Buying used: 2000-2004 Honda Fireblade
When Honda released the 929cc version of the model designation that had carried the brand’s showroom hero sports offerings for almost a decade, it should have known the world was moving on, and litre bikes were becoming the new standard sought by discerning sports buyers.
The 2000 model Fireblade shouldered a mighty load of expectation with a more limited capacity. It was fair of Honda though, to think it could weather the storm. After all, the buying public had always queued to get the latest ‘Blade, so why wouldn’t they this time? There was a simple and very short answer to that question: R1.
Yamaha simply owned the big sports market in the late ’90s and early ’00s with its groundbreaking litre hottie and the ‘Blade was always playing catch-up. But not because it was a bad motorcycle – far from it. It was because it was underpowered compared to the Yam and looked a little old hat. Yep, Mr H had been caught with his pants around his ankles.
All that was a little unfair. You see, the message Honda was sending with the new ‘Blade was one of aggression and sports prowess. This bike was sharper and more sports-oriented in just about every department when weighed against the previous offering, and it was indeed fast and competent.
Using the tried-and-true formula of a liquid-cooled, 16-valve, DOHC, in-line four-cylinder, the engine was good for 112kW (152.3hp) at 11,500rpm and 102.3Nm (75.8ft-lb) at 9000rpm. That represented a hefty 17.8kW (24.2hp) over the previous model. The bike had a sharper steering geometry than its predecessor too, with a 1400mm wheelbase down from 1405mm, 23.7 degrees of rake versus 24, and trail down a smidge from 95mm to 94mm. It was also 10kg lighter at 170kg dry. All this was contained in a semi-pivotless, twin-spar aluminium frame. There must have been a bit of money about at the time, because the ‘Blade would have set you back $17,125 (plus ORC) when new.
Happy to climb up on its rear end and shimmy at the steering head, earlier Fireblades were considered ‘manbikes’. This incarnation was given a 17in front wheel, which settled its front-end flightiness. In fact, many claim this model was the most benign ‘Blade of them all.
Brakes were a highlight, the twin 330mm rotors and Nissin four-piston calipers offering braking performance as good as it gets. The 929 was the first road-going motorcycle to feature the now standard arrangement of an upside-down fork and we were all agog at that. Very sexy. In another first, this model also got electronic fuel injection, but in truth this was a bit of a letdown. Decidedly snatchy and harsh off the bottom, injection was still a bit of a black art at this stage of sportsbike development.
Conrod failure has been known on the odd particularly hard-ridden example, while jumping out of second gear under acceleration is a potential gearbox problem.
It’s a mechanically noisy engine at standstill and this can put some people off. Camchain rattle is normal.
Honda’s HISS immobiliser system was all new. It has become the benchmark for anti-theft set-ups ever since, although the loss of a key can prove to be a very expensive setback.
In 2002, and in an effort to keep up with the rampant R1 and the new litre king, the Suzuki GSX-R1000, Honda upped the ‘Blade’s capacity to 954cc and was madly running a campaign that suggested ‘outright speed or power figures don’t necessarily make for the most enjoyable riding experience’. Yeah, right…
This was the model’s sixth incarnation and the last to be designed by famed Honda man Tadao Baba, who penned the first of the breed way back in 1992. The 954 was priced at $17,690 (plus ORC).
Honda bored each cylinder out another millimetre for that small but important 25cc increase in capacity. It was all about playing catch-up, but when combined with six per cent lighter pistons and other weight and friction reduction mods throughout the engine, the result was improved responsiveness. Power was now 115kW (156.3hp) at 11,250rpm. Some of the gain would also be down to the revised electronic engine management, with larger throttle bodies (40 to 42mm), new injectors and a re-programmed ECU, which improved the EFI significantly over the 929.
All this attention to weight resulted in a 2kg saving, with the CBR954RR weighing in at an amazing 168kg dry.
To the eye, the new ‘Blade had a much more aggressive stance, its angular styling and slimmer seat offering a more racebred and lighter appearance compared to earlier models. The tank was situated lower and further forward, with more of the load carried lower down in a move that both improved mass centralisation for better handling, and moved the rider further forward for better control when cornering.
Wheels came in for some revision, with more compact hubs and lighter spokes trimming 300g off the all-important unsprung weight – weight that would otherwise have to be controlled by the suspension when encountering bumps. Except for very minor revisions, the fork and brakes remained the same.
This version is well known for its robust engine and many consider it the finest ‘Blade ever. That’s a big call, but there can be little doubt that the refinements undertaken over the 929 made the 954 an infinitely better thing.
The original steering head bearings should have been replaced with a recall but not every owner bothered – if the handling’s bad, start your investigation in this area.
Honda simply hasn’t built a bad Fireblade and, disregarding the quite unwarranted hysteria around ‘the latest and greatest’, a good example of either of these will serve a rider well. They’re getting on a bit, and this is the sort of age in which a purchaser needs to be careful. These are sportsbikes and they have often been thrashed pretty hard. Low kilometres, a good service history, a lengthy test ride (taking careful notice of the gearbox) and a thorough inspection are critical.
Get a good one and you’ll be happy for quite some time. You’ll never be aboard a growing classic, however, and their value is only ever going to drop. If that doesn’t matter, and you want a sports tool with the reliability for which Honda is renowned, go for it.
Our pick is the youngest 954 (2004). It’s a better bike than the 929, but you’ll pay more. Your choice.
Honda CBR900RR (929)
• NEW PRICE
$17,125 (2000) to $17,990 (2002)
$7100 (2000) to $8300 (2002)
Honda CBR900RR (954)
• NEW PRICE
$17,690 (2002) to $17,990 (2004)
$8800 (2002) to $9600 (2004)
It’s a bit like Groundhog Day, as we’ve said this about Japanese offerings on a regular basis, but Japanese in-line fours are a well known quantity and relatively easily serviced. Keep to the service recommendations, look for service books on a used purchase and the thing should serve you very well indeed.
A minor service (oil change, lube and checkover) should cost around $200; an intermediate service should cost around $450; while a major service (including a valve check and parts) will cost around $800, but prices will vary from dealer to dealer.