2018 Honda CBR1000RR - A scalpel amongst bruisers
Honda’s thoroughly revised Fireblade superbike comes in base RR and up-specced SP1 flavours, along with the race-spec SP2. We already know how well this thing goes on track and so, to get some perspective, we took the keys to the RR version to see how it handles public roads.
The Blade was first revealed back in 2016 for model year ‘17. It featured a new engine good for 141kW, a claimed wet weight of 196kg thanks to a new titanium fuel tank and, for the first time in Fireblade’s history, a safety electronics suite.
To anyone think that it’s a superbike so why would you buy one for the road, you’re right. Those looking for ultimate commuter comfort should really look elsewhere. But those with a penchant for briskness and who aren’t bothered by the contorted riding position of a sports bike may want to keep reading.
The 2018 CBR1000RR non-SP1 comes with a nice suite of electronics, including traction/wheelie control, ABS brakes, rider modes, and engine power/braking control. Three modes are Honda-compiled, and range from full-attack, to road, to rain, although they aren’t named as such. Two user modes are available for the rider to fiddle with, allowing you to dial up max engine power, minimal traction control and just a dab of engine braking. The screen from the RC213V-S has made it down to the CBR, and looks great. Could be an inch taller though.
On the fly, riders can control the engine power, engine braking, and traction controls. The lower the number, the more ‘pro’ the bike assumes you are. So level one power is the full Monty, level one TC tells the system to step in at the last moment, and level one engine braking is essentially not much. Conversely, stepping things up gives more electronic governance, helpful for those who want to focus on learning a new track rather than controlling the bike, or don’t want to step the rear wheel out in the rain.
The base bike gets Showa Big Piston Forks up front with a Unit Pro-Link HMAS adjustable shock at the rear. On the road, you’d be hard pressed to tell the difference between these and the electronic Öhlins the SP1 gets. Stretching the Blade’s legs through the Clevedon backroads shows how much of a weapon it is, and the ‘downgraded’ forks don’t feel lesser in any way. You can still tweak the preload, compression, and rebound should you want to but as it comes, it felt great. If you do want to calibrate it beyond factory settings, we’d suggest backing off the preload stiffness one or two clicks, to make it more tolerable at city speeds.
Honda saves the Brembo brakes for the SP1 as well, giving the RR Tokico radial calipers instead. They bite on 320mm discs up front and work rather well. However, the RR loses the rear-wheel lift mitigation of the SP1, so a full ABS-pulsing emergency stop can quickly turn into an angular stoppie if you’re not careful. As such, our 100-0 best effort was 47 metres, bettered by some other superbikes. Tyres are normally Bridgestone S21s but our review bike came shod with SP1-spec Pirelli Diablo Supercorsas, 190/50ZR17 rear, and the usual 120/70 front. They’re a bit special.
The engine is more powerful and lighter than its predecessor’s, giving the aforementioned 141kW at a screaming 13,000rpm. It really is screaming too, because the new exhaust system has a valve in it that keeps things sedate at city speeds but opens up when you’re pushing harder. In fact, it sounds so good that you don’t really need an aftermarket exhaust. We’d recommend spending the saved money on the optional up/down quickshifter instead, the only thing this bike is noticeably lacking.
If you’re one who enjoys a good paper war, here are our confirmed performance figures: 0-100km/h in 3.06sec and 80-120 in 1.28 seconds, or 36.3 metres. Looking back at other superbikes that are stronger and quicker on paper, the real-world numbers are so close the differences are meaningless.
And that’s the crux of the superbike world as it stands - the bikes themselves are all so good that it’s hard to really stand out. Ducati has done it by adding 100cc and two cylinders to their Panigale, the former rumoured to be something Honda is considering for a future superbike. But when it comes down to it, the rider will always be the weakest link. A fast rider on a less powerful bike will turn faster times than a slower rider on a more powerful bike.
On the road, spec sheets and performance figures matter even less. You’d be better off finding a bike you like the look, sound and feel of, and for me, the base ‘Blade fits that bill snugly.
It looks stunning, sounds incredible, and goes like a stabbed rat - probably even more so with the optional quickshifter - and with the new electronics, feels like it was made this century. Aprilia’s RSV4 makes a great case for emotion and raw power but it’s ruthless on the tush, and costs a few grand more.
Model Honda CBR1000RR Price $27,995
Engine 998cc, liquid-cooled, fuel injected, IL4, 141kW / 116Nm
Transmission 6-speed, chain final drive Vitals 3.06s 0-100km/h
1.28s (36.30m) 80-120km/h, 47.0m 100-0km/h, 195kg