Obsession or not, I’ll be the first to admit that I have a slight problem when it comes to early Blades…
Words: Mark Boxer
Photos: Mark Boxer and Toby Williams
If you know me personally you know I’m somewhat of an early Fireblade junkie, you might even call me a rather big nerd in that department. Maybe not at the level where I’d be writing a book about them or sporting a CBR tattoo, but I certainly do like my 900RRs. Without going too much into detail, it all started in about 1998 when my best friend Aaron rolled up at my house on one of the sexiest bikes I’d ever laid eyes on, an Urban Tiger Blade. At the time I was riding a 93’ Suzuki RGV250 and to ride this CBR900RR was a whole new ball game and got me rather excited. It wasn’t long after this that I started looking for a bigger bike as I was no longer on a restricted license and at the time I had my heart solidly set on a very nice Ducati 900 Superlite I’d seen a few times at local dealer. That was right up until the point when I rode it. I guess at the time I was too young to appreciate the bike because I was sorely disappointed. On arrival back at the dealership I told the salesman what I thought and funnily enough he pretty much knew that’s how I’d react and already had a 97’ GSXR750 ready and waiting for me to ride. About an hour later I was the proud owner of a GSXR750 and for a while I did really enjoy the bike, but I think in the back of my mind I still had the howl of the Fireblade’s 893cc engine reminding me that I wasn’t on the right bike.
On selling the Suzuki I soon found out that a friend of a friend was selling an immaculate 98’ CBR900RR. With the beefed up 919cc engine, this Blade had polished rims, a Dynajet kit and best of all, a full Akrapovic exhaust system which sounded brilliant. This bike is still in my ownership and has gone through three transformations in its time. I firstly took the neat fairings off and made it a bit more ghetto style as I’d taken up stunt riding, then when things got a little more serious, the front fairings were removed, a rough tank was flattened out and the combination of a 54-tooth sprocket and crash cage made it into a full-time stunt bike. During its time, this bike did a lot of wheelies and burnouts without ever letting me down. That was right up until the point where a wheelie with my legs over the handlebars went pear shaped and I ended up with a broken leg and a decent amount of gravel rash. At that point I decided I needed a break (no pun intended) from the sport and I decided to give the CBR a birthday even though it suffered nothing more than a broken foot peg in the crash. This was April 2005, exactly 30-days before the bike re-emerged as the bike known as Bladerod which not long after ended up on the cover of Two Wheels magazine. Following on from this I built a 98’ CBR900RR track bike which you may have seen in the PITS section, a full fluorescent orange 97’ CBR900RR stunt bike, a turbocharged streetfightered 98’ CBR900RR which was featured not long ago called Hoonda and now the bike you see here, a July 92 built first generation CBR900RR. Ok… so maybe I do have a problem.
The story behind the purchase of this bike isn’t overly exciting, it was for sale and looked tidy, and the price was reasonable, so I grabbed it. The main thing that got me excited though was the fact that the seller told me it was built in January 1992! I was a little bit disappointed to find that when the frame had been polished at some stage the rivets used to re-attached the compliance plate were a little bigger thus leading to the 7 looking like a 1. If I hadn’t bought it from interstate I would have noticed it on inspection, but it wasn’t the end of the world because it was still a very cool bike and a first generation. One major bonus about the bike is that the engine had been given a fresh rebuild and luckily few a few added bonuses. The head was ported and a set of higher compression Wiseco pistons were fitted. This was easily noticeable as the bike although only being fitted with a straight through muffler on the standard exhaust felt much quicker than my 98’ track bike. The negatives, well aside from the front disc rotors being warped, the rest all sort of came at once. One being a common CBR fault (and with many other bikes…) where the charging regulator and stator failed, another being that a previous attempt at fixing the regulator plug ended up in the use of some seriously dodgy spade terminals and finally… and to top it off, both fork seals let go at the same time.
I probably could have gotten away with repairing the bike, but although I’m not OCD, I do like doing things properly and to be honest, I had told myself on a number of occasions “maybe one day I can do a ground up on a 92’ Blade”. Five major things made me decide to tear it right down. The leaking fork seals, but the fork tubes themselves were pitted from 23 years of stones smacking them and needed to be rechromed. I knew that although it only appeared that the wiring loom was stuffed where the charging system was, the rest would need some attention. The tyres were stuffed and the rims there were a combination of grey paint with polished lips which were well overdue for some TLC. The frame itself has at some stage (probably during the late 90s when it was the done thing) had been polished and now sported more than a few small scratches and grazes, so it wasn’t looking that fantastic. Finally, although having no solid evidence, the bike looked like it’d been repaired at some stage due to the fact that it was fitted with a combination of factory and fibreglass fairings, so maybe it’d had a cosmetic crash requiring a replacement of bodywork. Overall it looked tidy, but to be honest were pretty rough around the edges and coated in a pretty boring and not so professional layer of silver duco.
