Honda  CBR900RR  Fireblade

Info on the CBR1000RR is here

1998 CBR900RR-X Honda rewrote the large-capacity sportbike book when they introduced the Fireblade in 1992. The 1000cc bikes of the day were heavy and didn't handle terribly well. The Fireblade's designer, Tadao Baba, realised that the advantage was in producing a bike that was lighter and handled better, rather than going for outright power.

Therefore it was decided that the new bike would be a 900cc machine, and so the Fireblade took the world by storm. It offered racetrack handling that humbled all bar the Superbike replicas, but with more power and less weight than those machines.

Its position in the marketplace was not challenged for several years. Yamaha's YZF750, introduced in 1993, while being the best 750 and probably better handling than the 'Blade, lived in its shadow. The 'Blade had all the statistics to beat it. It took Yamaha until 1998 to catch and pass it, with the 1000cc R1. This took the concept a stage further, but by then the Fireblade had long since passed into motorcycle folklore. It was like a big-bore RD350 - a nutter's machine. If you had a 'Blade you were a psycho. And the bike, particularly the early models with frisky handling and a noticeable powerband at 8,000rpm, does its best to lead you into temptation.

The popularity of the Fireblade has contributed in large part to the growth of the add-on market. In days gone by specials were often created by junking the chassis and putting a relatively powerful engine into a much stiffer, better handling frame. Japanese chassis designers had caught up in this area, so improvements to the 'Blade are often minor and cosmetic. British
Harris Magnum 5
Harris Magnum Fireblade

1998 Fireblade - click to see a larger version
1998 Honda Fireblade CBR900RR-W
Click the image for a larger version
(800 x 543, 130kb)
frame-makers and raceteam owners Harris eventually offered a frame and bodywork package which claimed to be an improvement. One area in which this was the case was the looks. I'm no fan of Japanese motorcycle aesthetics (RC30/RC45 family excepted) but their Magnum 5 design (right) finally does the Fireblade justice.

The essence of the Fireblade has changed little since its introduction in 1992. It received an upgrade every two years, progressively providing a more linear power delivery and less nervous front end, but each time it retained its character.

Only in 2000 did Honda radically alter its outline. The 1998-99 models were the most refined, and it prompted some journalists to write that it was "almost a VFR". While it's true that some of the rough edges had been rubbed down, this is quite a ridiculous comment to make. It's still potent, accelerates like a scalded cat and isn't comfortable enough to be my choice as a two-up touring machine. I sold mine in July '01, and can't help thinking that I'll miss the effortless acceleration and precise handling.

The Fireblade weighed 185kg dry when introduced, which was lowered with subsequent makeovers. The 1998-99 bikes weighed 180kg, and a huge number of small modifications were made. This is a Honda trait - they take an excellent machine and refine it slightly each time: "If it ain't broke, make lots of subtle changes and make it even better" seems to be Honda's motto. I believe the 2001 model was in fact lighter than the new benchmark GSX-R1000. Not claimed dry weight, but kerb weight, with fluids on board.

Unlike some lightweight race replicas, the Fireblade has a strong, reliable and tuneable engine. Although Honda R&D shaved components down to save weight, the engineers ensured it would not affect long term reliability. Finish quality, while not quite as superb as the VFR, will cope with UK Winter riding better than many bikes. Secondhand Fireblades are likely to have scuffs, scratches and signs of use. However, they are strong and the engine/gearbox is known to stand up to abuse.

1998 Production TT

Production machines had not been raced at the TT since 1989. The class was reintroduced in 1998, and Honda pitted the CBR900RR against Yamaha's more powerful 1000cc R1. Jim Moodie rode the Honda to first place, and in the process took the Production lap record to over 120mph. That was done on a standard road bike, with minimal alterations for race use (internal mods to the front suspension, race-spec rear shock, plus a race exhaust can and carb jetting).

Fireblade Evo

1999 saw the announcement of the 'Evo' (for evolution) Fireblade. Russell Savory's RS Performance developed a more powerful machine. It features Upside-down forks, a single-sided rear swingarm, Dymag wheels and was intended as a specially homologated model to compete against the Yamaha R1. Dry weight was reduced to 174kg, while flatslide carbs, ram-air and new ignition box promised increased performance.

Honda Fireblade Day, Silverstone

Honda UK organised a Fireblade get-together at the Silverstone circuit in England, in July 2000. Over 1000 Fireblade owners took to the track. Special guest was project leader for the Fireblade, Tadao Baba. The man responsible for this machine was in great demand - he spent a lot of the day shaking hands and autographing memorabilia. Read more about it on this page at Motorcycle News. There are images from the event here.

