Motorsports Network Street Test

1998 CBR1100XX (AKA Blackbird)
XX Sport Tour Test

Simply mind boggling acceleration!

When Honda announced the CBR1100XX for the 1997 model year, it became very clear they were ready to up the ante in theHonda CBRXX 1100 production motorcycle performance wars. The  492 pound, 135 hp Blackbird was rumored to far exceed the top speed reached by the still reigning champion - the Kawasaki ZX1100. This was to be achieved by the XX’s power, lower weight, and incredible aerodynamics with a claimed coefficient of drag of just 0.00155 – lower in fact than Honda’s own NSR250.

There was so much hype, the XX would have a hard time living up to it’s billing - and it didn't. Most consumer magazines achieved top speeds a few miles per hour less than they got with the ZX1100. This would be a difference of about 176 mph compared to 174 mph. This difference is miniscule but the results meant that Kawasaki would retain the speed crown and Honda wouldn't be able to hang their hat on the fastest production motorcycle ever.

While many riders out there may buy a bike based on it’s potential top speed, we wouldn't. What matters to us is how a bike, a sportbike in this case, stops, corners, and accelerates under the conditions we ride in. We also care what the bike is like to live with on a daily basis. It must excite us for sure, but it must perform within the envelope it will be used.

xxwheel2.jpg (8193 bytes)This left us wondering how well the XX would perform as a normal sportbike, be it a very fast one. Would it be a tank around corners? Would the power and acceleration make it unrideable? Was it a good overall bike? If you would like to learn these answers and more – read on.

First impressions of a motorcycle can be misleading as was the case with our test bike. When I first picked up our 1998 CBR1100XX I didn't quite know what to expect. Sure I knew it was fast, but this bike looks like a sport bike so I naturally wanted it to perform like one. As I left Honda and traversed city streets I found myself totally unimpressed with the bikes low-end grunt, or lack of such. No arm ripping low-end pull like most liter class bikes I've ridden. What did empress me ,however, was how small the overall package felt, kind of what you’d expect from a bike in the 750cc range. Small in fact for a bike with a whopping 1137ccs.

As I casually entered the freeway the bike seemed to pull well but nothing like you’d expect from a bike billed as the fastest production bike on earth. While traveling with traffic I downshift to 5th and the tach needle hardly moved as the revs didn't seem to change one bit. Next I downshifted to 4th, same thing. Next I hit third gear and the revs pick up a bit leaving me to assume that it just doesn't matter what gear your in, this thing is geared tall. What the heck, I clicked down to  2nd and the tach rose above 7 grand. Now I start playing with the throttle and discovered that at higher revs, above 7,000, this bike wants to literally leap out of its skin. The acceleration doesn’t just make cars shrink in the rear view mirrors, the thing accelerates so incredibly fast that it makes time stand still as the cars in your mirrors simply vanish.

When I finally had a chance to ride the bike under conditions most sportbike riders seek, I discovered many things. First and foremost, this bike is fast! It accelerates so wickedly fast nothing this side of a speeding bullet can stay with it. It will stand up and walk, run is more like it, from a 750cc sportbike so fast you'll have to check to make sure the 750 is still running. The acceleration above the triple digit mark, third gear, is also amazingly strong and seemingly unending up to the 10,500 redline.

I also discovered the bike takes a little getting used to. With a power band that doesn't hit hard until 7 grand, a 2nd gear which tops out at about an indicated 100mph, and an exceptionally stable chassis which feels long and low, it takes some time to learn how best to ride this beast. Once figured out, it’s amazing what an experienced rider can do with this bike. In a straight line you’ll leave virtually any other bike in the dust. In wide fast corners you’ll stay with the competition and accelerate past once you exit the corner. If you loose time in tight corners due to the bikes poor gearing and power delivery, just gas it and catch up in the straights. Want giggles, wheelie through the gears beyond the triple digit mark. The bike will comply in a surprisingly controlled manner.

Even though the bike displays surprising composure, using even a fair share of the bikes incredible capabilities takes a skilled and nearly unflappable rider. This isn’t to say experienced riders won’t enjoy the bike, as it can easily be ridden without ever reaching far into the engines power curve.

On tight backroads the chassis is competent and taut, yet not as crisp or quick handing as a narrowly focused sportbike, after all it's wheelbase is over 3.5 inches longer than Honda's own CBR900RR. Another factor holding the bike back even more on tight roads is the bikes combination of high gearing and somewhat lackluster low and midrange power. If the road is indeed tight, you’ll find yourself with two choices – first or second gear. Use first and you’ll find yourself breaking the rear tire loose as the front wheel skims just off the blacktop, not very controllable. Choose second and you’ll discover weak power, for an 1100, until you hit about 7,000 RPM. By the time you reach the power curve it’s time to start breaking for the next corner. In Honda’s quest for all out top speeds they chose to gear the bike high as well as placing the power delivery at higher RPMs.

