years have not dulled the anticipation of riding a 1992 Fireblade. It’s not something we do lightly. True, the leg we swing over its grand seat unit is more respectful than trembling, these days. And fear of the ’Blade has matured, like a 22 year-old malt, into a refined palate of flavours. Trepidation is tempered with respect, and awe no longer reserved solely for its performance. The 118bhp, 165mph and 200kg vitals have long been bettered and exceeded – although it still packs a wallop when we pull the pin.
But the passage of time brings appreciation of what the Fireblade achieved. It changed the world – all of us, whether we owned one, rode one, saw them from afar or bought a rival, have been influenced by its round headlights, pepperpotted blunt nose and bulging-bicep ally frame spars. Which is why it’s always a pleasure to ride. Even on a damp, windy, bone-chilling day surrounded by sheep and seagulls, high on a Welsh hilltop.
This is Steve Martin’s 30,000-mile 1993 CBR900RR-P – identical to the 1992 RR-N save for purple instead of blue and the shade of red. As a first-gen ’Blade it’s supposed to be less refined than the next three models: the direct linkage gearbox is said to be stiffer; the Showa suspension less controlled; and the 893cc engine peakier and less meaty. But as a fellow Fireblade owner (1996 RR-T), and having recently ridden both a 1998 RR-W and a 1994 Urban Tiger RR-R, I’m heavily, heavily biased. It would take a very scabby Fireblade to make me think ill of it.
Steve’s ’Blade shows signs of a life wellridden with dirt under its fingernails. A mishmash of bolts hold the fairing (and I note with alarm, brake calipers) on. “It had orange wheels on too, until last night,” says Steve. “I changed them over for you.”
Steve owns “three-and-a-half” ’Blades, all 1992 or 1993 bikes. Like many of us, he wanted one back in the day but, like most of us, he couldn’t afford it. “Then life got in the way,” he says. He ended up nailing a ’Blade four years ago when his nephew went to look at one, but it was too grubby for him. “So I bought it instead because it was £1300 cheap,” says Steve. “I absolutely loved it immediately. They’re unburstable, you know? They’re such tools and it’s fantastic just to own. And it does exactly what you want it to; it’s very forgiving. It’s comfortable, and it’ll go through traffic and behave itself, or it’ll get over 8000rpm and scare you. And it’s still good for a trackday. This one came from a Saturday night with a few too many beers on ebay,” he says as I get on board.
I press the starter and the engine immediately bursts into that well-known cammy burble, amplified by the space under the tank acting like an echo chamber. It’s an active, eager engine, smoothly racing up and down the rev range as you blip the throttle with tiger-ish response. The steering feels light and direct, the controls all light and controllable. The ’Blade rolls cautiously onto the Welsh tarmac. And we get rocking.
Wow. Still got it. Still. Got. It. How can anyone ever tire of this sensation? The way the CBR jumps when you get on the gas – not with a horribly harsh, modern, emissions strangled snatch, but with a smearing, blurred transition from not moving to moving very fast. The gearchanges slip neatly home – this is the best ’Blade box I’ve used; better than mine – as the revs pile upwards on that little, foam-set dial. And, it’s a detail, but racing foam. On a road bike. You can stuff your digital boxes and trip computers, mate – this one’s got racing foam.
Steve’s bike is fundamentally sound. It flicks left and right through the landscape – seems to have a slight preference to lefts over rights, for some reason – and is composed enough to be confident in dodgy conditions, but with enough pattering from both ends under braking and acceleration to keep me honest. The trademark CBR900RR topple into corners is present; you need a front tyre you can trust on a 1990s ’Blade. Fortunately there are still plenty of options today, with Bridgestone’s S20s coming in for praise. Dunlop Qualifier IIS, as we have here, go down well also. “They’re really good,” says Steve, when I stop for a chat. “When it’s got new boots it handles lovely, but when the rear tyre wears the front drops in.”
I tell him his bike feels fitter than my 1996 ’Blade, which it shouldn’t. ’Blades are fond of wheelies, but this thing is pawing the air all the way through second gear, on the gas. Steve smiles: “It’s geared down – go to a 44T rear sprocket.”
I race off again, unable to stop smiling despite the temperatures. Truth is I don’t even feel the cold; the ’Blade is so involving, so alive. We appreciate all that new bikes have to offer, but it’s sobering to think that we’re as far away from this bike now as we were from a 1970s CB750F when the ’Blade was originally launched. How’s that for historical perspective?
We take for granted the idea that as we ride a bike through the world we change it. We swap the fruit of our labours for refined fossil fuel, converting it into momentum and exhaust gas. We leave rubber on the road, brake dust on our wheel rims and bystanders our wake. When we ride a bike, we are the butterfly’s wings that cause a hurricane.
But we rarely stop to think about how it changes us. No-one who rides any bike comes away from the experience the same person they were before. But you’re even less the same after riding a 1990s Fireblade. I give Steve’s bike back to him, hot, pinging and used. And that’s just me.
Flip-out bungee hooks for tourers
Remote reservoir for easy tweaks