Buyer Guide: Honda Fireblade Series

How to buy, run and enjoy arguably the most influential superbike of all time, Honda’s mighty Fireblade

Click to view: Honda Fireblade Series owners reviews, specs and image galleries.

The Fireblade is a bike with such presence, influence and sales success that it has become one of very few machines great swathes of the great unwashed non-biking public have heard of. And with good reason, since it’s one of the best and most important bikes to have emerged in the past two decades.

First and foremost, it fundamentally changed the way sports bikes are made when it appeared in 1992, by showing that light was right. It comprehensively outperformed heavier, more powerful rivals thanks to weighing about 20% less. Ever since it’s either been top dog in the unlimited sports bike class or, if it didn’t hold the top spot, a worthy contender at the very least.

What’s more, it’s a reliable machine too. When it first appeared in 1992 there were sharp intakes of breath and more than a few pub experts who reckoned a machine so pared down couldn’t last. “Like sandpapering condoms”, they said. But the cynics were proved wrong. The original, and every Fireblade since, have all been near faultless and capable of clocking up 100,000 miles plus.

But let’s not get too hung up on history and reliability. The FireBlade (or Fireblade as it was called from 2004 onwards) was and still is an awesome sports bike – a real high-velocity precision instrument. Ok, the remorseless march of progress has relegated earlier bikes to a near sports tourer role, but they’re still an exceedingly rapid, exciting ride and they’re even becoming collectible too. As for the latest 2008 and 2009 models, they’re currently keeping the legend very much alive as they’re the fastest and best-built Japanese litre-class sports bikes you can buy. What are you waiting for?

1992 Honda CBR900RR FireBlade

Engine 893/918cc, liquid cooled, carb’d, 16v in-line four Power 122bhp @ 10,500rpm
Torque 65ftlb @ 8,500rpm Dry weight 185kg Seat height 800mm Fuel capacity 18 litres (4 gal)
Insurance group 17 Top speed 160mph

2000 Honda CBR900RR FireBlade

Engine 929/954cc, liquid cooled, injected, 16v, in-line four Power 152bhp @ 10,500rpm
Torque 76ftlb @ 8,500rpm Dry weight 170kg Seat height 815mm Fuel capacity 18 litres (4 gal)
Insurance group 17 Top speed 170mph

2004 Honda CBR1000RR Fireblade

Engine 998cc, liquid cooled, injected, 16v, in-line four Power 170bhp @ 11,250rpm
Torque 85ftlb @ 8,500rpm Dry weight 179kg Seat height 820mm Fuel capacity 18 litres (4 gal)
Insurance group 17 Top speed 175mph

2008 Honda CBR1000RR Fireblade

Engine 998cc, liquid cooled, injected, 16v, in-line four Power 175bhp @ 12,000rpm
Torque 84ftlbs @ 8,500rpm Dry weight 179kg Seat height 820mm Fuel capacity 18 litres (4 gal)
Insurance group 17 Top speed 180mph

The nuts & bolts

The early (1992 to 1999) bikes have that infamous 16” front wheel. Some people think it’s fine and others say it makes the front feel a bit like it’s ready to tuck at any time. Either way it reduces the range of tyres available. There are plenty of sporty options but not many sports touring ones. Bridgestone BT-014s were the most popular, although they’ve now been replaced by the even better BT-016.

Some riders are using (old stock) Dunlop D207RR and D208RRs, both of which give lots of grip for minimal money – although they don’t warm up quickly. The later FireBlade models (2000 to ’03) have conventional wheel and tyre sizes. The three most popular tyres (all equal in numbers in our survey) are Bridgestone BT-021s, a modern sports touring tyre; Dunlop Qualifier IIs, a modern sports tyre; and Pirelli Dragon Supercorsa Pros, a sticky fast road and trackday tyre.

Riders of the 1000cc Fireblade models favourite rubber is again a tie between Pirelli’s evergreen sports tyre, the Diablo, and their Corsa III.

Tyre life varies massively depending on what rubber is fitted and how hard the bike’s ridden. 1992 to 1999 bikes average 3,500 miles from a front and nearly 3000 from a rear – we think they’re being ridden harder than the newer machines. The 2000-2003 models manage around 5000 and 3000 miles from the front and rear respectively. 2004-2007 machines manage some 5300 miles from their front tyres and over 3000 miles from rears. There wasn’t enough data on the newer bikes to give useful figures.

Honda build quality is often thought to be the best. And owners of early bikes are pretty happy with the way their bikes are standing the test of time. The complaints start creeping in when we get on to the injected 2000 to 2003 machines – typically of thin paint and corroding fasteners. By the time we get on to the 1000cc versions there’s more moans. Paint on the plastics seems to rub through or mark easily, downpipes corrode and there are more niggles. Chris Drew says his 2006 Blade seems to be more built down to a price than older Hondas he’s owned in the past. We think the quest for ever-decreasing weight plus the fact modern paints tend to be softer as they’re more environmentally friendly plays a part in this perceived decline.

That said, Honda must be aware there’s some sort of issue as a lot of the first 1000cc Blades got their tank covers replaced under warranty owing to the poor finish. There are no complains about more recent bikes, but they’re so new that’s hardly surprising.

