Honda have gone back to the drawing board for 2004 and created an all new Fireblade 1000, which is lighter, more powerful and compact than any of its predecessors.
But have Honda also built in that all important X factor which makes so many riders love the latest CBR600RR? Roland Brown reports for insidebikes from the official world launch of the 2004 CBR1000RR, which was held in Arizona USA.
I’d been trying to provoke the Fireblade into an angry response all day, and finally I managed it. Exiting the tight right-left-right chicane leading onto the Arizona Motorsports Park’s main straight, I snapped open the throttle slightly too hard before I’d finished climbing back across the bike for the last and fastest part of the turn.
With most of its 170 horsepower trying to break free and my weight too far back on the bike, the Blade lifted its front wheel slightly and snapped its handlebars from side to side. For a moment the Blade was tank-slapping towards the edge of the track… then almost before I’d had time to react, the wheel was back down, the bars were pointing straight again, and the Fireblade was scorching down the straight at almost the velocity of the jet fighters taking off at the US Airforce base on the other side of the circuit fence.
It says plenty about this seventh generation Fireblade that this brief unplanned wheelie and flick of the bars was the closest I came to a scary moment during a hectic day spent carving through the new circuit near Phoenix in the Arizona desert. The CBR1000RR, with its new, larger 998cc engine and its chassis derived from the all-conquering RC211V, is the most powerful and fastest of the illustrious Fireblade line. But it’s so refined and controlled that most of the time it doesn’t feel that way.
At first sight of the 1000RR, with its racer-like sharp styling and compact dimensions, it would be a fair guess that this Blade would echo the personality of the original 1992 bike and the similarly aggressive 929cc model of four years ago. But that is not what Honda and in particular the firm’s chief super sports development engineer Kunitaka Hara, who has taken over responsibility for the Fireblade from its founder Tadao Baba, were trying to create.
“We wanted to incorporate the RC211V thinking into the Fireblade, so that a racer can win on it,” says Hara. “But the idea of this bike is to be appreciated by a wide variety of riders, over a long period. The first and the last Fireblade’s were very aggressive, and exciting from the first moment they were ridden. But we wanted to make this bike work well on both the track and the road, and to be enjoyable for everyone who rides it.”
The result of approach is that although the 1000RR produces 20bhp more power than its predecessor, and its chassis owes much to that of the RC211V, it has not been designed for speed and racetrack agility at all costs. On the contrary, this Blade is slightly heavier than the RRs from 2000 onwards, and also has more trail and a longer wheelbase for extra stability. The bike also incorporates the HESD electro-hydraulic steering damper used on last season’s factory V5.
Some things are more racy, though, starting with a riding position that puts the bars slightly lower and the pegs higher for improved aerodynamics. The seat is 5mm higher at 820mm, too, though the overall feel is much the same. The dummy tank is quite wide but contains mostly airbox, and with the fuel’s weight below the seat, the Blade felt light and well-balanced as I headed out onto the track, suitably unaware of the high-tech steering damper, which has almost no effect at low speed.
My first few laps on the unfamiliar Arizona circuit were enough to suggest that the Blade will make a mighty fine street bike. Midrange power was very strong, though the ultra-smooth Fireblade lacked the raspy, aggressive feel of the GSX-R1000. The Suzuki would doubtless have felt more wheelie-prone exiting the slow Phoenix turns, too, but that’s due to the Honda’s rider-friendly geometry and low centre of gravity rather than lack of grunt.
The Blade charged down the straight at an impressive rate, though there wasn’t much induction or exhaust noise to add to the impression of speed, and there wasn’t room to hit top in the super-slick box. Peak power arrives at 11,250rpm and inevitably I needed to keep the tacho needle jabbing towards that point for maximum acceleration. In that I was aided by the adjustable shift indicator light in the new dashboard, though it wasn’t bright or prominently placed enough to catch my eye every time.
Like the CBR600RR, the Fireblade shares its basic chassis layout with the RC211V, despite the fact that the roadster engine is a straight four rather than a V5. And while you might expect the main advantage of mass centralisation and low centre of gravity to be ultra-quick steering, in fact the Fireblade felt like the MotoGP machine more in the way that it was unshakably stable – both when thrown hard on its side into a turn and when it was accelerating out again at a fearsome pace.
That stability took a little while to show itself, mind you, because in standard form the Blade was too soft for my near 14-stone weight on the track. Once I started braking hard the forks were close to bottoming out, and the rear end snaked from side to side. The initially under-damped front forks also moved slightly as I eased off the front stopper into the turns. Tuning the forks with extra preload and rebound damping eventually had the bike feeling superbly planted – and allowed maximum use of the powerful and fade-free radial four-piston Tokico brake set-up.
If there’s an area where the Honda will gain over its litre-class rivals, it’s in acceleration out of a turn, where the Blade’s smooth power delivery, long swing-arm and general stability will make it very hard to beat. Bridgestone’s new Battlax 014 radials played their part, too, with very reliable and confidence-inspiring grip. And on the few occasions that the chassis does get stretched, the neat new steering damper is waiting to help out.
Whether the CBR1000RR is quite as agile as its rivals (or its predecessors) is another matter. At 179kg dry this bike is 11kg heavier than last year’s Blade, as well as having slightly less racy geometry. It steered with a very neutral feel but needed a fraction more effort than I’d expected to be flicked through the chicane, even after it had been sharpened slightly with a little extra shock preload.
