’96 CBR900RR-T

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SOME Honda staff quietly admit 1996 was the year the firm dreaded.

The Blade had been on top for so long, but a rival that was rumoured to have the attributes to boot its arse was due to be released. Yamaha, realising its EXUP was dead in the water, had developed the YZF1000R Thunderace, with impressive statistics on paper.

The rumour mill went into overdrive and Honda launched its 1996 bike in November 1995 to steal the limelight from the upstart. Realising massive sales and its global reputation were on the line, the firm also overhauled the Blade like never before.

The resulting bike, though visually very similar to its forebears, was a virtually new machine.

Out went the 893cc engine – itself a maximally bored-out Japan-only CBR750 motor – and in came a new 918cc lump. Weight dropped by 1kg (2.2lb) to 184kg (405lb) and power rose by 6bhp to a claimed 128bhp.

MCN’s first test read like this: ” Honda has worked miracles with its new FireBlade. It’s quicker, better-handling and much easier to ride hard. Honda’s on to a winner again. ”

And indeed it was. The Thunderace, though great, was heavy at 198kg (436lb), despite a claimed 145bhp. It took too much effort to chuck around and felt physically massive, thanks to a boxy fairing.

But CBR buyers were glad Yamaha launched it – otherwise the Blade’s myriad improvements wouldn’t have happened.

As well as the new motor, there was a lighter fairing, a revised riding position with a lower tank and 10mm higher handlebars, a narrower, stiffer frame with a stiffer swingarm and a lighter, curved aluminium radiator, and a longer-lasting silencer that was polished rather than painted. The 16in wheel stayed, though.

The engine changes, which included a more rigid crankshaft, larger big-end bearings, new ignition mapping and a smaller generator, also meant 2ftlb more torque.

Edward Pringle-Stacey is typical of owners interested in the revised Blade. He says: ” It’s my baby. I use it as transport and as a toy. I’m always on it. ”

He paid a whopping £9600 for it new (the RRP was £9265, but demand was still high) and has done 60,000 miles so far. Nothing has gone wrong.

He added: ” Lately, I’ve been doing 13,000 miles a year on it, in all weathers. And it hasn’t let me down.

” It’s up for anything, too. I’ve even taken my 76-year-old mother-in-law for a spin on it. She thought it was marvellous! ”

But the 30-year-old is planning to swop it for a 2002 Blade. ” It just looks the dog’s, ” he says.

Unless it’s been raced, crashed or run without oil, you’re unlikely to buy a bad 1996 bike. And they can be yours for between £3000 and £3800 – just a few hundred quid more than the previous model, but measurably more capable.

MCN Staff

By MCN Staff