Seeing Honda’s 2017 CBR1000RR get revealed this week at Intermot got me excited in more than the one obvious way. Certainly, learning about the decisions deemed to be necessary by the mighty R&D hands of Honda to compete at the highest levels of sportbike production will always be interesting, and that holds true with this freshly baked CBR1k. An extra 10 ponies is always beneficial, but it’s the trimming of 33 pounds from the scales that really excites me. My old and lazy bones will probably also like the semi-active suspension of the SP version and auto-blipping downshifter.

2017 Honda CBR1000RR SP and SP2 Unveiling

The news of the latest Honda sportbike jogged the rusty wheels of my memory back to 1997 when I was invited on my first media introduction to ride Honda’s latest and best (and last) rendition of the badass CBR900RR. This was only a month after landing my first full-time motojourno job, at Motorcyclist, so I was stoked to get shipped off to Las Vegas Motor Speedway to ride Honda’s headlining sportbike.

Church of MO – 1998 Honda CBR900RR Review

The 1998 Honda CBR900RR was a major upgrade from the 1997 version and really fun to ride, but its 115 rear-wheel horsepower seems quaint by today’s standards. This was back when your superbike could carry your lunch in a handy cavity under the pillion seat!

The 1998 Honda CBR900RR was a major upgrade from the 1997 version and really fun to ride, but its 115 rear-wheel horsepower seems quaint by today’s standards. This was back when your superbike could carry your lunch in a handy cavity under the pillion seat!

At that time in my riding career, I was a bit of a Honda fanboy. I had several fun years flogging an excellent CR125 that I bought new in 1985, and I followed that up with a 1987 CBR600 Hurricane. Then it was another CBR600 in 1991, the F2 model in its debut year, which was my commuter sportbike/sport-tourer until it became my first roadrace bike when it wasn’t being ridden to college.

So, there I was at LVMS standing next to the father of the CBR-9, the legendary Tadao Baba, discussing how he and Honda had fashioned myriad changes to the RR that made it quicker and easier to handle, which I got to prove by turning countless laps aboard the new bike and a several on the old one. I had always figured being a motojournalist was the best job in the world, and after this press intro, the job was even better than I had dreamed.

Part of the CBR900RR launch included spinning a few laps in a Legends car, which are small-scale racecars powered by Yamaha FJ1200 engines. Despite admonitions by the cars’ owners that powerslides hinder quick lap times, I did fifth-gear slides out of every corner of the small oval track. Turns out my times were quicker than anyone else’s, including motojournos I’d long admired and the fellas from HRC. It wouldn’t be the last Honda launch that included time behind a wheel.

Part of the CBR900RR launch included spinning a few laps in a Legends car, which are small-scale racecars powered by Yamaha FJ1200 engines. Despite admonitions by the cars’ owners that powerslides hinder quick lap times, I did fifth-gear slides out of every corner of the small oval track. Turns out my times were quicker than anyone else’s, including motojournos I’d long admired and the fellas from HRC. It wouldn’t be the last Honda launch that included time behind a wheel.

The CBR900RR was a terrific sportbike, but it was almost forgotten weeks later when the all-new ZX-9R with 133 RWHP was ridden. A month or so later, Yamaha’s paradigm-shifting YZF-R1 was tested, forever extending the headlining sportbike class to 1000cc.

Honda’s engineers, including Baba-san, believed in the balance of low weight with adequate power, questioning the logic in having to add weight to help harness bigger power. He was intrigued by the specs of the R1, but he was skeptical it was going to be a better sportbike than his RR. Honda attempted to keep engine sizes below a liter by introducing the CBR929RR in 2000, then the 954RR just two years later. Big Red finally joined the rest of its rivals by increasing displacement to 998cc in 2004 with the CBR1000RR.

The CBR1k was cool, but it was also kinda heavy and wasn’t super powerful. Then for 2008, Honda tossed out the CBR’s design in favor of a completely fresh one that boasted less weight and more power from its new 999cc motor.

Ah, the joys of Honda’s best-ever liter-sized sportbike being ridden down Laguna Seca’s Corkscrew in 2008.

Ah, the joys of Honda’s best-ever liter-sized sportbike being ridden down Laguna Seca’s Corkscrew in 2008.

That CBR1000RR (internally referred to as the MFL, replacing the MEL) became my favorite literbike. It was exceedingly agile and boasted a midrange-heavy powerband that turned out be more satisfying and useful than most of its rivals. It finished no worse than second in every category but price in our big shootout in 2008 and was a dominating winner.

2008 Literbike Shootout: ZX-10R vs CBR1000RR vs GSX-R1000 vs YZF-R1

That’s me again behind a steering wheel at a Honda launch. The S2000 Club Racer was lightweight, agile and fun to rev to redline, not too dissimilar to the ‘08 CBR1000RR.

That’s me again behind a steering wheel at a Honda launch. The S2000 Club Racer was lightweight, agile and fun to rev to redline, not too dissimilar to the ‘08 CBR1000RR.

So now it’s time for the most significant update to the CBR1k in almost nine years, and I’m anxious to find out just how wonderful the new Honda might be. I’m also wondering which car might be at the bike’s launch…

  • JMDonald

    I started out riding Hondas. From a Mini Trail to a VFR. My first sportbike was a CBR600. I never had a Fireblade but always wanted one. I will always have a soft spot for Honda.

