Honda CBR1000RR-R Fireblade SP Review (2020)

OVERVIEW

"Honda have opened a brilliant new chapter in its Fireblade history. This CBR-1000RR-R SP is an overwhelming success and should make for some interesting head-to-head tests alongside the Ducati Panigale V4S and BMW’s S1000RR. Throw in the R1M and RSV4 1100 Factory too and, despite the lowly sales figures for such machines, we are blessed to be in a golden era of outrageous sports bikes."

 

FOR & AGAINST
  • Engine performance; linear, smooth and sounds so good with its accompanying Akrapovic noise-maker in full song
  • Stability under braking as well as into, around and out of corners. Even in the base settings
  • Classy and hi-tech electronics with options to suit every rider
  • Foot peg to seat distance; only for athletes or anyone sub-5’10” and below 13st
  • It’ll take some time to get familiar with the electronics. Sorry, you will need the manual
  • Road performance; we’ll come back to you on this one but the revvy engine, sporty seating position and limited head and shoulder protection may prevent it from being a top road bike

 

Ever since its inception in 1992, Honda’s Fireblade has been the go-to superbike for road riders wanting smooth, refined performance and stereotypical Japanese reliability rather than out-and-out thug-like performance. But that’s all changing for 2020 as Honda is opening a whole new chapter in its Book of Fireblade with an all-new design that offers more horsepower than any of its direct rivals. It’s the first properly new Fireblade since 2008.

The completely redesigned Honda CBR1000RR-R Fireblade and CBR1000RR-R SP Fireblade – yes those really are their full titles - are the latest headliners to come from the Kumamoto factory in Japan, and they have been heavily influenced by the RC213V-S, the road-going version of the firm’s MotoGP bike, which we rode at the launch back in 2015, as well as HRC – the racing arm of the company.

<< Click here for a look back at the Fireblade’s history >>

Significantly, we’re looking at a massive overhaul with a new chassis, engine, electronics and aerodynamics and some massive power claims as a result. Never has the motorcycling world sat up and paid so much attention to a forthcoming Fireblade as now, particularly since the new Honda adopts the latest fashion accessory for 200bhp+ machines: aerodynamic appendages. Integrated wings make their Honda road bike debut, and look far more stylishly put together than those of rivals as opposed to stuck-on afterthoughts. Their 1000cc engine has been largely untouched since making its debut in 2008 but courtesy of the project team who had previously been responsible for the 2002 RC211V and the aforementioned RC213V-S, the 2020 ‘blade is now completely revised and packed with an abundance of horses, torque and electronics, all sophisticatedly packaged together to chaperone the rider with circuit-blitzing speed.

When I interviewed the bike’s Project Leader, Yuzuru Ishikawa, after the unveil, he admitted winning races is the “number one priority” with the 2020 Fireblade, a competitor in production-based series such as World Superbikes, British Superbikes and the Endurance World Championship which includes the Suzuka 8 hours, an extremely important race to all Japanese manufacturers.

The Honda WSB and BSB riders might be licking their lips but how does a high revving motor like this translate to day-to-day road use? The International Press Launch was held at the Losail Circuit in Qatar, home to the first round of the MotoGP calendar since 2008, with four lengthy sessions on the slick Pirelli tyre-shod SP, under the guidance of 3 x World Champion, Freddie Spencer, and Honda's latest BSB recruit, Glenn Irwin. The UK’s first road test will have to wait…

 

2020 Fireblade SP review: from the press launch in Qatar
Want to know everything there is to know about the 2020 Honda CBR1000RR-R Fireblade? Then you're in luck because here's Michael Mann to tell you.

Above: working the angles

 

2020 Honda CBR1000RR-R Fireblade SP Price

On the road, the standard 2020 Fireblade weighs in at £19,999 while the SP model is £3,500 more at £23,499 slotting in between the Aprilia RSV4 1100 Factory (£22,399) and the 2020 Ducati Panigale V4S (£24,795).

The same two colour options are available on both models; Grand Prix Red or Pearl Motion Black. The biggest differences between the standard CBR1000RR-R and the SP model are the Ohlins suspension, as opposed to Showa, Brembo brakes on the front rather than Nissin, a lithium-ion battery and quickshifter.

