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A History of the Honda Fireblade

With the new 2020 Honda Fireblade launch just around the corner, Visordown takes a retrospective look at how we got to where we are

WHEN asked to think of sportsbikes of the last twenty years, one name immediately jumps to the forefront of most people's minds: The Honda Fireblade. For many this iconic machine is the bike that brought true race bike dynamics to the rider on the street, all backed up by ease of use and reliability that is hard to match.

1996 Honda CBR 900 RR Fireblade Review

For 2020, Honda are playing hardball with the motorcycle world, building the most technologically advanced and most powerful Fireblade ever to be produced. But how did we get to this point, what’s the history of the Honda Fireblade?

Honda CBR900RR - 1992

For many, the CBR900RR is the FireBlade (early machines had a capital ‘B’ at the start of blade) to own. Prices in recent years have rocketed for well looked after examples of this iconic motorcycle. Using a stroked out 750cc engine, Honda created a machine that was lighter, nimbler and almost as powerful as the sportsbikes of the time. When it came down to the act of riding on road and track, the other manufacturers didn’t see which way the diminutive ‘Blade went.

Honda CBR900RR – 1994

The FireBlade’s first major update came just two years after the original bike’s launch and saw the inclusion of adjustable forks, an updated engine and extensive use of lightweight parts such as aluminium fairing supports, and head and a magnesium cylinder head cover.

The bike also gained it’s distinctive ‘tiger eyes’ headlights, a feature that would be synonymous with the machine until the late 90s.

Honda CBR900RR – 1996

The theme of the two-year lifecycle continued with the next update for the machine arriving in 1998, this time the engine and frame got a thorough going over. The new frame was lighter and more ridged that before, while displacement was increased from 893cc to 918cc. The boost in capacity naturally brought an increase in power, with the ’96 machine producing 126bhp, an increase of 3bhp over the previous model.

This bike was also the lightest FireBlade to date, slimming down by 1kg thanks to a new fuel tank design, stainless steel exhaust and the elimination of the fuel pump.

Honda CBR900RR – 1998

1998 saw the first major overhaul of the bike’s styling, with more work carried out beneath the skin. Honda claim that 80% of the parts used in this bike were redesigned over the previous version, with the primary focus being on saving weight. To that point the ’98 model came down to 180kg, saving 3kgs over the ’96 version.

The new bike included a redesigned swingarm that boasted lower weight and increased rigidity, while the engine made further gains putting out 128bhp.

The sportsbike pond got a little more crowded in 1998 though, as this was the first year of production for the Yamaha YZF-R1, a bike that many believe was the first true competitor for the all-conquering Fireblade.

Honda CBR900RR – 2000

2000 saw the first Fireblade to use electronic fuel injection, with the adoption of the PGM-FI, Programmed Fuel Injection system. Capacity again to a jump forward, with output increasing significantly to 145bhp.

A redesigned swingarm pivot helped to increase cornering stability and the new bike wore a titanium link pipe and muffler, resulting in a dry weight of just 170kg.

Honda CBR900RR – 2002

2002 brought about the end of an era in the form of the last Fireblade to wear the CBR900RR moniker. It was also, predictably, the lightest and most powerful version of the bike so far, claiming 147bhp and 168kg dry.

To achieve this capacity grew to 954cc, with the bore growing from 74mm to 75mm. A new crank and crank casing helped to reduce rotational mass and frictional losses, also helping to bring to the total dry weight for the machine down to 168kg.

Honda CBR1000RR – 2004

The Fireblade saw another major overhaul in 2004, losing the single, side-mounted exhaust in favour of a MotoGP style underseat option. The swingarm was also all-new, featuring a Unit Pro-Link set-up, designed and executed with help from the Honda World Superbike team.

Now with their sights set firmly on WSBK glory, the 998cc ‘Blade fell neatly within the homologation rules for the biggest production racing championship on the planet, With Chris Vermeulen taking four wins and fourth in the championship for the Ten Kate Honda WSBK team.

