Honda’s CBR1100XX Super Blackbird had a long name and a long time in Honda’s brochure.
Some of the first bikes appeared in the UK at the end of 1996 (even if it was a 1997 model year machine) and the last ones lingered in showrooms until around 2006 or longer. To be fair, this shows something: the Blackbird was spot-on right from the start.
Now, there was a bit of hyperbole at the launch… the bike was named after the high-flying fastest air-breathing aircraft ever built – the Lockheed Blackbird – and this meant it was clearly gunning for the title of ‘fastest production motorcycle’ then held by the 175-or-so-mph Kawasaki ZZ-R1100.
With this in mind the launch saw the Japanese staff/technicians all wearing ‘300km/hr’ T-shirts: it was a bold statement of intent, but could the ‘bird bust 185mph? Kawasaki’s ZZ-R had seven years as the fastest bike, but for the Blackbird, it’s reign at the top was short-lived, with Suzuki’s GSX1300R Hayabusa coming along in 1998 and Kawasaki’s new ZX-12R two years later.
Honda didn’t respond in kind with more power (surely 165bhp was enough?) but instead refined the bike still further. The original 1997 machine was updated with an altered cooling system for 1998, before ditching those carbs for a PGM-FI fuel-injection system for the 1999 model. At the same time the fuel tank got an extra two litres (up to 24) a forced ‘ram-air’ induction system and the anti-theft Honda ‘HISS’ ignition was fitted. For 2001 a cat was added to the exhaust and in came a swish new LCD instrument panel.
Considering in all this time the Honda wasn’t the lightest (225/250 kilos dry/wet) and not the most powerful, it still did well in the comparison group tests. Journalists felt the Honda was a more handsome beast than the ugly Busa and easier on the legs than the tall and gawky ZX-12R – which also had poor tank range. It also knocked both into a cocked hat when it came to build quality.
Yes, this thing was built to last. Put a 1997 bike next to a late 2005 model and you’d be hard pressed either to spot the differences or (if both bikes had been looked after) know which was the older/younger bike.
For CB-Net readers, we have to say that Blackbirds are still bargains, when you consider the quality you’re getting for your wedge: this is still a 180mph machine don’t forget… We think the 2001-on Blackbirds are pretty much faultless. Find one with stock exhausts that’s been looked after and just enjoy it.
Prices: what a spread… you can still find well-worn Blackbirds for around £1700, rising to around £4800 for the last of the line which were registered as late as 2007.
Front wheel: Early bikes had different front-wheel set-ups, so injected bike front wheels don’t fit the earlier bikes.
Honda CBS Brakes: A contentious subject: owners seem to like the Combined Braking System, where the front brake lever operates pistons at the front and single piston at back, while rear pedal operates a piston at front and pistons at rear… Journalists hated it. Despite 85% of owners reporting back to Honda that they liked the system, that other 15% often de-linked the brakes. Yes, it can be done.
Forks: Owners say that fork springs get tired at around 20,000 miles. Uprated (9-9.5 kilo springs) and 10W oil make a big difference – but progressive springs aren’t so good on the Blackbird.
Rear shock: Goes off around 25,000 miles. Replacement costs around £300 or you can actually get the unit refurbished for around half that cost.
Engine: Smooth and linear, this motor is immense. Standard pre-injection models suffer from a hole in the power at around 5000-6000 revs, while the injected models can stutter a little in the low, 2-3000rpm range. From 6000-on the thing pulls hard up to its peak power at around 10,000rpm. Bulletproof – we’ve heard of engines going through 100,000 miles. But look after them…. Service them every 4000 miles.
Regulator/rectifier: Ahhh 1990s Hondas! Reg/rectifiers can fail at anything between 7000-40,000 miles. Buy and aftermarket replacement… Later models don’t seem to suffer as much.
Cam-chain tensioners: 1996-1998 Blackbirds have had tensioners go as early as 7000 miles. You’ll feel it as a little ‘tinkling’ sound at around 3200rpm. Later bikes were better, with the average life being between 15 to 30,000 miles. It’s a 20-40 minute job to replace one and fairly inexpensive. Replacing them with a 2001-on tensioner is the thing to do.
Tank sizes: Confusion reigns a little here… officially it was 22 litres (1996-1998) then 24 litres (1999-on) but the final model manual in 2005 says 23 litres…
Wiring Loom: On the 1999-2000 model there is a large multi-pin plug buried in the loom to the rear of the tank on the left-hand side. Water ingress can get into this causing the bike to misfire or make the FI light come on. Checking out the various owners groups you can find documentation on how to sort this.
Finish: Utterly brilliant. However, owners of the later matt black finish machines report that the finish becomes satin or even glossy after it’s been cleaned a few times.
Comfort/parts: Many owners lower/adjust the bikes to fit them. If they have been fiddled with, ensure the original parts are in with the sale. Popular aftermarket parts include a hugger, a tank pad, fender extender, crash mushrooms, mirror-arm extenders, bar risers, fork preload adjusters, High Intensity Discharge headlight kit, yoke protectors and a 6mm spacer to jack up the rear of the bike and speed up the steering. Heated grips are popular as is luggage.