If you’d rather look at monthly payments on a PCP deal for the SP model then an example offer looks like this:

Deposit

£4000.98 (17%)

Agreement duration

36 months

Annual mileage

4,000

Monthly repayments

£320

Optional final repayment

£11,162

APR

6.9%

Total amount payable

£26,693

 

Power and torque

The claimed figures are barely believable from a company that gave us 189bhp from their new headline sports bike just three years ago. Fast forward to 2020 and 214.56bhp (160Kw) @ 14,500rpm represents a huge 13% increase, and what’s more, we’re looking at a 10bhp peak power advantage over any inline four-cylinder rival. Peak torque is 113Nm (83.35lbft) @ 12,500rpm.

Here’s a stat; the power-to-weight ratio of the 2020 Fireblade is 79.5% higher than the 1992 CBR900R. On paper, the motor is pure racing but chassis and electronics are more road-oriented. If you need your bike up at 10,000rpm before it feels like it’s working then the Sunday blast or trip to Tesco could be both fearsome and a little law-breaking. It’s not like a V4 nor does it variable valve timing.

Ishikawa was quick to recognise the importance of the HRC (Honda Racing Corporation) association with this project, “The involvement has been very strong especially on the engine technology. So, getting this new power figure from the engine is all thanks to the cooperation with the HRC guys, so that has been a big impact on the development,” he said. Interestingly, despite the power figure dominating all competitors, it wasn’t Honda’s original intention, with the Fireblade boss stating, “We did have a number at the start which is less than the number we ended up with!” 

Compared to a Panigale or S1000RR, the new Honda is right up there. The throttle connection and power delivery is as smooth as a hot knife wrapped in silk through hot butter, and linear too, but it needs to be revved hard and high to get the most from the redeveloped motor. Looking at the dyno graph in the press pack and the 2020 model makes no more power than the 2017 bike below 11,000rpm but above that is where the motor keeps pulling hard until 14,500rpm peak power mark... it feels faster below 11k rpm than the graph suggests, perhaps that's down to the upgraded electronics, aero, suspension, etc. which make the bike seem quicker. Once we get it on the dyno and compare to the 2017 bike, we'll report back.

   
2020 Honda Fireblade SP

 

Engine, gearbox and exhaust

They say: the 1000cc inline four-cylinder engine is completely new and designed with heavy input from the HRC MotoGP development program. The 2020 RR-R model has the same 81mm bore and 48.5mm stroke as the RC213V, an impressive increase over the 76 x 55.1mm of the previous design, and now the largest bore size of any inline four 1000cc motorbike. It also features a semi-cam gear train, finger-follower rocker arms, titanium con-rods, RC213V-S internal friction reduction technologies, piston jets with check ball system and a built-in bottom bypass passage for the cylinder water jacket.

A ram-air duct in the front fairing tip feeds through the headstock directly into the air box, thanks in part to the lack of ignition barrel which in turn is because the ignition is now keyless. The 4-2-1 exhaust downpipes are ovalised and the end-can has been developed in conjunction with Akrapovic. The new compact, lightweight titanium end can features a valve which helps to deliver low-rpm torque which then opens for high rpm power. It even reduces noise when closed.

The valve train is driven by a new (patent pending) semi-cam gear train system. To drive such high-rpm/high-cam lift performance the chain is driven from the timing gear located on the crank shaft via the cam idle gear – this makes it shorter in length.

The smaller dimensions of the new engine, rather than a V4 layout, has allowed Honda to redesign the chassis for high speed steering, stability under braking and acceleration and front end feel/grip. And, for the first time since the late 90s, the rear of the engine block now acts as the upper shock mount.

