Five Generations of Fireblades
The 2008 CBR1000RR is the fifth generation of Honda's open-class sport bike. In the United States it has been known as the 900RR, 929RR, 954RR, and finally the 1000RR, but in the rest of the world it is properly known as the Fireblade. When the original 900RR bowed in 1993 it changed the game for big bore sportbikes by being lighter and sharper than any big sportbike that had come before it. However, over the years Honda played it a bit too conservative and Yamaha and Suzuki went sailing past with the 1000 cc R1 and GSX-R1000 respectively.
In 2004 Honda decided to fight fire with fire with the first 1000 cc Fireblade, but it didn't quite hit the mark. The 4th gen 1000RR came in overweight and had handling that was safe, but slow in transitions. In race trim the 1000RR had respectable success in superbike racing. In four years it took 2 British Superbike titles and 1 World Superbike title. However, it was acknowledged by Honda that they would need to build a more focused bike for the next iteration of the Fireblade.
Enter the 2008 CBR1000RR. The new bike is a total redesign as part of Honda's new 4 year life cycle for the CBR line. As expected, it is lighter, more powerful, and nimbler than it's predecessor. Of those major areas of improvement perhaps the most impressive was how they went about cutting weight. In pursuing weight reduction, Honda did not stop at the typical areas like a lighter, more compact engine, or a lighter frame. They made the chassis more compact, dramatically cut down the fairings, made a more compact exhaust, and packed all of the components tighter than a can of sardines. The result is that the 2008 1000RR is the only 1000 cc bike that got lighter instead of heavier. It also looks like the most minimalist sportbike Honda has ever made (and of course it's the fastest).
I must admit I was initially somewhat revolted by the styling of the bike. The stubby nose and teeny tail didn't have the balance and proportion of it's predecessor and made the Fireblade the ugly duckling of the Japanese sportbike contingent. While the previous 1000RR had a sharp, falcon-like front fairing the 2008 1000RR looks more like an owl.
In person though the bike looks a lot better, provided it's in the right color. The Red/Black and the Black/Graphic color schemes look the best, but the rest of the colors have a weird two tone thing going on with a black fuel tank that just looks clumsy, a sin this bike can ill afford. Suffice it to say, it is not the prettiest Fireblade ever.
I had to do some searching to find a black bike as Honda inexplicably made black a limited edition color (only 500 units) for a $500 premium. I don't know who made that decision or why, but it seems pretty silly to make a common color like black in such small numbers. Now had the bike sported the Repsol Honda or Ten Kate Honda colors it'd be a different story.
Anyway, when you start giving the bike a long once over in the flesh you can begin to appreciate the details of the design. The major thing I like about the styling are the sculpted curves in the tank and fairings. The subtle curves almost look like sinewy muscle rippling through the bodywork. In concert they make the bike look aggressive and pumped up like an Olympic sprinter.
Another very nice touch is that Honda concealed all of the fairing screws on the front and side fairings, making the bike look flawlessly clean. Of course, by tucking away all of the fairing screws the next thought is how much of a ordeal it will be to remove and replace the fairings.
In public the bike actually attracts a good amount of attention. I've never had teenage boys wolf whistle at any car or other bike I've ridden. I'd prefer hot college girls whistling at my bike but I'll take the compliment.
The other day a girl in a car next to me was staring so hard at the bike (or maybe it was my gold visor) that she forgot to go when the light turned green. In hindsight I should've chased her down and offered her a ride (of terror).
As extreme as the bike looks it is actual pretty comfortable for my 6'0" frame. Honda has struck a balance between comfort and performance that is the trademark of the CBR line of bikes. The seating position doesn't stretch me over the bike too much, so for the most part it doesn't put too much weight on the wrists. After about an hour and a half or so of riding wrist fatigue does come into play.
It is a bit tall and wide like most 1000's, but I can still put both feet flat on the ground. A shorter rider may have more trouble with the height and width of the bike. Still, with the relatively low weight it's not a beast to maneuver at walking speed.
The seat is by no means soft. It is not extremely punishing on long rides but only just so. By a rough guess it's a little softer than the previous model but that's not saying much considering how hard the old seat was. Those who do a decent amount of long distance rides will pretty much be forced to buy an aftermarket seat. However, on my daily rides it's no problem.
When you throw a leg over the big CBR and start pouring on the throttle the most impressive thing is how smooth and even the power comes on. The low rpm fueling on the 1000RR is picture perfect. From the zero throttle position there is no jerkiness at all - just smooth, electric power. It makes getting on the power no more dramatic than a 600 cc sportbike with 50 less horsepower.
