In retrospect, it all seemed so simple. The key to HONDA CBR900RR was that it packed a powerful, open-class four- cylinder engine in a chassis small and light enough to belong to a 600cc middleweight. The result was dynamite. When the bike they named the FireBlade was launched in 1992, it was the hardest-charging, sharpest-handling, shortest-stopping big-bore sports machine ever seen.

Of course, Honda's task had in reality been far from easy. To create such a powerful yet compact and reliable engine was very difficult; to package it in an ultra-light chassis that was both agile and stable even harder. Yet the team led by Tadao Baba succeeded, and in the process created the legend of the FireBlade and began a new era of two-wheeled high performance.

The CBR relied on the conventional technology of a twin-cam, liquid-cooled, 16-valve straight four. The 893cc motor was physically barely larger than Honda's CBR600 engine. It was very light, too, despite the absenFce of expensive titanium. There was nothing radical about the design, it was just that nobody before had put together such a refined and compact package that approached the Blade's peak output of 124bhp at 10.500rpni.

The same was true of the chassis, which added a few twists to the familiar twin-spar alloy design to produce a bike whose 4071b (185kg) weight figure belonged in the middleweight class. The thick conventional forks held a 16-inch front wheel; four-piston front brake calipers bit on drilled discs. Steering geometry was remarkable at the time; closer to grand prix racebike figures than to those of the Honda's roadster rivals.


More to the point, the RR performed like a purpose-built racebike too. Engine performance combined instant throttle response, minimal vibration and adequate low-rev power, before the serious urge arrived at 6000rpm. At 9000rpm the RR shifted into hyperdrive, screaming to the 11 .OOOrpm redline with renewed thrust. Top speed was around 160mph (257km/h), slightly down on larger-engined rivals from Suzuki and Yamaha. The smaller engine also lacked a little mid-range by comparison, encouraging frequent use of its six- speed gearbox. But the lightweight Honda was a match for anything on acceleration.

Stunningly light steering


It was in corners that the FireBlade's lack of size and weight made most difference, for no other open-class Japanese sportster provided agility in the same league. Steering was stunningly light and quick, bordering on the nervous yet responding to every command with pinpoint accuracy. The CBR's cornering ability was also partly due to its firm and well-damped suspension.

A combination of efficient fairing, wide seat and generous leg-room made the FireBlade reasonably comfortable. This was no sports-tourer, however, but a brilliant, purpose-built sportster; the quickest, nimblest superbike ever to come out of Japan. Honda claimed that in developing the FireBlade, they had set out to rewrite the rules of motorcycle design. For once, what sounded like a typical piece of advertising hype rang true.

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