Duke's Den: Decades Of Fireblades
From CBR900RR to all-new CBR1000RR
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…