The Honda's Linked Braking...
The Honda's Linked Braking System used a proportioning valve mounted on the front fork to apply the front brakes gradually when the rear brake pedal was applied. In '99, the system was updated with more front-brake bias when the front brake lever was used.
Suspension was perhaps another area that created some concern because Honda opted to save some money and not equip the bike with fully adjustable front and rear pieces. Instead, the fork had 43mm tubes with no adjustments at all while the rear used a Pro-Link shock with adjustable rebound and preload. Rake and trail was 25 degrees/4.01 inches, and the CBR had a claimed wheelbase of 58.7 inches and a seat height of 32.4 inches. With a 5.8-gallon fuel tank and a range of just over 220 miles, these bikes also saw a lot of duty for sport touring fans.
Part of the lure of this package was the wind-tunnel-designed bodywork that was touted to be a major reason Honda was poised to take the speed title away from Kawasaki. Even the front fender was part of the aero package as it was larger and covered more of the wheel and brakes than most bikes of the day. The nose of the bike was bullet shaped and very narrow; to further lower drag, the turn signals were incorporated into the backside of the mirrors. Some of these design elements may seem pretty common today but remember this was 1997-13 years ago-and this Honda was a bold statement in many ways back then.
One big advantage the CBR had over its Kawasaki rival was weight. The CBR came in almost 50 pounds lighter than the ZX-11 but on the dyno their engines cranked out nearly identical numbers-approximately 133 horsepower and 78 ft-lb of torque. When the bikes finally lined up in side-by-side top speed runs, the CBR-XX didn't exactly do a flyby of the old Ninja. In fact, both of them were still running 174-179 mph depending on the conditions they were tested in. On the drag strip their performance was similar also, with the CBR doing a quarter-mile in about 10.25 seconds vs. the heavier Kawasaki at 10.40 seconds. The Honda produced trap speeds of approximately 135 mph with the ZX-11 a couple miles per hour slower.
Another difference between the Kawasaki and Honda was price. Honda released the CBR at $11,499 while the Kawasaki was only $10,599, which helped even the playing field when a buying decision had to be made. Suzuki and Yamaha also had open class bikes in 1997 but when it came time to talk about "the fastest", it was always the CBR and the ZX-11 that drew the attention.
Though it was the top speed talk that drew a lot of fans toward the bike, those that actually rode and owned one came away with another set of attributes that give it the cult-like following and earned it a spot in this series of articles. In addition to being fast, it was also lauded as being very smooth, stable and nimble despite the non-adjustable suspension. As is typically the case with Hondas, the fit and finish were also beyond reproach.
Hahn Racecraft created a bolt-on...
Hahn Racecraft created a bolt-on turbo kit for the injected XXs, which we sampled in our Feb. '00 issue. The kit operated at 10-12psi of boost, bumping horsepower to 220 with even more available.
In 1998, the bike didn't receive any major upgrades. In 1999 Honda ditched the carbs and replaced them with a more advanced EFI system and ram air. The package also included a knock sensor and a larger 6.3-gallon tank that was needed to house the fuel pump. Honda also saw fit to lower the MSRP to $10,999, tweak the linked brake system and revise the forks. The result was better midrange and more top-end power. Unfortunately for Honda, another Japanese manufacturer also picked 1999 as the year to fly their bird into town-Suzuki and the Hayabusa. After that, the top speed debate was over for the next decade.
The year 2000 came and so did the Kawasaki ZX-12R and suddenly the CBR had moved from first place down to third in the top speed contest; most shootouts also gave the sporting nod to the newer Kawasaki and Suzuki over the older Honda. With the Busa and the ZX-12R making horsepower numbers in the mid-150s the CBR-XX was starting to show its age-although it was still a great bike by any measure.