We say: The most powerfully naturally aspirated, production inline four is a corker but that power figure that hit the headlines back in November 2019 comes way up in the range of its high revving heart – from around 11,000rpm. Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of clout to keep your mind bent below that threshold but 11-13k rpm is the optimal place to be, and it sounds mega up there too. The 2017 model was no slouch but the reinvention of the Fireblade has longer gears resulting in the tendency to hold on to the revs for a lot longer and being less fatigued by constant changing. Even on Qatar’s 1km long start/finish straight I didn’t use 6th gear once during our four sessions yet still achieved 299kph (185mph). Firing out of the final and long, second-geared, mid-pace corner and the beauty was that you’re not fighting to change up while the bike is still getting upright. It’s scaling through the speedo faster than you count, swallowing air through the fist-sized duct in the nose cone with a whistling induction noise that might as well be shouting ‘yeeeeeee-haaaaawwww’. Visually you’ve got lights across the top of the dash to indicate when an upshift is required, the rev counter homing in that optimal 13,000rpm line or audibly with the barky and rather clever Akrapovic exhaust as it gather pace at quite a rate of knots.

Engine braking is controlled by the 6-axis IMU, more on that later, and is interchangeable through its three options of intervention, ‘1’ being the strongest braking and therefore a pre-set for Rain mode. On track and the system works in unison with a superbly accurate gearbox that can be punished without flinching. On the approach to turn one and it’s down three gears as easy as you like with a precise and short throw of the quickshifter. Holding a steady speed through the constant radius, elbow-down, right-hander, the grumbling from the motor and its titanium outlet give an animalistic sense that your steed is ready and set to sling you to the next braking zone. Up the ‘box and the ignition cut is barely noticeable nor is any deviation in the pitch of the bike. It’s just power, power, power. While 214.56bhp is the claimed figure, I won’t be the only one desperate to see how the bike performs on the dyno and what the rear wheel figure will be. Havier Beltran, Team Manager of Honda’s BSB and TT efforts, gave me a wry smile when I asked him. Of course he wasn’t going to give the game away but he looked rather pleased.

Now, none of us here have Marc Marquez’s ability, and that begs the question of its road-based prowess, why so high revving? Well, the outgoing ‘blade was a very capable road bike on the road but, as we’ve already said, Honda are out for race wins and more track use from their customers. They set their stall out with the big power claims but the whole package works so well as a performance bike. Does any of that need to translate to road use? Of course, why would it be a production bike and not a homologation special. Once we get it on the UK roads we’ll find out.

 

Above: a beautiful looking machine that has the ability to match

 

2020 Honda CBR1000RR-R Fireblade SP Economy

The claimed economy figure is 46.2mpg which, according to my maths, equates to a 160-mile range from the 16.1 litre tank. Although that’s hard to test when on track which has plenty of full throttle areas and while trying to a professional BSB rider in my sights.

 

Handling, Suspension and Weight

They say: New aluminium frame and swingarm change weight distribution, centre of gravity and rigidity balance for improved handling and traction. The reduction in physical size of the CBR1000RR-R SP’s engine opened up new packaging options around it for the new frame and swingarm – with completely revised geometry. The diamond frame is made from 2mm aluminium with increase and decreased rigidity where appropriate. 

The handlebars have been moved forwards. The footpegs further back by 43mm and higher by 21mm, while the new sub-frame bolts to the top of the frame, narrowing the area around where the rider wraps their legs. The increase of 5kg up to 201kg in wet weight over the outgoing bike is easily offset with the increase in power-to-weight ratio. The swingarm is 30.5mm to improve stability and control while the overall wheelbase increases by 50mm. Rake and trail also increase and seat height is up by 10mm to 830mm. Even the tank position has been lowered by 45mm

Ohlins 43mm NPX Smart EC2.0 forks now use pressurised damping and their 125mm stroke is up by 5mm. At the rear, the Ohlins twin tube TTX36 Smart EC Unit comes with a 10% longer stroke and the whole suspension can be fine tuned via the TFT display with three manual modes and three automatic modes with new algorithms. Unlike the 2017 model, the front and rear suspension can be separately changed. The automatic modes (A1, A2, A3) allow for alteration with front and rear stiffness plus braking, cornering and acceleration support – each via 10 settings (+5/-5). Whereas manual modes (M1, M2, M3) can be changed and stored with alterations to compression and rebound at the front and back all adjustable.

