road Test

The CBR150R is Honda's attempt at populating the 'middleweight-in-India' sportbike segment, which till date had been occupied by a grand total of one bike. But how well does it hold up by itself? Nothing that a quick bout in the saddle can't sort out...


Honda CBR150R front



Anticipation and hype are things that go hand in hand with Honda’s motorcycles in India. I remember when I was buying my Hero Honda Karizma (sic) back in October 2006, everyone from friends to my trusted garage-wala advised me to wait till the end of the year because they believed Honda was to launch the CBR250R around that time. I’m glad I didn’t listen because it took the Japanese motorcycle giant another five years to do so, and I was already on my second bike by  then.


Similarly, when Yamaha launched the YZF-R15 back in 2009, fanboys and enthusiasts kept heralding the arrival of Honda’s armed response in the form of the CBR150R, a bike which was available in the East Asian market for quite a while, but hadn’t really caught the fancy of anybody here in India until Yamaha showed just how good a 150cc supersports machine can be. That being said, Honda did get that specific CBR150R to India, albeit only a couple of dozen of them and only for use on race tracks in its one-make championship.



Honda CBR150R exhaust



Fast forward to the end of 2010 and a little before the new 250cc CBR was revealed, Honda showed off a brand new fuel-injected version of the 150R for the Thai market and much yearning later, we got to see one on Indian shores at the 2012 Auto Expo in Delhi. Okay, so history lesson over and now that the bike is finally here, just what can one expect from this sporty 150? With a design similar to that of the 250 and the CBR moniker in its designation, it goes without saying that it will always be compared to its larger sibling. That being said though, the 150 is an entirely different animal in every possible way.


Next Page: Engine and Design



Honda CBR150R headlight



Ocular delight

Of course, at first glance, obvious visual parallels will be drawn to its larger sibling, the 250, but closer inspection reveals subtler details that really set this machine apart. While I’m not going to get into the tedium of describing how the bike looks, especially when you have Kunal’s fantastic pictures to do that job for you, just bear with me while I touch upon the visual ‘feel’ of the bike. While the 250 with its silver trim bits, the bulbous panels and the massive exhaust has a striking similarity to the VFR1200F, the 150 with its short exhaust can and restrained proportions has the distinct appeal of the CBR600F, Honda’s latest middle-weight ‘for-the-street’ sportbike. And this has a lot to do with the short 1305mm wheelbase of the bike, which gives it a significantly more compact feel. Overall, with a lither and more athletic stance, this smaller Baby ‘Blade looks even sportier than the original Baby ‘Blade.


There are some slight design boo-boos though, and the most blatant of those is the switchgear, which has been pinched straight from the Honda Stunner. So not only does this exude a sense of unpremiumness, it also means that there is no engine kill switch nor is there a pass switch, and in all honestly, at this bike’s price point, it’s rather unforgivable. And all of us here who rode the bike at ZigWheels have a bone to pick with the front number plate, which is mounted on a bracket that’s way too stretched up front. Go over any bump, and the front mudguard comes rushing to meet the number plate, and more often than not, does, with a sound that can only be described as cringe worthy.



Honda CBR150R engine



Under the skin

Peel away the body panels and you’ll realise that this machine is far removed from any other Honda motorcycle available in India today. Where the 250 has a tubular diamond type frame, the 150’s skeleton sports a proper twin-spar set-up much on the lines of the Yamaha R15. What it does for the bike is endow it with fantastic handling characteristics, but more on that later. The real talking point of what lies underneath all the body work is, of course, the engine. Now this isn’t that same air-cooled 150cc mill that has been making rounds on a host of Honda as well as Hero MotoCorp nee Honda motorcycles for donkey’s years now.


Instead we find a brand new liquid-cooled 149.4cc liquid motor with a 4-valve head that features a 63.5mm wide piston with a 47.2mm stroke configuration. With Honda’s Programmed Fuel Injection (PGM-FI) to handle fuel delivery, this engine produces 17.82PS of power (the highest amongst all 150cc bikes available in India), but the short stroke nature of the engine means all this power comes at a stratospheric 10,500rpm. Another downside to this is the relatively low amount of torque (a measly 12.66Nm) which is developed at 8,500rpm.