SLICK LITTLE THING
Although the bike is very compact I didn’t find it particularly cramped, despite being tall. Adjustable footrests would be a welcome addition even so, because on the track I was struggling to prevent the toes of my boots being worn away, yet for road riding extra legroom would be useful. In other respects the bike was a typically sorted Honda, with excellent finish, wide-spaced mirrors, reasonable wind protection and brighter headlights.
In the end, whether the Fireblade appeals is likely to depend on what you want from an open-class super-sports motorcycle. If it’s raw engine power, ultra-quick steering, induction roar, wheelies and plenty of high-octane scariness, then the ultra-efficient Honda would probably disappoint. If, however, you’d prefer to get your thrills from a bike that resembles the all-conquering RC211V and shares much of the racer’s ability to go very, very fast with a high level of control and a minimum of drama and fuss, the CBR1000RR does precisely what its designers intended.
The Fireblade gets its largest ever capacity of 998cc from a 2.5mm increase in stroke that brings dimensions to 75 x 56.5mm. The unchanged bore meant the engine didn’t have to be wider, and in fact it’s slightly narrower at the bottom due to a repositioned starter motor. The oil cooler and filter were moved from the front of the motor to the right. This freed up space, and combined with redesigned exhaust headers to allow the motor to be moved forward in the chassis. The new gearbox is a cassette design, allowing quick removal for racing, and also has a stacked layout, giving a reduction in engine length. Clutch is now hydraulic rather than cable operated.
Cylinder head changes include slightly steeper included valve angles, narrower valve stems (4mm from 4.5mm) and lighter valve springs. Lighter, nutless conrods (bolts screwed directly into the rods) hold new forged aluminium pistons. These give reduced friction due to a new process by which particles of molybdenum are shot into the pistons’ side-skirts, with such high force and temperature that the particles are embedded in the surface of the aluminium with a chemical reaction that seals the molybdenum in place.
The Fireblade gains a new Dual Sequential fuel-injection, similar to that introduced on last year’s CBR600RR, and featuring two injectors for each cylinder. One injector is mounted near the engine, for quick throttle response. The other, which operates only above 5000rpm, is further away, as this increases top-end power by allowing more time for fuel to be atomised in the high-velocity air stream. The injectors are also more sophisticated, and the injection system is controlled by a more powerful 32-bit ECU.
Honda’s high-level Centre-Up exhaust system incorporates a redesigned power valve that’s 770g lighter than its predecessor. The intake system incorporates a dual-stage ram-air system, which opens a flap in the airbox at 6000rpm to boost power at high revs. Honda says ram-air gives a five per cent increase at the top end, increasing the claimed output of 172PS (170bhp) at 11,250rpm to over 180PS.
Honda’s main aim with the Fireblade’s chassis, as with that of the RC211V, was mass centralisation. The engine’s reduced size and reworked downpipes allow it to sit further forward. In conjunction with the more compact Unit Pro-Link swing-arm, this allows the 18-litre fuel tank to be placed mostly low, behind the engine, with most of the dummy tank being used for the airbox. The bike’s centre of gravity is moved forward and down, and the shorter dummy tank means the rider’s weight is also moved slightly forward.
The frame is a twin-spar design in gravity die-cast aluminium, with a bolt-on cast aluminium rear subframe. Moving the engine forward allowed Honda to increase the length of the aluminium swing-arm, for improved drive and stability. Torsional rigidity is increased compared to the previous model, but lateral rigidity is reduced slightly as Honda has found this helps the suspension in fast corners. The RC211V style Unit Pro-Link system holds the complete rear suspension unit and linkage, isolating the frame and so allowing it to be made lighter (although the swing-arm itself is heavier than last year’s, contributing to the 11kg of total extra weight).
The 43mm inverted front forks are very similar to the previous Blade’s units, but while rake remains 23.45 degrees, new yokes increase trail by 5mm to 102mm. Stability is also increased by the RC211V-style HESD (Honda Electronic Steering Damper), the first on a Honda streetbike. The HESD, developed in conjunction with Kayaba, fits on the top triple clamp and comprises an oil chamber divided by a vane that moves with the handlebars. Resistance to handlebar movement is controlled by allowing oil to use a by-pass channel, which is gradually closed as the bike’s speed and acceleration increase.
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Engine……….Liquid cooled, transverse four
Valve arrangement……….DOHC, 16 valves
Bore x Stroke……….75mm x 56.5mm
Max Power……….172PS (126.4kW) @ 11250rpm
Max Torque……….115N.m (11.7kg.m) @ 8000rpm
Front suspension……….43mm upside-down fork, 120mm wheel travel, adjustments for preload, compression and rebound damping
Rear suspension……….One Unit Pro-Link damper, 135mm wheel travel, adjustments for preload, compression and rebound damping
Front brake……….2, four-piston Tokico radial calipers, 310mm discs
Rear brake……….Single-piston Tokico caliper, 220mm disc
Front wheel……….3.50 x 17in; cast aluminium
Rear wheel……….6.00 x 17in; cast aluminium
Front tyre……….120/70 x 17in Bridgestone BT014 radial
Rear tyre……….190/50 x 17in Bridgestone BT014 radial
Fuel capacity……….18 litres
Instruments……….Digital speedometer, tachometer, water temp gauge, fuel gauge, lights for turn signals, neutral, high beam, oil pressure, HISS ignition fault, adjustable shift indicator