The large project leader for the CBR1000RR said that Honda made a conscious decision not to follow Suzuki's lead in offering 3 different rider-selectable power maps (the GSX-R 1000 has a low, medium, and full power setting). Reason being was that they thought they could make the bike rideable and accessible with precise tuning of the power delivery and fueling. Mission accomplished. The fuel injection makes the bike totally natural and easy to ride. Not to say that any hack could ride it, you still need a well-trained throttle hand. But for those not used to 1000 cc power the learning curve is not so steep with the 1000RR.
With 175 crank horsepower suffice it to say that this thing is stupendously, and perhaps stupidly fast. In first, second, and into third gear power wheelies are no problem. Actually, to put it another way, it is a problem keeping the front wheel down when you've got the throttle turned to the stop and are shifting as fast as possible. Even at 60 mph in 6th gear I can accelerate with authority I can see that this bike will easily sail past 160 mph on the front straight at VIR. But this also means that I rarely use full throttle on the street.
The power band is pretty stout from about 5,000 rpms all the way up to the redline. As it turns out, the US market 1000RR differs in that respect from its Euro and Japanese market brethren. Apparently the bike was too loud at high rpm's to pass US noise regulations. Honda had two choices, either put on a more restrictive muffler or retune the powerband. Honda chose the latter and as a result the US market 1000RR has a fatter midrange but less peak power than the other markets. With so much power I'm not bothered at all by it, but whenever I put on an aftermarket exhaust I may adjust the power band.
Something I really enjoy about the engine is the satisfying intake resonating sound that comes on at about 4,000 rpm. It's sort of cross between a growl and a melodius howl. Some magazine journalists have complained about this sound but I can't get enough of it. I think it's nice to get a little bit of bass from a four-cylinder since it's unlikely Honda will give us another V-Twin sportbike anytime soon (but maybe a V5 is on the way...).
I can't say that I've got a great feel for the handling yet, since I haven't taken it to the track. On the street if feels very nimble, it really only steers a touch slower than a 600. However, the faster you go the less like a 600 it feels due to the greater gyroscopic effect created by the larger reciprocating mass of the 1000 cc engine. Nonetheless I haven't noticed any nervousness or stubbornness on the back roads I've taken it on. Just like the power delivery the handling has a predictable quality that gives you confidence while riding it.
As happy as I am with the handling now, I won't be able to get a really good feel for the handling until I'm able to take it to a track day and put it through its paces. Hopefully I'll be able to get the bike out to VIR where it can really stretch its legs.
I'm at 2200 miles on the bike, riding it every day to work when it's not raining, with a few backroads rides and 2 hour rides sprinkled in. The 1000RR is truly user friendly enough to ride everyday, even on the odd day that I have to inch my way through traffic (if only I lived in California where I could lane split). I've gotten caught out in the rain a couple of times with the bike and it's been the perfect gentleman. I thought riding in the rain with the 1000 would be utterly terrifying but it's just another day at the office with this bike.
I've also done the first oil change on the bike and I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was. For one, I only needed to remove the lower fairing, which involved removing only four bolts. The oil filter is off to the right side of the engine so when you remove it residual oil doesn't spill onto the exhaust manifold (this used to cause smoking on my 600RR). The way Honda designed these fairings really shows they put a lot of thought and effort into it. I was expecting a maddening jigsaw puzzle but got nothing of the sort.
The major complaint I have is the gas gauge. For some reason beyond my comprehension Honda did not put a traditional fuel gauge on the digital display. Instead, as one of the trip meter options you can see how much gas you've burned since the last time you reset the meter, which requires you to reset it every time you get gas. A lot of times I end up being reminded I need gas by the 'Low Fuel' light. I hope Honda fixes this for 2009 (although it won't help me), along with the horrible black tank on the yellow, silver, and maroon paint jobs.
Next Order of Business
For my trip to Indianapolis for Moto GP next month (September 12-14) I'll be looking for a softer seat. Preferable something with gel padding. I'll also be picking up a few odds and ends like red wheel tape, some aftermarket brake and clutch levers, and frame sliders. I'll also take her down to a dyno to get a baseline reading before I put on an aftermarket exhaust.
Track season is closing down here and unfortunately good dates at bigger track are hard to come by but I'm hoping I can get at least one day at a decently fast track in before the end of the year.