HONDA CBR1000RR-R FIREBLADE (2020 - on) Review
- Race replica 1000cc sports bike
- Huge levels of performance on tap
- Expensive relative to rivals
At a glance
Overall ratingNext up: Ride & brakes
The 2020 Honda Fireblade represents a common conundrum: all large capacity sportsbikes are pointless for the road. There, I’ve said it. They operate so far above how most riders are willing to ride on public roads that you barely graze the surface of what they’re capable of. It’s like owning a brewery and never sipping more than a half. When a bike makes such bewildering power that it needs cunning electronics to prevent it being savagely unrideable and can bust the national speed limit by over 40mph in first gear, you surely have to question the purpose.
Revvier and sharper than ever, this is definitely true with the Honda CBR1000RR-R Fireblade. Most of the time it’s just hard work. Peakier and more demanding than its key rivals, yet with less blingy tech for the significant money, it’s easy to question why you’d want one.
However, the Fireblade’s unflinching focus and Honda’s high-quality execution mean that it genuinely appeals as a serious superbike offering. It’s an eye-opening, sense-frazzling, life-affirming creation.
I like that Honda aren’t scared of making a rowdy, razor-like, real race-replica. There’s purity of purpose with the Fireblade; this is a bike designed to excel at going around in circles at terrifying speed, with no compromises for humdrum daily life. I like that.
You wouldn’t buy a powerboat and expect it to behave like a canal boat, so why shouldn’t a race replica be as racy as possible? The Honda might only make sense for 5% of the time, but the hit when it does is all the richer.
If you're looking for an even racier version of the 'Blade, why not head to our Honda Fireblade SP review?
Ride quality & brakesNext up: Engine
Front forks and rear shock are firm. As in blurred vision, rattled dentures and complaining wrists. Electronic suspension like as fitted to the £24k Fireblade SP can be supple and cosseting then instantly react when required, but at legal speeds the conventional Showa mechanical set-up on the regular RR jars over bumps. Stiff? Very.
There’s no issue with actual quality, mind. Throw the svelte, accurate, 600-scale Honda hard through a series of turns, push it into its operating range, and the damping is great. So is the response and accuracy of the steering. You just need to take your brain out of sensible mode to fully experience the potential and quality of the chassis.
You need to be flexible too. Not only does the RR-R handle like a supersport 600, it’s built like one as well: footpegs are scrunched-up high, clip-on ’bars are low, and with the compact low-level fuel tank it’s amazingly trim.
While all other brands fit swanky Brembo brake calipers (and you get them on the Blade SP), this regular Blade has Nissins. And there’s nowt wrong with that. Matched to a radial master cylinder, there’s plenty of bite, loads of feel and tail-lifting power.
EngineNext up: Reliability
No standout tech in Honda’s 1000cc inline four. It’s a regular 16-valve unit without variable valve timing or desaxe cylinders or any other advantage-finding tricks.
Apart from the bore and stroke, that is. Honda have copied the internal dimensions of their MotoGP bike, with a much fatter bore and stubbier stroke than any previous 'Blade. This lowers the mean piston speed for any given revs, allowing the engine to rev higher than ever, before the safe working limit (around 24m/s) is reached – and as horsepower is essentially torque multiplied by revs this means lots and lots of power. As in a claimed 215bhp, with a dyno-tested 201bhp at a giddy 14,000rpm measured at the rear tyre.
It’s very, extremely, bloody fast. Power comes in with a tremendous rush the noisy side of 10,000rpm, at which point your surroundings become a streaky blur, the horizon is suddenly behind you and your helmet is full of roaring four-cylinder soundtrack. It’s so intense your brain struggles to keep up.
These top-end fireworks are at the expense of tractability, though. The previous model Fireblade has a rich midrange and strong driveability. This one doesn’t. Pull away and wind the throttle hard in first gear, and you’d expect a 201bhp superbike to tear limbs off. But the Honda just makes a deep intake noise while slowly winding itself up. There’s a noticeable increase in drive and additional hubbub as an exhaust flap opens around 6000rpm, but it’s not until the tacho reaches five figures that the Honda really lights up.
It’s possible to tool round in the midrange on 5% throttle, short-shift at 5000rpm and still wazz past traffic at 90mph, looking like a two-wheeled terrorist. But once you’ve sampled the astounding high-rev power the Blade seems flat the rest of the time.
BMW’s variable-valve S1000RR has the grunt to rival a big-bore hyperbike like the Kawasaki ZZR1400. This Honda feels like an inflated Yamaha R6.
Reliability & build qualityNext up: Value
Open up the Big Book Of Road Test Clichés and right at the top of the first page it’ll say something about Honda build quality. Thing is, Honda genuinely do screw bikes together with a level of finish and component quality that other brands can’t muster. The RR-R is no exception.
The Fireblade is delivered with lashings of Hondaness. From the push-button start on the side of the dash to oh-so-subtle machining marks on the top yoke and proper tank badges, there’s plenty of reputation-confirming Big H class.
