If Carlsberg Made Motorcycles....

Discussion in 'Coffee Shop' started by Black7, Apr 1, 2011.

  1. Black7

    Black7 Registered User Read Only

    I don’t know if there ever was a link between Honda and the eponymous brewer of Scandinavian lager ...but it’s tempting to think there might have been a can or two hanging around the Honda design team canteen around 1996. How else could they have come up with something as extraordinary and one-off as the Blackbird proved to be?

    There have been moments in engineering like it before – RJ Mitchell’s Spitfire, or Ford’s GT40:violin:. Things that are more than just the sum of their parts; machines that do more than you ask; technology with soul, benchmarks of quality. It’s not a linear thing – not smooth evolution. Take the new VFR 1200 as an example - more of an ugly awkward, over complicated backward leap that a step forward to my mind.

    Perhaps it’s not up to the engineers or designers, perhaps every so many years things just come together at random (or under alcoholic inspiration) to produce the exceptional. They certainly did with the CBR 1100XX. And, just like the Spitfire, while it can be overtaken, it cannot really be replaced.

    Yesterday, something happened that proves it. A mate and I took a trip to our local Bike Bandit (AKA dealership) and borrowed the two fastest bikes in the world; a brand new 2011 ZZR1400 with 40 miles on the clock and a 2011 Hyabusa with about the same. It was a fine, if windy day and we figured we’d have a play on some familiar riding territory in North Wiltshire.

    I took the ZZR, he hopped on the ’Busa, and we did a 60 mile loop taking in country lanes, fast A roads and a short stretch of the M4. I didn’t ride the Suzuki - my real interest was in comparing the Kawasaki with my own Blackbird.

    I was part expecting to come away wanting the new bike. After all, there had been plenty of hype, and I love large capacity machines with lots of power and which could handle well. The black and green paint scheme was the dog’s danglers too. Just brilliant. R#?

    It felt like an illicit affair, with the ‘wife’ safely garaged while I was running around the countryside with a younger model. I felt disloyal and dirty, in an agreeable weekend-in-Brighton-sort-of-way. Yet, at the end of the day, when I flipped up the garage door, I knew the Blackbird would not be going. Here’s why.

    The Kawasaki (like many of its forebears) is all about the engine. Or, more accurately, about going and stopping. Fuelling is crisp; acceleration is rapid and gear changes silky smooth. Progress is effortless, sending the rider surging down the road on rising a tide of power. But, just in case this tide carries you into trouble, it slows as fast as it goes; powerful radial brakes hauling the bike down from licence losing speeds as quickly as if you had just chucked the titanic’s anchor out.

    The ZZR is also more up to date in terms of instrumentation and adjustability than the Honda; it looks more modern, feels lighter and more flickable. Front forks are adjustable over a number of parameters; there is a gear indicator, voltmeter and trip computer. Styling is aggressive and street cred established. Not hard to see why it’s a popular machine, and in a number of separate areas of engineering, it is an advance on the ‘Bird.:eek:

    But here’s the rub. The difficult to explain and harder to define part. When I asked myself whether I would trade the bird for the Kwacker, I didn’t have to think long. Not A Chance. No Way. Never.

    It could have been the less planted feel of the Kawasaki. The 1400cc machine wobbled like a drunk at New Year’s in side winds, especially on the motorway, and although it would turn in faster than the Bird, never felt so fluid through the bends. Ride comfort, while not bad, was also not in Blackbird territory. For a short Sunday blast it was a fine, but there was no doubt in my mind which machine I’d rather munch more miles on.

    It could also have been down to poorer build quality. The Kawasaki’s low grade metal fasteners had already begun to discolour at just 40 miles, while the chain guard looked as though it had last done service on a kid’s push-bike. Paint finish on wheels and engine were also poor and unlikely to last its first winter. Big contrast there to the CBR1100, the paintwork and stainless steel fastenings of which are still shining brightly on my 11 year old machine (and yes, it is ridden through winter).

