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Used long term test: Honda Blackbird

Our man Tony Middlehurst takes on a tasty used project for us...

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Submitted by Visordown on Wed, 09/05/2018 - 06:33

Industry leg end and former stalwart of these pages, Tony Middlehurst, has been rifling the eBay ads for some fresh two-wheeled thrills. Here's what he's come up with - a very sweet looking Honda Super Blackbird...

Hello, and welcome to me and my new old bike, a 2001 Honda Blackbird, or the ‘Gentleman’s Express’ as Mr Dowds refers to it.

Why a Blackbird? Well, for a start I’ve got previous history. A few years back I had an early carburetted specimen with an Akrapovic four-into-one. I loved that bike’s combination of comfort, styling, surprisingly wieldy handling and even more surprising acceleration.

Annoyingly, I’d had to sell my old Bird to finance some building work. Since then I’d owned a Kawasaki ZRX1200R and a hardtail custom Harley (sorry), but this time round I wanted something a bit more capable of taking me and the missus off to faraway places.

Looking around the classifieds, it became pretty clear that the Blackbird still stands tall in the ‘useful superbike for affordable money’ category. So, I’ve been looking for an injected ‘Bird to fill the hole in my soul, and I found one on eBay – the source of most of my non-food purchases these days.

Ray, the owner, was only selling his one after eight years’ ownership because a lifetime spent in the building trade had sadly brought on a bad case of arthritis. His bike was a 41,000-miler in red with two previous owners, a thick wodge of papers, double-bubble screen, full Givi/Kappa three-piece luggage set, chain oiler, two sets of keys, rear hugger and a pair of Helibar risers, a common mod among the more mature members of the Blackbirdarati. Ray was even throwing in his TomTom satnav, a motorcycling luxury I’d never experienced before. The eBay ad had it at £2,600. I stuck in a cheeky bid of £2,300 which, to my delight, was accepted, and we were all set.

Tony Middlehurst Blackbird

As usual with almost all of my non-postable eBay purchases, the bike couldn't have been much farther away from me. I did think about paying for van delivery to bring it from Ray’s place in Durham to me in Wiltshire, but the missus fancied a sunny trip up in the MX-5, and as we all know Blackbirds are great long-distance machines. Despite not having seen the bike in the metal, I felt confident from my eBay comms with Ray that I would have no trouble.

I did have a bit of trouble, as it turned out, but that was more to do with it being a 310-mile ride home and my own bones being somewhat creaky. Before that, though, the reveal by Ray had been a joyous experience. The bike had done 41,000 miles, but if you’d turned that round to 14,000 you wouldn’t have argued about it.

At some point in its life the bike has had some paint on the fairing and on one of the side panels, but all the bodywork looked arrow-straight, the wheels appeared to line up, and the bike was a credit to Ray’s assiduous maintenance and polishing.

Annoyingly, the day set for collection turned out to be the first day of miserable weather after that hot week we had in early April. I felt a bit guilty about the rich coating of traffic grime the Honda was about to receive.

Happily, the first few miles of the homeward trip reaffirmed most of my good thoughts about these excellent all-rounders – and also made me wonder how I’d ever managed to ride my old non-Helibarred Bird. Something to do with me being younger then. The engine was turbine-smooth, the power (up from 133bhp on my old carbed bike to 164bhp on this gen-two machine) big and linear, and the ultra-light gearchange made my previous ZRX1200R’s shift feel like something banged together in a Bulgarian steel works.

She wasn’t 100 per cent right though. The handling was a bit peculiar. My jaundiced eye fell on the five-year-old Bridgestone Battlaxes. Ray had done some pretty big European trips, and the wear pattern on the Bridgestones suggested it had seen more straightline than cornering action. Nowt wrong with that, but I do fancy reliving some of my bend-swinging days as well as accumulating some mileage, so fresh rubber will be sorted.

Slightly more worrying was the bike’s tendency to dive into cracks in the road and its general sensation of wanderiness. It felt like over-tight steering head bearings, but that didn’t seem to make sense as the ‘notchy steering’ I’d seen as an MoT advisory in 2016 didn’t reappear on last year’s report. 

Tony Middlehurst Blackbird

The final point of concern was the CBS dual-braking system, which basically means that you get a mix of front and rear braking together whether you’re pulling on the bar lever or tromping on the pedal. It didn't seem to be working. Not the CBS bit, especially, but the braking system in general. I was having to use the gearbox to slow down rather more than was ideal. Squeezing the lever or stamping on the brake pedal didn't really stop the bike in the accepted sense. It was good at generating panicky screams inside my helmet, though.

Time for a visit to me old mucker Steve Bateman, ex-Phase One endurance riding ace who’s as quick with the spanners now as he was (and still is) on the throttle. Let’s see what he makes of it.

 

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