We say: Unsurprisingly, a good track bike has to handle and must be stable, well-balanced, not too rigid yet stiff enough to handle the power but offer flexibility in braking, cornering and acceleration. And then you have to consider the rider. Whether they’re shaped like Dani Pedrosa or Jeremy Clarkson, Honda is still planning to sell to plenty of riders around the world, although the Spanish version of that duo would be the more appropriate jockey. I’m 6ft tall and weigh a little over 14st and despite all my efforts, this 40-year old can’t tuck everything in like a magician’s assistant. Massive efforts have gone into creating a perfectly compact and aerodynamic machine and I urge you to take some time investigating the hollows, slits, concaves and convexes of the fairings. From the lower fairing in front of the rear wheel to the front mudguard, all those shapes are there for a reason. Nevertheless, with my dimensions, I couldn’t help but feel cramped; the peg to seat position is very short and while it’s ideal for hoiking this pocket rocket around on track, towards the end of each session I was doing the Doctor’s Dangle, not for the cameras but to get the blood circulating in the foot! More padding on the seat would be helpful and I shall just have to live with the impact on the aerodynamics. Speaking of which, the integrated winglets (three on each side) are an extremely neat addition. Fashionable among the elite nowadays, they are the neatest we’ve seen thus far and are supposed to help with stability high speed and under braking as well as keeping the front wheel on the ground. They’re said to offer as much downforce as a 2018 Honda MotoGP bike. If that’s good enough for Marquez, then it’s good enough for Mann.

Emphasising your assets is usually reserved for bikini-clad soles on the French Riviera (among other places) but Honda chose Qatar’s Losail International Circuit wisely. The long straight is mixed with 16 corners of varying degrees of radius, most of which are fast, open, wide and either second or third gear on this bike with plenty of apex speed. And why not, when you’re trying to demonstrate engine and chassis performance – the Fireblade is a sharp-turning, well-settled arrow that can be tinkered with to find optimum settings. It’s steering is pinpoint perfect and it has an ability to hold a line. Lighter weight wheels would offer an extra bit of front end feel while shaving a few kgs though it would push the price up and you’d end up with plenty of broken ones given the state of the some UK roads. Do I hear an SP2 on the cards fitted with such bling? I wouldn’t bet against it.

Anyway, the suspension itself deserves an entire review of its own such is the amount to learn and understand with the clever Ohlins system but the default modes are easy to switch and make for interesting feedback. For the first session I was in Riding Mode 2 (sport) which is defaulted to the suspension setting A2 but when I switched to 1 (Track) where A1 suspension mode altered the damping of the front and rear. The difference was significant enough to never change back. The throttle became more direct, the power seemed to increase while traction was less intrusive, which was important when under hard acceleration out of a corner when the bike is upright but also in one long left-hander when there’s still plenty of lean angle but you’re hard on the power up from second to third and into fourth while still leant over, the Pirelli rear slick begging the electronics to save it from laying those dark lines down. On occasion, the front waggled slightly just as the bike got upright under when a big fist of throttle had been applied but that would simply because the weight is transferred to the rear, a little damper tampering would soon sort that.

This Ohlins system is quite simply the best on the production bike market. It offers a massive range of settings and some very compliant default ones too, keeping every type of rider happy. To offer such stability in every situation on track while having to deal with 214+ bhp of energy is a baby-sitting job not many would want, or could do with such aplomb.

 

2020 Honda CBR1000RR-R Fireblade SP Brakes

They say: New Brembo Stylema four-piston radial mount brake calipers are operated by a Brembo master cylinder and brake lever. They now grip 10mm larger, 330mm diameter discs; the 5mm disc thickness also dissipates heat more efficiently. The rear brake caliper is the same Brembo unit used by the RC213V-S.

Rear lift control and ABS-managed brake force relative to lean angle were a feature of the previous design. For the CBR1000RR-R the system gains two switchable modes; SPORT mode focuses on road-riding performance, with high brake force and less pitching, while TRACK mode offers performance in braking from much higher circuit speeds.