At the time of writing it’s hard to predict how reliable the CBR1000RR-R will prove. Bikes were delivered late after the launch due to problems with con-rods, but this was all resolved and there shouldn’t be any issues. If previous CBRs are any kind of indication it’ll be apocalypse-proof.
Value vs rivalsNext up: Equipment
The CBR1000RR-R is group 17 insurance. That’s the same as all rival hairy sportsbikes and the top of the insurance group tree, so don’t expect piffling premiums.
Despite its fondness for inaudible revs, the anti-friction internal coatings and smart engine management mean the Blade’s average economy is better than the previous model – 41.3mpg compared to 40.6mpg. But it’s still less to a gallon than a more practical bike like, say, a Kawasaki Ninja 1000SX. With a 16.1-litre fuel tank the Blade’s typical range is 146 miles.
Sure, there are sportsbikes that are easier to ride fast and that are more forgiving – a Suzuki GSX-R1000R or Ducati Panigale V4 is better, and the benchmark BMW S1000RR is faster, easier to ride, comfier and friendlier.
Keep the key fob in your pocket and press the round button on the side of the dash to wake up the Blade. It’ll then fire up with the combined starter/killswitch. You turn the ignition off again by twisting the ring around the outside of the power button; holding it in the off position for a few seconds activates a steering lock.
Smart. It’s shame you still need the actual key for the filler cap, though.
A colour TFT dash is full of all the data and features you could wish for on a super-fancy modern bike, including graphics showing lean angle and a lap timer. The switchgear-mounted controls are logical enough, but the compact layout means quite fiddly operation. It doesn’t help that the switch positioning and the Blade’s riding position mean you can’t see what you’re pressing with a definite downwards glance (even then you often find you’re looking at the top of the switch block, not the buttons themselves).
Adjustable lean-sensitive traction control, cornering ABS and assorted riding modes are all present and correct. However, the super-slick quickshifter is a £525 accessory. This highlights how the Honda falls behind rivals if you’re after bling and electronic whatnots – the same money buys a range-topping BMW S1000RR M Sport with carbon wheels, semi-active suspension, bewildering electronics, heated grips and quickshifter. And more grunt than a farm-full of Gloucester Old Spots, too.
|Engine type||Liquid cooled, DOHC, 16v, inline four|
|Frame type||aluminium twin spar|
|Fuel capacity||16.1 litres|
|Front suspension||43mm forks, adj. preload, rebound, compression|
|Rear suspension||monoshock, adj. preload, rebound, compression|
|Front brake||2 x 330mm discs with four-piston calipers. ABS|
|Rear brake||220mm disc with two-piston caliper. ABS|
|Front tyre size||120/70 ZR17|
|Rear tyre size||200/55 ZR17|
Mpg, costs & insurance
|Average fuel consumption||41 mpg|
|Annual road tax||£96|
|Annual service cost||-|
17 of 17
How much to insure?
|Warranty term||Two years|
Top speed & performance
|Max power||201 bhp|
|Max torque||81 ft-lb|
|Top speed||187 mph|
|1/4 mile acceleration||10.3 secs|
|Tank range||146 miles|
Model history & versions
- 1992: Honda release an all-new CBR900RR FireBlade, a 893cc inline four with 600-style proportions and a 16in front wheel (Honda had development bikes with both 16in and 17in wheels, and couldn’t make up their mind; the production slot arrived and the last-minute compromise was a 16in wheel and a deep front tyre). Focused on acceleration, rider feedback and usability, it’s ‘Total Control’ philosophy makes all other large capacity sportsbikes feel like bloated walruses. Survives until 1999, with various updates and changes through the years including a more relaxed riding position and an increase to 918cc.
- 2000: Almost entirely new CBR900RR FireBlade with 929cc engine, fuel injection, 17in front wheel, and a beam frame with no swingarm pivot plates – the swingarm hangs directly from the gearbox (like on a FireStorm) with a brace beneath. Lighter and more powerful than any previous 900.
- 2002: Heavy update with increase in bore size giving 954cc, revised frame, new swingarm and a fresh look. Neat underseat storage with a pop-open pillion seat, too. Plush, usable, fast, it’s perhaps the most usable of all Blades.
- 2004: All-new CBR1000RR Fireblade with 1000cc engine, die-cast frame, Unit Pro-Link rear suspension (top shock mount is attached to the swingarm, not the frame), radial brakes, electronic sterring damper, underseat exhaust and styling based on Honda’s RC211V MotoGP bike. Now a lowercase ‘B’ in the name. Honed and refined until 2007, when it wins World Superbike with James Toseland – making it the only Blade to win a WSB title.
- 2008: Heavy update for the CBR1000RR, with more power, less weight, one-piece brake calipers, bellypan exhaust, and mildly controversial looks. Classy and usable, it’s refined over the years and effectively survives until 2019 with many updates, including ABS and other electronic rider aids, light 12-spoke wheels, sharper styling, different dash and more. There’s an Öhlins-equipped SP version too.
- There’s a flash-tastic Fireblade SP, which adds Öhlins sem-active electronic suspension and a two-way quickshifter to the RR-R package. It costs 24 grand.
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