Is Honda About to Hit Back in the Superbike Stakes?
New patents show radical new sports bikeby Harry Fisher, on LISTEN 03:38
Since pioneering the modern era of superbikes, Honda has rather lost its way when compared to its rivals. New patent drawings show a radical approach to the next generation of Fireblade.
Is Honda Thinking Outside the Box for its next superbike
The Honda CBR900RR Fireblade re-wrote all the sports bike rules on its introduction in 1990. It had a powerful in-line four-cylinder, which was nothing new at the time but, crucially, it combined it with light weight and a super-stiff chassis that gave unparalleled handling.
It wasn’t long before every manufacturer was straining to catch up and, eventually, they not only caught up, but overtook Honda and rather left them in their wake. Each generation of Fireblade was better than the last but, somehow, the opposition was able to stay ahead, not only on the streets, but also the race track.
The World Superbike Championship is a massively important marketing tool for manufacturers and it is one that the Fireblade has singularly failed to win since 2007 (rider’s title) or 1997 (manufacturer’s title). Not for the lack of trying, of course, but something has to change and these new patent drawings show a radically different machine.
There is an unusually large amount of detail in the drawings, aside from the radical design features. For a patent drawing to show details such as instruments, mirrors, handlebar controls and sidestand means that the machine is intended to be a road-going bike and not a racing prototype or concept bike.
But it is the main engineering elements that are surprising. The Fireblade has traditionally used an aluminium beam frame, with the engine only playing a minor structural role, as opposed to other bikes where the engine is the main structural component of the frame.
The front upper chassis section, made from what is described as a ’cast material’, holds the steering head and is bolted to the engine. Built into this casting is an inverted U-shape channel which is the airbox and another space houses the electronics, including the battery.
At the rear of the engine and bolted to the gearbox case are two additional castings that provide support for the swing arm pivot. All that is nothing new: the Vincent motorcycle used a similar construction back in the 1950s.
But where the latest Honda departs from the norm is the construction of the seat and fuel tank: it is a one piece carbon fibre construction bolted to the front frame section. it is a self-supporting monocoque incorporating the tank, seat and rear license plate/rear lights hanger. As such, there is no bodywork at the rear, the only panels being a nose section, two side panels forming the fairing sides and a belly pan.
As mentioned, the drawings go into some detail when it comes to instruments and handlebar controls. An analogue rev counter sits next to a LCD screen, which will be controlled from buttons on the left handlebar.
While it’s not certain, the engine, suspension and brakes look similar to current production Fireblades. The main developments are in chassis construction and weight loss. Also, interestingly, reference is made to reduced manufacturing costs, which is another clue suggesting this is intended for production and not simply new technology development.
Of course, the patent drawings give no clue as to a time line for this new machine but, given Honda’s suffering reputation in World Superbikes and on the street, don’t expect them to sit on their hands with this one.