In 1992 the CBR900RR Fireblade changed the superbike game, but a quarter century later Honda's production racing icon appears to be lagging behind the competition. The 2017 CBR1000RR SP and SP2 aim to turn the tables both on the road and the race track with a host of upgrades to the existing model.
Logic dictates that a sportbike should be judged by its efficiency in its natural habitat, the race track. In this demanding proving ground the latest generations of Fireblades found it quite difficult to fend off the fierce competition. The World Superbike Championship (WSBK) – the highest racing discipline for production racers – has been dominated by Kawasaki, carrying the torch after Ducati and Aprilia. Actually, the last time Honda challenged successfully the WSBK title was in 2007 with the previous-generation CBR1000RR.
Of course, the aforementioned line of thinking can be seen as a half-truth, since for many people a superbike is just their bike of choice for the road, and the current Fireblade proved to be quite popular as one of the friendliest available.
The 25th anniversary of the Fireblade offered Honda an ideal opportunity to take a step forward. Yet, instead of designing a brand new superbike from the ground up, the Japanese opted to develop the existing model. The new SP retains the same frame and 999 cc engine, but brings vast improvements in every aspect of the motorcycle. In terms of power, aN 11-hp hike brings the tally up to 189 hp and this maximum value is achieved higher in the rev scale at 13,000 rpm. It may still appear to be lagging behind the 200 hp nominal standard of the superbike class, but that's not the whole story.
The power-to-weight ratio is far more influential in any vehicle's performance than absolute horsepower, and Honda has managed to shed a whopping 15 kg (33 lb) off the Fireblade, announcing a kerb weight of 195 kg (430 lb). In order to achieve this, Honda went to great lengths, from re-engineering the frame wall thickness to fitting a titanium fuel tank. Should the numbers prove to be accurate, we could be talking about a potential game-changer here.
The other big news about the Fireblade SP is (inevitably) on the electronic front. This is the first ever CBR to ever employ a throttle-by-wire set-up; an addition backed by a big bag of electronic safety systems.
Led by a 5-axis Bosch MM5.10 Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU), the SP's systems include five riding modes, selectable torque control, wheelie control, selectable engine brake, quickshifter with downshift assist, cornering ABS and the same Honda Electronic Steering Damper that was fitted to the previous CBR1000RR.
On top of that, Honda has upped the ante with a set of semi-active electronic suspensions from industry leaders Öhlins. A Suspension Control Unit receives roll, yaw and lean angle input from the IMU, factors in information on wheel speed, engine rpm, brake input and throttle angle from the engine's ECU, and calculates how the 43 mm inverted NIX30 EC forks and the TTX36 EC shock absorber should offer the ideal damping result. The rider can choose from three active preset modes (Fast, Enjoy and Safety), or three manual modes that will allow for any adjustments to the suspension's set-up.
With all these changes to the CBR1000RR, Honda hopes to bring the Fireblade back to superbike racing stardom. Nicky Hayden, Honda's former MotoGP champion (2006) and current WSBK rider, will undoubtedly be very happy with the bike he'll be racing next year. This will not be the Fireblade SP though, but a road-legal homologation special version called SP2.
Based on the SP, this has a couple of more tricks up its sleeve. The most obvious giveaway are the wheels, as the SP2 rolls on a lighter set of Marchesini forged aluminum rims that are said to reduce inertia by 18 percent at the front and 9 percent at the rear. Then there's a gold stripe on the fairing's sides that bear the CBR Fireblade logo.
The most important differences though are found inside the engine, with larger diameter valves, optimized combustion chamber shape and a more effective cooling system that mimics that of the RC213V MotoGP prototype. Although identical on the outside, the inside of the cylinder head incorporates minor changes that allow the fitment of high-lift camshafts. These will be part of two racing kits that will be available specifically for the SP2 – one for general circuit use and another for race.
So now we know which motorcycle Nicky Hayden will be riding next year: the WSBK-prepped version of the CBR1000RR Fireblade SP2. Which coincidentally reminds us that the last time an SP2 was raced by Honda at the world championship, it won. Then it was the V-twin VTR1000 SP2 of Colin Edwards, now it is an in-line four with another American rider on board.
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