The 1000cc Supersports class is where the ’big four’ Japanese manufacturers like to play hard and fast, with flagship four cylinder machines battling it out for supremacy.
Back in the Jurassic era, Kawasaki ruled the roost with the GPZ900R, until bikes like the GSXR1100 Suzuki and Yamaha FZR1000 EXUP moved the stakes higher. In the 90s, Honda had it all their own way for half a decade with the 899/918cc Fireblade series, then along came the Yamaha R1 – bye bye Blade.
And now a new challenger, the GSXR1000 looks set to put Suzuki at the top of the hill for a few years – faster, lighter, smoother than all the rest. But is it really that good? insidebikes took the Gixer 1000, `Blade, R1 and the Kawasaki ZX9R for a windswept and interesting day out at Darley Moor race circuit to find out.
Honda Fireblade CBR900RR; Stuck in the middle with you
Honda had a great time in the 1990s with the Fireblade. From its original, 16 inch front wheeled missile in 1992, to the almost DFS sofa comfortable 1997 model, the Blade evolved into a superbike for Everyman. It could do it all, until the R1 came along and made it look slow, heavy and very definitely underbraked.
Honda went back to its roots with the Y2K model Blade last year and produced a superb sportbike. It remains pretty much the same, stunning handling, well braked and deceptively rapid motorcycle after 12 months. Yet it lacks soul, the raw power of the Suzy or Yamaha, or even the lumbering, raucous, olde worlde charm of the ZX9R. It is still, somehow trying to be all things to all men, which is its undoing – despite being the most sporty handling Blade I have ridden in years.
The problem starts, oddly enough, with the stunningly accurate fuel injection on the Blade, which gives the bike a `cold fish´ character, right from the off. In town, the Fireblade has a throttle like an on/off switch, which is not a good thing if you are a relative novice. You soon get used to it of course, and it makes no sense to criticise ultra smooth power delivery, yet the Honda doesn´t have a real, definite character, whatever that is.
Character counts. If Honda aren´t sure, they should ride more rival machines to try and record that fact of biking life. A great motorcycle has to inspire you emotionally, or else it all comes down to bhp figures, camshaft dwell angles and tyre sizes. The Fireblade is devastatingly efficient at going fast, but it doesn´t make me smile for as long after the ride as the other three do.
Perversely, I´m placing the Blade third ahead of the gutsy, deeply soulful sounding Kawasaki, purely on the grounds that the Honda simply leaves the ZX9R for dead, on the road, on the track, probably on a weekend enduro too. The Blade has outstanding brakes now, cat quick steering and a truly sublime transmission. The clutch is almost an optional extra, that´s how good the gearbox is. It is in another dimension compared to the Kawasaki.
One for the road
Out on the open road, the Honda is an accomplished performer, as a long ride up from London to Chester proved. It has a decent riding position, being slightly roomier than the R1, but a tad more `hunched up’ than the Suzuki Gixer. Like most sportbikes, the Blade gets physically tiring droning along the motorway, although the lack of vibration at 80-ish mph makes it easier than some (Kawa ZX9R) to bear.
The Honda also has that unmistakable sheen of quality that many of the company´s products still carry. Details look durable, the ergonomics of the bike are well thought out, things do fit you well, in an understated way. It also has a handy storage space under the rear seat pad which could take a decent sized pair of leggings, or one of those lightweight waterproof suits.
In addition, the fairing seems to do a slightly better job than you would expect in deflecting the windblast. True, this ain´t no VFR800 sports-tourer, but it is better than the Yamaha or the Suzuki in creating that little `calm bubble ‘ effect behind the screen. Again, only the Kawasaki seems to have more plastic ahead of the rider, although in fairness, we were riding the old C2 1999 model, which has a slightly different fairing design to the 2001 ZX9R.
The Honda feels like a bike that I could happily live with, week in, week out, except that it lacks some spark of crazed genius, some sort of hook, that would make me sacrifice years of lost weekends down the pub to own one. That´s what the Fireblade has somehow had de-programmed from it, after nearly a decade on the road, which is a great shame. There´s nothing wrong with it, but against motorcycles as stunning as the R1 and GSXR1000, that isn´t good enough anymore.
Get Honda motorbike insurance for the honda supersports honda fireblade cbr900rr.
|Engine||liquid cooled, four cylinder, four stroke, DOHC, 16 valves|
|Chassis||Twin spar aluminium type frame|
|Front suspension||43mm upside down forks, multi adjustable|
|Rear suspension||monoshock, multi adjustable|
|Brakes||Twin 330mm front discs, four piston calipers, single 220mm rear disc, twin piston caliper|
|Wheels/Tyres||120/70 ZR 17 inch front, 190/50 ZR 17 inch rear|
|fuel capacity||18 litres|