The latest Fireblade is a big step forward for the model. A strict diet and lots more power are not the only improvements to the blade.
Some people always think that upgrading from a previous model to the next is a bit shallow and pointless as bikes are all so good these days. So what if it is a bit quicker with some new colours they say. The fact is that Japanese sportsbikes get a lot better with every major update, even the minor updates normally show up some improvement to the riding experience.
The 2000 model Fireblade holds a huge advantage over the previous model. The engine is a pearler.
Clean useable drive is available just about everywhere in the rev range. There is a little stumble right off the bottom at a bit over 2,500 rpm (as the H-VIX valve in the exhaust opens to its middle position) but this is of no consequence, as you should never really be pottering about at such low revs.
The crankcases are shorter than the ’99 model which allowed the engine to be situated further forward in the chassis. This meant that the swingarm could be longer while maintaining the original wheelbase. Honda stated that the swingarm pivot being situated close to the countershaft reduces the strain on the chain as the swingarm does its up and down thing. They also said that this ensures a smoother power transfer to the rear wheel. While all that is a bit technical for me I can say that the drive is very smooth, definitely smoother than that of its main competitors, the R1 and ZX9.
The swingarm pivot is cast into the rear of the crankcase, as is seen on a few bikes in the Honda range these days.
The bore is slightly larger than the previous model while the stroke is shorter. The larger bore enabled Honda to fit bigger valves in to the re-designed combustion chambers, which provide a higher compression ratio and a much narrower included valve angle. Forged pistons replace the previous cast units. These slide up and down in metal composite cylinder sleeves formed of sintered aluminium powder impregnated with ceramic and graphite. They tell me this reduces friction and improves heat dissipation.
Fuel delivery is via the latest generation PGM-FI programmed injection system and is very nearly faultless. There is no choke – instead it has a thermo/mechanical device that takes care of it for you. A wax pellet device with a coolant circuit controls four plungers. This device responds to coolant temperature by opening and closing the fast idle plungers. The system works very well indeed. Just thumb the starter in the morning and she fires up instantaneously to a little over 2000 rpm which, as the engine warms, slowly drops down to idle around 1200 rpm. It is the little things like this that make everyday life with the new CBR 929 an enjoyable experience. I don’t know about you – but it really pisses me off when after starting a bike from cold and getting the choke to the right position, then heading back to the door or the gate to hear the bike rapidly climb to around 4000 rpm. This normally involves me rushing back over to the bike to reduce the idle to a more sane level before it rattles the teeth out of my head. None of this to worry about on the blade.
The H-VIX (Honda Variable Intake/Exhaust) system has a titanium valve in the exhaust that works in a similar way to the EXUP valves found in a lot of the big bore Yamahas. However in the Fireblade the valve in the exhaust is also linked to a large flap in the air cleaner that opens and closes at preset engine speeds in the aim of maintaining optimal intake velocity over a wide rpm range. From the seat of the pants impressions on the road and track I would say it works very well.
The headers are titanium and a work of art; they would not look out of place on a fifties Hot-Rod. After some use, parts of the headers turn that lovely blue that is common to heated titanium. The single muffler is aluminium while stainless steel is employed between the H-TEV (Honda Titanium Exhaust Valve) and the can. As is quite common these days the blade injects air in to the pipes in order to clean up the emissions.
As for outright engine performance I would say that the new blade has more power through the lower and middle ranges than the ZX9 while matching it for top end power. I feel that the R1 would still edge it out in the power stakes. We will endeavour to get one on the dyno for a back-to-back comparison with the ZX9 and R1 in a few weeks time.
As a package I think I would be faster on the Fireblade than on the R1 or ZX9. Very good riders could probably use the R1 engine to be fastest, but for us mere mortals I think the blade holds the cards, especially in the wet!
I went through nearly 2 tanks of fuel at Winton and I feel that I could get on the gas earlier on the blade than I would have been able to on any other big-bore sportsbike. The drive is just so clean with no dips or stutters to break the rear wheel away quickly under power. This means the blade does lack the ‘animal’ character that the R1 has but if any one could call the blade slow with a straight face they are a wanker (road racing world champions aside of course).
The frame is new and of a twin-spar design using triple-box construction. Honda claim a 30% increase in rigidity over the previous model. One of the first things that struck me when first glancing at the 2000 model blade was the size of the swingarm – it is huge.
Up front the blade now wears upside-down forks for the first time. These are 43mm in diameter and gave me no cause for concern. They seem to work brilliantly. Grabbing some front brake while in a corner (to simulate an emergency) makes the bike tend to run a bit wide. This is of course normal, but some bikes seem to react better than others. I think the blade tends to stand up more than the R1 or ZX9 in this situation. The initial travel is a little soft but of course on the road this is not an issue – all serious track riders’ mess around with fork oil weights and levels no matter what bike they start with. Honestly though, I would probably leave well enough alone on the blade.
We covered some pretty shitty roads on the launch – including plenty of heavily gravel strewn road works, quite a few kilometres of wet dirt and the normal bumps that mountain roads seem to throw at you, of course these bumps are normally mid-corner to test the reflexes of your sphincter muscle. That is not to say the roads were not enjoyable – they were immensely enjoyable it was just that they also had parts that really put us and the bike to the test. The initial plushness of the forks that I spoke of was more than welcome in certain road situations. The R1 would have been a bit of a nightmare over some of the stuff, I would say that the ‘blade handles the country road bumps as well as the ZX-9R.