We say: The Stylema calipers from Brembo can now be found on several latest gen sports bikes and there’s a very good reason for that. The progressive yet powerful performance almost takes any requirement for ABS out of the equation. The Honda engineer responsible for the brakes asked at lunchtime how I felt about the ABS. My reply was simple; despite being a hard braker, I had zero intervention that I could feel, and therefore I congratulated the engineer. Even at the end of the session I felt no fading nor was the lever coming back to the bar. It’s nice to be able to put so much confidence in a system designed to reduce speeds of 300kph to 100kph in little more than 250 metres. Trail braking into several Losail corners is necessary because of the late apexes and this gave me plenty of opportunity to feel comfortable with the stability of the bike both under hard braking in a straight line but also while tipping into a corner. The Track riding mode has a setting of ‘1’ for engine braking meaning it offers the least assistance of engine braking, so with that plus the Ohlins braking assistance, the slowing down of the Fireblade in a controlled manner isn’t a job just left to the pads and discs.

 

Rider aids and electronics

They say: Throttle-by-wire is optimised for faster response through a range of part throttle applications and improved feel. Three default riding modes plus options to customise Power (x5), Engine Brake (x3) and Wheelie control (x3 plus off). Honda Selectable Torque Control gains slip rate control for smooth torque management over 9 levels, plus off. Start Mode, aka launch control and quickshifter standard fitment.

A new 6-axis Bosch IMU is the brains behind the calculations of bike behaviour and is responsible for the torque control, wheelie control, cornering and rear-lift reducing ABS (two modes) as well as the electronic steering damper and the Ohlins suspension. The bike is also keyless with its ignition located on the left side of the head stock; push the button to switch her on and twist it to turn cut the ignition.

We say: The very easy-to-read 5” colour TFT screen has excellent resolution and is legible even in bright sunlight and plays host to all those electronic options plus all the usual spread of information and is operated via a 4-way switch on the left bar. It’ll take time to get used to the configurations as well as selecting your favourite from the six style options. Thankfully the riding modes has its own designated button. Oh, and yes, the horn button is still in the wrong place!

We’ve touched on the array of electronics that come packed into the 2020 Fireblade SP and it makes you wonder where all the wires are. It’s such a neat package, even over the handlebars that high praise for the attention to detail must be offered.

Nine setting of torque control may seem a little overbearing especially when alongside so many other electronically controlled options but overall, the full suite is there to offer the rider the very best and safest experience for any riding situation. It’s an incredibly complex and exquisite system made relatively easy to understand and operate via the dash. On track and even with minimum intervention (without turning things off), I still felt brave thanks to its flattery. Pushing a bike harder at lean or under braking has rarely felt this achievable and it will make riders feel a little more daring in their lap time pursuit. Even wheelie control is a hoot – with first gear being so tall and there’s a snappy blast of it around 6,000rpm you can still achieve a nicely controlled floater, although realistically it’s designed to allow for a little lift under full acceleration without affecting drive.

While a USB socket is available as an accessory, the likes of heated grips and cruise control, that are standard on the BMW S1000RR, aren’t here nor are they on the Ducati or Yamaha. Like I said, this is a track bike with lights, indicators and a tail tidy.

   
How to operate the TFT screen
The array of electronics on the 2020 Honda CBR1000RR-R Fireblade are all controlled by the new 5" colour TFT dash, and here's how to operate it.

 

Rivals

Despite a scary drop in sales volumes over the last decade, manufacturers are still putting plenty of effort into their flagship sports stars. Each year the bhp figures edge higher and higher which in turn means the electronics guys and girls are forced to increase the sophistication in the components they are responsible for to keep everything on the ground, or at least under control.  Claimed figures are one consideration, certainly when it comes to headlines, but weight, price, comfort, performance, servicing, reliability and just how complex and refined those electronics are all have a part to play. Group test will offer a steer in terms of lap times or comfort over distance but ultimately, the decision is with those in charge of the wallet. Here’s a little taster of the main specification battles:

 

Bike

Power (in bhp)

Torque (in lbft)

