My Blackbird & Review

Discussion in 'Road Warriors' started by Johnny KLR, Mar 8, 2006.

  1. Johnny KLR

    Johnny KLR Woefully Adventurous

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    I don't know if this will get any interest, but I figured since it was already written, I might as well post it. Mods, feel free to delete.

    I wrote this for another member who is interested in buying a Blackbird. I figured I'd do it 'review style'.

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    Honda envisioned creating a machine that would put them on the top of the big four’s top speed rivalry, to earn them a place in history as the most potent speed-machine ever produced. And they did. Kind of. They just barely edged out the venerable Kawasaki ZX-11D in top speed trials, this much is true, but during the pursuit of this goal, they wound up designing in some odd and mismatched items that create a bit of a quirky machine. The Honda build quality, attention to detail, and silky smooth precision engineering abound in the bike, but corners have been cut in an attempt to keep the machine available to the masses while still making money on all the R&D that went into the Zed-Killing ‘Bird.

    It’s not a sport bike, you know. It looks like a sport bike, but it really isn’t. It differs in a few very important ways. First, it is way too heavy to be a pure sport bike. Secondly, the power delivery is a bit different. Third, and certainly not last or least, the ergos aren’t nearly as tight. What this bike is, in fact, is a grand-touring (GT) bike that was built with a singular purpose; to go very, very fast in a straight line.

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    The heavy machine is at a disadvantage in the tight stuff, especially with a more relaxed geometry than a true sport bike. When entering a corner, even a long fast sweeper, a bit too hot, the bike isn’t happy about a change in direction. Worse, when the rider goes to scrub off entry speed a tad too late, the weight is heaped on the front tire, causing it to flatten out and ‘kickback’ into the non-adjustable front suspension. This causes the bike to pitch back. Do this when actually beginning to lean over and you wind up with a near tank-slapper as the front tire and forks got through their little mating ritual dance. It is unsettling. Just when you thought things couldn’t get any worse, in comes Honda’s most diabolical invention this side of VTEC; the dreaded linked brake system (LBS). The LBS makes this particular situation just that much worse by not allowing the rider to give a nice step on the rear brake to trail brake the bike and cause the front end to straighten out. Many riders don’t have any issue with the LBS, to be fair, but this rider despises them with every molecule in his being. If there’s any good news here, it is that there are a couple of de-linking kits available. I’ll be making this purchase. I will say that I think a lot of my hatred of this system is related directly to my constant running on wet, gravely, and frozen surfaces. If you live in a nice dry climate with good roads, you probably won’t ever notice it one way or the other except in the lack of nose-dive that most other bikes with lower grade suspension exhibit, which brings me to my next gripe.

    The suspension is, for all intents and purposes, non-adjustable. The rear shock allows you to dial it in a bit, but nowhere near what a bike with of this caliber should be equipped with. The front suspension is, absurdly, non-adjustable. I’m sure Honda did this to keep the costs down and hope, desperately I’m sure, that the LBS properties would keep the bike ‘flat’ in a stop and mask the fork’s shortcomings. I’ve already noted the nasty weight/suspension issue with the front fork, and don’t think that needs any further discussion. The rear performs well enough for me to forget about it in most circumstances. The whole package works fine for daily use, and deals fine with road irregularities. It is a real-world bike that doesn’t like to be pushed hard in any other condition than straight lines or very long and predictable fast sweepers. It’ll do tight stuff fine, but you’ll need to really be familiar with the properties of the machine and be willing to deal with the large weight penalty and non-adjustable suspension issues. So, while the XX clearly is not a true canyon slicer, it destroys true sport bikes when it comes to other aspects of riding.

    It is a fact that fighter pilots launched off aircraft carriers suffer tunnel-vision as their optical cornea is flattened under extreme acceleration. I have no doubt the Blackbird rider with a heavy hand gets to experience this firsthand. The word ‘speed’ and the Honda Blackbird are nearly synonymous. The bike was very appropriately named after a bird, and there’s no doubt this machine flies. Unlike a true sport bike, this machine doesn’t require the same top-end only throttling that track derived machines do. While it doesn’t quite have the bottom-end power that some of the super-standards do, it does make quite a bit down low. The delivery is nearly seamless; an exercise in linearity. Once the bike makes it to around 7000rpm, however, the engine seems to wake up from a dutiful existence of pulling the rider and chassis around and gets really gung-ho. The modern, reserved Japanese businessman who is the engine most of the time instantly turns into a ravaging Genghis Kahn and goes tearing to work destroying everything it’s alter ego has created. The sound changes from a docile whir to a banshee howl as the air gets sucked down the ram air intakes, gets set ablaze and blown with extreme force out of the twin tail pipes. It is truly one of the most Jekyll and Hyde personalities in the motorcycling world.

