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First Ride: 2009 Honda Fireblade CBR1000RR C-ABS

In the day and age when Valentino Rossi openly disapproves of all electronic aids in MotoGP, Honda launches a totally new ABS-system, developed specifically for sportsbikes...

Click to read: 2009 Honda Fireblade CBR1000RR owners reviews, 2009 Honda Fireblade CBR1000RR specs and to see the 2009 Honda Fireblade CBR1000RR image gallery.

There’s one thing we can be sure of, Honda is very serious about their ABS. So serious in fact, they’ve not only fitted it to the CBR600RR (read the report of the ABS equipped supersport bike here), but to their 2009 Fireblade, which sits right at the top of their range. As with its smaller sibling, the Blade will also be offered with or without the ABS-system and the difference is about £1,000. As a result the 2009 Fireblade C-ABS will cost close to £10,000. But in fairness, you do get a lot of technology for your money. Since its introduction last year, the Blade has won just about every comparative test that was thrown at it. And with the new C-ABS system it’s likely to stay top dog.

It’s only been a year since its last evolution, so Honda didn’t feel it was necessary to give this latest incarnation of the ‘Blade a technical update quite so soon. With the exception of new indicators and a slightly different fairing on the C-ABS version, everything stays pretty much as it was. Which is a good thing. The only real change is the new colour scheme. The stylish range of colours from the 2008 model are replaced by sportier livery.

As it is, the Repsol replica looks good, but the stunner is the Suzuka 8 Hours replica. Not only does it commemorate the 2008 victory in the most prestigious race known to the Japanese, it also serves as a celebration for Honda’s 50th year in racing. It may amount to just coloured bodywork, but it manages to change the bike’s look completely. If the 2008 edition was a wolf in sheep’s clothing, the 2009 version is an undisguised, no holds bared beast and it leaves no doubt about its sporting intent.

The Repsol bikes are lined up perfectly in the pits on their paddock stands. Blood red tyre warmers heat up the Bridgestone BT-003s, it’s about the stickiest racing rubber you can get these days. The image sends shivers down my spine. After spending most of the morning riding the CBR600RR, Honda’s entourage gently pushes me towards the Fireblade. To feel the contrast between the two models, I first ride the Fireblade without the C-ABS activated and only have it switched on in the last two sessions. The first noticeable difference is the added 11kg you get with the C-ABS system. As the Fireblade is still the lightest in its class, that’s quite acceptable.

British WSB rider Johnny Rea was on hand to tow me through the first session. Even though the racing line is clearly marked in the Qatar dust, he shows me how to clip the kerb in the ridiculously fast double left sweeper, just as you enter the following right hander. It takes a bit of doing, but it saves about half a second at the end of the lap. And just like last year’s model, the 2009 version never looses it composure, even under this type of pressure.

The Fireblade’s engine remains unchanged for this year, but it’s still silky smooth and with the added bonus of a screaming finish towards the red line, a sharp contrast to the 600 I rode earlier. Where the supersports bike only accepts clean lines and high revs to keep the momentum going, the Blade has enough punch to pull you through your little mistakes. And that extra power forces you to stay focussed, as the end of the long straight hurls towards you with truly alarming speed.

The 2008 model was also launched in Qatar and as this new version’s largely unchanged, I return to the garage after my fifteen minute session, reeling with a sense of déjà vu. But the next time I leave pit lane with activated C-ABS, I have immediate proof that Honda haven’t been resting on their laurels over the past year. As with the 600, the first impression is mesmerizing. Brake hard and the Honda works its magic by distributing braking power perfectly between both the front and back wheel.

The resulting stability leaves you time to focus on other necessities , like downshifting and changing position. You can brake later and later with every lap, pushing the envelope as the bike seems to ooze with confidence. I couldn’t help but wonder how it would feel on a home track, one I know better than Qatar, and I’m convinced that I could brake considerably later, without that do-or-die feeling of adrenaline spiking through the pores of my skin, with my heart pounding against my tonsils.

Accelerating hard onto the main straight, I pinch the clutch and the front end lifts effortlessly into a wheelie that lasts halfway along the straight. It’s easy. It’s fun. But there is a catch. As the rotation of the lifted front wheel begins to naturally slow, the C-ABS system completely flips out, registering the action as impossible, a malfunction, and it simply shuts down.

The C-ABS indicator on the dashboard starts to flicker a manic warning sign that the system has been disengaged. But before I realise what’s happening, I’ve arrived at the end of the straight at a blistering 165 mph, needing to scrub over a ton for turn one…with no C-ABS on tap!

Blind trust in the no longer functioning electronics combined with grabbing a fistful of front brake is likely to lead to one thing and one thing only. Electronics gadgetry’s all well and good, as long as it’s there when you need it the most...

But. The fact remains that for the larger portion of riders, ABS on the Fireblade is a good idea and it undoubtedly works very well. I’d love to get a stopwatch on an ABS and non-ABS version round a track - I have a sneaking suspicion that the ABS bike will be faster. Will riders’ egos stop them buying a bike that weighs 11kg more on paper and has advanced riding aids? Only time will tell...

Honda Fireblade CBR1000RR ABS Specs

Price £10,725 (£11,375 ABS)
Engine Liquid cooled, 16 valve, inline four, 999cc
Power 168bhp @ 11,700rpm
Torque 79ft.lb @ 8,700rpm
Front suspension 43mm USD fork, fully adjustable
Rear suspension Monoshock, fully adjustable
Front brake 2x 320mm discs, four piston calipers
Rear Brake Single 220mm disc, two piston caliper
Dry weight 199kg (est)
Seat height 820mm
Fuel capacity 18 litres
Top speed 178mph
Colours: Repsol, White, Black, Blue
Rating: 5/5