Bike's No.1

In 2001 the Fireblade was voted No.1 in Bike magazine's "Top 100". The team listed what they considered to be the 100 best bikes, and the Honda Fireblade was clearly the winner. It is the seminal bike of the nineties, and one of few bikes that inspire awe in even the most casual of conversations.

2002 model Fireblade

The following is from a Honda USA press release:
For 2002, the redesigned CBR954RR open-class sport bike boasts new styling, lighter weight and even more power.

New features on the CBR954RR include a 954cc engine giving 154 bhp at 11,250 rpm and 74.6 lb.ft. of torque at 9,000 rpm. Dry weight is reduced to 370 pounds. Larger 42mm throttle bodies utilize laser-drilled 12-hole injectors for better fuel atomization and smoother throttle response. A higher capacity radiator improves cooling and an ultra-lightweight titanium muffler has an HRC works-type appearance. An all-new swingarm showcases HRC's latest technology with a huge box-section right side pressed form, coupled to a new reinforced left-side extrusion.

The CBR954RR features all new angular bodywork with a rear hugger fender that is combined with a new multi-reflector headlight treatment and LED-type tail light.

It is rumoured that Honda developed the 954cc engine in anticipation of the four-stroke MotoGP regulations. However, the FIM subsequently made MotoGP expressly for prototype machines - i.e. those not based on a street bike (which is why WCM, using a modified Yamaha R1 engine, were not allowed to race for most of 2002).

You can read John Ivy's review of the 2002 Fireblade at Superbikeplanet.com.

Fireblade becomes an organ donor

The engine from the 1998 Fireblade has been put to good use in the Hornet 900. Honda did what we all hoped they would do, and shoehorned a 'Blade engine into the naked Hornet chassis. The stylish 600cc Hornet has been hit, and the larger engined version went on to do the same.

170bhp Motopower Fireblade

Motopower, the leading Honda squad in the British Superbike paddock in 2001 and 2002, developed a 170bhp road-going Fireblade which was available for 13,400. It features a high-compression engine, a modified ECU and a swingarm developed with the help of the HRC. Top spec equipment such as Beringer brakes and cast Oz wheels help bring down the weight to 166kg. A 180bhp version with WP forks was also be available for 18,000. Buyers were offered exclusive track days, hospitality at British Superbike races and specially negotiated insurance deals. Motopower boss Russell Savory is the man behind tuning company RS Performance, which also produced the Fireblade Evo.

Matt Llewellyn and Gary Mason were signed to ride the race-spec Fireblades in the British Superbike championship, which is now open to 1000cc fours with Supersport-tuned engines and Superstock chassis (based on production road bikes).

Moriwaki Blade impresses HRC

After the 2002 Suzuka 8 hours Motorcycle News reported that HRC could take inspiration from developments made to a Fireblade by race team/development shop Moriwaki. The £200,000 ($350k) bike, which qualified for the Formula X-treme class, puts out 160bhp, almost 20bhp down on the GSX-R1000s. Moriwaki replaced the camshafts with their own, and fitted titanium valves, high compression pistons, larger fuel injectors and a lightened, balanced crank.Six-piston Nissins on radially mounted calipers and an adjustable headstock also featured on the bike.

MCN speculation about its value to HRC's World Superbike campaign is pure guesswork, as no-one at Moriwaki or Honda suggested this was the case. We heard from a reliable source that Honda were developing a 1000cc V4 for 2004. However, this never appeared. Honda and the other main manufacturers have chosen to boycott the World Superbike championship - in an official capacity - after drastic rule changes by the organisers, Flammini. Chris Vermeulen rides a Ten Kate prepared CBR1000R, with is no direct support from Honda.

2002 Blade wins Bike magazine shootout

While one grows increasingly sceptical of motorcycle journalists' ability to retain a sense of perspective when testing a new bike, a comparison between several similar machines often provides a good basis for divining a bike's character. Bike magazine took the top sportsbikes of 2002 for thousands of miles on the road and a spin on the track. In the test were Below is an extract from the test:
The Honda CBR900RR FireBlade's defining feature is the way it matches a usable 130bhp to a 600-beating chassis. It's pin-sharp. The controls, the brakes, clutch and throttle are there in an instant. There's no loss of feel or unsolicited aggression, they are just bang on the nail and capable of delivering exactly what your hands and feet ask - immediately. It's light and fast on the track but big and comfy on the road; it makes you feel like you're in charge while still managing to be so fast it's scary.