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    When that wild barbarian side of the Blackbird is present, you’d best be on your toes, or he’ll crush you. The Blackbird is a narcissist and is handily equipped to kill anyone, at any time, if their attention wanders elsewhere; as if it could. When the throttle is twisted with any vigor, a few different things happen. First, the world you once knew is left behind for a decidedly blurrier one. Acceleration is what this bike does best; maybe better than any other bike available. While it may not be the fastest bike on the planet anymore, or even the one that gets you to extreme speed the fastest, it absolutely does so seamlessly and with a level of competence that this rider has never found in any other bike. Super sport bikes have no refinement when it comes to acceleration; their task is to get you there as fast as possible, damn the consequences. The Blackbird can attain and maintain amazing speeds while keeping the rider in stellar comfort and control. It is stable to a fault, at any speed. I have yet to find the true top speed of this machine, and frankly I am more concerned about the tires shredding than I am about any part of the bike failing.



    The bike is solid. Solid to the point of feeling like it is sculpted from a single piece. Everything is well put together and, aside from suspension, a good match of high-performance bits and gentlemanly refinement. The rider is privy to a well-padded saddle that is a single piece unit capable of accommodating two real-sized people. The finish is typical Honda quality, and the instrumentation is relatively easy to read. The pegs are a bit tight for such a large bike, but put the rider in a good position to explore the bike’s capabilities. The clipon’s are well placed, if a little low, and feel ‘meaty’ in the palm. The throttle actuation throw is extremely good and very intuitive; better than most bikes (especially EFI equipped ones) I’ve ridden. The EFI programming works well, but is a bit abrupt when coming off the line. Once underway the power is easy to modulate. I think it could be smoother with some Power Commander tweaking, but not necessary.

    While the true sport bike is a torture rack, the Blackbird isn’t. It is, certainly, more aggressive than a super-standard, but not so much as a VFR or ST3. The rider position allows you to sit up and enjoy the air, or crawl under the paint and tuck into a Zen like tranquility that exists behind the windscreen. The reach is long enough that this rider finds the bike nearly sublime when leaning on a tank bag which is likely to be standard equipment for the Blackbird owner. As a sport touring rig, the Blackbird would be extremely difficult to displace as king of the hill; and I don’t believe it has happened yet despite larger and faster bikes being introduced all the time. The Blackbird is extremely smooth; and while not to the point of being soul-less like many other Hondas, it is much smoother everywhere in the rev range. It’ll cruise happily, nearly invisibly, at 55mph. It’ll do the same at 85mph. Not much changes except wind pressure when the rider rolls at 95mph, which the Blackbird could easily maintain for hours on end.

    The only reason to move for hours and hours is to get somewhere. The Blackbird is a roomy bike. Unlike a lot of sport bikes, or even GT bikes, the Blackbird takes well to having luggage draped over its sleek lines. Several companies make luggage for the bike, and with its addition, the bike goes from a refined day-tripper to a multi-state mile-devouring land missile that has the ability to tote an entire wardrobe if needed. This machine, though initially built with the single purpose of becoming the king of the top-speed hill, it managed to earn a very secure spot as sport touring mogul.

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    Sport touring riders appreciate some particular attributes in their bikes. In addition to the previously mentioned luggage options there’s: good lighting, the ability to run a variety of gadgets, good range, good tire life, and ease (and rarity) of maintenance top the list. The Honda has an excellent headlight that can be made better with a swap of the bulb without infringing on available power for other goodies. At 440 watts to spare, the Blackbird has enough power to drive the most common moto-goodies a sport-touring rider would fit., and the larger fairing and well laid-out instruments make it relatively easy to find a place to put them. The slightly lower power (and smooth power delivery) of the XX makes for good tire life, and with the advent of ever widening tires for more powerful bikes, the 190 rear is becoming downright affordable by comparison. The Blackbird will get about 190 miles to a tank before the reserve light comes on (there is no reserve switch). By the end of a tank, most riders will be ready to get off for a stretch. Draining the tank three times in a day is an easily attainable feat, but I’m not sure many riders would be willing to do much more unless they had some specific need. I can attest to the fact that the finding the bottom of the second tank marks the end of the seat’s comfort. It doesn’t take much of a break to limber back up enough to ride through the third tank if need be. Being a Honda, the inline four is nearly trouble-free. Preventive maintenance comes in at longer than normal intervals in its class; nearly double its nearest rival the ZZR1200.

