The CBR1100XX Blackbird was, at its introduction, one of the most renowned bikes of its day. But that was far from my mind as I sat contemplating its seating position and what could be done to make it more comfy. I was tallying up modifications, not to improve its top speed, but just to make it fit me – to make me less a part of the aerodynamic package, but I was at a standstill.
Stats, facts and figures dispensed with, the Blackbird is still a pretty large bike. Not ST1300 or K1200RS large, but big enough for a motorcycle and small for a cruise missile. Having read the reviews I had expected the Blackbird to be a bit heavy in the corners, maybe not as flick-able as I would like. I was wrong.
The handling was quick, way quicker than I expected, yet strangely not as settled as the in corners as the other big bikes I’ve ridden. I suspect that a little suspension tuning would probably give this bike a more sure-footed nature. It does have great feedback through the front end with a good sense of the road, but this feedback comes at the price of a slightly choppier ride than most sport-tourers. The transition into corners was a little unsettling, almost a case of over-steer. Push a bit, nothing happens, push a bit more, suddenly the steering takes. This is most likely a result of suspension and steering aimed at high-speed endeavours, but it’s not perfect for legal speeds. But it is stable at the speed – just insert the grin here, the engine will easily take you to.
And what an engine; I may as well just walk into the local constabulary and hand them my license now. This engine is smooth and powerful; it never felt strained during the test ride or buzzy. Instead it just smoothly kept pushing the bike faster and harder and egging me on.
Given the “egg on” factor of this bike, it’s really nice that the wind and weather protection are pretty good. The folks at Honda have done a good job of the aerodynamics and the rider becomes part of the package so that at speed the airflow proves unobtrusive, though the taller among us, and definitely myself, would require a higher windscreen to give a little more weather protection across the chest. The test ride took place in weather on the verge of rain and 16C (according to the later ridden VFR’s external thermometer), heated grips and electrics would soon be a must.
At stand-still the ride position seemed a bit cramped for my 6”2’ frame, but once in motion and the ball of my feet were firmly on the pegs this perception was dispelled. A set of bar backs/risers might be in order for consistent high mileage touring just to make the bike a little more comfy. Slightly lower pegs would just be a bonus and looked easy enough to engineer.
Speed, well, you just can’t talk about the Blackbird without touching on the subject. My test ride gave me the opportunity to hit 150kph on an uphill, the bike didn’t even feel like it was warming up. Indeed for most of my test, shifting was really a matter of a slight feeling of social obligation than a mechanical need. The reviews are right; this bike is fast… freaky fast… fun fast… hand over the license while giggling maniacally over how fast you were going and hoping you’re still in a state where such behaviour will not find you with a boyfriend named Bubba.
Therein lies my main issue with the bike; you just don’t feel the speed. Madness you say? Perhaps, but here’s the point. 150kph is actually pretty fast, and it just didn’t feel even vaguely so on the Blackbird. This bike isn’t a bird so much as a cruise missile that you hop on to scream across states. Which is great, but how often do you get to safely maintain 150 plus speeds, or just ditch the safely. Not really that often, maximum 15-20% of the time, so I’m more temped to lean towards a bike that leaves me giggling madly at a slower speed than just mildly grinning at a much higher one.
Despite the speed issue (wink), this bike instills a good sense of confidence in me, and with a proper tune of the suspension, a couple of minor tweaks to the ergos and some hard bags, I could see it being a good fit for me. Pity that on the hard bag front there’s not much out there other than the beetle bags that integrate well with it. I’d love to see how it handles on a longer ride.