Yamaha R7 vs Aprilia RS 660 vs Honda CBR650R

It’s all too easy to have too much of a good thing. Too much booze on a night out, too much food at the all-you-can-eat buffet, or too great an obsession with racetrack performance – eventually driving your customer base onto easier, more comfortable motorcycles.

This is exactly what happened to the supersport 600 class (not the buffet bit…). Once a dominant force, they’re now extinct with riders no longer keen to live with cramped clip-ons, 16,000rpm redlines and rock-hard suspension.

The final road legal supersport thoroughbreds met their UK demise at the advent of Euro5, leaving a gap for something new that catered for riders wanting to scratch that sportsbike itch, without folding themselves up like an origami bird. And thus, a new species of mid-sized soft sportsbikes was born.

The first to arrive was Honda’s CBR650R, which landed in 2019 just as the last of the old dinosaurs died out – becoming the second best-selling sportsbike in Europe in its debut year. In many ways a modern take on the CBR600F Sport, it had Fireblade-inspired styling, an easy four-cylinder engine and a more upright riding position.

It was updated in 2021 to become the bike you see here today – now wearing Showa Separate Function Big Piston Forks, a clearer LCD dash, and a fresh lick of paint.

Honda didn’t have it all their own way though, with Aprilia’s RS 660 also arriving on our shores in 2021 – stuffed with more advanced lean-sensitive electronics, looks borrowed from the RSV4 superbike, plus more power and drama.

We loved it and – despite being almost two grand more than the Japanese four – it went on to claim MCN’s Bike of the Year title.

But now there’s a new kid on the block, the 2022 Yamaha R7, which uses the Japanese firm’s MT-07 as a base (itself a former Bike of the Year winner), before adding R6 inspired plastics, taller pegs, and clip-ons.

It’s by far the sportiest design of the three, but it’s almost 30bhp down on the Aprilia and doesn’t have any electronic fanciness outside of ABS. And that’s before we get to the R7 name, which continues to send internet dwellers into fits of rage every time it’s mentioned.

So, how to decide between them? Well, rather than our usual MCN250 antics, we hopped on a flight to Sicily, to spend some time on all three tackling the stunning, technical bends around a gently erupting Mount Etna – all whilst wearing Pirelli Diablo Rosso IV Corsa control tyres for a level playing field.

First impressions count

Before we get into the riding, I should state that I love supersport bikes. I’ve owned two in the past and think it’s a crying shame that we’ll never again see them roll out UK of showrooms.

But every dog has its day and as I suit up for some animated antics, I pause to take in our trio of new-age pocket rockets – each one glinting in the Mediterranean sunshine.

They may not be out-and-out headbangers, but all look fantastic – with thoroughly modern angular styling. The R7 looks particularly delicious, with the low bars, tall rear end and contrasting licks of blue, black, and gold making it look fast just standing still.

These aren’t cheap substitutes for what came before, but credible quality machines carving a new path for the middling sportsbike class. I just wish Honda had finished the back end of the CBR properly; it is featureless and lets down an otherwise nicely sculpted motorcycle design.

Start your engines

One of the best bits about old school 600s is their unrivalled ability to rev. They need to be screamed to get the most out of them. That’s brilliant if you’re doing your best Jack Kennedy impression around Donington Park, but in dash cam Britain it’s no longer a viable way to tackle your favourite B-road loop, and the lack of low-end shove makes daily duties a bit of a pain. These new bikes look to address that though.

In the red corner is the 93.8bhp four-cylinder CBR650R, which treads closest to the original middleweight recipe, but offers more wedge where you need it. Where there was once ruthless aggression, you now get quiet refinement with next-to-no vibes.

It’s not all pipe and slippers though and it still revs to 12,500rpm – you just don’t always need to do that to get somewhere in a hurry. It would be a great companion for daily riding, but it’s not an exciting engine – also feeling jerky on the throttle at town speeds.

Double the fun

If you want excitement from your motor, then you’ll have to look at the Aprilia and Yamaha, which both use parallel twins. However, despite the Yamaha having a whole extra 30 cubes, on paper it gives away a 26.6bhp deficit to the Aprilia.

Both offer more of an audible rumble than the CBR, and more berries are available lower down. What’s more, despite its lower power figure, the Yamaha gives nothing away on the road and comfortably kept up on seemingly endless mountain switchbacks. 

Neither of the Japanese bikes are a patch on the Italian-built RS though, which gives the most punch out of a corner as well as an 11,500rpm redline – allowing you to scream it like a supersport, or cruise around town. It effectively beats the Honda at its own game, all whilst providing a V4-mimicking soundtrack worthy of a full-blooded superbike.

Cornering club

Regardless of the way the motor is configured, all three go round corners. Mount Etna’s volcanic asphalt is blessed with low-speed slaloms and fast open sweepers and all three felt calm and composed whenever we pushed on.

Aided by the quality rubber, they held a line without protest and deliver big lean and even bigger smiles with every mountain ascent, with the softer suspension riding the changing road surfaces and apple-sized pinecones littering the road (yes, really) without issue.

I’d take any of the three for a B-road thrash, but the lack of engagement from the Honda’s sewing-machine-silent engine pushes it to the back of the queue.

Keeping it comfy

They may look like miniaturized superbikes, but softer suspension and plenty of padding means they’re a doddle to ride all day. The Honda is the most upright of the three – peel away the Fireblade-esque fairing and it would be ready to go as a gently set naked. It’s the one to go for if you plan on riding every day.

