Road Test

Honda Honda 1996 Fireblade CBR900RR takes on 2019

Visordown takes a ride down retro lane by putting a classic 1996 Honda CBR900RR Fireblade (SC33) through the rigours of 2019 life

There’s something about the SC33 Fireblade, something special. And that pedigree has been passed down from generation to generation and the Fireblade has only got faster and more refined as times gone on.
Retro Dash Smooth power delivery Style is awesome
No reserve fuel light The tank is very wide

It’s been a big year for Honda as it toasts 60 years since it first began manufacturing road motorcycles, with the recent Goodwood Festival of Speed representing a highlight of festivities with a special gathering of machinery demonstrating a physical timeline of then and now, road and race. 

It’s difficult to overstate Honda’s contribution to the industry in those six decades but a selection of game-changing models have been spotlit in that time, notably the 1996 Fireblade which captured the 90s zeitgeist and became one of the most desired motorcycles of its era. So, when Visordown was offered the chance to ‘own’ a pristine variant for a few weeks, we were excited to find out whether time has been kind or if it belongs in the rose-tinted past.

Brief History

The Fireblade first hit the streets in 1992 and it not only shifted the goalposts on what a sporty motorcycle should be, it created an entirely different ballgame. Despite only having an 893cc motor (comparatively small for the times) the ‘Blade was a featherweight, the fettled chassis majoring in nimbleness and agility. This ‘flickabilty’ took the motorcycling world by surprise, with journalists initially labelling it flighty and unstable. In reality, the SC28 (1992) Fireblade trail-blazed the way for how modern supersports should feel and behave, with the second generation SC33 model (1996-99) boasting more power and increased engine capacity - all in a package that weighed only 172kg (dry).

Price

Depending on the condition you can pick up an SC33 Fireblade from £2,500-£7,500. The less tinkered with they are the more you’ll end up paying, as these motors are becoming increasingly desirable as they make their natural transition from simply outdated to retro and eventually classic.

If I was parting with my English pounds, a fair price would be just over three grand for a clean example. 

Engine

The ‘96 Fireblade’s powerplant is a 918cc inline-four, with a useable 126bhp and 68 ft-lb torque. 

In its day it was capable of 160mph, but twenty-three years later it’s probably lost a few ponies. Still, thanks to 4x 38 mm Keihin CV carbs the motor is silky smooth and the cable throttle connection feels great, dare I say it, better than a lot of modern flyby wire throttle systems. You get an awesome satisfying whoosh of smooth linear power every twist of the throttle, without having to wring its neck. Anything above 3,000rpm is the happy zone. 

The power is comparable to a modern 600cc spinning up a little slower with a good amount more torque. Compared to modern Fireblades the engine is certainly tamer, but that’s not to say it’s not fun, on the whole, it’s a delightful power level.

Through the gears the bike is seamless, and to my surprise, it can handle clutchless upshifts no problem! No false neutrals, no miss-shifts what so ever - pretty impressive.  

Suspension

Fully adjustable conventional Showa front forks house the sixteen-inch front wheel, with the rear being managed by a fully adjustable Showa mono-shock, which has a trick external reservoir. For the road, the set-up is plush, comfortable and at no point bone-shaking or unsettling. Granted it’s not as responsive as the fancy systems fitted to supersports today, but for today’s roads it’s more than adequate.

Handling

Bearing in mind the ‘Blade is a year younger than me, it handles remarkably well. I don’t mean to say it’s a trail-braking apex munching monster, no. However, it’s the kind of bike you pilot and subsequently obtain huge amounts of satisfaction from when cornering, as you feel so connected to the chassis. Put simply, it’s got the feels… although perhaps more emotionally than physically due to the mediocre sports touring tyres rather than the chassis as a whole. 

Compared to my own 2008 Fireblade the feeling is night and day, as the post-2008 iteration feels tighter and more connected to the road - with newer versions feeling even better. But, the 96 does change direction without too much effort and hold the selected line through an A-road sweeper, which is where the ‘Blade finds its happiest hunting ground. 

Honda CBR1000RR FIREBLADE SP 2019 Review

Brakes

The first thing to genuinely show it’s age was twin four-pot Nissin calipers up front, gripping two 298mm disks. With a hard pull they work a treat, but modulating them accurately is difficult. However, the rear brake is fantastic, and the way the SC33 feels beneath you doesn’t make you want to hoon it everywhere pushing deep into the apex on the anchors. Instead, it promotes carrying speed and leaning on that silky smooth motor once the bike is stood up. This bike and its age made me respect it far more than I would something that was newer and fitted with a six-axis IMU and other electronic gizmos.

Equipment

Talking of equipment, this model doesn't come with anything in the form of rider aides. However, the retro dash looks awesome and makes you feel like you’re at the classic Isle of Man TT. The dash doesn’t have a low fuel light, which caught me out twice as no warning light lured me into a false sense of security. It’s no bother though, as the reserve fuel switch is under the tank and sorts everything out. 

The clip-on switch-gears feel great and everything is laid out in a comfortable ergonomic position, a trait typical of Honda. For some riders, the tank might be a tad wide as it feels a bit like you’re sitting in a Gynecologist chair. But hey, it’s retro right? 

We like:

  • Retro Dash

  • Smooth power delivery 

  • Style is awesome

We don’t like:  

  • No reserve fuel light

  • The tank is very wide

Verdict

There’s something about the SC33 Fireblade, something special. The Fireblade may have gotten faster, more refined and cleverer but you can trace a lot of that DNA down to this particular model with a native pedigree that has influenced generations to come.

The 96 is a real head-turner and conversation starter, I had people literally stop me in the street to talk about it because the bike means so much to them, which is telling! To me, the SC33 personifies exactly what motorcycling and being a motorcyclist means. 

It’s not about going as fast as possible, having the best technology available and spending a pretty penny on something which scares the life out of you. Instead, it’s about enjoying the ride, loving what you ride and feeling connected to it on an emotional level. Call me soft, but when I packed the Blade up to send back to Honda HQ, it was like I had lost a part of myself. We bonded… and only very special bikes can do this.

But hey, enough emotional stuff. If you’ve dreamt of getting a retro Fireblade don’t hesitate - you will not be disappointed. For a daily ride perhaps get something a little more modern (with a fuel light), but for a peaceful ‘Sunday funday’ tool, look no further. 

Thanks for sending her my way Honda, she was a blast! Here’s to 60 more years of fantastic motorcycles.

 

Retro Dash Smooth power delivery Style is awesome
No reserve fuel light The tank is very wide

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