  • Old MOron

    Hmm, you’re waxing philosophical over this test. Makes sense to me. It’s sort of a Honda homecoming for you. As long as you’re feeling philosophical, here’s a question for you: how is your 2016 resolution coming along? http://www.motorcycle.com/features/dukes-den.html

    I only ask because I happened to rediscover your story while searching for something else on MO, and because it’s a resolution I’d like to see you make good on – not that it’s any of my business.

    • Kevin Duke

      Well, I’m riding a bit more than last year, so moderately successful! Thanks for the reminder.

      • Old MOron

        In the spirit of sharing, I can say that I put some new strings on my guitar and have started picking at it again. http://www.motorcycle.com/features/risk.html#comment-2515698593 It’s amazing how things come back to you.

        Took me a couple of weeks to get some dexterity back. Now muscle memory is carrying me along. So far it’s been pretty fun and pretty easy because I’m basically just recalling things I already knew. Some time in the near future I’ll face the challenge of learning new stuff. I think I’ll manage.

        • Kevin Duke

          Good for you! Acoustic or electric? Cover songs or originals?

          • Old MOron

            Acoustic cover songs. Even at my best I was barely an intermediate. I made a half-hearted effort at flamenco 20 years ago. I’m trying to remember those forms, and I’m trying to learn fun stuff like this: https://youtu.be/Q6s9pa7bFHo Do you remember an 80s television series called “The Fall Guy”?

          • Kevin Duke

            Ah, The Fall Guy, and Heather Thomas… :)

          • Old MOron

            Imagine what the Battle of the Heathers (Locklear and Thomas) would’ve been like if there had been social media back then.

  • john phyyt

    Yes Mr Duke, you just want Honda to know that you will say nice things about their motorbike if they let you loose in an NSX super car. Good luck to you. I hope it happens.

    • Kevin Duke

      Maybe I’ll go to the Gixxer instead. I just got a ride in a new NSX this week! Passenger seat only, but it was with a pro driver at Streets of Willow, so it was pretty damn exciting.

  • Starmag

    All motojo’s are probably smart enough to be making more money elsewhere, no doubt especially the motorcycle version. Thanks for sharing the obvious passion which lead to the monetary sacrifice.

    I personally credit Soichiro san with upping the ante reliability and fun wise worldwide, not only with motorcycles but also with cars. There’s not as much biographical material available on him as you would think, I’ve searched for books and such. Got a MOronic researcher in in the ranks to tell us more? This was one highly unusual individual.

    • john phyyt

      Agreed. If Honda can rekindle his spirit. Motoring will benefit.

      • Kevin Duke

        I’m afraid to say that without a strong and visionary leader like Soichiro, Honda will be unable to get that spirit back. It’s much easier to slam through a pet project when your name is on the tank than when an ambitious engineer is trying to convince a boardroom of something enthusiasts will love but will sell only tepidly.

        • Old MOron

          MOronic E-i-C speaks truth to power.
          Sometimes the truth hurts.

  • Kenneth

    While not exactly relating to this story (‘sorry), it is now late Thursday, Oct 6th, and still no MO listing of the new ’17 Honda CB1100RS/EX that appeared yesterday at INTERMOT? Is it coming to the U.S.?

  • Andrew Capone

    Hope it’s the new NSX!

    • http://norimek.com/blog Robert C. Barth

      As bulletproof as the 2008+ that burn oil like mad? I have one, bought new, so disappointed in Honda.

  • Branson

    Nice detail about the ’98 having storage under the passenger seat.

    I owned an ’01 929 with that feature — about the size of a small tank bag, but very discreet, and lockable. Miss that.

  • ‘Mike Smith

    As a R1 owner and someone who has never ridden a CBR, this is a great article.

  • Kirk Harrington

    Can Honda sell a consumer superbike that is still down on power to it’s competitors based on balance and handling? With Kawi, Suzuki, BMW & Ducati smacking the 200hp crank hp line with regularity, it seems like a marketing blitz is a must. We old guys can understand the Honda way of thinking, but we old guys aren’t out buying modern superbikes with the same intent with younger counterparts. When a guy in his 40’s and up purchases that bike there is a greater likelihood that it’s intent is track day focused. Yet, would we really make that investment? The new R6 is coming and it’s going to be represent a less expensive option to the modern liter bike.
    Duke, you know as well as the rest of us geezers that you can put a 600 cc bike in the hands of guys like us and make many young riders on liter bikes look foolish. The way I see it, Honda only wins this battle of liter bikes sales if they make a statement in WSBK, MotoAmerica and BSB next season. If they don’t bring the hammer of Thor to that party then the new bike sits on the showroom floor being discounted at the end of every season. Nick’s going to have to do a lot of PR for Honda over the next several months to make skeptics become believers.
    BTW- nice article.

  • TheRandyGuy

    People may not know it, but the original CBR900RR (bone stock), turned lap times that would have placed it 10th on the grid for the British GP in 1993. When Honda decides to, they build the bikes that advance the standard for all the other manufacturers (Ducati fans, I hear you…).