The CBR900RR was perhaps the most mental sportbike Honda had ever produced. First introduced in 1992, it boasted 893cc of inline-Four power in a package that weighed about the same as Honda’s CBR600F2 from the same era. The next-lightest open-class sportbike, Yamaha’s FZR1000, plunked about 75 extra pounds on the pavement.
The double-R epitomized what a power-to-weight ratio can mean to a sportbike, earning plaudits the world over for its enviable balance. But the use of a 16-inch front wheel, as was de regueur in Grand Prix racing, contributed to the RR’s notable flaw – instability. The steering geometry was simply too radical for the rest of the bike, particularly its scant 90mm of trail combined with its 16-inch tire.
But 1998 promised a more stable CBR-Nine, and I remember it well. It was the first press intro of my motojourno career, when I worked for Motorcyclist. Sampling the 1997 and ’98 RRs back to back around Las Vegas Motor Speedway proved the new geometry to be much preferable, and it seemed impossible – especially after riding with tacky slick rubber in the afternoon – that an open-class sportbike could get any better.
Then Kawasaki dropped a new ZX-9R on the scene, boasting reduced significantly poundage and added wattage from its motor. The CBR’s 115 rear-wheel ponies suddenly felt inadequate in the face of the ZX’s 133 horses. And a month later Yamaha nuked our brains with the mind-melting R1. Suddenly, the best-ever CBR became almost irrelevant in the minds of spec-sheet jockeys.
And yet, the CBR900RR was a finely balanced sporting machine, especially if the idea of first gears that stretch beyond 90 mph are kinda silly for a streetbike. Read below to see what Motorcycle.com had to say prior to sampling the ZX and R1.
By MO Staff, Dec. 02, 1997, Photography by Kevin Wing and American Honda
Light. Twitchy. Unsettled. Peaky. What do these words all have in common? They were frequently used to describe the last incarnation of Honda’s top-shelf sportbike, the CBR900RR. So when the 1998 specs came floating across our desk claiming more horsepower, less weight and more predictable handling for the new Fireblade, we were skeptical. And we wondered if it still had the 16-inch front wheel.
Although we were hesitant to believe it, the truth of the matter is the new CBR900RR rocks! A few seemingly inconsequential tweaks to engine and chassis have combined to make an animal of an entirely different stripe.
About 17 percent less flex in the chassis as a whole (close to 40 percent in the new tapered swingarm) and a bit more trail makes for a planted-yet-flickable ride, enjoyed immensely by both sportbike-initiate Associate Editor Billy (cool-I-dragged-knee) Bartels and seasoned racer Editor-in-Chief Brent (I’ve-been-hanging-out-with-Higbee) Plummer, who turned the slowest and fastest laps, respectively, among the assembled journalists.
Taming the beast
This is good: Added trail has been a common modification made by racers to increase stability to previous years’ CBR900RRs. The lower triple clamps are now made of aluminum instead of steel and increase fork span 10mm, resulting in a 10 percent increase in rigidity.
Gear ratios have been widened up, reducing the amount of shifting needed during street riding — MO staffers tend to prefer wide-ratio five-speeds with decent midrange power, thus we liked the new ratios, especially since the motor has been made much smoother and more responsive.
Racers, however, will want the closer ratios offered last year.
Honda thoughtfully brought along several ’97 RRs for comparison. Hands down, the 1998 version spanks the old one. Leaving the garage, the first thing noticed is a crisper throttle response.
After riding the ’98 RR, our neophyte sport-rider gave the ’97 about four laps before returning and hopping back on a ’98. On sweepers, Bartels complained of tucking the front with the ’97 mount when he didn’t get on the gas quite soon enough. Boss-man Plummer didn’t even give it that many laps.
He still had fever dreams from our 9 Vs. 9 shootout, and complained that the ’97 900RR just didn’t hold a line like the ’98. While the old ‘Blade is arguably a quicker-turning bike, the ’98 features increased stability and forgiveness, allowing its pilot to slam it into corners without a worry. Besides, it’s silly to call any 400-pound bike ‘slow turning.’
All we can say is that with the 1998 CBR900RR, a little bit goes a long way. Congratulations Honda, but what took so long?
Look for the new CBR900RR and the other sportbike illuminati (GSX-R750, YZF-R1, ZX-9R and others ) in our ultimate sportbike challenge, coming in February to a browser near you.
Manufacturer: Honda Model: 1998 CBR900RR Price: $9995.00 Engine: Liquid cooled, inline four-cylinder DOHC; four valves per cylinder Compression ratio: 11.1:1 Bore and Stroke: 71 x 58mm Displacement: 919 cc Carburetion: (4) 38mm flat slide CV Transmission: Close ratio 6-speed Wheelbase: 55.1 in Seat Height: 32.2 in Fuel Capacity: 4.8 gal including .9 gal reserve Claimed Dry Weight: 396.8 lbs