Johannesburg - When Honda rewrote the rule book with the original CBR900RR Fireblade in 1992, it was to a very specific brief: Build a motorcycle the size and weight of a 600cc Supersports machine with the power and performance of a litre-class bike.
That it succeeded was no surprise; the slide-rule samurai at Honda's R & D facility in Asaka don't take kindly to the word 'can't'. The surprising part is where it went from there.
Truth to tell, the original 'Blade was an ill-tempered beast. As was fashionable at the time, it had a 16” front wheel and an 18” rear; it was prone to impromptu wheelies and evil headshakes - sometimes simultaneously! - that made it a cult machine among hoonigans but did not endear it to Soichiro Honda's heirs, who still believed you should meet the nicest people on a Honda.
So, as the 'Blade went through succeeding generations and its once ground-breaking engine grew from 898 to 918 to 954 and finally to a full 998.8 cubic centimetres in capacity, the brief remained the same:
Over the past decade the CBR1000RR has become perhaps the most balanced machine in its class. Engine power is no longer a black art but, to some extent, handling still is, and the engineers at Asaka, most of whom are keen bikers themselves, have evolved the 'Blade into a combination of performance, road-holding and agility that can extract the very best from every rider.
Perhaps the best measure of that ability is the fact that the Fireblade is more successful in road racing (in particular the Isle of Man Tourist Trophy races) than in the World Superbike series.
Now, 22 years later, for the first time, Honda has built an SP (Sport Production) version of the classic Fireblade. An SP is the two-wheeled equivalent of a GTO - a homologation special, a limited-edition, high-performance, track-focused derivative produced in just sufficient numbers to qualify it for racing under production-bike rules.
PUTTING AN EXTRA EDGE ON THE 'BLADE
The CBR1000RR Fireblade SP wears circuit-ready front and rear Öhlins suspension; the outer diameter of the inverted front forks is 55mm -1mm bigger than the Showa units on the standard 'Blade, and the revised top and bottom triple clamps are joined to a steel, rather than aluminium, steering stem.
Specialists from Öhlins worked with Honda's engineers and test riders to develop the fully adjustable 43mm upside-downies and rear monoshock specifically for the SP.
The top triple clamp is made using high-precision CNC machining and is deeper than standard, giving it a greater surface area in contact with the forks for improved rigidity.
The diecast alloy frame has also been revised to suit; the balance of rigidity around the rear suspension mount has been tweaked to give more flex and therefore more feel and improved traction.
Brembo four-piston monobloc brake callipers and 12-spoke cast-alloy wheels shod with Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP tyres (120/70 ZR17 front and 190/50 ZR17 rear) complete the running gear. Kerb weight is 199kg with a front/rear weight distribution of 52.7:47.3 percent on a tight 1410mm wheelbase.
The SP version has the same riding position as the standard machine, with its footpegs set 10mm further back than on the 2013 model, and the handlebars are wider, lower (by one degree) and further forward (by five dgrees).
As a track-focused machine there's no provision for a pillion, so a new, lighter rear sub-frame and single seat unit save valuable weight.
The CBR1000RR SP's transverse four has the same cylinder head updates as the standard machine. The inlet and exhaust ports have been re-shaped and polished and the combustion chambers 'gas-flowed' to improve efficiency.
Where the SP differs is the selection of 'middle value' pistons during assembly. Essentially a factory blueprint, each batch of pistons and rods are electronically weighed and the ones that come closest to the median weight and to each other (we're talking milligrams here, Cyril) are put on one side to be use in SP engines, making them run appreciably smoother at peak revs than the standard-spec engines.
Downpipe diameter is down from 38mm to 35mm to increase low and mid-range torque (just as important coming out a slow corner on the track as it is around town) and there's a new, vertical connecting pipe to balance the pressure between cylinders two and three.
Peak power is up two kilowatts to 133kW at 12 250rpm, torque to 114Nm at 10 500rpm.
The programmed dual-sequential fuel-injection system has been remapped to match the revised cylinder head and exhaust, while a MotoGP-derived slipper clutch improves stability on downshifts.
The CBR1000RR SP comes with its own special Tricolour livery - white and two-tone blue, with a central red stripe and signature Honda gold wheels.
It retails for R189 990, which includes rider training through the Honda Academy, a two-year, unlimited-distance warranty and a year's free roadside assistance.