The Honda Fireblade joined the litre sportsbike club in 2004. The bike was powered by a 998cc inline-four engine and was the firm's attempt at the superbike top-spot, which was being ruled by the Suzuki GSX-R1000.
Capable of 178.5mph and producing 169bhp at 11,250rpm, the bike offers ample performance even by today's standards and can be picked up on the used market for less than a brand-new middleweight commuter. Tempted? Of course you are.
What we said then:
"Cold, calm and supremely effective – the Honda CBR1000RR Fireblade is like The Terminator. It is an exceptional sportsbike, that's blisteringly fast on the road or track. It's bristling with MotoGP technology and compared to the previous incarnations it's faster, but heavier and arguably less exciting too." Michael Neeves, December 2003 launch report.
But what is it like now?
Honda’s 2004 Fireblade was the seventh incarnation of the Japanese giant’s flagship sportsbike, and it was no subtle update. A blank-page redesign inspired by MotoGP, the new bike got a 998cc engine to put it on par with its litre rivals.
There was also a revised chassis with Unit Pro-Link rear suspension and an electronic steering damper. Honda also gave the bike sophisticated fuelling, a CBR600RR-aping under-seat exhaust and sharp new styling.
Although the Blade was smooth and stable, as well as being ruthlessly efficient on track, it just didn’t thrill in the same way as the other litre machines of the time, such as the Yamaha R1 and Suzuki GSX-R1000. But don’t let that put you off what is, in truth, a damn good road-going superbike with stunning build quality.
Honda only ever claimed 172bhp, which probably translates to around 155bhp at the rear wheel, but the engine still feels immensely powerful and is very tractable from low rpm.
There is a very natural connection to the back wheel – a feeling that’s all often missing from today's ride-by-wire bikes. Another thing to note is the excellent stability, thanks to the Unit Pro-Link rear suspension mount and relatively long swingarm.
The Blade seems to iron out the worst of road conditions and insulates the rider to such an extent that your speed increases dramatically without you realising. Sorry officer! Honda backed up their stable geometry with the use of an electronic steering damper, which automatically increases/decreases resistance depending on road speed.
Any worthwhile extras?
Despite being a 'mature' 68 years-old, the previous owner of this Blade really went to town with it. There are top-mounted preload fork adjusters, CNC clutch and brake levers, loads of gold anodised fairing fasteners, crash bobbins and more.
More practically, there are quality adjustable rearsets that allow varying footrest positions. This model of Blade had a slightly more extreme foot peg position than the bike it replaced, so a bit of adjustability is welcome.
In terms of tuning, there’s a whole world of go-faster bits and race parts out there, but many owners just slap on an aftermarket exhaust and a Power Commander. The tone of this Yoshimura exhaust is racy without being antisocial.
What about problems?
It’s quite simply beautifully screwed together. The paint is deep, the top yoke and switchgear feel quality and the overall impression is that of a top-of-the-range machine, even now 13 years on. Due to the cost of insurance and prohibitive licensing, 1000s tend to be owned by older, more experienced riders, which can only be a positive thing if you are buying used.
The other added bonus that older riders are less likely to be racking up big mileages – as this 12,969 mile example proves.
If you’re in the market for an excellent road-going sportsbike that is as pleasing to ride as it is to polish, this era of Fireblade is hard to beat. It creates its speed in an efficient and dependable way, which flatters all riding styles and abilities.
Comfortable and beautifully made, most used examples have been extremely well cared for - which makes the fact that you can pick them up for less than a new middleweight commuter somewhat astounding. It's little surprise then that this £5500 from Stevelin Motorcycles, Huntingdon, has long since sold!
"The 2004 Blade is a very good buy as they are pretty bulletproof, however they have an Achilles' heel – the generator stator burns out.
However, you can get it rewound or a replacement for around £100. You can check this by putting a meter on the battery and looking to see that it is charging at least 13.5 volts.
"There was a recall on the fuel tank so it's worth getting your local dealer to check this has been done. You should also check the steering bearings for any notches in the centre. While you’ve got your wheel in the air you can check the steering damper, too.
"To do this, you put the sidestand down and put the bike in gear then open the throttle wide and switch the ignition on. You can then let go of the throttle, turn the bars and you’ll feel the resistance increase then go loose.
"Also, look out for bikes with crash mushrooms, as the bolts can seize – snapping the engine mount. I would ask the owner if the bolt can be undone. Check the radiator too, as they are prone to rotting.
"The service intervals are every 4000 miles or six months, and I wouldn’t say they’re particularly easy to work on so expect maintenance to take time or cost a fair bit. For example, getting to the spark plugs is quite a job and you'll need to remove the tank and airbox, as well as the secondary injectors.
"It can be tricky if you don’t know what you’re doing, and home mechanics need to be careful not to kink the tank breather hose when you reassemble, as this can cause a huge vacuum in the tank causing it to deform and even split!
"As for the valve clearances, you'll need to remove the above and also the radiator. The cam cover is a pain to get back on too, so be careful not to let the gasket come out of its position on the cover, as this will cause a leak. I would say changing the plugs takes about two hours, then it’s four hours to check the clearances and a further two hours if you require adjustment."