Why the new Fireblade/929 is still the definitive
By Nicholas Frankl
The Honda Fireblade was the sports bike of the 90’s. Every time you read about
it, the Blade was No1 in sales, No1 in desirability - the must-have biking
accessory. That was true right up to the point when Yamaha snuck in the back
door and stole the mustard with it’s embarrassingly quick R1. The critics poured
praise like sweet honey over the light, nimble Yamaha and the punters snapped
them off the forecourts. Much to the disgust of Honda and its dealers.
For the year 2000 we have to thank Yamaha for bringing us the Fireblade 929. As
anyone in business knows, there’s nothing like strong competition to stop one
resting upon old laurels, concentrating the mind and redoubling one's efforts to
create an even better product.
The CBR 929 RR is completely new. A new liquid
cooled DOHC fuel injected 929cc inline-four which pumps out 20% more horse power
(up to a claimed 160bhp) and 12% more torque.
A redesigned chassis that
incorporates a 21mm longer swing-arm, 28% more rigid than the outgoing model, a
twin spar aluminium frame that utilises Honda’s pivotless technology and which
helps to reduce overall weight by some 28 pounds. Easy you might think, but not
when the whole bike weighs in at an Ally McBeal waifish 379 pounds and you
consider that 10.6 ounces was shaved off each camshaft by the tech heads. Add to
this a new 17 inch front wheel, new inverted forks and a steeper steering head
angle and you have a transformed motorcycle with the best steering precision in
Face to face with the new Blade the first thing that you notice is it’s lack of
aggressive styling cues. It isn’t an intimidating bike to look at, not in the
same way the first Blades, introduced in the early nineties, were. The colour
scheme, especially in red, is boring, the yellow at least giving the thing a bit
The other surprise is a package that looks more like a 600 than a
900/1000. Do you remember the good old days of thumping great 1000cc bikes? They
had attitude, big chrome exhaust manifolds and four pipes out the back. Now, as
we advance, we shrink like micro chips in computers, 4 into 1 exhausts,
catalytic converters, narrow wind tunnel designs. Great. But something has to
suffer and usually it's the level of comfort. After 5 hours in the Malibu
canyons of Los Angeles I can tell you that despite an incredible,
adrenaline-filled day, everything hurt. And I’ve done two Olympic Games in a
very small steel tube called a bobsled!! What we define as comfort today, when
riding sports bikes, is really just one big compromise.
But, truth be told, the 929 is a dream in such an environment. With my buddy
Kent we thrashed along the Pacific Coast Highway, mountains to our right
shoulder, the Ocean on our left. Up, into the depths of the hills we ran, along
Mulholland, looking tentatively for other bikers, wondering where sports bike
enthusiasts go to rub their knee on the asphalt on a Saturday afternoon. Angel's
Pass, I kept on hearing from all who would voice an opinion on the subject. So
Yahoo! maps came back with a route and off we went - straight into a housing
estate! With the plan in the can, we elected to stick with what we knew would be
good and for next five hours or so the sun was shining (as it so often does in
LA), the roads were bare and we enjoyed what sports bikes were created for.
Namely a jolly good thrashing. Neither Kent on his R1 nor I are “hardcore”
riders. We respect the machines mechanics and our own vulnerability too much.
But that doesn’t mean we’re chicken either and at a number of occasions I saw
over 145mph on the clock with the 929 still pulling.
After a quick bite we swapped over. Wow! What a difference. I admit that the R1
was over a year old with 5,000 miles on it , but it was a clean bike and never
abused. What I noticed first, as did Kent, was the difference in steering and
especially turn-in. The Honda falls into corners with a wink and smile - whilst
the Yamaha needed a good deal of effort in comparison.
The R1 also appeared not
to like riding in a straight line, the bike only really feeling comfortable
whilst in a corner or off center. It was also slower out of second gear corners
and slightly weaker at the top end too. The Yamaha's smoothness and precision
made riding enjoyable, but not to the same degree. Back on the Honda it was
plainly obvious which bike we both enjoyed more. Coming across a group of
leather-suited riders at the top of one of the canyons we stopped for a chat.
Bikers are great in this sense.
They are always ready to gossip about this
exhaust or that rear tyre. They all know the lingo and what’s around, and most
seemed interested in the 929, despite one of them having his own red version. It
looked tired, despite being only a few weeks old. “It’s much nicer than the old
one”, announced Joe, a programmer from the Valley. “I ‘ve had a few sports bikes
and most have had trouble running on the track days, but this 929 with my few
tweaks is really cooking”. And with that he and his friends were off, all
wheelies and stoppies, down to the valley and home after another
Out that evening for dinner two up, a girlfriend of mine on the back, the 929
was still a delight. Safe, secure and hassle free. These modern Hondas feel as
if they will run for ever, the fit and finish is excellent and the mechanical
precision a delight to behold. The dash is clear and precise with great
instumentation combined with fantastic headlamps that actually allow you to ride
almost as quickly at night as in daylight.
If you’re in the market for a sports bike - you don’t need me to suggest you try
the Honda - the chances are it’s top of the list already and the fact is that
any of the R1’s, Suzuki’s or Kawasaki’s will do the job just as well. But if
want to be a part of the Fireblade legend there really is only one to have.