Up-Close with the Honda CBR1000RR-R Fireblade SP

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When we first got to get up-close with the Honda CBR1000RR-R Fireblade SP, it was a hastened affair. Honda Motor Europe invited the world’s press to see the model at its EICMA debut, and then hired security guards to keep us away from it. Bizzare.

Now, almost a year later, we finally get to a proper face-to-face with this new Fireblade, thanks to American Honda’s ride debut at Thunderhill Raceway (read our full review here).

With only the top trim level coming to the United States, Honda creates an interesting situation with the Fireblade SP – one that we will explore in the next day or two with our A&R Pro readers, but both bikes share the same core features.

The first things you notice about the new Honda superbike are the wings (which are not active units, contrary to the buzz ahead of their debut).

But, instead of having wings that protrude from the very front of the motorcycle’s upper fairing, the pods (as I like to call them) are on the sides, beneath the handlebars.

This is a bit of a departure from the designs we have seen from other manufacturers (reference the wings on the Ducati and BMW), and it is a bit different from how race teams in MotoGP have developed their winglets.

In terms of effectiveness, Honda says that the winglets and strakes on the CBR1000RR-R Fireblade SP generate the same downforce as the company’s 2018 MotoGP race bike.

Without sharing a concrete figure though, that might be a misleading statement, as 2018 was the start of the winglet craze in MotoGP, and out of all the manufactures there, Honda was perhaps the last to the table on aerodynamic development.

As such, the pod design represents very much the 2018 thinking about how to implement winglet design, which itself isn’t a bad thing, considering the restraints that have slowly come into place in the premier class.

It would be interesting to see the CFD modeling on the various winglet designs in this space, to understand which is the most effective.

Moving further, the rest of the Fireblade’s fairings betray how small this motorcycle is in its stature. A week after riding this machine, and I am still massaging out odd muscle pains from the seating position – particularly the footpeg position.

Good news though, once you get your feet on them, the footpegs have loads of grip, and make for a planted position (I would argue the fuel tank shape is the opposite of this, however).

All-in-all, at 6’2″ tall, I am perhaps outside the realm of Honda’s consideration for ergonomics, and I suspect riders of a small stature will be far more at home on this red rocket ship.

If you will allow me to talk about feet for a moment longer, there is an argument to be made about how a GP-shift pattern is perhaps an out-of-date notion.

This is especially relevant when it comes to motorcycles that are equipped with slipper clutches, auto-blippers, and quickshifters, but should that be your preference, Honda makes it exceedingly easy to switch around the shifting arm – the shift linkage is rather clever in this regard.

All one has to do to switch between the two shifting patterns is move the mounting point for the shifting linkage to the other side of the pivot on the footpeg arm.

For added cleverness, one can make this shift without changing the height of the shifter peg. This is of course a small detail, but a smart one. A really smart one.

There are a few oddities worth mentioning about the Honda CBR1000RR-R Fireblade SP, especially when you consider its $28,500 price tag, as Big Red has cut a few corners on the SP kit.

First, there are the cast aluminum wheels. At this price point, lighter forged aluminum wheels are practically the standard, and now we are starting to see a shift from forged aluminum to carbon fiber in this space, largely because of the actions by BMW Motorrad.

Out of all the corners cut, this one is perhaps the biggest in terms of actual performance, as the CBR1000RR-R Fireblade SP is notably less agile than its predecessor, which does benefit from forged aluminum pieces.

It is hard to explain why Honda chose to go down this path, especially on the Fireblade SP model. It is perhaps the only real flaw in this motorcycle – not mentioning the changes made for EPA noise considerations, at least.

Moving on, we see that Honda has elected to use rubber hose brake lines, rather than steal braided ones, which again is a curious departure from what one would normally expect at this price point.

Rubber hoses can generate a vague brake feeling at the lever, especially as the brake fluid heats up, which steel braided lines resist. Their addition is a relatively cheap proposition as well, which makes it all the more puzzling on this motorcycle.

Thankfully for the Honda CBR1000RR-R Fireblade SP, this doesn’t seem to be a point of pain on the new superbike, though it has plagued the machines from other OEMs in the past.

The brakes on the Honda CBR1000RR-R Fireblade SP are quite good, complete with a radial Brembo master cylinder and Brembo Stylema calipers.

Last, there is the keyless ignition system, which was a feature I was surprised to see asked about so frequently in our “Gone Riding” preview.

The surprise comes from the fact that the system isn’t a new idea. There are other motorcycles on the market with keyless ignitions, and Honda’s implementation isn’t a large departure from those. 

The placement of the ignition buttons is a bit curious though, and if not briefed on its location, it can take one a minute to find – ahem. For those who are eager to know, the toggle is easy to reach with gloves on though, and works quite well in application.

The key fob only needs to be within range of the bike to start it, and so long as you turn off the bike with the kill switch, and not the ignition knob, you can ride away without the key, which works perfectly for track days.

All-in-all, the Honda CBR1000RR-R Fireblade SP has the fit and finish one would expect from the Japanese brand. Don’t let some of the words here distract you as well, as  overall package is more than the sum of its parts.

Despite its late arrival, the CBR1000RR-R is a potent package, and its biggest drawbacks come not from the Honda factory, but instead of the machine’s circumstances. 

At 186hp claimed at the crankshaft for the American model, we see that little has been accomplished on the spec sheet than what was available the last time Honda released an all new superbike. And yet, the price tag has grown by over $10,000.

The price tag on the new Fireblade SP is beyond what should be reasonable for a modern superbike, but such is the trend in the space.

And perhaps, this author would feel differently about that notion, had the machine’s full potential been brought to the United States.

It will be interesting to see the reports from owners who take the plunge at their local tuning shop, and what those results yield on the dyno.

Photo: © 2020 Jensen Beeler / Asphalt & Rubber – All Rights Reserved

Jensen Beeler

Despite his best efforts, Jensen is called one of the most influential bloggers in the motorcycle industry, and sometimes consults for motorcycle companies, whether they've solicited his expertise or not.