1998 Honda FireBlade
A very original 1998 Honda FireBlade came into the shop last week for consignment sale, and, having owned two different models in the past, sparked my interested in them again. This one, pictured below, or above, is a 1998 model which was the first year of the 919cc motor.
The first FireBlade was launched on an unsuspecting world in March 1992 and instantly became a motorcycling game changer. While the other big Japanese manufactures were chasing more and more horsepower at the expense of light weight, Honda came in with a smaller motor, only 900cc, but more importantly, contained within a significantly lighter package, and overnight power to weight ratio became top priority, not just outright power. The competition’s larger and heavier machines were totally eclipsed, and by the end of 1992 the FireBlade was the sports bike to own.
Tadao Baba is the Senior Chief Engineer behind the design of the FireBlade. In 1987 he was given lead position of a project design team tasked to create an FZR-beating 1100, but his racing experience had convinced him that lightness and manageability were more important than engine capacity. By the end of 1989, with a 900cc prototype, he’d won his case, Honda being so impressed they let him create a team of about 40, including three European test riders, a very usually move at the time, to take the design to production. His overriding ethos was lightness above all else, every component had to be as light as possible, apparently later, he would sometimes go onto the production line and sign the inside of the top fairings with his name and ‘Please enjoy this light feeling’. Also innovative, the characteristic holes in the fairing, supposed to aid turn-in, and the 16in front wheel are all his ideas, as was the motor. The initial motor may have been only 893cc but from the onset it was designed to be increase to 918cc, 929cc and finally 954cc for what, as we now say, future proofing the design for many years. Baba-san officially retired in 2004, and to acknowledge that FireBlade was change to Fireblade for future models, he continued in a consulting roll until the 2009 model.
The FireBlade we have on the floor is a 1998 model, 919cc motor giving slightly more poke, redesigned tail, headlight, and sharper looking top fairing than the earlier models. As an example of the continuing obsession with lightness, the clocks were fully redesigned to all electronic making them much slimmer, and weighing only 380gm instead of 760gm. However, despite all these ongoing upgrades, the other manufactures were catching up, case in point being the Suzuki GSXR750 and Kawasaki ZX-9R both hard on the FireBlade’s heels. Then the very new Yamaha R1 and, slight left field, the Ducati 916, both extremely focused sports bikes, fast and light, almost making the FireBlade appear a bit lardy, and maybe, pushing it off the number one sport bike slot.
The classic sport bike scene is growing in the UK and US and this FireBlade, being more than 20-year-old, falls right into that desirability category. A quick look of similar bikes for sale in the UK gives R60k to R70K as a price range, that is apart from Urban Tiger, the most sought-after paint scheme, where the asking price is R100k plus. Here is SA this scene has not gained quite so much interest and good bikes can still be had for not too much money, our bike being an example at R51,500.
As I said at the beginning, it sparked my interest, all it needs to get back to super original is to replace the aftermarket indicators with Honda originals, or reproductions, found some on UK eBay for R500 each, could probably get some locally and cheaper with a little more effort. The top fairing has a crack on the right-hand side that has been patched, but not great, so a more professional fix and respray, about R4000. Then new handlebar grips, remove the tank protector and rim tapes, result, for less than R60K all in, you have an original FireBlade, looking as it came out of the showroom all those 24 years ago.
Damn, now I’ve gone and nearly talked myself into purchasing it, someone else had better buy it quick. ~ BoB