Test Ride: Honda CBR954RR

Words: Rob Harris   Photos: Colin Fraser/Honda

It must be frustrating for Honda when most of the press are defining the 2002 954 as a made-over and over-bored 929. Maybe it’s because instead of the usual four year makeover period, the big bore super-sport bike got one after two, thanks to the recent arrival of Suzuki’s new GSXR1000 and Yamaha’s 2002 revamp of the standard setting R1.

In fact, very few parts remain unaltered between the 954 and 929. For starters, the bodywork is all new (save for the front fender), with the motor getting a 1mm bigger bore, higher compression and larger throttle bodies. Add to that a titanium muffler, a reworked box for smoother shifting, second generation PGM Fuel Injection, and you’ve got something more new than old.

But here’s the question – is it enough to compete with the Gixxer and R1?

Not if by competing you mean most power with least weight. At a claimed dry weight of just 168Kg, the 954 is the same as their own CBR600F4i, 2Kg less than the Gixxer and 6Kg less than the R. But (and that’s a big, McDonald’s customer- sized butt) it’s also lacking that additional 50 cc, which results in a max. power of 154 hp (up 3 over the 929), putting them close, but still Royalle with cheese.

There’s actually three lights hidden in there.

Oddly, Honda seems fine with this, and claim that by holding back on the top power figures they’re going for the real-world rider by making a bike that focuses on how power can be used on the street, rather than just how high and peaky they can get it. Radical thinking in the super-sport bike wars? Or just a load of bollocks, masked by a sad attempt to plead corporate responsibility?

I’m inclined to think the former, partly because Honda has a reputation for doing this and, well, because I could actually ride the thing.

My first pleasant surprise was that I could actually fit on it. At 6′ 4″ I’m guaranteed to be in pain on a modern super-sport bike within the half hour (and that’s on a good day). The 954 has had its fuel tank sunken by 10mm, allowing the rider to sit further forward, reminding me of Kawasaki’s spacious ZX9R. It’s roomy, has decent leg room and reasonably high bars (unlike many sport bikes that quickly make your wrists sorer than a fourteen year old who just found his first Playboy). I like that, and that’s the first sign that Honda might really be trying to make a bike for the real world.

Apart from the hard seat (which numbified my arse after an hour), I think you could actually do some miles on this. Even the screen (which has been raised for 2002) works to keep a goodly chunk of the wind off your torso.

In all its naked glory!

My second surprise was the lack of Honda ‘smooth’. You can actually feel the motor. Not so much in an obtrusive, numb-yer-hands kinda way, but more in an instinctive, I-know-where-I’m-at-without-having-to-check-the-clocks, way. The engineer in me isn’t quite comfortable with this philosophy. The motorcycle enthusiast in me is having a ball.

The motor is, as expected, a frantic thing, with a huge spread of power all the way up to the 11,500rpm redline. Even though it’s shy of the competition in the power department, I felt that it was more than I could possibly use on the road. Unless you happen to be exiting a set of really gnarly corners and the start of a long straight, throttle wide open, having just whipped by an old beater like it was standing still.

Of course it’s all fun and games until the ‘old beater’ happens to be an off-duty cop, who just catches you at the next intersection and rants at you in ‘Texan’ like a madman would just before he pops a cap in your Canadian arse (which always seemed like a distinct possibility). Jaimie Dick (Canadian Biker) was surprisingly diplomatic, I just tried to avoid eye contact, while Steve Bond got credited for “beyin the only sayne one amoungst y’all” (he was being the sensible one at the back on the VFR).

“I want respect” – The 954 is the bitch that’ll kick your arse if don’t take it seriously.

The Blade felt more at home on the track the following day, with more room to stretch its legs as well as being free of mad off-duty cops. Here, that massive power spread means that you can stick it in one gear and never need to change until you’re coasting back into the pits after a job well done. However, the 954 also reminds you that it’s a whole lot of bike and as such demands respect.

My reminder happened just as I was coming out of the hairpin, my arse sliding back onto the seat as the bike righted itself. I grabbed too much throttle, causing the motor to spin up sharply, which in turn threw me abruptly backwards, still half off the bike. In a desperate attempt to hold on, I grabbed the bars, causing me to grab another handful of throttle. Bike and rider accelerated wildly over a hill crest, revealing a sharp left hander with a small lake, ending an even smaller runoff, straight ahead.

This is probably a good time to talk about the brakes – they’re great.

Very aggressive but with excellent feedback, allowing half-arsed editors to save their half-arse from a dunking in a Texan lake. Actually, on the track I found that I tended to overbrake before corners, pulling it down to cornering speed a good few meters before I had to. That tells me three things:

1) I’m really pretty shite on the track.

2) The 954RR isn’t going to be used anywhere near its full potential unless you’re actually a very good rider (don’t kid yourself kiddo).

3) I like good brakes, especially when you’ve got wild power to boot.

That all said, once you get into a groove on a great track on a bike like the Fireblade, there’s little to touch it.

But what about the chassis? Honda is keen to spout the benefits of their flex-frame technology, designed to allow a certain amount of give in the chassis when the bike is leaned over and hits a bump. If you think about it, suspension is designed to take shocks when the bike is upright (that’s the direction in which it compresses). However, as you lean the bike over, less of the force is absorbed by the suspension and more of it is applied at a tangent, effectively lifting the bike off the road. By allowing some flex in the frame in this direction, you allow some of this force to be absorbed, and so (hopefully) prevent that nasty lifting action.

Sounds reasonable, but I found the track to be too smooth to test this, and I never went mad enough on the road either, so I wouldn’t like to testify to this one. I will testify however, that compared to the old 900RR of several years ago, it has totally eliminated that scary twitch at the front that always threatened to put you in the mother of all tankslappers and then into the ditch.

Actually, maybe not totally, as one Cycle Canada journalist found out after he got it to do just that, although knowing Piero’s riding style I’d hazard a guess that that was under about as an extreme a condition as it would ever experience. Still, although Honda would rather have pins stuck in their eyes than admit that a steering damper would be a good idea, extreme riding conditions might benefit from one.

Overall, I was really quite impressed with my first very brief contact with the new CBR954RR. Honda seem to have done a very good job at making this bike street and user friendly. The motor makes more than enough power, and it delivers it in a usable linear fashion, but with great urgency, that either excites or scares you shitless, or both. Thankfully, the excellent brakes and reliable chassis will help get you out of most overly aggressive situations.

But is it a better buy than the R1 or Gixxer 1000? That still depends on how important bragging rights are to you. If you can look beyond that and fancy something with more all round usability, then the 954 might be just right up your ally. If you can’t, then the R1 and Gixxer are probably better suited, but you might want to cancel that Playboy subscription!

Rear shock is adjustable for ride height.
The new pressed and extruded swingarm is a work of art
Front brakes are excellent.
Display is simple and to the point.









Engine type

Inline four, DOHC, liquid cooled


PGM Fuel injection

Final drive

Six speed, chain drive

Tires, front

120/70 ZR17

Tires, rear

190/50 ZR17

Brakes, front

Dual 330 mm discs with four-piston calipers

Brakes, rear

Single 220 mm disc with single-piston caliper

Seat height

822 mm (32.4″)


1395 mm (54.9″)

Dry weight

168 Kg (370 lbs) (claimed)

Canadian colours

Red/Black, Silver/Black


Join the conversation!