Of course, the CBR1000RR's granddaddy was one of the most revolutionary bikes ever. The CBR900RR of 1993 didn't just "rewrite the rulebook," it pretty much became the rulebook. For five years, until Yamaha hit back with its mighty R1, the CBR900RR was untouchable. Its lightness and strong 893cc and 919cc engines blew the lardy competition into the weeds.
But by the end of the 1990s the other Japanese firms had caught onto the CBR's tricks. After the 1998 Yamaha R1 debuted, the sublime 2001 Suzuki GSX-R1000 was introduced. Even Kawasaki gave Honda something to think about in 2004 with the wild ZX-10R.
To keep pace, Honda crept up in capacity; first with the CBR929RR, then the 954 (still the lightest big CBR ever), and added fuel injection and radical chassis design. But it wasn't until 2004 that Honda came up with a proper literbike contender.
The CBR1000RR, as it was imaginatively dubbed, was launched in Phoenix, Arizona. The bike looked amazing with clear echoes of the CBR600RR launched a year earlier, and Honda was quick to make the associations with its V5 MotoGP bike, the RCV211V.
The rear shock setup, sharp bodywork and underseat exhaust all had a passing resemblance to Valentino Rossi's 2003 championship-winning bike, but the figures on paper pointed to a much less earth-shattering track tool. Simply put, the new CBR was a bit too heavy and short on outright power. At 394 pounds, it had gained almost 25 pounds over the 954, while peak power was up to a claimed 170 HP at the crank (21 HP more than the 954). A 170 HP motorcycle will never be dull, but the CBR had given away an edge to the opposition with that extra weight. And while it made a fine road bike, it couldn't really cut it in the red-hot literbike battleground.
In the end, Kawasaki's ZX-10R was crazier, Suzuki's GSX-R1000 more capable and Yamaha's R1 classier.
Most of us, if we're honest, expected little from the second-generation 2008 CBR1000RR. Honda seemed to have lost its way. While the CBR600RR was a fine bike, the rest of its range was becoming rather forgettable.
But the new CBR was impossible to neglect, if only because of its damned ugly looks. We're used to it now, but the snub-nosed fairing was a real shock at first; if this new bike went how it looked, the opposition had nothing to worry about. However, as you got past the pig-ugly face and scanned the tech specs, it all looked more promising. Sexy monoblock front calipers, a fancy slipper clutch and a more compact, more powerful engine, together with a second-generation electronic steering damper and underslung muffler design all underlined the fact this was a brand new bike.
Honda, along with the other Japanese firms, began messing with the weight figures, quoting a "wet" and "curb" weight rather than the "dry" weight previously used. Neither bore any real relation to what the bikes actually weighed when you rode them, but the change made it hard to compare the new model with the old. Honda said the new bike lost weight over the original CBR1000RR, but not much. Similarly, a shorter-stroke motor revved higher and made an extra 5 HP peak power-not a huge increase.
But it all worked-and then some. The new CBR went up against some very stiff competition, and came out on top, thanks to a much more refined handling package, storming brakes, and strong, yet controllable power. Finally, a decade and a half after the first CBR, Honda was back.