Kerb weight

Price

Ducati Panigale V4S

211.21bhp @ 13.000rpm

91.46lbft@10,000rpm

195kg

£24,795

Honda CBR1000RR-R

214.56bhp @14,500rpm

83.35lbft @ 12,500rpm

201kg

£23,499

Yamaha

YZF-R1

197.26bhp @ 13,500rpm

83.57lbft @ 11.500rpm

201kg

£16,799

Suzuki

GSX-R1000R

199.14bhp @ 13,200rpm

86.74lbft @ 10,800rpm

203kg

£15,599

Kawasaki

ZX-10RR

201.15 bhp @ 13,500rm

84.75lbft @ 11,200rpm

206kg

£21,199

BMW

S1000 RR

203.84bhp @ 13,500rpm

83.35lbft @ 11,000rpm

197kg

£19,315

Aprilia V4 1100 Factory

214bhp @ 13,200rpm

90lbft @ 11,000rpm

199kg

£22,399

 
2020 Honda CBR1000RR-R Fireblade SP Verdict

An achingly good, highly sophisticated, power-laden bike that every track-day rider should try. With dimensions akin to a 600 alongside an astonishing and rev-hungry engine plus a top-quality chassis, Honda have struck gold and the mantelpiece had better be clear for plenty of race winning trophies.

So suited to the track, the beautiful blend of smooth yet ruthless power, a slick gearbox, induction noise, growly exhaust, top-class brakes, suspension and chassis mixed with the electronic reins suitable for all riders makes for a hearty concoction. Add in some stylish aero and the 2020 Fireblade is a dream to ride… on the circuit. A slightly cramped peg-to-seat position, a screen that is ideal for your average sized 10-year old and long gearing won’t be ideal for the larger rider, back road partying or those keen on putting in some big road miles. Then again, there are some crazy dudes out there who might just call my bluff!

Nevertheless, Honda have opened a brilliant new chapter in its Fireblade history. This CBR-1000RR-R SP is an overwhelming success and should make for some interesting head-to-head tests alongside the Ducati Panigale V4S and BMW’s S1000RR. Throw in the R1M and RSV4 1100 Factory too and, despite the lowly sales figures for such machines, we are blessed to be in a golden era of outrageous sports bikes.

 

On board lap of Qatar's Losail circuit | 2020 Fireblade SP
Ride on board with Michael Mann for a lap of the Losail circuit at the Fireblade press launch

 

2020 Honda CBR1000RR-R Fireblade SP spec

New price

£23,499

Capacity

999cc

Bore x Stroke

81 x 48.5mm

Engine layout

Inline-4

Engine details

Liquid-cooled 4-stroke 16-valve DOHC

Power

214.56bhp (160Kw) @14,500rpm

Torque

83.35lbft (113Nm) @ 12,500rpm

Transmission

6-speed with quickshift (up/down)

Average fuel consumption

45.2mpg claimed

Tank size

16.1litres

Max range to empty (theoretical)

160 miles

Rider aids

  • 5” colour TFT screen
  • 6-axis IMU
  • Smart Key (keyless ignition)
  • Three default riding modes with options to change Power, Engine Brake and Wheelie
  • 9 levels (plus off) for Torque Control
  • Start Mode
  • Quickshifter (standard fit on SP)

Frame

Aluminium composite twin spar

Front suspension

Telescopic inverted fork with inner diameter of 43mm and Ohlins NPX Smart-EC. 125mm stroke.

Front suspension adjustment

Preload, compression and rebound

Rear suspension

Pro-Link with gas-charged Ohlins TTX36 Smart-EC damper. 143mm stroke.

Rear suspension adjustment

Preload, compression and rebound damping

Front brake

330mm disc with 4-piston Brembo caliper

Rear brake

220mm disc with 2-piston Brembo caliper

Front tyre

20/70-ZR17 Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP or Bridgestone RS11

Rear tyre

200/55-ZR17 Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP or Bridgestone RS11

Wheelbase

1455mm

Seat height

830mm

Kerb weight

201kg

Warranty

Unlimited miles / 2 years

Service Intervals

Every 8,000miles (after first service at 600 miles)

Website

www.honda.co.uk/motorcycles

 

Looking for bike insurance? Get a quote for this motorcycle with Bennetts motorbike insurance

 

2020 Honda CBR1000RR-R Fireblade SP
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