Saturday, June 25, 2011

Memorable: 1992 Honda CBR900RR FireBlade

The legendary Tadao Baba (above), with his creation, the Honda CBR900RR FireBlade

Over the years, reams of text have been written about the original Honda CBR900RR FireBlade and about how it rewrote the sportsbike rulebook back then. Tadao Baba, project leader for the first FireBlade (which was launched in March 1992), initiated the concept of ‘total control,’ favouring light weight and mass centralisation over outright top-end power, resulting in a sportsbike that wasn’t just very fast, but also actually handled very well.

While the FireBlade was an absolute revelation back in the early-1990s, you might sometimes wonder how it would stack up against modern machines. The first FireBlade weighed 185 kilos and its carburetted, DOHC, liquid-cooled, 893cc inline-four produced 124 horsepower. Doesn’t sound hugely impressive today, when it isn’t uncommon for litre-class superbikes to pack as much as 190-200 horsepower.

For their June issue this year, Fast Bikes magazine rode a mint-condition 1993-spec FireBlade and here are some excerpts from what they had to say about the almost two decade old machine:

‘On the move, the engine is as smooth as silk and the fuelling from the consummately balanced carbs is sublime. In the context of the BMW [S1000RR] its speed seems gentile, but it’s genuinely capable of supersport speeds, and capable of controlling it too. It’s no museum piece and although the gearbox needs use to keep up with its successors, the FireBlade is capable of delivering speeds in keeping with today’s roads.’

‘The FireBlade was, and still is, up for the cornering challenge. This was Tadao Baba’s aim, to marry the excellent engine technology of the time with a futuristic chassis, building skills to create a racer for the road. It feels manageable, with true 750cc dimensions, and once you settle on board, you really see what a giant leap this machine was at the time.’

‘There’s a sticker that was used on the original bike – Total Control – and you can see how at the time the FireBlade achieved this. Talking of stickers, the iconic graphics have gone full circle – from cool to naff to ice cold again.’

‘Nearly 20 years on, it’s still as eager as ever to bow to Baba’s wishes. The years may have blunted its once razor sharp edges, but even today the ’Blade remains a proper tool.’

1992 Honda CBR900RR FireBlade 1992 Honda CBR900RR FireBlade 1992 Honda CBR900RR FireBlade 1992 Honda CBR900RR FireBlade 1992 Honda CBR900RR FireBlade 1992 Honda CBR900RR FireBlade 1992 Honda CBR900RR FireBlade 1992 Honda CBR900RR FireBlade 1992 Honda CBR900RR FireBlade
Lean, lithe and superbly balanced - that was the original Honda CBR900RR FireBlade

So there you are – according to Fast Bikes, the ’Blade may be old, but it can still pretty much hold its own. Back in December 2003, MCN also did a story on the original FireBlade, where they got some top motorcycle designers and engineers to voice their opinions of the ’Blade. Here are some excerpts from what they had to say about the Honda:

‘The FireBlade forced its competitors to change their whole philosophy of bike manufacture and influenced the future research for lighter weights coupled with high power characteristics. Without it, today’s sportsbikes would be heavier, with all the handicaps of lower performance, lower stability and handling characteristics that came with that. The FireBlade really was that important.’
Massimo Tamburini (designed the Ducati 916 and MV Agusta F4)

‘When the FireBlade came out, Ducati had just launched the 888 and I was working on the Supermono. The ’Blade was clearly a big step forward from the RC30 and one that the other Japanese firms would have to follow. Had there been no FireBlade, today’s sportsbikes might be a lot bigger and heavier – more like Hayabusas and ZX-12s.’
Pierre Terblanche (designed the Ducati Supermono, 999, SportClassic and many others)

‘Before the FireBlade, with 1000cc bikes we prioritised good high-speed riding ability more than we did handling and cornering. When the FireBlade arrived, I originally doubted that a machine with that specification would be satisfactory to customers, but I realised my mistake as soon as I rode it. It was clearly created by people who really enjoyed bikes. It was an alert to the rest of the world to create bikes that satisfied riders, not just design teams.’
Kunihiko Miwa (responsible for the first Yamaha R1 that was launched in 1998)

‘The FireBlade was almost an evolution of the RC30, but for the masses. It was the first accessible hypersports bike that actually handled, and at an affordable price. It didn’t use paint schemes and acronyms to bullshit the public that it was a race bike under the skin – it actually had lighter components. Also, Baba very cleverly avoided exotic materials, which helped stop the spiralling cost of superbike production in its tracks.’
Adrian Morton (responsible for the Benelli Tornado)

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