Everything else about the bike also shows Honda’s no nonsense approach to obtaining the top speed crown. The extended front fairing is shaped like a bullet allowing the bike to slip through the air so cleanly you can actually feel the lack of drag. The bike is long and low with stiff suspension which produces an amazingly stable and controlled ride at high speeds.

A bike capable of these speeds wouldn't be complete without exceptional brakes, and the XX delivers. Equipped with Honda’s second generation linked brake system, the Blackbird hauls down from speed nicely in an exceptionally well controlled manner. In the beginning we didn't love the feel of the controls, as the initial feel is a bit soft before the brakes grab strong. Soon we couldn’t live without the exceptionally strong brakes which as one of their characteristics reduce front end dive during hard braking. The brakes can be trailed into and through corners without any ill effects – excellent and neutral control. The only way we could upset this system, and we were purposely attempting to do so, was by suddenly grabbing the brakes hard at slower speeds (about 40mph). Twice this caused the front to lock and push the slightly cocked tire across the pavement – thank goodness for the bikes inherent stability.

The bikes full bodywork protects the rider from the full blast of the wind but is so closely contoured to the rider that you’ll feel the cold of Winter much more than on other sportbikes. The highly touted narrow headlight design utilizes two separate bulbs and is claimed to be the best ever. We didn’t particularly like the headlight, especially compared to Honda’s other great units. Low beam shined into car windows when slightly leaned, and high beam only worked well for straight roads. The ergonomics of the bike are ok, but could certainly be better. The bars are low and place a lot of weight on your palms. The knee bend is serious and uncomfortable on longer rides, and the seat is generally good but not great for all-day rides. The swept back windshield provides no wind protection at all, leaving your helmet in open air as the wind blast hits your lower chest.

We had read reports of the XX experiencing terrible chain lash, so we requested to keep the bike longer to find out if this would be the case with our test bike. We rode the bike hard and experienced no unacceptable chain lash. After 5,600 miles our test bike felt as good as it did new. In fact, it began running better and spinning much more freely after our spirited ride to Laguna Seca (at about 5,000 miles) where the Blackbird was definitely let loose. The excellent stock  tires (US - Michelin Macadam 90X S - Radials) gripped well and survived our testing. When the bike was returned with over 5,600 miles the rear tire was just needing replacement while the front had a few more mile left to travel.

Though the XX has it’s faults for everyday use, it’s amazing what you can do with this bike once you’ve become familiar with its power delivery, tall gearing and stable chassis. The more you ride it, the more it grows on you. I was a little cold on the XX at first but as the miles racked up I knew that I would be sad to see the bike returned to Honda. In fact, it’s been hard to ride anything else as other bikes just don’t provide the dominating performance or the excitement of the XX. Once you become comfortable with the bike, you simply command the road.

Eclipse "Elite" Magnetic Tank Bag - tested on the XX (Evaluation)
Mag-Knight - Magnetic Tank Bra - tested on the XX (Evaluation)
National Cycle - Cheetah SST taller windscreen for the XX (Evaluation)

Honda: 1998 CBR1100XX
Quick Specs: Ratings:  Poor Fair Good V/Good Excellent
Displacement: 1137cc Acceleration                   10
Drive:   #530 O-ring chain Brakes                 9  
Fuel Capacity:  5.8 Gal. (.79/1.0 reserve) Carburetion    


Fuel Mileage: 34 - 44 mpg (39 avg.) Comfort (overall)           6        
Fuel Range: 222 - 244 miles Comfort (touring)           6        
Suspension Front: 43mm cartridge fork Finish (quality)                 9  
Suspension Back: Pro-Link single shock (preload/rebound) Handling (overall)               8    
Tire Front: 120/70 ZR17 (US Michelin Macadam 90X S) Stability (handling)                   10
Tire Back: 180/55ZR17 (US Michelin Macadam 90X S) Suspension (overall)                 9  
Weight:   492 lbs. Dry

Fun Factor

Retail (US): $11,499

Overall Rating



Ups Downs
Incredible acceleration at higher revs Helmet locks under seat
Exceptionally stable chassis Tall gearing, power is above 7,000 rpm
Decent mirrors Helmet locks under seat
Good fuel mileage and a long range Paint scratches very easy
Center stand Too much body weight on handlebars
Did we say it's fast? Shifting is a bit clunky at lower revs, works well when wicked up

Honda CBRXX 1100 Chasis

Specifications / More Model Info/Photos

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