It was the dominant bike wherever we went. The most sought after keys were the 'Blade's and it was always the one either at the front of the group or hunting the others down.

This was the bike everyone wanted to be on. It's brilliant for overtaking (other bikes especially, should you choose to be so impolite) and it will change line mid-corner, flick in really late or hold a very tight line.

It also has a knock-on effect to your confidence, making you fell alert and fresh all the time. Always eager, always at one with the bike and totally confident. It makes you want to ride around the outside of people in more corners. But there is one fault. While the fuel injection system is vastly improved over last year's it remains a little sharper than the other bikes' on this test. That on/off feel of the earlier system is gone and the fuelling is faultless. But particularly when the motor was cold I found it hard to be smooth on the gas mid-corner, or even pulling out of the drive.

After a while things that you usually keep being reminded of on a bike, the brakes, steering, gearbox and everything else, you forget about on the 'Blade and ride."

During the slippery track test each of us noted the 'Blade's ability to drive out of corners. "I'd been tottering around a bit on the other bikes 'till the 'Blade," said one rider. "It was very confidence inspiring and I love the way it squats and drives out of corners. Yet it's so versatile it wouldn't matter if your were a novice or full of experience, it has something for everyone, on road or track."

"I don't think I've ever ridden a more "together" machine," he declared after the test. "It's simply brilliant - in many ways the best road bike I've ever ridden. Everything works with everything else. Steering is more neutral than Switzerland. Effortless speed. The whole bike is so balanced there's little else you can say about it." So I won't.

Conclusions:
Jon Pearson: "The 'Blade is the most complete package and tops the list."
Tom Bedford: "The 'Blade wins, such a satisfying all-round ride."
Pete Boast: "The 'Blade handles the best and feels so small and precise at any speed."
Damon l'Anson: "The 'Blade pips the R1. It's balanced, effortless and neutral - in many ways the best sports road bike ever. Suspension feels firm until up to speed, at which point it feels like it's had a specialist revalve. As with the brakes, steering, gearbox, you just forget about it and ride."

Baba Honoured at awards

Tadao Baba, project leader and dubbed 'the father of the Fireblade', was honoured with the Dave Taylor Lifetime Achievement Award at the Motor Cycle News Awards, which were held at the International Motorcycles & Scooter Show on Friday 14 November 2003.

A racer at heart, he joining Honda at the age of 25, and worked on important models like the CB750F. He eventually became project leader on the Fireblade, the development of which began in 1989. He personally oversaw all updates to the Fireblade throughout the next decade as it became the best-selling litre-class sports bike of all time.


2004 model CBR1000RR

Honda have developed an all-new Fireblade for 2004, similar in appearance to the CBR600 introduced the previous year. Like its smaller sibling, it is touted as taking its inspiration from the all-conquering RC211v MotoGP machine. The electronic steering damper, for instance, has been taken directly from the GP race bike. When the new Fireblade was unveiled to the European press in October Honda Europe were quick to establish its credentials. It would be :
"fully charged with the racing DNA of Honda's unbeatable RC211V to deliver the sharpest sport riding performance and handling ever experienced in its class."
There are detailed articles at Honda News, and some nice photos at mcnews.com.au.
Powersports shows specs, photos and video of USA spec bikes while the Honda UK Fireblade page has links to wallpaper images and press information in PDF format.

The Worldwide media launch of the 2004 CBR1000RR Fireblade took place in Phoenix, Arizona from 12th to 18th December 2003. Online news site AMASuperbike.com got to ride the new CBR1000RR, and you can read their first impressions.

In January 2004 the UK magazines published their launch impressions. They offer a tantalising glimpse of one of the two hottest bikes of 2004, along with the Kawasaki ZX-10R. All rated the Honda has being incredibly easy to ride fast, requiring very little effort on the part of the rider. One later issues carried a 2004 v 2003 comparison, showing that the new bike really was a definite improvement over the previous model. Reading the quotes from the Bike mag shootout above, one can't help wondering how it can be so much better. Or are they just making it all up? Honda certainly wouldn't want you to think so.

2004 Race bike

The race version of the new bike appeared at Daytona (8 Dec 03), and Ben Bostrom declared:
"It's the funnest bike I have ever ridden. I don't want to get off the thing. They have to drag me in."
The Honda was clocked setting the fastest top speeds, consistently 5-10 mph faster than the Suzuki GSX-R1000. Miguel DuHamel managed 192.5 mph, while Bostrom lapped the legendary circuit in a time of 1:47.650, just 0.6 seconds slower than Nicky Hayden's qualifying lap for the 2002 Daytona 200 race aboard the factory supported RC51.