    Many sport-touring bikes are generally compromise machines that do nothing extremely well. The Blackbird is a bit of an anomaly in the sport-touring realm. While its forte is the ability to go extremely fast, it also is an extremely versatile bike that does an excellent job of eating miles in moderately good comfort and looking gorgeous while doing it. The Blackbird may not be king of the power or top-speed hill, but it still continues to dominate the world of long distance sport touring (with an emphasis on sport). It won’t carve canyons like a 600cc supersport, but it’ll do better than most bikes in its class. It won’t put to the highway like a Goldwing, but it’ll be much sportier, and decidedly more powerful for those who enjoy a more sporting perspective. The Blackbird is a rare bike that does everything very well, and few things just average, tipping the performance versus practicality scales to a point of near perfect balance. It is a bike that satisfies the hooligan speed-junkie while pacifying our responsible side. The Blackbird has a few quirks, but thankfully even these character flaws can be easily corrected, and the bike personalized to meet most rider’s needs to a nearly perfect fit.

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    #1
  2. sfarson

    sfarson On a Ride

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    Excellent review. Bikes have come and gone in the barn here but the '99 XX remains. Honda nailed it with this thing, despite the narrow niche it occupies. The colors of your first image remind of this one...

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    #2
  3. twinrider

    twinrider pass the catnip

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    A-plus for effort but it'd be a heckuva lot easy to read if you made the pics smaller :D
    #3
  4. crackerguy

    crackerguy Been here awhile

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    Good review, although I think that is the first time I have seen the phrases "good tire life" and "Blackbird" anywhere remotely near one another :rofl I guess for a heavy high hp bike it does OK though.

    My buddy who rides a Blackbird likes to say "life begins at 8000 rpm," it is something when the bird gets up a head of steam and starts pulling up the front wheel headed north of the ton..
    #4
  5. markjenn

    markjenn Long timer

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    Another compliment on a good review, but in both picture size and verbage, less is more.

    - Mark
    #5
  6. SQD8R

    SQD8R Eat squids and be merry

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    good review, thx:clap
    #6
  7. Red J

    Red J C'mon, spring!

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    It's a bitchin' real world do-all street bike which hauls ass.

    That's my review.

    J.
    #7
  8. glynb

    glynb Relentless Underachiever

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    When I sold Honda motorcycles we had a Blackbird tht sat on the floor for months. Nobody even payed it any attention. Everybody was interested in the crotch rockets, cruisers, or Goldwings (unfortunately ST's sat on the floor unwanted too.) Finally, one of the wrenches in the back bought the bike. he said the XX is absolutely one of the best bikes Honda ever made, kind of echoed what the review said.

    He let me ride it one afternoon after the shop closed. I ride an ST 1100 so I figured it would be about the same. Not even close. This thing SCREAMED:eek1 :eek1 . I have never experienced such acceleration out of a bike before, and it handled very well.

    This bike scared the shit out of me, so the ride didnt take long. I'll stick to my tried and trued ST1100 that wont kill me unless I do something stupid. The XX will kill your ass unless you are an experienced rider. But as said before it is a beautiful machine. People are idiots for never taking a serious look at the XX or ST's:huh . All they cared about was looking good, or sounding good.--Sheep. The XX is for the true motorcycle conosuer, and ranks with good cigars and wine.:deal
    #8
  9. Stromdog

    Stromdog Howl at the Moon

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    Enjoyed the review. I had a Suzi Hayabusa. I know the feeling of tremendous power and acceleration on tap with this type of bike. Can a person honestly use ALL that power on the street? No. After a 2.5K mile road trip last summer, I sold the Busa, and bought a 1 liter Strom. Much more comfortable, PLENTY of power for the street and way cheaper to insure. Reliability was (is) not a problem with either of these bikes.

    As far as handling in the twisties, the Strom (IMO), handles better. On unpaved roads, no contest.
    #9
  10. wickedsprint

    wickedsprint Banned

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    Interesting, I pay a tick over 400 a year for full covereage for my Busa, what were you paying for each?
    #10
  11. Popey

    Popey Nutter

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    Great review. I owned one of the earliest ones in the UK back in about 1996/7 IIRC. Did a couple of runs down to Spain on it...not much speed enforcement down there - awesome. :evil

    The fact that Honda still makes it today says a lot. Incredible bike, but I don't remember the handling being all that bad. I loved this bike.
    #11
  12. Mike Butt

    Mike Butt Agent Provocateur

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    :clap

    Nice review.

    The Double X was the shit for LD riding for a few years.
    #12
  13. Johnny KLR

    Johnny KLR Woefully Adventurous

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    Well, I'm comparing tire life to bikes in class; the 'Busa, ZZR, ZX12... The XX is pretty easy on tires; mainly due to the linear nature of its power delivery. Better yet is the slightly narrower tire (at 190) and it'll run you a bit less for new hoops.

    The engine goes berzerk at about 7500rpm. I was out for 250miles a couple days ago, running with an FJR1300, 2 Tigers, a Victory, and a TL1000. I was chasing the Tigers (since they knew where we were going) and the TL was generally behind me. The TL rider was thoroughly impressed, it seemed, with the XX's acceleration. I ran it in the powerband for most of the outing.

