In just over a decade, the Honda Fireblade had gone from being a trail blazer to a model that was playing catch up with the all conquering Suzuki GSX-R1000 and Yamaha YZF-R1.
But for the seventh generation of the Honda Fireblade in 2004, there were lots of changes – in fact, Honda started with a clean sheet of paper. The biggest change was that the father figure of the Fireblade wasn’t involved in the development of the 2004 model. Tadao Baba needn’t have worried as the new kids did a fantastic job of creating a sharp new ‘Blade that mimicked the look of Honda’s all-conquering MotoGP machine. It was an all-new model. The engine capacity was upped to a Suzuki and Yamaha matching 998cc, while retaining the inline four configuration of the previous six generations. The chassis was also all-new and had, in trend with the fashion of the time, the obligatory under seat exhaust. The MotoGP styling wasn’t accidental, those involved with the Honda RC211V racer had input into the 2004 ‘Blade design.
The CBR1000RR was a massive sales hit. The combination of technology merged with great looks saw the Blade back in the hunt for being top dog. For some it wasn’t aggressive enough, something that the GSX-R1000K4 could never be accused of, but it embodied the harmonious and holistic approach for which Honda has become famous. The Fireblade also enjoyed some success on the racetrack too. The (then) small Dutch Ten Kate team ran Aussie hotshot Chris Vermeulen on one, ending the 2004 world superbike championship fourth in the standings but winning four races in the latter part of the season as they got their race bike up to speed. Vermeulen won a further six races in 2005, finishing second to Troy Corser on the full-factory Suzuki, while Honda’s official effort focussed on the British superbike championship – where they finished as runners-up in both 2004 and 2005.
As was the case with 1000cc sports bike at the time, the Fireblade had a short production schedule. The desire for manufacturers to update their models every two years to stay at the head of the class meant that a heavily revised version was introduced for 2006. That bike looked similar on the surface and would also prove to be popular on the road, and was even more successful on the race track, but for now we’re focussing on the seventh generation, 2004-2005 version.
What’s it like to ride?
The CBR1000RR was the last of the ‘big feel’ Blades. Despite looking like a 600 on steroids, the 2004 model feels very much a big bike, that’s a good thing for anyone who’s six foot or taller. Where sportsbikes found themselves increasingly shrinking in pursuit of ultimate track performance, the Honda’s riding position is very much in keeping with the previous CBR954RR model, with its eye firmly on the road rather than the circuit. The engine is deceptively fast. Original Honda PR material quoted over 170bhp from the 998cc engine and this equated to figures just shy of a silky 150bhp at the back wheel when the press got to dyno them, which is still a heck of an amount of power from a bike from 2004. Like all superbikes from the era, it’s not too hard to be caught out, but thankfully the Fireblade comes with some impressive radial front brake calipers. Standard suspension settings were set on the firm side, although there’s plenty of bits to twiddle (if that’s your thing) to help you find a setting that suits you better. The fuel injection is better than earlier attempts and makes road riding a pleasure.
What to look for?
We spoke to Vinny Styles, Sales Manager at Wheels Motorcycles, the official Honda dealership in Peterborough. He said: “For a bike that was only produced for a few years, there’s still plenty of them around, even better is that, thanks to the build quality, they still look great more than a decade on. The red and white bikes are the popular ones and the black and blue finished bikes fetch slightly less. They are a big bike and any damage is easy to spot. Sadly many bikes are now on the HPI register as when these Blades go over, they have a tendency to push the rider’s rear set into the swinging arm. Chuck in the price of a new swinging arm and labour rates and it’ll be enough to turn a perfectly rideable bike into an insurance write off. Unlike a GSX-R1000 of the same vintage, most of these Blades survive without too much in the way of aftermarket tat being fitted. There’s no shortage of aftermarket goodies on the market, but can you really improve on a stock bike?”
What goes wrong?
We spoke to Chris Tombleson from Grumpy 1260, they service used bikes and often see things we don’t. He added: “The engine is solid, typical Honda, but they do like a drop of oil. It can vary from bike to bike and there’s no rhyme or reason to it, even Honda quote ‘expect to use a litre of oil every 800 miles’. Performance related upgrades are good and bad, it’s all down to who fitted them. Remapping the fuel injection will give decent results if a quality full exhaust system is also in place. They are a great bike to work on, everything is well thought out and if you ever run into gearbox issues, it’s a clever cassette style design to remove it. Unlike the R1, ZX-10R and GSX-R1000 from the same era, not too many of these Blades ended up on the track, but always check things like condition of the rims and general signs of a tarted up ex track bike.”