Honing the Blade
In November 1991 Honda launched a bike that would change everybody’s perception of sports motorcycles forever. It led from day one - such was the impact of its arrival.
Honda’s concept was based on a pure, undiluted idea; to deliver a race bike for the road. They called it the Fireblade.
Rumour has it that the name actually came out of the translation from French to English of the Japanese word for Lightning! How’s that for a happy accident!
Originally designed as a 750cc, the 893cc inline-4 cylinder engine wrapped in an ultra-light chassis – built for the 750cc version – had a much better power to-weight-ratio. At only 185kg dry weight, it was a real Game Changer in more ways than one.
The man with the vision was Honda’s Chief Motorcycle Engineer, Tadao Baba, who insisted that it should be the larger engine in the lighter chassis and the term ‘Total Control’ was born for this new breed of sportsbike. Tadao is now known as the ‘Father of the Sportbike’
The first 893cc Blade literally blew the sales roof right off and Honda just couldn’t make them quickly enough to cope with demand. Those lucky riders who managed to buy one couldn’t believe just how fast, light and easy to ride this new bike was.
In complete contrast to the so called sportbikes of the time – they were actually more like heavy sport tourers – this new Super Sportsbike soon developed a fearsome reputation.
The Honda Fireblade had well and truly arrived.
Over the next few years the bike had a few minor updates and in 1993 the fairing featured the famous ‘Foxeyes’ and ‘Urban Tiger’ livery. In 1995 the big change came with a larger 918cc engine, and a less focussed riding set-up which made the bike a little more rider friendly for road use.
Through 1996, 1997 and 1998 other minor changes were applied to the Honda’s flagship but it in 1998 Yamaha grabbed the spotlight with the R1.
Baba stepped up to the plate and in 2000 he sharpened up his creation, giving the bike an all new fuel injected 929cc engine, up-side-down fork's and a long awaited 17 inch front wheel. Honda also managed to lose 9kgs, dropping its dry weight to an astonishing 170kg. However, it wasn’t until 2002 when Honda really went for it with an all new, sleeker looking 954cc machine that developed serious power: a blistering 149 bhp and 77ft-lbs torque. Nothing was overlooked, every panel was altered and Blade fans argue that this was perhaps the best looking 900cc Fireblade ever made. It handled better too, due to frame and headstock improvements, and a more rigid swing arm. Weighing in at only 168kg, it actually weighed less than Honda's own CBR600!
In 2004 the first 1000cc model, the CBR1000RR hit the headlines. Designed with participation in the World Superbike Championship and other racing events in mind, the lightweight, compact 998cc engine had several new features. The innovative Programmed Dual Sequential Fuel Injection system was a major improvement making the bike perfect for the street and the racing circuit.
Honda continued to hone the CBR1000RR Fireblade year after year with unique piston and cylinder developments straight out of Moto GP, assisted slipper clutch, improved suspension components and ABS brakes.
Right up to the latest 2014 model, the power-to-weight ratios have been continually challenged and different ways of centralising the mass of the machine are given close scrutiny to provide the best possible ride for sport hungry riders.
Since the very first bike in 1991 the Fireblade’s concept of ‘Total Control’ has endured throughout. It has continued to prove itself on home and world circuits in BSB, WSB and the Suzuka 8 Hour Endurance race, but it’s on real road circuits, like the Isle of Man, where it really does have the edge. This is the pinnacle of real road racing and in 2015 – in the hands of John ‘The Morecambe Missile’ McGuinness – the Blade smashed all previous records with a 132.701 mph lap of the 37.73 mile mountain circuit! Still true to its roots, it’s a race-bike for the road.
The Fireblade isn’t for everyone, but if you’ve always promised yourself a sportsbike and do choose the Fireblade (whatever generation you choose from) you’ll be buying a bike that’s focussed, single minded and has a name that will immediately spring to mind when you mention sportbikes… no matter where you are in the world.
That’s why it’s our bike of the month.