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Honda Blackbird : Bargain Sports Tourer

Here we look back at the Honda Blackbird, a bike built for speed yet today is probably the best sports tourer available for those looking on the used market.

The battle for the title of “world’s fastest production motorcycle” reached new heights in the middle of the 1990s with the marketing ideals that holding the title would sell more bikes.

Honda were keen to wrest the title away from Kawasaki, who had successfully held it since 1990 with the ZX11 (Ninja ZZ-R1100) and claim the associated bragging rights.

The result was the Honda Blackbird, the bike being named after the famous cold-war jet, the Lockheed SR-71, the world’s fastest military aircraft at the time.

In addition to overthrowing the ZZ-R1100’s top speed record, the Honda CBR1100XX Super Blackbird went on to build its own legacy and a devoted fanbase throughout its production run for reasons beyond its top speed.

Honda CBR1100XX Super Blackbird Review

Released in 1996, the Super Blackbird was a brave decision by the pragmatic Honda at a time when speed was everything. The Blackbird replaced Honda’s departing CBR1000F but is quite a different bike. The Blackbird is a serious hyperbike that has a more leaned over riding position than the CBR1000F, which is a comfortable sports tourer.

Although the large inline four engine in the Blackbird is largely conventional and was adapted from the CBR900RR Fireblade, it produces significantly more power, peaking at a claimed 164 bhp at 10,000 rpm and a vast delivery of torque throughout the rev range, peaking at 124 Nm at 7,250 rpm.

However, many owners report a flat spot of power between 4,000 and 5,000 rpm. On a drag strip the Honda Blackbird accelerates from 0 to 60 mph in under 2.77 seconds with little effort. Equally amazing is the sprint from 0 to 100 mph, which takes only 5.62 seconds, making it comparable to any modern-era sports bike.

The Blackbird’s engine was unusual in that it possessed two balancer shafts, which made the power delivery extremely smooth even at high rpm. As a result, Honda was able to place the engine rigidly, making the Blackbird stiffer and lighter without the necessity of bulky rubber mounts.

A 6-speed transmission with a hydraulic wet clutch and a chain drive sent the power to the rear wheel.

A twin spar diamond configuration aluminium beam frame was used on the CBR1100XX. Honda chose to forego equipping the Blackbird with race track-specific suspension in favour of a simpler and more cost-effective design that featured non-adjustable 43mm HMAS (Honda Multi-Action System) cartridge-type front forks and a single Pro-Link rear shock with a stepless rebound-adjustable gas-charged HMAS damper.

Although it was less expensive, the suspension system on the Blackbird was suited for the heavy bike and kept the big bike stable at high speed with remarkably light steering.

The Blackbird comes equipped with Honda’s third generation Dual-CBS (Combined Braking System) linked braking system, which uses Nissin three piston calipers to bite into two large 310 mm front discs and a single 356 mm rear disc.

When using the front brake lever, the dual-CBS system activates two of the three front pistons together with one of the rear calipers, and the reverse is true when using the rear brake pedal. They provide some peace of mind when the skies open up and are fairly powerful and efficient when kept well maintained.

A large 22 litre tank adorns the Blackbird to feed the large engine. The CBR1100XX can achieve fuel consumption levels of around 27 mpg (6.0 L/100 km) and it’ll still take you over 180 miles on a tank when ridden hard.

Being a motorcycle from the late 1990s, the CBR1100XX has several analogue instruments, but you do get a lot of them, including a fuel gauge, temperature gauge, separate speedometer and rev counter, and a digital clock.

Given that it’s a machine from a pre-digital era, there’s no electronic rider aids at all, so no traction control or ABS, it’s all down to the rider to get things right. While official Honda accessories are few, there are a wide range of aftermarket additions available, such as fitted hard luggage, heated grips, taller screens, bar risers, and performance exhausts.

Other extras the Blackbird came with were baggage points and a centre stand.