    Even in the areas it’s good at; engine, transmission and brakes; the ZZR is still not that much better than the ‘Bird to make a change worth-while. This is true even in terms of its ultimate claim to fame; speed and acceleration. If pushed, the Kawasaki is certainly faster, especially at the upper end of the dial. Question is; how much time are most riders likely to spend there? At more real world speeds (40-100 mph, say) the two bikes are pretty much comparable. This ‘everyday rideability’ difference is important. Even though the bottom end on the big K has been improved over the pre 2008 models, it still doesn’t feel anymore smooth or powerful than its 11 year old rival. On the road, the outcome of any meeting would be down to the rider.:-0)

    But the truth is, the difference between the two bikes is more than any number of carefully collected facts. In the end it comes down to the indefinable joy of the Blackbird experience; something total, something completely absorbing, where all the characteristics of the machine come together in something that is complete and about as perfect as anything made by man can be. The Honda allows a complete merging of rider and machine; with the Kawasaki, its still rider and bike. Together, but separate. A Spitfire pilot once told me that you didn’t feel you’d climbed into the cockpit of a Spitfire and taken off; it was more like strapping its wings onto you back and flying away. Same thing with the big Honda.

    So here is the question that’s as perplexing and as mysterious as the genesis of the Blackbird itself; why on earth did Honda stop making it? At a time when average rider age is lengthening, the Bird makes so much sense; an attractive package that combines looks and performance, the power of a sports bike but with the comfort of a tourer to cosset aged bones. And all that at a very reasonable price.

    The Blackbird just does it all; power is smooth, finely balanced between low down grunt and top end, reaching levels fast enough for the blue lights brigade to take an unhealthy interest in your licence. Handling is supple, yet planted and comfortable even on spending cut hit British roads. It all comes together is a way that’s civilised yet exciting; powerful and elegant. The Kawasaki was fast but without the finesse. If the Kawa is the Bullet Train, the Blackbird is the Orient Express.

    It seems to me that what Honda need to do next is simple. Get half a dozen top designers together with some actual Blackbird owners, lay in some Danish lager:beer: and resurrect the best bike that ever rode the tarmac of this world. With apparently no real completion the market is wide open.k1ap
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  2. trigantle

    trigantle Talking of which Read Only

    so after all of that narrative p0pc0rn41 .................you like the Bird!
  3. simmyoto

    simmyoto Registered User Read Only

    Thread should be locked and made into a sticky!
  4. zx9ral

    zx9ral Registered User Read Only

    Nice write-up. I did ask a Honda "assistant" on the Honda stand at the London bike show, why they stopped making the 'Bird.
    The answer i got was "Emissions" The Blackbird woudnt pass current emission laws.
    The Kawasaki is lovely in the flesh , though.
  5. ianrobbo1

    ianrobbo1 good looking AND modest Club Sponsor

    didnt think to have a bash on the Busa then?? :dunno:
  6. Jaws

    Jaws Corporal CockUp Staff Member Moderator

    Yes, I agree .. Maybe not permanent but certainly for a while and then moved and published on the main club site @tu*
  7. Black7

    Black7 Registered User Read Only

    Sorry for dumb question - but wassa sticky??! :dunno:

    (Now Worried).
  8. Black7

    Black7 Registered User Read Only

    I suppose subconsciously I was thinking of a possible BB replacement.... and the Busa wouldn't be it, as I mainly use the bike for touring. Just felt like the ZZR was closer to the ethos of the Bird really.

    Besides I only had an hour and the Kawasaki was really good. Just not, in the end, good enough.

    What was so surprising was that, despite the time that had passed since the BB was born, and despite advances in technology, there still really is nothing better out there (at least for my purposes).

    Great paint scheme on the Big K though.
  9. karlos2000

    karlos2000 Registered User Read Only

    If I had a hat on, I'd take it off for you @tu*
  10. andyBeaker

    andyBeaker Moderator Staff Member Moderator Club Sponsor

    There is also the approx ?10k difference in 'price' to consider.

    tell you what though, you should try the lager that Honda made after the Blackbird.
  11. 163phil

    163phil Registered User Read Only

    Had a test ride on a ZZR1400 a couple of weeks ago. Couldn't agree more with these sentiments. Great post@tu*
  12. Jules J

    Jules J Registered User Read Only

    well said, I have own yamahas, suzuki, moto guzzi, aprillia and the finish and build quality on all of them was lacking, yet my 4 year old bird looks like its just come out of the showroom.

  13. faithsdaddy

    faithsdaddy Super Dooper Sponsor Read Only

    Hi Black 7. A sticky is a thread that doesn't move, it stays where it is regardless of the date it was posted. So the sticky threads at the top of the forum page can be replied to but they will always stay there until un-stickied or deleted.

    Regarding the 'obsolete' Bird, check out this month's Performance Bikes. They did a bit on dream bikes. They had some really great ideas- fun ideas- bikes that real bikers would love to see. They were computer generated- I think part artistic impression, part composition of existing bikes.

