Honda Fireblade CBR 900. AUCTION FINISHED

How did the Honda FireBlade get its name?

I’ve read many accounts of how “FireBlade” is a poor translation of the Japanese word for “lightning”. Everyone knows the name FireBlade, but there is only one model of this iconic brand that has forged out its very own niche. It’s not known by a number, capacity or even letter designation. This Blade is known by its paint scheme – the Urban Tiger.

Launched in 1994, RR-R model was a subtle refinement of the original, revolutionary 1992 FireBlade with chassis modifications and a new look. The fairing was made wider and taller while new lights made it instantly recognizable: gone were the twin round units, replaced by the new ‘foxeye’ headlight arrangement.

But it’s the Urban Tiger paint job which really makes this version stand out. Although disappointingly described as beige in its logbook, the Urban Tiger is one of the most iconic paint schemes ever put on a motorcycle, right up there alongside the Lucky Strike RGV500. What’s more, with prices still low, the Urban Tiger is now not just better, but far better value than the 1992 original, too.

There is no denying it, collectors are always after the first model and in this case the FireBlade’s boat has well and truly set sail. A few years ago a 1992 original in the alternative black paint scheme could still be found for a reasonable sum of money.

So why not think outside the box and pick up the second generation ‘Blade from 1994 in the iconic Urban Tiger colour scheme? Not only does it look cool, it’s a great talking point and a machine that everyone seems to remember fondly.

With around 124bhp at peak, it delivered blistering, game-changing performance by marrying that to ultra-light weight. The fairly long stroke engines grunty, torquey delivery, ably assisted with that, delivering plenty of midrange to help catapult out of corners. That kind of performance was finally beaten by Yamaha’s R1 in 1998 and has been thoroughly overtaken by more modern superbikes but an early generation ‘Blade is still entertaining, lively, surprisingly tractable and far easier than you might expect.

The second generation ‘Blade’s brakes were also unchanged from those of the original, comprising fairly typical for the era twin discs with non-radial Nissin four-piston calipers. If maintained correctly, they’re better than most set-ups from the era, mostly thanks again to the bike’s light overall weight. 

The spec on these bikes were sparce to say the least. Traction control and ABS are again conspicuous by their absence. As a bike built on the mantra of ultra-light weight, also means that less is more and, in terms of equipment, it only has what it needs.

The design of the Superbike was generally thought to have been well sorted during the transition from the 80s to the 90’s. Alloy beam frames, ever widening tyre sizes, and four cylinder engines were the norm, and technical revelations few. Then, completely out of left field came the CBR900RR and changed it all, causing a never-ending power struggle that continues unabated 20 years on.

With the introduction of the Blade the Japanese manufacturers scuttled off and redesigned their idea of a Superbike, the larger machines in their respective stables being consigned to sports-tourer status while most had to start from the ground up just to stay on a par with Honda. Some great machines came out of the time however all spurred on by the CBR900RR.

Baba-san’s mission was to build a motorcycle that was not just fast, but also comfortable. In fact, there was one specific comfort goal: it had to be able to beat the RVF750 in the Suzuka 8 hours Endurance Road Race.

It is important not only to look at what came after the Blade but also what preceded this ground-breaking machine. The class leading Superbikes of the late 80s and early 90s all saw huge increases in power year-on-year, but with it came equally large all up weights. Honda Design engineer Tadao Baba, the man who single-handedly penned the CBR900RR knew that saving weight was the answer for the next generation of Superbike, effectively he created a racer on the road, an ethos that has lasted 20 years to date.

The first model broke several moulds, seeing a return to the early 80s thinking of a 16inch front wheel for lighter steering and huge savings in weight seeing the finished model tipping the scales just 4kgs more than Hondas own CBR600F. The Yamaha FZR1000 of 1991 weighed in around 36kgs more than that first CBR900RR, leaving the Honda engine with far less work to do and the rider even less so.

“The concept of the first FireBlade is what still survives today: fun to ride, easy to control, and this is what I am most proud of. For most of the 1990s, the Honda CBR900RR FireBlade was the motorcycle to beat.

Even today, riding an old ‘Blade is an invigorating, raw experience. They have ample power, precise handling, and are more comfortable than most modern race-replica motorcycles.

If you get the chance to ride a 90’s FireBlade, apart from riding a piece of history, you’ll see that old motorcycles have stood the test of time — provided you’re riding one that’s well maintained.

The commonly accepted knowledge was that litre-class bikes were fast but not as nimble; 600cc motorcycles were nimble but not as fast. Baba-san didn’t think this should be the case. Baba-san was so confident that the test riders would love the motorcycle that he announced it by saying: “Gentlemen, today you are going to ride a bike that will change the face of supersports.”

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