It's been 25 years since Honda sent the motorcycle world into an ever-escalating nuclear arms race with the original Fireblade. Now, the flagship superbike gets a 10-horsepower boost, drops 33 pounds and goes fully electronic to put it back in the hunt with the top dogs in the open class.
2017 marks 25 years for the Honda Fireblade, a quarter of a century since the original CBR900RR came onto the scene in 1992 and changed the motorcycle world forever, putting literbike power into a lightweight chassis only a shade heavier than the 600cc supersports of its day.
The ultimate expression of this weight reduction philosophy 25 years later is found in the extraordinary Ducati 1299 Superleggera, an exotic roadbike that's so light it wouldn't be eligible to race in World Superbike.
The Superleggera is the supermodel star of this year's EICMA motorcycle expo in Milan. But at US$80 grand, and with a limited run of 500, it's not a bike you're gonna be seeing on the street much. The 2017 Honda Fireblade, though, will be selling in bulk.
In basic numbers, the CBR has hung back behind the competition since about 2005, never competing for outright horsepower honors. It's probably lost some customers as a result, but then, there's a particular kind of customer that buys off the spec sheet and always wants to have the bike with the biggest numbers, and Honda has never seemed that interested in that kind of buyer.
Instead, the 'Blade has built a reputation as the "friendly" superbike, the faultlessly reliable option, a reasonably priced crotch rocket that didn't need expensive technology between the rider and the throttle butterflies to make it a safe, controllable, fun and fast machine on road and track.
All good things must come to an end, and if 2016 has taught us anything, it's that if you want to make a bike that can hit Euro IV emissions targets, you're gonna need to go ride-by-wire. And if you go ride-by-wire, you might as well stick the safety gear on.
Thus, like the race homologation SP specials we saw from Honda last month, the standard Fireblade gets a robot throttle and a five-axis Inertial Measurement Unit that drives its new traction control, wheelie control and angle-sensitive slide control.
It's also got selectable power modes, selectable engine braking and an up/down quickshifter you can set for three different levels of actuation feel.
Instead of the electronic suspension we saw on the SP models, the standard Blade will rock Showa's excellent Big Piston forks and Balance Free Rear Cushion shock. But it does get to keep the SP's titanium fuel tank, making it the first mass-production bike to get one of those.
It appears some markets will get access to non-ABS models as well as ABS, and the grabbing power is supplied by four piston Tokico calipers gripping 320 mm discs.
In some ways it's a little disappointing to see the Fireblade go so high-tech – many folks liked the idea that there was a fully manual superbike out there on the market. But times march on, and Honda has taken its time evaluating the new gear. We've got no doubt this bike will be an exceptionally tight, high quality and well thought-out package, and it'll sell by the boatload.
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