Next Page:  Everything else that matters



Honda CBR150R riding



A run for your money

With the high, but peaky, horsepower output and the low amount of torque generated, it is a little difficult to predict just how quick the CBR150R will perform when it’s given the beans. But with the help of some hi-tech equipment (read RaceLogic DriftBox) and a low-tech, but extremely competent road tester (read Varad More), acquiring this data was no great shakes. And the figures are quite surprising to say the very least. At maximum attack, the CBR150R gets from zero to 100km/h in 11.87 seconds! That’s over a second quicker than its venerable nemesis, the Yamaha R15 and a hugely impressive figure by itself – not just for a 150cc motorcycle, but for Indian motorcycles in general. There are only a handful of locally manufactured motorcycles which can best that figure. But there is a downside to the performance as well.


The low amount of torque the bike makes, and the high rpm it develops that at, means that bottom-end tractability of the engine is pretty much non-existent. Ride the bike below 8,000rpm, and you’re practically not moving at all. Thankfully though, the short-stroke motor likes to rev with glee when you grab a handful of throttle after swapping for a lower cog. And while the 8,000 to 11,500rpm (where the bike redlines) is a pretty narrow powerband to play in, keep the revs there and this baby CBR really shifts. No doubt there will be many who’d like to crib about the lack of any low-end grunt from the piddly little mill, but I for one like the fact that this bike makes me work for going fast.



Honda CBR150R handlebars


All the other things that matter

Where the CBR150R really stands out, and everyone from office who’s ridden the bike agrees with this, is that this baby Ceeber has possibly one of the best riding postures amongst any of the bikes we currently have in India, or at least amongst the ‘Indian sportbikes’. The seat is wide and comfy, the position of the footpegs is rear-set but not too extreme, the drooping handlebars are not too outstretched nor are they too low, and the recessed tank has a near perfect shape and width to lock one’s knees on either side, but at the same time not feel like one is straddling something ungainly. Even though you’re sitting in a slight race crouch, there is almost no pressure on your back or your wrists. Combined with the brilliant handling dynamics, the CBR150R is fun to ride everywhere – whether on straight highways or twisty mountain roads.


The handling really is something else. Changing directions is a smooth and precise process, and once leaned over, the stability really inspires tonnes of confidence to go faster and faster. In fact, it’s far easier to reach the limit of the standard Zapper Q tyres on this bike, than it is to reach the limit of the chassis, and that too by a huge margin. But this of course can be easily remedied with better replacement rubber. Overall the refinement of the Honda engine, even though it does sound a little gruff, warps all sense of speeds. You could be blasting down at 100+km/h, but you’d swear you’re not a notch over 60. And you’d only realise it when it was time to start braking. And speaking about brakes, the CBR150R has some of the best brakes in the business. Stopping power is good and it can pull up to a stop from 80km/h in just 22.6 metres, but it’s the feedback that will leave you astounded. Every time you squeeze the lever, you know exactly how much stopping force up for grabs and the precision, not the aggression, with which you’ll shed speed is nothing short of stunning.


Next Page: Verdict



Honda CBR150R rear



So, what’s the word?

In one word, brilliant! I mean, yes, there are some slight niggles here and there. The plastics and switch gear quality is not becoming of a bike with this large a price tag. And the price tag? Well, that’s a cool Rs 1.19 lakh ex-showroom Delhi – that’s over ten grand more than the Yamaha R15 V2.0 and a couple of grand more than the extremely desirable KTM 200 Duke. And yes, below the powerband, it moves like a little commuter bike. I guess, the biggest gripe with the CBR150R is that when you get on the bike, it doesn’t feel like something that should cost over a lakh and thirty thousand rupees. But that, by no means, is the complete story and leaving it there would be doing a great injustice to this bike. All you need to do is take it for a ride on winding roads (or even a race track if you have access to one) to realise the point of this bike – a realisation which doesn’t creep in, but in fact hits you like a fully loaded freight train coming the other way.  


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