Honda placed a lot of emphasis on the CBR1100XX’s bodywork and overall visual styling in order to compete for the top speed record. Despite having a minimalist and quite dull appearance, the wind tunnel engineered bodywork was contoured to have a minimal frontal area and a very low drag coefficient.

Even the front fender was made to be larger and covered more of the wheel and brakes than other bikes of the time. It was a part of the aerodynamic package. The bike’s shark-like pointed nose was extremely small, and the turn signals were built into the backs of the mirrors to further reduce drag (these were actually directly transferred over from the ultra-rare Honda NR750).

Honda was indeed making a strong statement and a serious bid for the title of “world’s fastest production motorcycle” with all this attention to detail.

To illustrate their point, Honda staged the official press launch for the CBR1100XX Super Blackbird at the Paul Ricard circuit, which was known to have the longest straight in motorcycle racing at the time. Kawasaki’s ZZ-R1100 was then deposed by Honda’s revolutionary hyperbike and held onto the title until the Suzuki Hayabusa arrived on the scene in 1999.

Over the course of its 11-year manufacturing run, the Blackbird would only get a small number of updates before Honda chose to discontinue their one and only hyperbike.

The VFR1200F was introduced in 2010 as the sports tourer that Honda aimed to replace the CBR1100XX, but it failed to live up to the public’s expectations and was discontinued after just 5 years in production.

The CBR1100XX Super Blackbird remains the largest displacement bike in Honda’s CBR range to date.

Honda CBR1100XX Super Blackbird Specs list

  • Engine:                 Liquid-cooled, 16 valve, SOHC, inline four

  • Capacity:              1,137 cc

  • Max Power:        164 bhp / 112 kW @ 10,000 rpm

  • Max Torque:      124 Nm / 91.5 lb ft @ 7,250 rpm

  • Gearbox:             6-speed manual

  • Frame: Aluminium twin spar

  • Top speed:         188 mph / 303 kph

  • Fuel capacity:     22 L / 5.8 US Gal

  • Seat height:        810 mm / 31.9 inches

  • Wet weight:       254 kg / 559 lb

 

Honda CBR1100XX Super Blackbird Variants

1997: The new bike is launched.

1998: The worlds fastest production bike gets a small update with an improved water cooling system.

1999: The Honda gets a major re-vamp. Fuel injection is introduced with warning light on the dash, a bigger 24 litre fuel tank, Honda’s built-in immobiliser system added and ram-air ducts help increase the power further.

2001 The Blackbird received its final update. A new digital dash unit, taller windscreen and a catalytic converter added due to higher emission regulations, reducing the top end power.

Honda CBR1100XX Super Blackbird Vs the competition

On and off the racetrack, Japanese manufacturers were driven by an obsession to produce record-breaking bikes throughout the 1990s (The Japanese war of speed had begun further back in the 1970s). The Kawasaki ZZ-R1100 had set the trend since its release and was the world’s fastest production bike from 1990 until 1996 with a top speed of 175 mph (282 kph).

Kawasaki’s era as the fastest had come to an end when the Honda CBR1100XX’s top speed was tested at 188.2 mph (303 kph) in 1996, breaking the ZZ-R1100’s previous record. However, the Super Blackbird would only hold the record for a few short years.

The Suzuki GSX1300R Hayabusa passed the CBR1100XX in 1999. With a top speed of 194 mph (312 kph).

It was recognised in the Guinness World Records Millennium Edition as the fastest production motorcycle in the world. There is no mystery as to what Suzuki had intended with the GSX1300R because a “Hayabusa” is the Japanese name for the Peregrine Falcon, a species of raptor that preys on blackbirds, a direct challenge to Honda indeed.

As a result of a gentleman’s agreement created shortly after amongst the Japanese manufacturers which limited any further top speeds to 186.4 mph (300 kph), Suzuki would hold onto the record for more than 20 years.

The agreement held up until 2015, when Kawasaki unveiled the H2, an insane supercharged Ninja that broke the previous record held by the Suzuki Hayabusa with a top speed of 209.4 mph (337 kph).

