This report should be read in the context of my two reports from press day (here and here). I will try not to repeat myself, and, if I do so, it will be for emphasis. What are my strongest, lasting impressions of the 929RR? First, and foremost, is the usability of this powerful machine. As power-to-weight ratios rise in modern motorcycles, usability becomes the biggest issue.
If you have 150 horsepower at your disposal, you need it to work with you — not against you. The Honda just scores extremely high here. The whole package gives you about as much confidence as you can get at the controls of this much power.
Don’t get me wrong, the 929RR packs an incredible punch. In discussing the linearity of the powerband, one day later I realized that there really is somewhat of a “hit” higher in the rev range, coming on around 8,500 rpm. Maybe not a hit, so much as an extra rush of horsepower. It is between 8,500 rpm and 10,500 rpm that, even in the higher gears, the acceleration of the bike is pretty intense.
I keep coming back to the subject of the front brake and its phenomenal power. I really think Honda has reached a new plateau in braking power for the street. Engineer Tadao Baba told me that the 929RR has a front brake which provides ten percent more power than the 1999 900RR. Frankly, this sounds pretty conservative to me.
I’ll give you a couple of examples of the force you can achieve with this front brake. A journalist from another publication (who will remain anonymous) performed a 100+ mph “stoppie” while I was leaning against the pit wall at the end of the front straight. There was nothing deliberate about this maneuver. This journalist simply over cooked the corner, and needed all the braking he could get to avoid taking out another journalist who was turning into that same corner. The accident was avoided, and the awesomeness of the front brake underscored.
I also noticed when braking very hard at the end of some of the faster sections of the race track that the front wheel would sometimes “hop”. I heard at least one other journalist complain about this situation, but after thinking about it (and talking to a friend who is particularly good at diagnosing handling problems), I attribute the situation to a deliberate set-up decision by Honda, rather than any sort of design flaw in the bike.
Let me explain this last comment. The cause of the “hopping”, I now believe, was a bottoming of the fork when applying the brake hard at speeds above 100 mph. This is due, in large part, to the power of this front brake. The weight thrown over the front end of the bike in these circumstances is even greater than the sum of the bike weight and the rider — it also includes weight attributable to the deceleration forces in play. If Honda were to make the stock spring rates stiff enough to avoid this circumstance, it might significantly compromise the comfort of the bike during normal street riding. Furthermore, I think it would be very rare to encounter this circumstance on the street. To begin with, you would have to be exceeding the legal speed limit in the United States by quite a margin, and encountering a panic, emergency situation before you applied this level of braking force during a street ride.
There are a couple of potential solutions, however, should you desire to avoid this fork bottoming (and, if you are going to ride the bike on a race track, you’ll need to know this). Retaining the stock fork springs, you’ll need to increase the preload of those springs enough to keep the fork from bottoming. Don’t forget, however, that anytime you increase spring preload, you’ll need to also increase rebound dampening (the fully adjustable 929RR fork allows you to do this with simple click adjustments). If you don’t increase the rebound dampening, the fork will rebound too quickly, and create other handling problems. Another approach would be to change the stock fork springs by installing stiffer springs (which would also require an increase in rebound dampening).
Ground clearance on the CBR929RR is very good. I did drag something on the right side of the bike at the end of a long, right hand sweeper (the second turn after the front straight at LVMS). I don’t know if it was the right footpeg or some other part of the bike (I should have looked, but I didn’t). In any event, this right hand turn encouraged a severe lean angle (exaggerated by my riding style — I don’t hang off the bike as much as some other riders do). All in all, I think it would be almost impossible to touch down anything on this bike on the street.
I failed to mention yesterday that the 929RR will come with Michelin Pilot radials as primary OEM fitment, with Bridgestone O1Os as secondary fitment (a split of approximately 60/40 in favor of the Michelins). Only the Michelins were fitted during the press introduction. The tires were outstanding.
A British publication has apparently complained about a “stumble” in the power delivery of the 929RR (known as the Fireblade in Europe) at 3,000 rpm. I never noticed this. Frankly, at LVMS you are never riding in this rpm range except when leaving or entering the pits. I thought about this carefully today, and I do recall following other riders out of the pit area in first gear at very low rpm without experiencing any sort of “stumble” in the power delivery. In fact, I recall thinking that the fuel injection on this particular bike delivered very smooth and predictable power at virtually all rpm levels.
I have to admit that the styling of the bike is not exciting to me. Honda tends to be very conservative in its styling, and the 929RR reflects this. Nevertheless, the bike does look much better in person than it does photos (to me, at least). Styling is a matter of personal preference, and you can all draw your own conclusions. The paint finish appears to be typical Honda — superb.
I hope to have the chance to ride a 2000 Kawasaki ZX9R and a 2000 Yamaha R1, at which time I can make some comparisons with the 929RR. At this point, however, it’s hard for me to imagine a better balance of performance and control in a streetbike.
Honda has had a couple of years to watch the press gush all over Yamaha’s R1, and we have Yamaha to thank for giving Honda a loud, wake-up call. Honda woke up.