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as you like it

Honda CBR 900 RR road test by Simon Bradley

In every road test you hope there will be something that stands out and helps you remember what it was that made this bike so different to any other. Usually there is something small, occasionally there is nothing at all, which makes the reviewer's life a little difficult. And on the rarest occasions there is something very special indeed. This, for me at least, is one of those occasions.

Collecting the Fireblade from Honda wasn't in itself unusual. The weather was mediocre so when it started raining I cut short my wee spin in the country and headed home via the M25. With little traffic the 'Blade was in comfortable cruise mode and we were getting along just fine. Proving itself to be as versatile as legend suggests, the 'Blade surprised me by having mirrors which not only gave a useful view behind but also steadfastly refused to blur. Considering that they flop around like rabbits ears, along with the fairing, at the slightest provocation this was something of a revelation. Anyway, heading down my long sliproad I saw that there was stationary traffic at the lights at the bottom. No problem, I still had a good couple of hundred yards before I needed to brake, so I was still relaxed. And then I realised. The Transit van waiting at the lights at the bottom was neither waiting nor at the bottom. It was, in fact, reversing rapidly back up the sliproad and weaving around all over the place to boot. Time for a bit more braking so I squeezed a little harder. And the magic started. Speed was bleeding off pretty quickly but I was still doing around 60 when it dawned on me that only one wheel was doing any braking. In fact, only one wheel was doing anything at all other than waving gently in the breeze. I was, at this point, doing a rolling stoppie in the rain on a bike I had ridden for no more than 20 minutes. Obviously all ended well, but it was a little more exciting than intended for a while.

I tell this tale not out of pride - a more alert rider would have realised the danger and dealt with it earlier - but out of amazement. The Fireblade is that rarest of all things - a blisteringly fast sportsbike that genuinely makes you feel at home straight away and spectacularly fails to behave in the mildly psychopathic way one might expect from something in this class. It's also an astonishingly capable motorbike blessed with something else that has been rather uncommon recently - character. But more on that later.

The Fireblade, or CBR900RR to be more precise, has been around in one form or another for many, many years. It has probably generated more column inches of editorial comment than any other bike around, so I'll content myself with saying that this is the third incarnation of the fuel injected 'Blade which first appeared in 2000 and was itself the third real version of the 'Blade to appear. Following Honda's established habit of evolution rather than revolution, changes over the last model are slight but significant. A bit more power, a bit less weight and a really nice paint job is just about it. Well, what the heck. if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right?

This version of the ‘Blade is an extremely good looking bike, especially in the blue and black colour scheme of the test bike. We’ve got the optional pillion cover fitted, which robs the bike of some of it’s practicality but looks great. The black finish on the fork legs, yokes and frame looks fantastic, although it’s just possible that a couple of winters on UK roads may take its toll. The dash is standard Fireblade fare – big tacho and digital speedo with a clock, multiple trip meters and all the useful information you could ask for. The riding position is sporting, as you’d expect, but doesn’t require a visit to the osteopath, even after an extended time in the saddle. Although the traditional ‘Blade lightening holes are no longer drilled in the fairing, the trademark “boot” is still there, accessed as usual by a turn of the key at the back of the saddle and easily capable of swallowing waterproofs, u-lock, mobile and digital camera. Very handy. I’ll wager that Baba-San’s signature is still embossed on a fairing inner as well. Some things should never change.

Once on board, everything falls straight to hand in the same way that it always does on a Honda. Whatever they pay their cockpit ergonomics team, it isn’t enough. Pulling away you’re immediately struck by the totally unthreatening nature of the bike. The clutch is nice and light, all the day to day routine things you need – mirrors, horn and so on – are present and work admirably well and the light weight and flexible motor conspire to make your low speed journey an unintimidating one.

Thanks to the excellent chassis and superb brakes your high speed journey is equally unintimidating. The ‘Blade does everything you ask of it without comment, as inscrutable as a stone Buddha, handling fast sweepers, tight twisties and everything in between with the same aplomb. It’s extremely fast, hugely flexible and massively controllable. Roads and conditions which would have had many lesser machines tied in knots were despatched without fuss. A rain soaked run back from a late meeting in The Midlands saw me comfortably covering the ground at a very respectable pace, aided in part by the fantastic night-into-day headlight but mainly facilitated by the huge levels of feedback that allowed me to know exactly when I was in danger of overdoing it. The whole bike has a wonderfully planted feel that simply inspires confidence, regardless of the conditions. Turn in is razor sharp while cornering is totally stable. The fuel injected motor is mercifully free of the snatchiness of earlier Hondas while still being extremely responsive. The brakes, as I have already hinted, are fantastic, offering shedloads of bite with enough feel to be completely controllable. And, perhaps best of all, these admirable traits are combined with something approaching real character. There is an indefinable something about the ‘Blade that makes it likeable for what it is, rather than merely admirable for how effectively it performs.

Make no mistake, the 2003 Fireblade has all the credentials necessary to be a very fast, very scary bike. But a bit like Jackie Chan it hides the fact that it really is quite dangerous behind a veneer of niceness. And again, like Mr Chan, provoke it enough and it will kick your butt. But treat it with the respect it deserves and it will repay you by making you feel, and look, a far better rider than you actually are. This truly is a bike you could ride down to Spain, blitz most other things on a sunny trackday and then tour back home without a problem. Taking in, say, a weekend at the Nurburgring on the way. And once home you could then use it for commuting in and out of town while you save for the next trip. It has all the day to day practicality you could possibly ask for, it has enough on street credibility to make small boys point and stare and it has enough performance and all round ability to make you look like, well perhaps not like Mike Doohan but at least like a distant cousin.

I’m not going to say that this is the best bike I’ve ever ridden because it isn’t. But it’s a strong contender to be my Bike of the Year. All I need to do now is persuade Honda to let me have one as a long termer…

Tech Specs

  • List price £7999
  • Liquid cooled 954cc four cylinder 16 valve four-stroke.
  • Dry weight 168kg
  • Colours – Red, yellow, blue
  • Performance 148bhp @ 11250rpm. Torque 105Nm @ 9500rpm
  • Our Rating (out of 5)
  • Engine 5
  • Handling 5
  • Braking 5
  • Comfort 4
  • Fun factor 5
  • MotorBikes Today overall rating - 5
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Read external Honda CBR 900 reviews on ciao.


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