The outrageously fast CBR1100XX Super Blackbird created a new category that sent the competition scurrying to match it. The hyperbike was born and the world changed.
Cast your mind back to 1997. The internet was yet to make any impact whatsoever, the twin towers were firmly on their footings in New York and proudly atop the big bore horsepower table sat Kawasaki’s venerable ZZ-R 1100. A spot the big Kwaka had every right to call its own for the first six years of its existence. Then things changed.
Enter the Honda CBR1100XX.
What was this? 285km/h from a production motorcycle priced at 16,500? Little wonder there was instant market attention paid to the big Honda.
Adding to the wonder was the fact that the bike was never billed as a sports bike, at 223kg dry that was obvious. The CBR1100XX was aimed smack bang at the sports tourer category.
The designation of ‘Super Blackbird’ seems at odds with all that power,
(99.1 kW at 9500 rpm; 106 Nm at 7500 rpm) but it owes its origins to the Lockheed SR-71 aircraft which, incidentally, still holds the speed record for a manned airbreathing jet aircraft.
Once you know that, it all starts to make sense, but Japanese motorcycle manufacturers are the champions when it comes to daft model names. It’s a translation thing.
The Blackbird was a sweetheart to burble around quietly and offered supreme comfort. The fact that it could see off just about any comers when the going got fast was a bonus.
This set things abuzzing in planning departments all over Japan and the bike arguably lays claim to forcing Suzuki to come up with the Hayabusa three years later and Kawasaki to produce the ZX-12R a further 12 months after that.
Yes, the motorcycle world had a new category – that of the hyper bike and the Super Blackbird can lay claim to starting the whole deal.
What was even more surprising was the fact that Honda had achieved top dog status in a completely conventional manner. There was a carbureted, across the frame, liquid-cooled 1137cc, four cylinder engine, coupled to a six-speed gearbox, wet clutch and chain drive. No surprises there.
A very nice touch was the twin balance shafts built into the engine. This took vibration out of the equation, and coupled with fairly plush suspension, the bike remains one of the nicest long distance mounts in the category.
Brakes offered Honda’s DCBS (linked front and rear braking system). Basic operation saw Honda persist with this system, some swear by it, some swear at it, but for real-world use, the bike stops pretty well.
Brake overhaul costs are large due to the complexity of the system, so look long and hard at this area and pay special attention when taking a test ride.
In traditional Honda fashion, the Blackbird was built well from the outset. There are many examples with big, trouble-free odometer readings on Australian roads and our research suggested that repeat purchasing was more prevalent among Blackbird owners than is the norm. That’s a big recommendation for a used buyer right there.
As mentioned, the Blackbird was highly refined from the day of release and, for a bike with a model run as long as this, the list of alterations over the production period is remarkably short.
Let’s look at those changes over the model run (1997- 2009 in Australia).
The major change came in the 1999 model year when the bike received PGM F1 fuel-injection and ram-air. Power was lifted to 122kW at 9500rpm as a result. Honda’s HISS anti-theft system was introduced.
The linked brakes were revised (proportioning rates were altered), fuel capacity was upped to 24 litres from 22, and the ducktail shape was changed to accommodate the new electrics. Most agree this improved the bike and we consider the fuel-injected bike as preferable in regard to used buying.
In 2001 the bike got a new instrument panel with digital speedo, (tacho remained analogue) and in 2002 the engine mapping was revised to take out some of the snatchiness from the bottom that the first injection setup exhibited.
In 2007 the bike was offered with optional ABS.
Reliability is the bike’s cornerstone and Honda has every right to a bit of a smug smile in regard to the Blackbird. Cam chain tensioners and regulator rectifiers can fail over time, but that’s about the size of it.
In fact, this may well be the most reliable big bore Japanese motorcycle on the planet. A very big call, but try as we might to uncover known Blackbird foibles with owners and repairers, the report card kept coming back.
Owners love them and repairers don’t see them other than for servicing, simple as that.
The bike was Honda’s hero bike in its day, offering quality appointments as a consequence. It offers more than reasonable rider comfort, but some owners report fitting handlebar risers to lift weight from the wrists.
For those looking for an all-round motorcycle it just doesn’t get a whole lot better than a Blackbird. Pillions will love you, repairers will hate you and you’ll be able to give your sports bike mates a hurry-up in most applications.
Used prices suggest the bike will hold reasonable value and buyer appeal. Don’t be surprised if this one gets a bit of a cult following as time goes by. Only good bikes get that and, let’s face it, this is a damned good motorcycle.
The Hayabusa is faster and considered a little more sexy, but the simple fact is this thing is a thug with impeccable manners. Don’t forget that it was once the fastest production motorcycle on the planet.
Lovely engine, refined build quality and well, it has to said… It’s a Honda. That’s recommendation enough.
Honda CBR1100XX Super Blackbird used bike pricing
1997-2004 – $3000-$4500
2004-2009 – $4500-$6500.
Snag’s career in motoring journalism spans 29 years with stints at major bike mags Australian Road Rider, Motorcycle Trader and AMCN along with contributions to just about every other outlet worth a hill of beans. He was editor of Unique Cars magazine and hosts his legendary podcast ‘Snag Says’ when he gets off his date.