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.
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.
Over the next few years Honda finally allowed the CBR-XX to be purchased in some colors other than black. In 2000 titanium was featured. In 2001, red was the color shipped to the USA and the speedo changed over to a digital unit. In 2002, the silver CBR included new EFI mapping, but in 2003 Honda went back to black and added a catalytic converter for the bike's last year in the USA-though the Blackbird continued for several more years in other countries.
AMA drag racer Kent Stotz...
AMA drag racer Kent Stotz won two PROSTAR championships on a turbocharged CBR-XX and was the first rider to make a 200 mph pass (and back it up). Many stock Honda engine components were used, yet one engine would last a complete season-a strong testament to the Honda's rugged construction.
In order to get a professional racer/builders input, we turned to Kent Stotz, Honda Rider's Club of America AMA drag racer who won two PROSTAR drag racing championships in 2001 and 2002 aboard the CBR-XX. Kent and his long-time mechanic Mark Harrell developed their turbocharged XX when they first started their program in 2000 and have most likely seen the inside of the CBR1000XX engine more times than anyone in the country. Stotz raced the CBR-XX from 2000 through the 2004 AMA season. "Despite making over 500 horsepower on a regular basis, our race engine still used a lot of Honda parts," says Stotz. In addition to using Honda cases and cylinder head, their race bike also used Honda valves, crank, throttle bodies, cams and transmission for the first few years. "In 2004 we changed over to a Star Racing-prepped head and Web Cams to boost top end horsepower, which is how we became the first bike in the class to run a 200 mph quarter-mile pass and back it up." Stotz also states that "with the strength and durability of that engine, we could rev it 13,200 rpm on the track and one engine would still survive a full season if needed." The bike ran a best time of 7.25 seconds in the quarter-mile. In 2003 a Velocity Racing turbocharged CBR-XX posted an incredible 497.2 horsepower exhibition run at the annual AMI dyno shootout in Daytona Beach. The XX is such a part of history that one of the Stotz championship bikes still stands today on exhibit at the National Motorcycle Museum in Anamosa, IA.
As for common modifications, most riders start with a full exhaust to save some weight and gain some power along with a jet kit or Power Commander depending on the model year. Others install VFR800 clip-ons or HeliBars to raise the riding position and make the bike more comfortable for distance riding. The next most popular upgrades are suspension related. Some riders opted to have the rear shock rebuilt while others suggested a replacement shock from Penske or Öhlins. For the front forks, most everyone upgraded springs and fluid or installed a re-valving kit.
Chad Bear's 1997 XX features...
Chad Bear's 1997 XX features Dymag three-spoke carbon fiber wheels with ABE front rotors. The front fork is an Öhlins unit intended for a CB1300. Delkevic bodywork is custom painted, and other modifications include an Öhlins shock, Scotts steering damper, Gilles rearsets and Vario bars, and a Delkevic exhaust header with Two Brothers canisters.
This 1997 model is owned by...
This 1997 model is owned by Hank Groh of Augusta NJ and makes 255 horsepower and 155 ft-lb of torque courtesy of an intercooled Mitsubishi turbo. Chassis modifications include a Penske shock and fork internals, Carrozzeria wheels and a Spiegler LSL handlebar conversion kit.
It started out as a 2000 titanium-colored...
It started out as a 2000 titanium-colored model, but Dean Pipes has obviously modified his CBR-XX extensively. An NLR Systems custom turbo setup, Accel DFI fuel management and MSD ignition combine to make 573 horsepower. An Öhlins shock, McIntosh AlumiPro swingarm and Marvic wheels are just a few of the chassis bits.
Of all the bikes we have featured thus far in the series, the CBR1100XX has to be one of the most problem-free bikes reviewed. The first of the few common problems is the cam chain tensioner, which gets noisy and eventually fails. It takes 15-30 minutes to repair at a cost of $35, so it is a very minor issue. On some bikes, the rectifier/regulator causes trouble and requires replacement. If you overload the bike with a lot of high-draw electrical items such as heated suits, the stator is also prone to failure. Otherwise, the bikes have been bullet-proof and easy to work on.
If you decide you want to buy one of these birds, the 1997-1998 carbureted models can be had for $3165-$3695 according to NADA.com
. Jump up to the EFI models and the prices run from $3830 to $3965 in 2000-2001, and then creep all the way up to $5090 for the last year of production in 2003. It was a great bike, but never got the attention in the USA as it did in Europe and that is a shame as it proved to be a worthy mount for drag racers and sport touring riders alike.