Honda’s hugely successful FireBlade debuted in 1992 and re-wrote the rules for big bore sportsbikes like no other before it.
A further refinement of the excellent Year 2000 model (929), the new 6th generation FireBlade offers plenty of improvements.
Honda Australia launched the new CBR 954 Fireblade to the motorcycling press at Victoria’s magnificent Phillip Island circuit. After the racetrack day MCNEWS.COM.AU immediately took the new Fireblade on a one day ride over varying terrain that covered over 900 kilometres. Over the next few days the machine was used as general transport before being taken again on a long one day stint followed by some more commuting, adding up to another 2,000 kilometres on the odometer.
Honda’s claims of 152hp for the previous model had proven wildly optimistic with true rear wheel figures on our dyno normally registering around 123. This was not far behind the figures we achieved with the ZX-9R (127hp), R1 (129hp) and GSX-R 1000 (131hp) but like the ZX-9R the Fireblade suffered from a lack of mid-range grunt for the fast boys to get off the turns as quick as the R1 or GSX-R.
For 2002 we see a steady path of evolution rather than revolution with Honda’s flag ship sports model. The previous CBR 929 Fireblade was a very polished package but there is no doubt the new 954 has made steps forward in nearly every area.
With a boost to 954cc by way of a 1mm increase in bore size Honda has aimed to regain some ground in the grunt department on the GSX-R and R1, by my seat of the pants it has. The improvements in mid-range delivery are significant and immediately obvious to anyone who has spent plenty of time with a 929. (I have covered around 23,000 kilometres on 929 Fireblades). The extra urge is really noticed on the track, throttle control now has to be a little bit finer on the exit of the turn if traction at the rear is to be maintained. However the top end delivery improvements are not as pronounced as the definite mid-range boost the 954 has gained over the 929.
One of the only gripes I had with the previous 929 was the annoying little stutter in the delivery around 3,000 rpm, this has been much improved in the 954, but not completely eliminated in some gears.
What the bloody hell are you doing at 3,000rpm on a sporting four-cylinder sportsbike you ask? Well unfortunately in heavy traffic or damp city conditions sometimes this zone is briefly ventured down to and the little improvements down here are welcome for this rider.
All engine dimensions remain the same, including stroke and cylinder pitch. The reciprocating weight of the pistons and wrist pins was reduced and as the image opposite illustrates the new pistons are significantly smaller than their predecessors. Honda claims this helps eliminate the vibration and extra stresses that often come with this sort of increase in displacement. I don’t know about this one, I think the new bike does have an ever so tiny vibe felt through the bars that never seemed to be apparent on the 929. I only felt this briefly a couple of times during some big kilometre days but it is worth a mention even though I can’t see it ever becoming a problem.
In what would be a welcome improvement for the purchaser who aims to own the bike for the really long-term is the fact that the bigger pistons slide up and down in new cylinder sleeves pressure formed from sintered aluminium powder. The bonus comes down the track, in later years, these new sleeves can be re-bored, to a maximum of 0.25mm oversize, this is becoming increasingly rare these days. Honda also say the material that makes up these new sleeves provides better wear resistance and heat dissipation, I have no science degree so will simply take their word for it. I guess a lot of racers will immediately be doing that overbore to get them from 954 to 960cc as for them every little bit counts.
Both the crankshaft and cases were also reworked and refined to further minimise friction and mass throughout the engine. An oil spray is now directed at the undersides of the pistons to help dissipate heat. No doubt a similar concept to Suzuki’s well proven S.A.C.S. system utilised on the GSX-R series right back to before the machines were water cooled.
Fuel injector bodies have grown in diameter from 40mm to 42mm. Their new electronic fuel injectors feature 12 jet holes which are bored by laser for finer atomisation. Perhaps this is why the 954 is much more fuel efficient than the previous model.
It was somewhat rare to stretch the 929’s 18-litre tank to much over 200-220 kilometres but during one touring stretch I got 270 kilometres out of the 954’s 18 litres. Over a mixed city commute and slower highway work I think a range in excess of 300 kilometres could be achieved.
The redesigned instruments incorporate a fuel economy LCD which displays constantly updated fuel consumption figures in the kilometres per litre format.
Incorporated into the air cleaner and exhaust system, the Honda Variable Intake/Exhaust Control System (H-VIX), is carried over to the 954 and modulates the volume of air flowing into the air cleaner while its Honda Titanium Exhaust Valve (H-TEV) switches the exhaust configuration from 360-degrees to 180-degrees at higher engine speeds for easier breathing at high rpm. These systems seemed to operate a little smoother through their stages of engagement than on the 929 but the two stage changes can still clearly be felt at around 3,000 and 7,000rpm.
The FireBlade’s new 2nd Generation PGM-FI ECU features a larger memory and newly programmed control maps to achieve much faster processing speeds than the current black box it replaces. The FireBlade’s titanium exhaust system remains essentially the same as the 929 but the muffler is a new titanium item.
