In 1996, sportbike sales were booming and Honda was determined to be known as producer of the greatest and fastest bikes of the day. In the big-displacement class, the title of the fastest production bike had been held by the Kawasaki ZX-11 since '90 and this didn't sit too well with Honda. Late that year, Honda announced a new model that was intended to sit on top of its sportbike lineup and-of course-dethrone the Kawasaki as the fastest production bike on the planet. The Kawasaki was running about 176 mph on radar guns and made around 132 rear-wheel horsepower; when rumors of the Honda's 160-plus horsepower and 180-plus mph hit the press, everyone got excited.
In the rest of the world the new bike was known as the Honda Super Blackbird, but in the USA it was simply the CBR1100XX. No doubt Honda wanted to draw our attention to the Lockheed SR-71 airplane that flew missions at 80,000 feet and 2000 mph, but copyright issues are rumored to be the cause for the Blackbird name not being used on USA soil.
Honda introduced the original...
Honda introduced the original XX at HPCC, allowing journalists to ride the new bike at top speed on the eight-mile oval. Sport Rider's Jason Black went 178.5 mph, handily faster than the king at the time, Kawasaki's ZX-11.
When the Honda showed up on dealer floors in '97, mechanically it was not exactly ground-breaking technology. It was an 1137cc inline liquid-cooled engine with dual overhead cams and four valves per cylinder. Keeping with Honda's tradition of low-maintenance bikes, it only called for valve adjustments every 16,000 miles. The valves were shim-under-bucket units as was typical of the day. The engine had a bore and stroke of 79 x 58mm and a compression ratio of 11.0:1, which meant premium fuel was not required. It revved to 11,000 rpm but peak power came at a more modest 10,000 rpm. The exhaust was a 4-into-2-into-1-into-2 design.
The engine was a follow-up to the previous Honda CBR1000F Hurricane, though the new mill was tilted 22 degrees forward, weighed 22 pounds less and made 22 horsepower more than the old CBR. Fueling was handled by four 42mm flat-slide Keihin CV carbs and the engine breathed through a sealed airbox. Though ram air was considered, rumors were that Honda opted for better aerodynamics in lieu of any gain that ram air may have produced. There were, however, two small vents that brought air through the fairing and focused it on the front-mounted oil cooler.
Key to the big CBR's smoothness...
Key to the big CBR's smoothness were the dual counter-rotating balance shafts, one below the crankshaft and the other above and behind.
There was one unique feature in the engine. In order to get the silky smoothness this power plant is known for, Honda utilized two counter-rotating balancers. This allowed the designers to mount the engine directly in the frame for high-speed stiffness rather than using typical rubber mounts. Inline four-cylinder engines tend to be a little buzzy at certain revs and it was Honda's goal to eliminate this issue. The first balancer was mounted below the crankshaft and rotated in the opposite direction. The second balancer, driven by an idler shaft, was above and behind the crank and turned opposite of the first balancer. Due to this rather complicated arrangement, the alternator had to be moved to the left end of the crank but the result was just what Honda wanted-a buttery smooth engine.
Engine power was fed through a hydraulically actuated nine-plate wet clutch, a six-speed transmission and a 530 O-ring chain. The rear wheel was 5.5 inches wide, and the front wheel was 3.5 inches wide, with both being 17" in diameter; tires were 120/70 front with a 180/55 rear.
The only major upgrade for...
The only major upgrade for the XX came in '99, with ram-air induction and EFI topping the list. Other changes included a new exhaust collector, larger oil cooler, seven-plate clutch and refinements to the linked braking system.
The frame was a twin-spar all-aluminum design just like Honda's own CBR900RR. The rear swingarm was also a substantial triple-box-section extruded aluminum unit. Braking was perhaps one of the most controversial aspects of the bike as it featured a linked brake system. Up front were dual 310mm discs with three-piston calipers, while the rear was a single 256mm disc, also with a three-piston caliper. When the front brake lever was applied, two pistons on both front calipers and two of the rear pistons were activated while the rear brake pedal activated the remaining one piston on each front caliper and the one remaining rear piston. It was thought to be safer by preventing panic-induced brake lockup but most purists would have preferred traditional brakes.