As the bike came apart it wasn’t so much the case that I found more and more wrong with it, but instead I probably became a little more emotionally attached and decided to go just that bit further with the rebuild. Taking the bike back to a bare frame meant that I was now just able to smooth out all the scratches before sending it and many other parts such as the wheels, fork tubes and brackets to the Scotty and the boys at Edwardstown Powdercoating. Because of the full tear down I was also able to replace every single bearing in the bike from front to back. Most importantly the regular upgrade of swapping the factory style ball bearing head stem bearings to newer and better tapered roller ones.
As the engine was fresh it was very clean and with a quick rinse was given a fresh coat of engine enamel. The carbies were rejetted, but dirty so I took them apart did a full overhaul and service replacing worn seals and rounded off screws left by a previous technician. I replaced the air box with an immaculate later model one I had lying around in my pile of CBR parts and fitted it with a K&N washable filter. The exhaust system was a bit of a mess with numerous dents in the headers and a no name muffler that looked like it’d been tampered with to remove the baffles so I found a set of very neat headers from a 98’ model and did my regular trick of removing the rear spark arrestor before sending them to the sandblasters. I also sent the muffler that’s fitted to the bike and on their return coated them in VHT high temp exhaust paint which comes up an absolute treat. Now even though I haven’t got into it yet, this is probably a good time to talk about the fact that the bike has a very prominent Vance and Hines theme to it. This came about when I picked up a set of reasonably rare Vance and Hines branded NRC (Niagara Racing Company) engine side covers and a no longer available Vance and Hines Powerpak programmable CDI (ignition system) which plugs in place the factory one. To be completely honest I was very much hoping to find a period correct V&H full exhaust system or at least a muffler, but only found ones that were considerably damaged and would have still cost a lot of money to ship from the US. Instead the muffler I used is actually an alternative brand unit that I rebadged with a brand new V&H tag. It was my only option, but regardless looked great and period correct. Now the reason for the V&H products everywhere on the bike you ask…. none really other than the fact that I had a number of their products to suit it, I think it’s a cool brand with a lot of history not only just with Harley and with the addition of the custom tank decals I designed thought that by keeping the late model options to a minimum, I could make the bike look something like what V&H might have built as a promo bike back in 1992 if they did do a CBR. All that’s missing is the sexy girl in the high cut bikini, stilettos and big hair to pose with it.
With everything back from Edwardstown Powdercoating and the major components ready to be put back together, I got the bike rolling again. I was lucky that the bike had been fitted at some stage with a 17-inch front wheel from a CBR600 to replace the always disliked factory 16-inch one and with a fresh coating of gloss black the front and rear wheels were fitted with new Continental Sport Conti rubber and new OEM style Metal gear brake disc rotors . With a fresh set of bearings in them, the wheels were ready and it was just a matter of getting the suspension reassembled so I could get the bike rolling again. Whilst tony from Race Bike Services made a few neat changes to the forks and the fork tube back from being rechromed, the front end was reassembled and fitted into the frame and at the same time the rear shock and swing arm went in ready for the wheels to go on.
From that point on is was a matter of putting the jigsaw puzzle back together. Many small parts were sandblasted and repainted as they went on and when it came to the fairings I took a gamble on a Chinese set hoping for the best. The first set that arrived were terrible both in fit and finish so I was luckily able to get a refund and looked for a better set. On arrival the replacements were very good and I’d say at least 75% as good as new factory ones, but at a fraction of the cost. One minor setback was that there was no tail light surround included, but I was luckily able to use the one that was originally on the bike after having it repainted. This was done at the same time as the painting of the tank. As the new fairings were the US colours which I felt suited the Vance and Hines theme better, I had Rob from Spike’s Auto a local panel shop help me out with making the tank to match. The one main thing I did with the tank though was to put my own twist on the Honda “wing” logo, by making it a Vance and Hines version. Rob and I created the black and white layers and then carefully lined up the decals before he coated the tank in several layers of 2-pack clear. I was lucky that I’d found an absolute parts guru named Mick at the local Honda dealer who helped me to source a ton of parts both big and small. I was at the point where everything on the bike was either new or reconditioned, so I wanted to make sure the finished product would look and ride like it was straight out of the showroom again.
All in all though without crapping on about every nut and bolt on the bike I guess the best and most satisfying part of building this bike was standing back and looking at the finished product saying “I did that”. By the time this hits the shelves though the bike will be with it’s new owner as I’ve just sold it. No, I’m not crazy, I just decided that I’d like to concentrate more on my racing next year and I’ve got plans for a new 900RR track bike build already on the boil, so one bike makes way for another. As far as the 900RRs go though, I’m very much looking forward to 2017 when these bike turn 25-years-old. Maybe one day I’ll even go to Japan again to meet Tadeo Baba, the Japanese designer responsible for the Fireblade. Baba started working for Honda in 1962 at the age of 18 as a machinist, then 2-years later went on to work in R&D, 28-years later bringing the Fireblade to life following his CBR750RR concept. That’s another story though… Stay tuned!