Kawasaki ZZ-R1100 Honda Blackbird Suzuki Hayabusa
Capacity 1,052 cc 1,137 cc 1,298 cc
Power 147 bhp 164 bhp 175 bhp
Torque 110 Nm 124 Nm 138 Nm
Dry Weight 228 kg 223 kg 217 kg
Fuel Capacity 21 L 22 L 21 L
Standing ¼ mile 10.1 sec 10.0 sec 10.3 sec
Top Speed 175 mph / 282 kph 188.2 mph / 303 kph 194 mph / 312 kph

Buying a Used Honda Blackbird

You might be a little taken aback to learn that a motorcycle over 20 years old is still fetching prices in the vicinity of £3,000. The Blackbird continues to be in high demand, and as a result, their prices continue to rise steadily.

Don’t be shocked to see an asking price of more than £5,000 if you’re fortunate enough to hunt down and find a good, low mileage model.

However, regardless of mileage, any Blackbird in the UK with an MOT will sell for a minimum of £2,500, so you can purchase one, enjoy it for a while, and realistically expect to get your money back after a couple of years. The Blackbird is certainly a safe bet when it comes to retaining its value and the build quality on these was exceptional.

There is a very high probability that the older carburetted models have already undergone modifications such as installing a jet kit, power commander and other power flat spot fixes.

In order to maintain their optimal performance, the dual-CBS linked brakes do require maintenance, particularly the linkage and slave cylinder on the front left fork leg. Look out for any changes to the brake system if you’re in the market for one as many owners will have bypassed the CBS linked braking system, blocked up the linkage hoses, or even fitted alternative calipers.

A known issue on the original models was with the cam chain tensioner, which gets noisy and eventually fails. Any bikes with over 20,000 miles on the clock would have had this changed already or never developed the issue but something to be aware of.

At the moment, there are a tonne of Blackbirds available on the UK second-hand market. I found a recently sold 2001, second generation, fuel-injected model with only 21,000 miles. On a bike like the CBR1100XX this is nothing, with owners report trouble-free mileages of up to 70,000!

It sold for £2,695, and it was undoubtedly worth more.

In America prices tend to be a bit higher. This great condition 1998 was listed on Bring a Trailer with no reserve and went for $5000

Verdict

The 90’s were an interesting time in the motorcycling world. That need for speed fuelled so many new motorcycles and innovations over a decade that would peak with the Suzuki Hayabusa and end with the agreement of restricted top speeds, stricter emission regulations and later on in the 2000s, a global economic crash that would have all motorcycle manufacturers withdrawing from outlandish pursuits of speed and tightening their purse strings.

The Honda CBR1100XX Super Blackbird was undoubtedly one of the greatest Honda motorcycles of the 1990’s and epitomises this age of triumph in motorcycling. Harkening back to a time when monstrous engines ruled the world and our hearts, yet the Blackbird is so much more than just a fast motorcycle.

The Blackbird’s reputation for speed deters many riders from purchasing one, however this represents a very small part of its extensive capabilities.

The CBR1100XX Super Blackbird was a motorcycle designed to go as fast as possible, however it was also designed to take a rider across great distances while travelling at high speed and still give a comfortable ride (or two up touring); and it did this with ease in classic Honda fashion.

Blackbird owners will tell you that other than getting a comfortable sports tourer that most modern sports bikes struggle to keep up with, the level of build quality and finish on the bike is simply outstanding.

This coupled with the bullet proof Blackbird engine known to go for tens of thousands of miles without issues, is why so many are still on the roads today.

There have been rumours that Honda is thinking about reviving the Blackbird, and I sincerely hope they do it but with the same vigour and success as they did with the Africa Twin.

I periodically make mention of my perfect 10-bike garage, well the Blackbird features on it, and I’m now genuinely hunting for one to buy before a resurrection drives up the cost of the originals.

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