For decades Honda left it to others to fight it out for the title of the world’s fastest production bike until, in 1996, they wheeled out the all new CBR1100XX Blackbird. The 1137cc water cooled engine was good for 160bhp and it achieved a top speed of 178mph, which was good enough to best the Kawasaki ZZR1100 and crown it champ.
The Blackbird is so much more than a point and squirt missile. Thoughts of it being a bad mannered thug in keeping with the belt for being the fastest bike you could buy were unfounded, it had lots of other attractions for any potential owner.
The Blackbird makes an excellent sports tourer, and it’s just as happy below 70mph as it is doing over twice that.
The bike oozes typical Honda quality. It was built to a very high standard which explains why so many of those early bikes are still out there and racking up the miles. The 160bhp engine gives you plenty of midrange, which away from disused air strips is where you really want your power to be residing. Style wise, the CBR1100XX is very distinctive, the sleek bodywork isn’t to everyone’s taste but on the whole it’s a thumbs up from most motorcyclists. There was a revised model that arrived in 1999 but visually it was pretty much identical and even under the bodywork there wasn’t too much that was obvious to spot. The biggest change was the switch to fuel injection but among the Blackbird community it’s recognised that the outgoing carburettor model had the edge, both in terms of build quality and, strangely, fuel economy.
The Blackbird stayed in the range until 2005, although unsold new bikes cluttered up dealerships for a while after. There wasn’t to be a new version, instead Honda put its eggs in a V4 shaped basket with the VFR1200.
What’s it like to ride?
Any motorcycle with big vitals like 160bhp and a top whack of 178mph demands respect, it might also conjure up images of a ruthless machine that will be hard work to ride. Thankfully being a well put together Honda it’s none of those things. The bike is physically big, the bars sit above the top yoke but feel quite low. The seat sits at 810 mm and the pegs are slightly higher than you might have preferred. It’s a bike that’s been designed for racking up the miles more than hustling down backlanes and, overall, behind the handlebars of a CBR1100XX is a comfy place to be.
Once away, those 223 kilos are evident and it feels more like Big Bird than a Blackbird, but every mile clocked up allows you to make more sense of the bike. It’s so user friendly, from big familiar switch gears to excellent mirrors. Little touches like this really do add pleasure. The clocks are a bit tricky to read at first, if only because of the jamboree of numbers fighting for space on the speedo. The engine pulls cleanly from tick over up to the 10,000rpm red line. The brakes are good but many owners are split on whether the CBS linked brake system is a good or a bad thing. The headlight is great, and adds to after hours riding pleasure. Six foot plus riders might struggle with the riding position over longer distances, it does help if you take comfort breaks.
What to look for when buying a Blackbird?
We spoke to Vinny Styles from Wheels Motorcycles, the official Honda dealership in Peterborough. He said: “It’s still a very popular used bikes and those in showroom condition are well worth paying a premium for. There’s lots of bodywork and any topples will end in scratches at best, or busted panels at worse. The paint Honda used is very hard to match up, so poorly repainted tanks and fairings are easy to spot. “The engine is more than up to monster mileages and service history is desirable on high mileage bikes. Fuel injected bikes are more common, and unsold stock trickled out well beyond the model was discontinued. Extras are usually touring inspired, decent luggage and comfy seats add value.”
What goes wrong?
We spoke to Chris Tombleson at Grumpy 1260, who service motorcycles and break up damaged bikes for parts. He added: “Typical Honda issues; iffy regulators and cam chain tensioners are the common issues, both are cheap to beat. There are various aftermarket regulators out there, most are bigger than the inferior Honda item and they are quick and easy to fit. Cam chain tensioners are another weak point, many owners dump the Honda item and fit a manual cam chain tensioner for extra piece of mind.
“Beyond these blights it’s a solid machine, usual wear and tear issues really. The only other area that owners meddle with are the linked brakes. They can be unlinked, it’s a fairly straight forward job if you enjoy bleeding brakes, but you’ll need all new hoses too, so it’s not a cheap job.”