Cooling capacity has also seen a boost with a wider radiator and modified internal cooling tracts while the cooling fan is now controlled by the engine management system rather than a thermostat style operation. Should the temp’ sensor for the ECU fail the computer responds by operating the fan continuously. Even with these improvements to the cooling system the Fireblade’s temperature rises rapidly in slow city traffic or when idling and seems to warm the thighs a little more than on the 929.
Like the 929 the 954 also has an automatic fast idle system for cold starts, a feature that is so incredibly handy for a slacker such as myself.
Transmission specification remains unchanged but small refinements to individual components have definitely resulted in a slightly smoother and more reliable shift.
The new FireBlade’s chassis further builds on the lightweight and rigid dual-spar aluminium frame of the previous model. Honda claim that modifications to the steering head casting’s balance of thickness achieve improvements in its torsional rigidity.
The rear damper’s upper mount has also been completely redesigned, dropping the pin-through-end-collar mount found in most conventional designs in favour of a new ‘bolt-in’ design that fits the entire upper body of the damper into a large new hole in the frame’s rear casting, and secures it with a pair of adjustable sleeves that make it possible to adjust the ride height without further affecting the suspension’s travel and other settings.
A monstrous new swingarm also makes an appearance but somehow manages to end up 300 grams lighter than the slightly smaller swingarm it replaces. Even the FireBlade’s wheels have been modified for lighter weight with another 300g of unsprung weight being saved there.
All up the diet program has resulted in a claimed 2 kilogram weight saving, Honda now claim 168 kilograms dry for their flagship sportsbike.
Left virtually unchanged are the FireBlade’s high-performance inverted front forks (in my opinion, already about the best in the business), which received only minor setting modifications. Both ends of the suspension are of course fully adjustable.
I am no factory racer so can’t pinpoint what all these fine changes make individually but the sum of the parts definitely ends with an improved handling package. I did push the previous 929 Fireblade quite hard at times, for a non-racer anyway, resulting in lower fairing scrapes etc. but never really yearned for better handling than what the 929 provided.
But nonetheless the new 954 Fireblade has made significant handling improvements that riders of all levels will feel, but only the absolute fastest of riders can possibly approach the limits of. The limits of this machine, like many of the latest sportsbike weapons, are far and above the riding talent of meagre mortals, myself included. It is comforting though that the bike always has performance reserves if you get yourself in a little too hot, if you let it, the bike will probably still pull you out the other side if you just commit to that corner you think you may have overshot.
Out on the open road the Fireblade is quite stable, as long as you position your body correctly, concentrate your weight forward. Any light and powerful sportsbike will give a little bar wiggle every now and then, but getting out over the front of the bike will prevent most of this. It is quite obvious, on a bumpy road with some aggressive use of the throttle the front will get a little light and tend to be a bit nervous, if the rider is slack and just sits back on his seat this becomes much more of a problem. This is a hard core sports weapon that is razor sharp, ride it properly and it will not misbehave, get a bit slack, ride it like a complete plonker, then it is a lot more likely to bite. Once again Honda have seen fit not to supply a steering damper, and I prefer it that way. Racers will want to fit a damper, but I can’t see the average buyer needing one and during my time with the Fireblade never found stability to be a problem when in the twisties. The only times I noticed anything negative in the stability stakes was when in dirty air, as in behind a large car or truck with the resulting air turbulence, the bike can start a little weave under those conditions.
Superb four-piston calipers up front still clamp on those huge 330mm discs. I thought the 929 brakes were awesome but there is no doubt that the new bike stops even better than before. More available braking power and resistance to fade, along with what seems like a lot less effort and travel on the lever. If brakes keep improving at this rate I can’t imagine where we will be in another few years, you will need arms like King Kong to hold yourself off the bars if anchors get much more powerful !
The new FireBlade’s bodywork has a new ‘Wing Mark’ colour scheme which reaches back across the sides of the fairing in thick strokes highlighted by a new FireBlade logo and ‘RR’ markings. A ‘CBR’ logo now appears on the sides of the FireBlade’s new tail cowl.
The ‘Blade’s three colour variations are as follows:
≈Winning Red (with Black)
≈Pearl Flash Yellow (with Lapis Blue Metallic)
≈Ross White (with Lapis Blue Metallic)
Other major styling changes include a lower, more sharply angled and more aggressively designed front cowl, and a lighter, slimmer seat cowl profile that opens up space above the rear tyre. In fact, every piece of bodywork apart from the front fender is new.
The fairing’s new front cowl is angled further down for a more compact and aggressive look along with the new headlight. To the sides, newly designed single-piece side cowls replace the 2-piece panels of the 929. The headlight beam is very good, I tested this during a night time run through the Great Alpine Way which is now something entered in my book of things not to do again after having to evade many kangaroos who were obviously on a death mission. I also did around 300 night time highway kilometres and found the headlight to be much more useful then. Straight stretches is always when sportsbike headlights work properly, not much good in the tight turns as the light doesn’t turn with the bars like on a naked so the headlight is never pointing the right way around a tight turn. Something all fully faired bikes have to live with.