    Anyway, someone came up with the idea of a Busa eating 1300 Blackbird. Gets my vote @tu* :bow::bow:
  14. Jaws

    Jaws Corporal CockUp Staff Member Moderator

    And THAT is precisely what Honda promised up for 4 years..
    In they end the tried to flog us that turd of a V engined insult to the eyes
  15. faithsdaddy

    faithsdaddy Super Dooper Sponsor Read Only

    Jaws- I have to disagree with you there old chum fl4g71 I test rode one and thought it was the best bike I'd ever been on. However, they could have put a bit more character into it- it is over refined.

    A 'proper' V4, 1300 Blackbird would be the dogs danglies though. Loads of low rev wallop, tons of character, plus a ride of rich creamy torque @tu*
  16. ScottyUK

    ScottyUK Filtering Through Club Sponsor

    Surely increasing the engine size would increase the weight which would move it further from 'sporty' and more to 'touring'. I'm assumming we're all on 'birds as the Sport/Touring ratio is not too far out for anyone.

    Unless of course they can do it using technology from this century instead of last and keep the weight down.
  17. faithsdaddy

    faithsdaddy Super Dooper Sponsor Read Only

    Nah, not these days. Improvements in technology in the last 5 years would mean it could weight less than the 'old' one if they wanted it to. Bigger bikes don't have to weight more these days. Check out the weight specs for GSXR 600/ 750 & 1000s to see what I mean.

    In my mind, the 1300 would offer better bottom end, improved handling and a smidge more at the top end- just for fun @tu*
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  18. Black7

    Black7 Registered User Read Only

    True about the weight thing. They are getting lighter - perhaps too light. some weight is good for damping out the bumps and smoothing the ride. The ZZR was a bit flighty, especially on the motorway (35mph cross winds).

    The ZZR certainly felt lighter than the Bird, not only when moving but even when hauling it around on foot in the car park. For a 1400cc engine its also amazingly compact.@tu*

    Its also a very fast motor, with a lightning fast response, and the character is not bad either - moderate acceleration followed by a quickening of the pace above 5000 rpm, which is what most people would probably want, I'd guess.

    However, like the rest of the bike, the mill is less well refined. In particular there's a patch of vibration (not sure what RPM as I was, er making progress at the time) .... :eek: Somewhere in the midrange.. but it was pretty intrusive and would be an issue perhaps on long journeys.

    The brakes were also impressive (in contrast to the Busa, which is still rubbish even after the 2008 modifications according to my mate). Better than the Blackbird's, but so they should be after 10 years..

    Technology has moved on in the cockpit / dash area too, and shows what can be done (even though the VFR designer fails to remember this). Good layout - analogue clocks for at a glance reckoning, but with digital display for more detail; gear, voltage, trip, range and fuel info - all accurate, large and easy to see, especially the huge low fuel warning. And its not even a tourer.

    Riding position was a bit more cramped and adjustment, due to ergonomics of the bike, is not as easy on the Bird. In particular raise of the bars is limited in effect to about an inch and a half I guess. JAWS foot peg lowering kit would be useful as the reach from seat to pegs feels shorter and more cramped.

    Wind protection was not as good as the Honda, but could probably be improved with an MRA vario or similar. This is an important issue - don't know how they've done it, but Kawasaki have made the slipperiest set of grips / riding position ever; open the throttle and you feel the bars being tugged out of your hands, something exaggerated by the rapid burst of air that accompanies this. Its not outright horsepower that's doing this - it happens at speeds from 50 mph up - and the effect is quite exhilarating... R#?but actually serves to limit how fast you can easily go. The Bird, in contrast gives you a more refined experience and also one that;s a bit more controllable.

    All this is of course only my humble opinion, and the ZZR is a lovely bike to have. :-0)Would need quite a few mods to make it the all rounder that the Bird is though, and even there, there wouldn't be much in it and the build quality would ensure a fairly rapid depreciation ..

    Nice, but no reason to change and even more reason for Honda to bring back what worked with a few improvements.
  19. bmwdumptruck

    bmwdumptruck Come on you Hatters Club Sponsor

    Black, have you tried the vfr? If not maybe you should and then give us a comparative report?

    Done in a similar vain would be interesting@tu*
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  20. paul 7911

    paul 7911 Registered User Read Only

    i have a black god carbed Blackbird bl4hbl4h with some new bits on it:bow::bow:

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