Honda CBR1000RR – 2006

With Honda seemingly onto a good thing with the new bike in World Superbike, the changes to the 2006 Fireblade were more about evolution rather than revolution. The engine gained straight intake ports, bigger exhaust ports and revised cam profiles resulting in better combustion and stronger bottom and mid-range torque.

The front brake discs grew from 310mm to 320mm, with the thickness of the discs reduced by .5mm to help reduce un-sprung mass.

Honda CBR1000RR – 2008

Another end of an era bike now in the form of the last Fireblade to feature no traction control or electronic rider assistance systems. It was though the first of its kind to feature an assisted slipper clutch, the design of which is said to be very close to that of the RC212V MotoGP machine.

It’s was also the first Fireblade to get an underslung exhaust system, aimed at centralising the mass of the bike and helping it to corner quicker on road and track.

In 2008 the bike went through another visual overhaul, taking on a headlight design that was a stylised look back at the original ‘fox eye’ headlights of the second-gen FireBlade.

Honda CBR1000RR – 2009

Throwing caution to the wind, Honda didn’t wait the traditional two years to release the next update, with the 2009 bike using the first electronically actuated ABS system ever fitted to a sportsbike.

The idea was that the hydraulic lever and pedal would measure the amount of pressure applied by the rider, calculating the power and communicating that to the control unit that would then apply the designated amount of force to the caliper.

The idea was to allow the ABS to work more in tune with the sportsbike's dynamics, the reality was a slightly alien feeling at both the front and rear of the bike.

Honda CBR1000RR – 2010

The 2010 (eleventh generation) Fireblade was a series of tiny updates over the previous model, with a smattering of lightweight parts used across the engine and frame to help increase everyday riding comfort.

Honda CBR1000RR – 2012

Honda celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Fireblade with new Showa Big Piston Forks and a Balance Free Rear Cushion also from Showa. The fuel injection was also updated, in an effort to smooth out the initial opening of the throttle when riding on the road.

This era saw the Honda in a bit of a purple patch at the Isle of Man TT road races, with John McGuinness taking the top spot in the Senior TT, flanked by Cameron Donald and Bruce Anstey, both of whom where also riding Honda Fireblades.

Honda CBR1000RR – 2014

For the first time the CB1000RR was joined in the line-up by the SP version if the iconic sportsbike. The ethos for the SP machines was simple, take a Fireblade and make it lighter, faster and better handling.

The bike gained Öhlins suspension front and rear, Brembo Monobloc calipers, lightweight seat rails, and a single-seat design.

Honda CBR1000RR – 2017

The last generation of Fireblade promised to be the bike that would help Honda recapture the glories of past performances on the roads and racetracks of the world. In reality it became somewhat of an enfant terrible, with high-profile accidents at the TT and NW200 crowning what was a bit of a disaster for the new machine. The problems were linked to the bike’s race-only ECU, although by then the damage was done.

Honda CBR1000RR-R – 2020

With the latest Fireblade, Honda has not just added an extra ‘R’ to the bike’s name, they’ve created the most powerful, most technologically advanced and possibly the fastest Fireblade to date. With Top-spec Showa Big Piston Forks on the stock bike, and super-trick Öhlins electronically controlled suspension on the SP variant, the new machine looks every inch the race winner on road and track.

With a claimed 214bhp on tap, it’s also the most powerful Fireblade ever produced by the factory, placing the new bike firmly in the 200+bhp club that for so long been missing a bike with a winged badge on the tank.

Is the new Fireblade all hype? Will it have lost any of its everyday ease of use that made it a popular choice with everyday riders? Can it compete with the likes of Ducati, Aprilia, Yamaha and BMW in the outright laptime stakes?

We don’t have long to wait as the launch is next week and Visordown will be there to bring you the full inside line on the new model.

Stay tuned.

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