What goes wrong
Very little but there are a few issues. Regulators and rectifiers seem to cause the odd problem on all bikes up to 2003. Ditto coils. The generator can cause problems on all bikes up to 2007. A small number of speedo units have failed on pre-2004 machines too. Honda’s traditional Achilles heel of camchain tensioner issues didn’t raise its head on a single bike in our survey.

The only major problem was on Mark Kennedey’s 2003 CBR900RR3: it split the top engine case, just above the exhaust headers. We’ve heard the odd internet rumour about this model having the odd engine problem, but this is the first time we’ve encountered it first hand. With the bikes in our survey having covered getting on for half a million miles, one major problem’s not bad at all and backs up the Blade’s reputation as one of the most reliable performance machines you can buy.

Owner Case Study: "This is my fourth Blade"

Paul Collins: 

“I’ve had four Blades. Whenever I’ve got rid of one I always end up getting another. I had a late 1998 mode first, the RRX. Then I had three RRY models – the 2000/2001 fuel-injected one. The RRX did feel like it wanted to tip into corners a lot easier. I prefer the feel of the 17” wheel on the RRY models. The newer bike also feels quicker off the line. I think at high track speeds there wouldn’t be a huge difference between the RRX and RRY models though.

“I’ve had quite a few other bikes too, starting with an old FS1E Fizzie Yamaha and including three CBR600s too. They’re just as good on the road as the Blade – probably better to be honest, but the low-down torque of the Blade makes it much easier to ride. I’ve had a 600 Hornet and thought about a 900 Hornet too, but sports bikes tend to have the best suspension and brakes. Adjustable suspension’s good too, even if it just gives me something to do in the garage.  I do all my own servicing, and I’ve never had a problem with any of my Blades.

“I had a newer R1 – the 2002 model, but I prefer the RRY Blade. The Yamaha was fast but it felt more focused and designed for track riding. If you made a mistake it could punish you with a tank slapper or something. The RRY Blade’s much more forgiving. I think it’s a great bike and I’ve got no plans to change it.”

If you just want a bike, that’s fine. If you want more, the Blade’s got a lot to offer. There’s loads of owners clubs and on-line forums such as cbrfirebladers.co.uk, cbr-forum.org.uk, firebladeriders.com and fireblades.org. Whether you’re after specific information, cheap parts, meets, rideouts, trackdays, riding mates or pretty much anything else Blade-related, there are people out there who can help.

Consumables and running costs
Fuel consumption varies massively depending how the bike’s ridden. But all the different versions averaged 40 or 41mpg overall. The best figures are from the 1992-’99 bikes, which have carbs rather than fuel injection and fewer emissions gubbins although some owners of those bikes are reporting sub 30mpg figures too.

Servicing’s due every 4,000 miles, alternating minor and major. The big one is at 16,000 miles and includes valve clearances. Average price paid was £109 for the minor, £212 for the intermediate and £377 for the major one. Owners of earlier bikes tended to pay less but that’s not a hard and fast rule. Some 43% of owners do all their own servicing, 41% do some and 15% don’t to any at all.

Where do we start? There’s loads to choose from. Exhausts are very common and there’s a huge range of end cans and full systems. Power Commanders are recommended on the 2000 to 2003 bikes since they smooth out the snatchy throttle and improve fuel consumption considerably.

Some riders have swapped the 16” front wheel for a 17” rim. Alan Ward used a Firestorm one for his 1998 bike, which is now a full streetfighter with a Metmachex swingarm, a Nitron rear shock and Ohlins fork springs. Quite a few riders have fitted new suspension systems, particularly to older bikes and say it’s by far the best modification and transforms the bike. If your Blade gets used as practical transport, you could fit a Givi topbox like Heidi Burnett has to her 2001 CBR900RR1. Hats off to David Pain who’s 1995 model came with a 25bhp nitrous oxide kit already fitted.

In short, because the Blade’s such a common bike, the world’s your oyster.

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Owner Case Study: "I’ve done 38,000 miles from new on mine"

Iain Wilson had several VFR800s then decided it was time to get the machine he’d always really wanted so he bought a new 2004 CBR1000RR. He’s since covered 38,000 miles on it.

“It’s been a superb bike. The shop I got it from lent me my old 2000 VFR800 as a courtesy bike while my Blade was being serviced and it felt about twice the weight. The Blade is in a different league – it’s so agile and the acceleration’s amazing.

“The only problem it’s had was the generator failed and needed replacing at 30,000 miles. It can burn a bit of oil, too – as much as 500ml per thousand miles if you’re riding hard and that can stain the end of the exhaust but I’ve been told that’s a characteristic of some modern engines.

“I think the suspension on most Hondas gets a bit soggy at around 20,000 miles so I replaced mine with Ohlins forks and an Ohlins rear shock. I saw them on eBay in excellent condition for £1,100 in total. They made a huge difference and I think the bike handles better than new – it feels a lot smoother.

“I’ve got no plans to change it. I’ve tried a Honda SP2 which was good but less practical and a GSX-R1000 which was comfier but not as agile. A mate has an older 900cc Blade and it’s got over 100,000 miles – they’re tough.”