Even the fuel tank shape has changed. Blending in above the panels of the fairing, the fuel tank maintains much of its original lines, but has been reduced in size. Settling lower in the frame for more compact proportions that reduce both its height and length by 10mm, this new fuel tank helps move the rider closer to the steering head. While this reduction in the fuel tank’s outer dimensions would normally result in a corresponding reduction in its capacity, the FireBlade’s new fuel tank was expanded downward between the frame rails at its rear to make up the difference in volume.
A new ‘hugger’ fender makes an appearance, giving a more open look to the space between wheel and seat and helping to protect the rear suspension from dirt thrown up by the rear tyre.
A new LED taillight makes an appearance along with slightly smaller indicators.
The seat’s locking pillion pad pops open automatically on spring-loaded hinges with a turn of its easy-access key. Underneath resides a compact and convenient carrying space, with room reserved for carrying a U-lock and other daily necessities. The size of the storage space is slightly down on the 929; I could squeeze a pair of shoes down the front of the 929′s storage space and still have room for wet weather gear but I couldn’t quite manage it on the 954. That said, it is still better than the opposition in this area. Another change sees the key inserted in to the fairing below the pillion seat rather than above the number plate which further improves ease of use. This bike has so many nice little touches to make living with it just that little bit easier.
Behind the front cowl, the layout of the FireBlade’s slimmer and more compact analogue/digital instrument panel looks similar to the 929, though size and weight have been reduced. It features a large conventional tachometer alongside a large LCD readout of speedometer, odometer, coolant temperature and clock. The new display features a new fuel consumption readout that continuously calculates consumption from the engine’s current operating conditions. A low warning light illuminates when there is just under 4 litres remaining in the tank.
Honda latest anti-theft system features a fail-safe electronic interlock that prevents the engine from being started by any other than the motorcycle’s two original keys. The keys are actually micro-chipped to the ECU and without that electronic signature being recognised by the computer the bike can’t be started. This system also features a blinking red LED built into the instrument panel.
Comfort levels are excellent for this class. The reach to the bars is slight, for a sportsbike, and the seat is broad and supportive. After covering 900 kilometres in a day I was ready to back it up again the next day and would gladly ride this motorcycle anywhere without a second thought.
All in all the Fireblade is a much improved package. The mid-range power deficit to the full litre size sportsbikes has been nearly completely regained and the impeccable handling is even better than before. Honda’s Fireblade is the most rider friendly of all the big bore sportsbikes and just about any rider can jump straight on and feel at home.
Confidence inspiring is perhaps the most descriptive term for the Fireblade’s chassis. The turn in and mid corner poise is awesome and I would happily wager that most road riders would immediately lap faster on the Fireblade than they would on any other bike. And don’t bother emailing us to volunteer as we don’t have the resources to put that to the test.
Useable, real world performance combined with a multitude of well thought out features make the Fireblade the thinking mans sportsbike. It is really fast at the track, quite comfortable on the road, and priced well under the competition at $17,290.
- Bore X Stroke ≈ 75 X 54mm
- Displacement ≈ 954cc
- Compression Ratio ≈ 11.5:1
- Induction ≈ Electronic fuel injection
- Power ≈ 155hp@11,250min (claimed)
- Torque ≈ 105Nm@9,500min (claimed)
- Ignition ≈ Computer-controlled digital transistorised with electronic advance
- Starter ≈ Electric
- Transmission ≈ 6-speed
- Final Drive ≈ ‘O’-ring sealed chain
- Dimensions (L X W X H) ≈ 2,065 X 680 X 1,125mm
- Wheelbase ≈ 1,400mm
- Seat Height ≈ 815mm
- Ground Clearance ≈ 130mm
- Fuel Capacity ≈ 18 litres (including 3.5-litre warning light reserve)
- Front rim ≈ 17×3.50 hollow-section triple-spoke cast aluminium
- Rear rim ≈ 17×6.00 hollow-section triple-spoke cast aluminium
- Tyres ≈ Front 120/70 ZR17
- Rear ≈ 190/50 ZR17
- Front Suspension ≈ 43mm inverted H.M.A.S. cartridge-type telescopic fork with stepless preload, compression and rebound adjustment, 120mm axle travel
- Rear Suspension ≈ Pro-Link with gas-charged H.M.A.S. damper featuring 13-step preload and stepless compression and rebound damping adjustment, 135mm axle travel
- Front Brakes ≈ 330×4.5mm dual disc with 4-piston calipers and sintered metal pads
- Rear Brake ≈ 220x5mm single-piston caliper disc with sintered metal pads
- Dry Weight ≈ 168kg
- RRP ≈ $17,290
- Warranty ≈ Two years, unlimited kilometres
- Engine ≈ Liquid-cooled 4-stroke 16-valve DOHC inline-4