Heading out for todayís test ride of a Triumph Sprint ST in Langley it became clear that the weather wasnít going to co-operate. I called ahead to the dealer to reports of heavy rain, so instead pulled into Carter Honda, just to see what they had. One bike of definite interest the VTEC VFR 800, and one that I had scratched earlier from my test list as being to uncomfortable at a stand still Ė the CBR 1100 XX Blackbird. This was due to the presence of Kevin (mosquito) out at Carter today who spotted me sitting on the bike contemplating itís seating position and what could be done to make it more comfy and offering me up a test. Who was I to say ďnoĒ to a ride on one of the most renown bikes of its day.
Stats, facts and figures dispensed with, the Blackbird is still a pretty large bike. Not ST1300 or K1200RS large, but big enough for a motorcycle and small for a cruise missile. Having read the reviews I had expected the BB to be a bit heavy in the corners, maybe not as flickable as I would like. I was wrong.
The handling was quick, way quicker than I expected, yet strangely not as settled as the in corners as the other big bikes Iíve ridden. I suspect that a little suspension tuning would probably give this bike a more sure-footed nature. It does have great feedback thru the front end with a good sense of the road but the transmission comes at the price of a slightly choppier ride than most sport tourers. Still itís stable enough at the speeds Iím likely to ride and handles the engine well.
And what an engine, I may as well just walk into the local constabulary and hand them my license now. This engine is smooth and powerful; it never felt strained during the test ride or buzzy. Instead it just smoothly kept pushing the bike faster and harder and egging me on.
Given the ďegg onĒ factor of this bike itís really nice that the wind and weather protection are pretty good. The folks at Honda have done a good job of the aerodynamics and the rider becomes part of the package so that at speed the airflow proves unobtrusive. Though the taller among us, and definitely myself, would require a higher windscreen to hopefully give a little more weather protection across the chest. The test ride took place in weather on the verge of rain and 16C (according to the later ridden VFRís external thermometer), heated grips and electrics would soon be a must.
At stand still the ride position seemed a bit cramped for my 6Ē2í frame, but once in motion and the ball of my feet were firmly on the pegs this perception was dispelled. A set of bar backs/risers might be in order for consistent high mileage touring just to make the bike a little more comfy. Slightly lower pegs would just be a bonus and looked easy enough to engineer.
Speed, you just canít talk about the Blackbird without touching on the subject of speed. My test ride gave me the opportunity to hit 150 on an uphill, the bike didnít even feel like it was warming up. Indeed for most of my test shifting was really a matter of a slight feeling of social obligation than a mechanical need. The reviews are right, this bike is fastÖ freaky fastÖ fun fastÖ hand over the license fast while giggling manically over how fast you were going and hoping youíre still in a legally friendly state where such behaviour will not give you a boyfriend named Bubba.
There in lies my main issue with the bike, you just donít feel the speed. Madness you say? Perhaps, but hereís the point. 150kph is actually pretty fast, and it just didnít even feel vaguely so on the Blackbird, this thing isnít a bird so much as a cruise missile that you hop on to scream across states. Which is great, but how often do you get to safely maintain 150 plus speeds, or just ditch the safely. Not really that often, maximum 15-20% of the time, so Iím more temped to lean towards a bike that leaves me giggling madly at a slower speed than just mildly grinning at a much higher one.
Despite the speed issue (wink), this bike instils a good sense of confidence in me, and with a proper tune of the suspension, a couple of minor tweaks to the ergos and some hard bags I could see it being a good fit for me. Pity that on the hard bag front thereís not much out there other than the beetle bags that integrate well with it. Iíd love to see how it handles on a longer ride, hard to get the gage of a bike in 45-50 minutes.