FIRST BLADE + GUZZI BUYING GUIDE
Revolutionary motorcycles, by their very nature, don’t just have a profound effect on a few – they have a huge influence on the whole of motorcycling.
Kawasaki's GPZ900R, for example, with its pioneering, liquid-cooled, 16-valve motor and integrated, fully-faired design, set the template in 1983 for all superbikes to follow. While Honda’s 1969 CB750K, for another, introduced the very concept of the four-cylinder ‘UJM’ – or Universal Japanese Motorcycle – which dominated biking for the next two decades.
But the very best of these also affect us personally, individually… as reader Dylan Owen recalls of his early Honda Fireblade.
“I had a ’96 Fireblade,” he told MCN. “It was my first real superbike. I’d ridden a few bikes before but nothing with the power or reputation of the Blade. I remember thinking it wasn’t all that special as I rode away from the dealership. Until, that is, the first long stretch of road. The ballistic surge of power at 6000rpm just blew me away. It’s an amazing work of engineering and a bike I’d love to have in my garage again.”
That ‘amazing work of engineering’, of course, didn’t come easy. The first CBR900RR was conceived as a roadgoing supersports machine (hence its slightly unusual 900cc designation after originally being penned as a 750) with the goal of putting Honda firmly back on the street superbike map – somewhere Big H hadn’t been since the days of the CB900F.
The man Honda tasked with this tall order was Tadao Baba. And it was Baba-san’s brainwave of pursuing, Gp-style, extreme lightness instead of simply brutal power that rewrote the rulebook, culminating in a staggering performance sea-change moment with a machine that was as light, manageable and fine-handling as a 600 yet had the acceleration and speed of a thou’ and, like the GPZ900R of a decade earlier, set the template for all superbikes to come. Simply, without the first Blade the R1 would never have happened. Nor would BMW’S S1000RR, Kawasaki’s ZX-10R, Suzuki’s beam-frame Gixxers or many others. What’s more, the original Blade was such a leap forward it took Honda’s rivals years to catch up. That first R1 didn’t arrive until a full five years later, long enough for the Honda to become a best seller, cement its reputation, evolve not once but twice, and become hugely significant to a whole generation of bikers.
Reader Martin Pybus was one of them. “I owned a 1993 Fireblade and still do!” he told MCN. “Why is it so special? Well firstly it’s the bike that changed the world and gave birth to sportsbikes as we know them.
"And there is nothing more special and eye-catching than the Urban Tiger paintjob that my bike has. I often get people wanting to buy it, but it’s part of the family.”
MCN #ride5000miles member Ian Speight is another Blade man. “I've owned six but the first two were a 1997 model followed by a 1998,” he told us. “Both were amazing: compact, fast, great-handling and both had the hinged pillion seat which had a surprisingly good-sized storage space underneath!
“The '98 bike took me to Switzerland on a 10-day tour with throw-over panniers and directions taped to the tank (there were no sat-navs in those days!) I went on to own a further four Blades over the next 10 years and still get tempted every time I'm in a Honda showroom!”
Nor does the story end there. As we all know, the Blade lives on today as one of Honda’s greatest ever models. By 1998, however, the model's original bubble had most certainly burst. The arrival of the even lighter and more powerful R1 that year stole the Honda’s thunder and left the Blade seeming bloated and bland. The first GSX-R1000K1 in 2000 then had the same effect on the Yamaha. Then came the first ZX-10R, later the first S1000RR and so on. All of them raised the bar in their own way. And yet all also owed a debt of gratitude to the original Blade, without which superbikes, certainly, would have followed a very different path.
‘I often get people wanting to buy my Urban Tiger, but it’s part of the family’
‘ The ballistic surge of power at 6000rpm just blew me away’ MCN READER, DYLAN OWEN