The Aprilia also has its clip-ons above the top yoke, but the pegs are slightly higher and there’s a little more weight on your wrists – drawing you into that cleanly designed colour TFT and immersing you more in the experience.

It’s comfortable and engaging, with enough cushioning in the seat to blitz a short tour no problem. That said, I would like a span-adjustable clutch lever for my money and the biting point is very far out, making slow speed work awkward.

At this point we should also add that Aprilia Italy had installed a fully adjustable Öhlins shock to the back of the RS, which removed some of the standard bike’s rear sponginess which can make it hard to change direction and cause the occasional bar wobble under acceleration.

Chasing the Italian is the R7, which takes the accolade of being most aggressive. The clip-ons sit below the top yoke, the pegs are highest, and it feels narrow between your legs. It’s still relatively easy-going, but it’s the closest thing here to the good old days.

Unfortunately, whilst this is fun when you’re getting your elbows out, it can start to become uncomfortable in stop/start traffic, with excess weight on your wrists causing discomfort

The iPhone generation

These race reps are designed to appeal to younger riders born into the iPhone generation. They’re used to plenty of tech and expect nothing less from their motorcycle.

The bike that ticks the technology box the best is the Aprilia, which gets a colour TFT with connectivity, plus lean sensitive ABS, anti-wheelie, five riding modes and more – all thanks to a cheeky IMU tucked beneath its stylish plastics.

You also get a slick quickshifter and auto-blipper, which never faltered as I danced up and down on the lever. It’s all very nice to have, but outside of the gear changes and the cruise control, I’m not entirely sure the rest of it is necessary. For most of our test, the Aprilia had its electronics switched off and at no point did we miss them.

With the R7 and CBR costing the thick end of £2000 less, you get fewer gadgets. There’s an LCD display up front (the Yamaha’s is better), and conventional two-channel ABS. Bikes with this much power don’t really need any more intervention than that.

Unfortunately, the Yamaha has very intrusive front ABS that can remove some of the braking feel and pump back against the lever even during just animated road riding.

Same but different

All three are brilliant for different reasons and at no point did I feel the ride would be improved by a screaming inline four, or rasping triple, and suspension that used my spine for additional damping.

These machines let you have your cake and eat it – looking like mini superbikes with squidgy seats for your bum and upright bars for your wrists. I’m a convert and with a test ride I dare say you could be too.

More than enough for a trackday

We spent a day on track at Racalmuto – 1.5 miles of Sicily’s toughest asphalt and the perfect testbed for our race reps. Sprinkled with climbs, descents, and more bumps mid-corner than an English high street, it challenged the suspension, braking, agility, and acceleration, with each machine rolling on a fresh set of Pirellis.

So how did they get on? Well, let’s start with the CBR650R. Sitting lowest with the most upright bars, I thought the mild mannered four-pot might be a bit soft and mushy on circuit. Just 10 laps proved that my assumption was misplaced.

Beautifully fuelled at the top end, it screams its way between the gears – reminding you of the golden 600 days of yesteryear. Although a quickshifter and blipper would’ve been nice, the chunky Showa Big Piston forks kept everything nice and composed and there was plenty of plastic to hide behind on the long uphill main straight.

That said, it is let down by the intrusive front ABS which fights against you and occasionally made it hard to stop. Some extra ground clearance would’ve been nice too.

In actual fact, the softest bike of the three was the R7 – despite having sportiest riding position and styling. Both Neevesy and I were expecting this to take the trackday top spot on the test, but the front and rear lack composure when pushed, with the fork dive and ABS intrusion making it hard to get stopped.

It’s also down by the best part of 30bhp on the Aprilia and on the main straight it is slower than the other two. In isolation, it is fabulous fun, and I couldn’t take my eyes off of it all day, but in this company, it doesn’t quite cut the mustard.

Our test bike also had an optional quickshifter which failed to change between fourth and fifth at full acceleration.

Onto the Aprilia then. What a lovely thing. I was already fully in love with the Noale middleweight, but it shines amongst these three options as the best of the bunch. And it’s not just fast for a twin either, this is a bike putting out as much power as an early Yamaha R6 and would be more than enough for almost any trackday rider.


As one class dies, another rises from the ashes and all of these comfortable, road-friendly soft sportsters are truly excellent in their own way. The Honda kicked off this class back in 2019 and surprised us on track with its eagerness to rev and composed handling, whilst also remaining a comfortable – if slightly bland – everyday workhorse.

The R7 feels closest to the supersports of yesteryear and looks the best of the bunch. Unfortunately, that styling writes a cheque the rest of the bike can’t deliver on track, and it’s too soft and underpowered to keep up with the rest. The ABS is far too intrusive as well.

On the road, that softness plays in its favour, riding over the scored Sicilian tarmac comfortably and delivering enough power to easily keep up with the pack. That said, it feels dangerously close to being wristy in traffic.

That leaves the Aprilia as our favourite. Although more expensive, it makes the most power and is dressed in more electrickery than some Japanese superbikes (I’d be happy to pay a grand less and ditch the lean-sensitive bling).

It also craves revs like a four-cylinder, whilst also delivering dollops of low-end grunt, and has a roomy riding position that should allow for some light touring. For the style, performance, and versatility, it simply cannot be beaten.

Source: motorcyclenews.com