To better understand the F4i you have to go back through the CBR's predecessors
The start of the long lineage of the 600cc CBR's goes back to 1987 when the CBR600F "Hurricane" rolled onto the stage, it was Honda's first inline four-cylinder fully faired motorcycle. Making 85 HP and weighing 439 lbs wet, the 600F was able to do low 11 quarter mile and 0 - 60 just about 3 seconds. Honda sold over 50,000 600cc bikes between the years of 87 to 93.
In 1991 the CBR F2 built on the foundation as a sportbike with Miguel Duhamel won 7 out of 9 races dominating the 600cc AMA championship. Although unlike many narrow focused sports bikes of today the F2 was so well balanced it felt equally at home on the street or on the race track.
When 1995 came around the F3 was facing stiffer competition from bikes like the Kawi ZZ-R600 and Yamaha FZR600, although Honda continued its control over the 600cc class in sales and in race wins.
The final carburated CBR the F4 featured an aluminum frame and with help from Honda Erion Racing Nickey Hayden who went on to win 5 races on his way to the class title.
Which leads us to the CBR F4i, the "i" standing for Fuel-injection added more horsepower, digital speedometer, stiffer frame, and more modern design featuring a dual headlight setup.
The F4i marks the end of the era of comfortable sports bikes that have a sport touring bias, in 2003 the 600RR model was released addressing an ever more focused racetrack edge coming from bikes like the R6, ZX-6R, and GSXR.
The CBR F4i strikes a balance between sports riding, comfort, and practicality. Back in the days before the 600cc class evolved into a knife edge, bred to set the fastest lap around a track, a time existed when street comfort took a front seat to all-out sports riding.
Did Honda unwittingly build the best 600cc motorcycle ever? Let's take a closer look...
Up front, the Duel headlights do a decent job of lighting the road, but with the high beam having its own housing leaving the lighting lopsided, I've more than once have been approached about having a headlight out. The front suspension is handled by traditional front forks with compression and dampening adjustment. Which are more than adequate for spirited street riding, with only spring feeling soft on hard braking. My main recommendation is to change the fork oil if it hasn't been in awhile, to bring the front end back up to snuff. The rear suspension is also adjustable and provides a stiff enough spring for plenty of feedback while riding aggressively but soft enough to not have your teeth knocked out on bumpy roads.
Braking is handled by 296mm rotors four-piston Nissin calipers and is linked by steel braided brake lines which replaced the old rubber hoses. By far the number #1 replacement for this and many older motorcycles, giving better feel and power to the brakes, which by modern standards feel the most outdated on this bike, but are still adequate.
The 2001 to 2003 F4i have a split seat instead of a banana seat of the later models. The split is widely regarded as looking more sporty, but a the cost of some comfort. The profile of the F4i still looks aggressive when standing alone, and only really shows its more rounded styling age when sitting next to a newer sportbike.
The tail section on this F4i has been cleaned up with a fender eliminator and LED Tail light replacing the old incandescent bulbs. By it is my fault for the lack of space by installing a more slender under-tail kit cause now there's about enough room for a small toolkit, water bottle, and wallet.
The dash features a digital speedometer matched with an analog tachometer, and while riding looking glancing down to see your speed or rpm's is easy. You've also got a handy digital clock which stays on even if the key is off, and fuel reserve indicator comes on once activated as you reach the bottom of your 4.8 gas tank and anxiety sets in. My experience is once the bars come on you have 30 - 40 miles to reach a gas station. Typically I see around 42 mpg while riding both city and the twisties. If you're purely riding highway I've gotten as high 220 miles on a single tank, but in most situations, you'll be looking to fill up after 120 to 150 miles. The colorful blinker, high beam and neutral lights all sit at the top of the dash making it easier to pick up out of your peripheral vision. My only real gripe is that the clutch cable is threaded over the tripometer making it impossible to see without bending the cable back. The mirrors work as well as can be expected for their size, and you might have to dip and elbow to see directly behind you, but overall they're fine.
The handlebars are placed above the triple tree clamp making the riding position more upright than most street bikes. The f4i was designed without a steering dampener in mind, so a beefed up headstock and other parts of the frame combine together to help the 435 wet weight CBR change direction quickly without sacrificing too much stability. With a seat height of 31.7 inches, the rider triangle from bars to seat to pegs make for a very natural seating position that provides long ride comfort with the advantage of leaning over the tank for a more sporty tucked position.
The heart and soul of the F4i is the motor, a 599cc inline four-cylinder fuel injected motor makes around 96 hp with 47 ft/lbs of torque. With a redline that is just over 14 thousand rpm, the meat of the power begins to pick up at the 6000 rpm mark. Rolling all the way through the rev range feels linear and smooth. Jumping on a more modern sportbike won't feel too much different power wise. The bike is perfectly comfortable to putt around town at 5k and below, but once you get to the boil, around 8000 rpm the bike comes alive howling till you feel the power roll off around 13000 rpm. Full throttle in first is enough to send the front wheel off the ground, while quickly blipping into second gear will keep the front light and skipping over the pavement as power is put down. With a top speed of 155mph, 0 to 60 in 2.9 seconds and a quarter mile time of 10.6, the F4i is more than potent enough to stay matched with most any bike while canyon carving. Matched to my rev happy motor is a Yoshimura TRS Tri-Oval slip-on exhaust with the silencer left inside. The silencer keeps the bike closer to stock sound levels while eliminating around 10 pounds of weight. Also, carbon fiber just looks cool.
As any bike with at this age, there are a few components to address. The Cam Chain Tensioner is notorious on these bike for making a "buzzing" beehive sounds at certain rpm's, this can be fixed by replacing the CCT with a manual version but is not the easiest repair to do considering most of the components is obscured by the frame. Next, the rubber brake hoses should be switched out with braided steel lines.
Overall, F4i's with proper care are generally bulletproof with people seeing well over 100,000 miles without issue.
So who is this bike for? People who want to put down a lot of miles, but also want an ergonomic sporty package. The F4i is capable of being your everyday commute bike as well as being a canyon carver on the weekends. If you start talking track days the bike is still plenty capable, but you'll probably start dragging foot pegs and exhaust as you reach higher speeds.
The final question that I know someone is going to ask, is this a good beginners bike? In a sense, it's a great beginners bike, good ergos, linear power, reliable, but I would not recommend it as someones first motorcycle. This bike is more forgiving then some of it's racier counterparts, but in the hands of someone without experience, the F4i can get you into a lot of trouble very quickly.
At the end of the day, the F4i might fly under the radar of sportbikes worthy of the masses attention, but to a keen eye and honed skills, this is a motorcycle is a weapon, a tool, a commuter, and a way of getting you out exploring the world around you. Ride safe.