Superbikeplanet.com have some photos of the AMA Superbike spec CBR1000RR by Evan Williams here and here.

Superbike racing news

April 2004: Young star Chris Vermeulen confirmed his talent (if it were needed) by taking two second places in the Phillip Island round of the World Superbikes. Determined rides and good racecraft saw the youngster, who qualified on the front row, take the Ten Kate Honda CBR1000RR to two great finishes in only its second outing.

Meanwhile Michael Rutter and Ryuichi Kiyonari impressed spectators and no doubt pleased Honda bosses, with podium places for both riders in the two superbike races at the opening round of the British Superbike championship. John Reynolds spoilt the Honda party by winning the second race, after finishing third in the first race behind Rutter and Kiyonari.

May 2004: Rutter followed this with a double win at the North West 200. He led from start to finish in both races, and his tally of ten wins at the Northern Ireland circuit now exceeds that of his well-known father, Tony Rutter.

A name to watch out for - Jun Maeda

Japanese rider Jun Maeda notched up his first 120mph plus lap at the 2004 Isle of Man TT. Maeda brought 600cc and 1000cc Hondas in 2004 to compete in the Formula 1, Senior, Junior and both Production races. He finished 11th in Senior TT, in a time of 1h 16' 36.10s, an average speed of 118.21mph, and was the first Japanese rider to lap at over 120mph - he managed to lap the circuit at 120.19mph on lap 4.

His best practice lap aboard the Fireblade was 119.94mph on the 9th June. He was fourth fastest that day, having improved his lap time dramatically during the week.

Road racing journalist Alastair Mackintosh provides some background:

"Jun has been involved with Tadao Baba's development of the Fireblade from the start of his project. Jun has raced the original Blade at several Suzuka 8 hour events (in a number of different forms) and is now working with Kunitaka Hara on the CBR1000RR. Both Baba and Hara began as HRC mechanics and then moved into Honda's R&D department.

Both Baba and Hara agree he is as big an asset to the new Blade project as he was to the original. Kunitaka Hara worked with both Ron Haslam and Joey Dunlop on the big 1000cc Formula 1 machines in the World F1 Championship days in the 1980's and has risen to the top in Honda R&D.

Jun has contested the Isle off Man TT for a number of years but suffered from a dire lack of circuit knowledge. As the Fireblade had been built to run on Bridgestones, Jun has also been employed as Bridgestone's development rider in Japan, but with his newly gained knowledge and now on Pirelli rubber, he immediately went from a best of 109 mph to 114 in one session.

This year on the new CBR1000RR he has upped his pace to nearly 119 mph and he says he aims to win a TT in 2007.

Jun has a tuning business in Japan and produces the sexiest Titanium exhausts seen outside GP's. This exhaust system is in prototype form and it certainly works, producing 187 bhp as opposed to the standard 170 stated by Honda for the road going version.

Jun will be riding at this years Ulster GP for the first time in August and then the bike will be packed to go to Macau before returning here for next years North West 200 and TT."

Click here for photos of Jun riding the Fireblade at the TT.

Vermeulen wins Superbike double at Laguna Seca

It was only a matter of time before Vermeulen and the Honda would win a race, as they did at Silverstone in June, but the talented young rider managed to go one better four weeks later. Depite having never seen the demanding and unique American circuit before Vermeulen won both Superbike races convincingly.

After a poor start in race one he cut through to take the lead and pulled away without difficulty. In race two he was shadowed by James Toseland on the Ducati 999, but Toseland was unable to pass, and Vermeulen notched up the new Honda's first Superbike double.

Expect Honda to return to WSB officially in 2005, with a full factory team. If the rumours are to be believed, several other manufacturers are likely to do the same in the light of the series' revived popularity and the competitiveness of the 4-cylinder 1000cc machines.

Recall for 2004 Fireblade

October 2004: it seems there is a small issue with the Fireblade's speedometer. According to Bike magazine, pressing a certain specific sequence of buttons can cause the speedo to under-read by about 20%. The problem can be rectified by a Honda dealer workshop.

Links to books and manuals for the Fireblade can be found on the books page.

Related links
Ten Kate Racing - World Superbike racing team
Get Honda's latest race news at Honda Racing.
Bladerunners claims to be the ultimate Blade resource site
UK Fireblade site
CBR Owners Club (UK)

© www.simonevans.co.uk/v-four/