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Honda Blackbird

Future collectible – Honda CBR1100XX Super Blackbird

by Guy ‘Guido’ Allen; pics by Ben Galli Photography

October 2020

Honda Blackbird

High Flyer

Honda’s Blackbird may have been over-run in the performance stakes, but it’s still a formidable bit of kit

To this day, over two decades later, it all seems a bit mad. Motorcycle makers – or at least some of them – were locked in this power race for the bragging rights attached to having the world’s fastest production motorcycle. In 1996, for the 1997 model year, Honda snatched the gong with its CBR1100XX, aka the Super Blackbird.

It could claim a legitimate 290km/h top speed, a little quicker than Kawasaki’s reigning ZZ-R1100. A couple of years later, Suzuki wandered in and trounced the lot of them with the GSX1300R Hayabusa.

Honda Blackbird

Never mind the power race, there was something else going on: the Blackbird marked a significant step in the progression of the sophistication of big performance motorcycles. Perhaps greater than we realised when they were first launched.

So what was this wonderful new technology? Err, there wasn’t any, really. It’s all about refinement and attention to detail. This was a very conventional sports-touring multi. The chassis was based on a big and solid twin-spar aluminium frame, with conventional fork up front and monoshock rear. The brakes were a bit different and we’ll get to them later.

Honda Blackbird

In the engine room, you scored a 16-valve liquid-cooled four fed by a bank of 42mm CV carbs. Those carburettors were replaced with the firm’s in-house injection for the second-gen bike, in 1999. Meanwhile the transmission was a six-speeder with an hydraulically-actuated wet clutch.

That lot added up to compelling if not revolutionary stats: 164 horses (112kW) for a dry weight of 223. Plenty of urge in a package that was pretty trim, given it was in fact a reasonably civilised two-seater.

Honda Blackbird

At the time, the give-away this was something a bit special was the styling. The ‘stacked’ headlight was definitely an out-there design cue for the day, while the understated graphics and strangely-shaped tail were talking points. What the…? The clue was in the name – Blackbird. Honda’s latest flight of fancy was an homage to the 3900km/h Lockheed SR-71 spy plane and, if you look at both, you can see the styling links – particularly in the tail section of the motorcycle.

What was it like in the saddle? Fast. Yeah, righto, you could probably predict that. For its day, this was a formidably quick bit of kit. The one criticism was a flat spot in the mid-range in the carburettor model, which could be tuned out to some extent. Really, I’ve not heard owners complaining about it, and many riders will never notice. Any hint of that disappeared on the injected versions. With revs on board, in carburettor or injected form, this is a fast and ultra-smooth powerplant that seems to keep on giving right the way through to its 10,000rpm peak power point.

Honda Blackbird

In fact, tied with capable suspension running very much road rather than track rates, this is a deceptively quick motorcycle. It’s all too easy to hop on and very soon discover you’re travelling a whole lot quicker than intended.

Since we’ve raised suspension, the only adjustment was for rear spring preload and rebound damping. That was under-done, given the performance expectations and its status.

The rates were well thought out as a compromise and there was enough travel for this to be a comfortable travelling companion while supplying a fair degree of feedback and control. You’re unlikely to set lap records, but you can do very respectable point-to-point times. Steering was light enough for a bike this size and the accuracy pretty good.

By now, many would benefit from a suspension refresh or upgrade.

Honda Blackbird

Honda’s Dual Combined Braking System (DCBS) was by far the most controversial part of the package. It was designed so, no matter which lever you used, you got some front and rear retardation. What you had was three by three-piston brake calipers operated in various combinations by both the foot and hand brake levers, and modulated by proportioning valves. DCBS went through some ‘tuning’ changes over its lifespan.

Its advantage was it gave the bike a very stable and flat attitude under hard braking. Disadvantages included no separate control over the rear for low-speed manouvering, plus – on the MkI version - the possibility you could lock the rear brake with the font lever, albeit under very extreme conditions. We’re talking solo super-hard braking on a steep downhill surface where the rear wheel was unloaded.

Honda Blackbird

The second generation Blackbird scored an updated DCBS ‘tune’ and was better for it. Really either system was easy enough to adapt to as a rider. In the workshop, you need to be aware that bleeding the system is a little different to most and actually reading the maker’s instructions is advisable.

What really sells this model, particularly as a used buy, is the quality of design and construction. This would rate as one of the most ‘together’ motorcycles Honda ever produced – it feels and looks like a quality product. I reckon this aspect is what kept a lot of people in the Honda fold, even when Suzuki came out with a newer and shinier toy in the shape of the Hayabusa.