    Tell ya what though, I sure was impressed with those Tigers!
    #13
  14. Dixter

    Dixter Boxertrixter

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    Fantastic review Johnny - really enjoyed reading it.

    One question I have to ask of all you guys who own these rocketships (XX, 'busa etc) - is there ever a time when not being able to use the bikes' awesome power becomes frustrating? A good friend of mine owns a '99 XX and loves it. He's a very accomplished rider, and finds the 'Bird fits his bill very nicely indeed. He's not especially quick on the bike, and doesn't really tap into its power reserves very often, if ever. I've often found that, within reason, the more often one can get onto full throttle and really use a bike's engine to the full, the more rewarding it can be to ride.

    Maybe I'm looking for reasons to justify buying someting like a Blackbird, but if that's the case maybe it's not the bike for me?

    I think that having a bike where I'd be riding it gently nearly all the time would become somewhat boring? It's a sincerely-asked question, and something which has bugged me for a while now.

    Thanks for any ideas on the subject.
    #14
  15. wickedsprint

    wickedsprint Banned

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    I'd agree if it didn't have those goofy linked brakes.
    #15
  16. birdie_xx

    birdie_xx Been here awhile

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    It still is !!!

    Well equipped and packed XX, is a great (on-road) sport-tourer.

    I just returned from Daytona (to Chicago) in 24 hours, after working the show, the whole day .... :wink:

    My better time is 19 hours, two years ago. I guess I'm getting old(er). :D

    Actually, I wasted to much time looking for gas, dealing with unpleasant night staff at couple of motels, and choosing a wrong part of the route, at the end....

    I've had my XX since '99 with 85K miles now, and no I haven't been frustrated, not being able to use the "whole" power range.
    I lust after couple other bikes (GS Adventure being one) but I think at this point, the XX will remain with me till it "dies"...
    It's actually a very cool bike ( IMO ! ) for simple cruising around and taking it "eassy".

    And then you open the throttle !........................:evil


    Have you ridden the XX ??? :dunno

    I hear the LBS is not wanted at the track, which the bike is not made for, and I imagine I'd have complains there too.
    Most people who complain about the LBS are sport journalists or people who had never tried the XX's brakes. In the XX comunity, there are people who opted for de-linking the brakes - it is possible. I have no problems with my brakes.

    The tire milage is verry inconsistant from person to person. No matter what bike, I think.

    I get constant 8 - 10 K from a set of tires, where some people have a hard time to pass the 5K line.

    I ride on a set of Pirelli Strada now, and they are past 6K still looking very good. That includes couple of long distance rides with full luggage....

    Cool write up Johny KLR


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    Cheers,

    P.S. The XX does not like the gravel - much..... :D

    "Be afraid, be very afraid....." RT 221 south of Eureka Springs, AR.
    Starts great but then the pavement ends and it's gone for 10 - 12 miles....

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    #16
  17. Red J

    Red J C'mon, spring!

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    Small difference, but you've said it twice now, so I'm going to correct you.

    The blackbird has, stock, a 180 out back.
    #17
  18. shuggie

    shuggie n00b

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    I've just found you're site whilst on the hunt for a Africa Twin, and a link to wildhorserider courtesy of www.xrv.org.uk

    What a real pleasure to see my other choice of steed, highlighted in such a unbiased way. Unfortunately some other sites and members, would not be so kind I'm sure.

    Like birdie_xx I have owned my XX for a few years and I have to say, it is hugely potent machine capable of licence losing speeds in several seconds. I would disagree a bit with the initial resume of the XX however, as having been around the Nurburgring in Germany last year. With the right suspension set up, it can handle corners as well as most sports bikes. It can then take you a few thousand miles each way in comfort.

    All bikes serve a purpose, and thats why I'll be using the XX to get me to Gibraltar this year. For next year however, I'll be looking to sell my Transalp and use an Africa Twin to cover the miles through Morocco.
    Aint life superb!:D :clap

    Best wishes to all
    #18
  19. spongebob

    spongebob n00b

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    Great review and what a bike! I checked one out recently while I was looking for a KLR replacement. Loved it but the riding postion doesn't suit my back. Good thing too - I would have killed myself on it! But what a beautiful thing! They rave about them in the UK and Europe for LD touring and I can understand why with their speed limits.
    #19
  20. eric2

    eric2 ®egister this:

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    You could always go to the track. Thats the only way you'll (legally) see high speeds plus its a good way to get aquainted with it in controlled conditions. Otherwise I know a half dozen local roads that are straight and have little traffic. :evil
    My point is that the XX, like my k12s are great highway bikes. Not the best for around town (my k12 anyway) but once your on the open road they both can cover a lot of ground. There are no laws against acceleration either as long as burnouts or wheelies are not involved. Your merge with traffic times may vary.

    Best,
    #20