Ground clearance may be a problem at the track for really hard chargers. In some of the cornering shots (that can be linked to from the thumbnails at the end of this test) you can actually see sparks trailing from the pegs. You will have to be very fast for this to become too much of an issue – clearance is pretty much the same as on previous blades even though the engine actually sits slightly higher in the frame than the older model.
CBR 929 Fireblades finished 1-2 in a recent round of the British SuperStock Championship. In Britain they are not allowed to raise ride heights and chamfer engine covers etc. like you can under Australian SuperBike Rules – so ground clearance can’t be too much of a problem.
The front wheel is now the more common 17″ item, up from the previous models 16″. Each side of the front rim are big 330mm disc rotors that are clamped by 4-piston Nissin calipers. These are fantastic, power is great and feel is excellent. I could take it to the point of lock and back again with no dramas of any kind. The lever is 5 position adjustable, but if set in one of the closer positions the lever will come back to the bar under severe use. Adjusting the lever back out cures this and solves the problem entirely. For outright strength the blades brakes are no stronger than the stoppers that the R1 or ZX9 wears but the feel is fantastic. Much better than the ZX9 and I would even say slightly ahead of the much heralded R1 stoppers. Even I could do reasonably respectable stoppies on the 929. The rear brake has excellent feel and reasonable strength.
The gearbox is a 6-speed unit and is very smooth in its operation. When the bikes were a bit on the new side I did have some trouble with the downshifts – but as we put more miles on the bikes this seemed to disappear as the box got broken in. Around town the gearbox is excellent, clutchless upshifts and even downshifts can be done if you get the throttle just right. The clutch has plenty of feel and works faultlessly. The clutch lever is not span adjustable.
The CBR 929 seems to be geared quite long when compared to other bikes in its class. Most sportsbikes of around this capacity normally sit on around 140kph at 6000 rpm in top gear. The blade cruises at over 150kph at 6-grand in top. This long gearing makes it pretty hard to clutch it right up in 2nd gear, best to get it up in 1st and shift through a few gears.
I have ridden the new blade on both Bridgestone BT010R and Michelin Pilot Sport tyres. The Michelins provided more feel but I was faster on the Bridgestones. The Bridgestones also quickened the already fast steering. Opinion was divided but the faster guys at the track seemed to prefer the Michelins. The tyre for you will depend entirely on which one suits your riding style.
The dash uses a similar layout to that of the R1 with a conventional tacho sitting beside a large LCD display unit that provides speed, odometer, 2 tripmeters and a clock (yee-ha). A smaller LCD is situated below the tacho and displays the coolant temperature.
The blade is fitted with Honda’s latest ignition security system (HISS). The key is encoded with an electronic signature that the bike must recognize in order for the ECU to allow engine operation. It can not be hot-wired nor can it be beaten by swapping the ignition switch.
The headlight has 3 halogen bulbs, with the centre unit in operation on low beam and the other 2 bulbs kicking in when switching to high beam. The headlight is okay but no better than its competitors. For some time now most bikes on the Australian market have been fitted with a ‘pass’ switch on the left bar that enables you to flash the high beam or hold it on for brief periods. I have grown very accustomed to this and normally use the ‘pass’ switch when coming to intersections that have blind approaches or when cornering at night. I try not to have high beam on all the time at night as when courtesy to other road users necessitate switching back to low beam it normally takes a few moments for the eyes to adjust to the change in lighting conditions. So I missed the ‘pass’ button that is not fitted to the blade but I am sure that most will not even notice it missing.
Under seat storage is excellent and very welcome. Access is by way of inserting the ignition key above the number-plate which releases the lock that holds the pillion seat down. It is hinged and has a bigger volume than any of the other bikes in its class along with being a lot more convenient to use. I fitted my gloves, shoes and a cable lock in the compartment and still managed to get it shut. The toolkit is also situated in here and is quite comprehensive. You will probably have to use the toolkit when adjusting the chain, as the rear axle nut is bigger than most bikes. I think it would be around 30mm but we don’t know for sure as the toolkit item did not have a size stamped on it. Our 27mm spanner did not get close to fitting it.
The blades fuel tank remains 18 litres in capacity but has been redesigned to place the load lower and more to the rear, closer to the centre of mass. The tank is smaller in its external dimensions – 10mm in height and 40mm in length has been trimmed off. The tank accepts a magnetic tankbag well. The fuel light comes on when there is around 4 litres left. A 300 kilometre or longer tank range should be quite viable if cruising at the national speed limit.
Comfort is excellent for a sportsbike and a lack of vibes make cop infested highway crawls bearable. A little weight is on the wrists, but the leg-room and seat are excellent.
Sitting at a standstill the engine temperature rises quite rapidly to sit around 103-104 degrees and does cook the legs a little. It does not provide quite the thigh BBQ that the R1 does however.
The radiator seems to be a bit too prone to rock damage. We know of 3 blades in Australia to be temporarily sidelined due to radiator damage. It is yet to be seen if Honda will consider retro-fitting some sort of protective cage over the radiators, but if it was my bike I would definitely be considering such a move. I wouldn’t be following my riding mates as close as I normally do either.
There are 3 colour schemes available for your $18,090 + ORC ticket price.
- Andes Blue Metallic (with Winning Red and Ross White)
- Black (with Matte Gunpowder Black Metallic)
- Lapis Blue Metallic (with Sunrise Yellow and Ross White)
Would I buy one over the R1, ZX9 or TLR? I honestly think the answer may be yes.
In my eyes the R1 or TLR may look better, and the ZX9 is possibly more fun – but as a complete package I think the blade holds the edge in performance and practicality.
It is those little things like the storage compartment and cold starting procedure that would probably sway my decision in the blades favour – and lets face it, they are all bloody fast.