Honda Blackbird

Servicing is relatively light on the wallet. The intervals for shims/valve lash are 24,000km and I would not feel any urge to shorten them. Aside from that it’s the usual fluids and filters. It does take patience to get into these things, as you need to remove a fair few components to get to the top of the engine. It’s typical for a fully-faired multi of the period, but still a chore.

Mileage really doesn’t worry these things, so long as they get a little love. Something with 100,000km on it should still be a very long way from worn out, though you might consider a camchain and tensioner check-up as a precaution.

There were three generations: carbureted, plus two injected. The second injected bike had a catalytic converter, which robbed some power, and a digital/analogue dash mix.

Despite the fact I’ve whined about DCBS over the years, I’ve owned all three variants and now have a first model in the shed. That, I might add, still feels like a surprisingly competent ride.

Honda Blackbird

Prices seem to vary from $3000 to $10,000, with the middle of that range offering some red-hot value if premium condition and bang for your buck are prime concerns. Of the three editions, the first will long-term be the most collectible, while the second is my pick as a ride – ultra-well sorted, still with full power, and a traditional analogue dash. (See What Bird is That below.)

Could it one day be a classic? Well I reckon it will happen. It was a landmark model for the brand and has the huge advantage of a sexy name with a good derivation. Late-nineties motorcycles aren’t generally on the radar of collectors just yet, but they will get there. In the meantime you’d have something that is a truly good ride.


See a story on rejetting our own Blackbird, here

See our 2013 video review of this bike (above)


UK: superblackbird.co.uk

International: cbrxx.com and cbr1100xx.org


Isao Yamanaka Honda Blackbird

Blackbird’s Dad
Honda’s project leader on the Blackbird, Isao Yamanaka, holidayed in Australia back in 2000 and took a little time out to chat with a gaggle of bike journos. He turned out to be a true bike nut with a fascinating background.

His career, which started with Honda in 1974, included working on the teams for the Honda Bol d’Or series, the notorious NR500/750 eight-valve project and numerous others.

And his prime interests away from work? Football and beer…

Honda Blackbird

What Bird is That?
Blackbirds were built from 1996 (for the 1997 model year) through to 2007. There were three generations:

1997-1998: Carburettors, 22 litre fuel tank, 164hp claimed;

1999-2000: Injected, 24 litre fuel tank, two-deck tail-light, 164hp claimed;

2000-2007: Mixed analogue/digital dash, catalytic converter, 152hp claimed.

Several other running changes were made, for example a new front hub and discs between gen 1 and 2, plus alterations to the set-up of the linked brake system across all three generations.

Honda Blackbird and Hayabusa

Blackbird vs Hayabusa
It seems to be one of those rules in life that you can’t publish anything online about Blackbirds without someone assuring you a Busa is better. Well, yes and no.

Suzuki’s first-gen Hayabusa claimed more power (175 vs 164hp) and a little more torque lower down the rev range (126Nm @ 6250rpm vs 124Nm @ 7250rpm). Equally significant from a performance point of view was the claim for superior aerodynamics and its accompanying dramatic styling. In the end that meant a top speed of just over 300km/h versus 290.

However, in day-to-day use the Hayabusa’s bigger powerplant does feel like it has more accessible punch. Overall it has a bit more ‘attitude’ about it.

As someone who owns both models, I can tell you the Blackbird is actually a more refined ride and probably the pick for long trips. It’s smoother and just that little bit better integrated. It also has linked brakes, which may or may not be a benefit, depending on your point of view.

So which one is better? It depends on what you’re looking for…

See our first-gen Suzuki Hayabusa buyer guide here

See the Classic Two Wheels 1999 Haybusa road test here

Honda Blackbird

Honda CBR1100XX Blackbird


TYPE: Liquid-cooled, four-valves-per-cylinder, inline four
CAPACITY: 1137cc
BORE & STROKE: 79 x 58mm
FUEL SYSTEM: 42mm Keihin CV carbs or Honda fuel injection

TYPE: Six-speed, constant-mesh,

FRAME TYPE: Aluminium twin-spar
FRONT SUSPENSION: Cartridge telescopic fork, 120mm travel
REAR SUSPENSION: Preload-adjustable & rebound dampingvs adjustable monoshock, 120mm travel
FRONT BRAKE: 310mm discs with three-piston calipers DCBS
REAR BRAKE: 256mm disc with three-piston caliper DCBS

DRY/WET WEIGHT: 223/254kg
FUEL CAPACITY: 22 or 24lt

FRONT: 3-spoke cast alloy , 120/70 ZR17
REAR: 3-spoke cast alloy, 180/55 ZR17

POWER: 122kW @ 10,000rpm (113kW in third edition with Cat)
TORQUE: 124Nm @ 7250rpm

PRICE WHEN NEW: $16500-18,790 + ORC

Well made

Not so good:
Not ideal as a track bike

Honda Blackbird



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