Words & pictures copyright of Steve ‘Toast’ Solomons
I came late to the Blackbird club; I love all different kinds of bikes, and other than Ducati, I’ve owned just about everything from British Classics like Sunbeams, Royal Enfields, Ariels through to the more mainstream Japs as well as some other foreigners like Guzzis, Harleys, but the best build quality of all these bikes is… Honda. I don’t know why, but they just stand the test of time and mileage better than anything else; two of the very best of these are the VFR series and, of course, the Mighty, Super Blackbird.
Having just sold my mightily uncomfortable plank-seated Yamaha FZ1, I was in the market for another tour monster bike, but I have a busted coccyx which always plagues me with the more sit-up-and-beg tourers; I like to lean a little forward. The answer came in a bolt-of-lightening moment – Blackbird! They’ve been around since 1996, originally with a bank of four carbs, later changed to PGM-F1 injection (like the VFR) in 1999. There’s a whole fight about which is best, and I’ll generally leave that fight to the brilliant and informative SuperBlackbird Forum
So in basic terms, what is a Blackbird? In a nutshell, a fast, competent, missile of a motorcycle for CHEAP SPEED & touring! A massively powerful water-cooled four-cylinder engine producing 164 BHP wrapped in a low chassis, giving you a low seat height of around 810mm (31.9 inches) which means Mr. Shortie here (5’6″) can get both feet flat on the floor; even my 5’3″ wife rides it. The whole thing is wrapped in a wind-cheating fairing to give you a top speed of around 175 MPH but also all–day cruising comfort as well. The handling is great too, extremely stable at high speeds and cornering a joy with very much a ‘as if on rails’ feel to it; just lean to the side a bit, push the bar for which way you want to go and it complies with nary a twitch; and when its time to haul up, the linked braking system is more than up to the job. What that means, in simple terms, if you apply the front brakes you get a bit of back too, and vice versa. I’ve always been a ‘both-brakes’ man, brought up on old Brit bikes where neither brake was good enough so you tend to get used to using both in order to avoid using the car in front for additional retardation purposes. The gearbox is sublime, smooth and sure through all the gears; neutral a doddle to find, and the hydraulic clutch is smooth on the take-up; Honda build quality.
So, having read everything I could about the breed, I made the decision to buy one – the grey one above – a carb model, obviously, as they are the best, (cue ranting from lowly, slower ‘injection’ model owners) and fell in love. Well, first tour around Wales for a long weekend proved the bike to be everything, and more, and even fully laden with three fully loaded Givi boxes the handling around Wales’s twisty roads was absolutely amazing. Tracking perfectly on the Bridgestone tyres, using the abundant power coming out of the bends was great fun; The only fear was the picture inside my brain of my license sprouting wings and flying away when the Heddlu (welsh Police) spot me enjoying myself perhaps just a little too much.
My wife also rides, so isn’t a regular pillion for me, but when she does she loves the back seat, claiming it to be one of the best ever (along side the CB1300) she’s used. About this time my son was taking up riding, and he hopped on the back for a ride to Hunstanton. and it was on a ,er, somewhat spirited ride back with my wife & friends that a little worm entered my brain and for some reason (read license paranoia) I sold the Greybird and bought something else. A Suzuki V-Strom! YUK! What an awful motorcycle!!! God’s Teeth – what a turd of a bike!
BIG mistake; two weeks after selling the Blackbird, I was banging my head against the garage wall in anger at my stupidity; I really missed the bike’s power, glory and comfort; something had to be done. My wife spotted one for sale, ex-accident (dropped in the garage) with no fairings at all – on an ebay auction- an hour to go – for 420 quid; We were just about to enter the cinema so put a max bid of £500 (all I had in the bank) and after the film, I’d bought it for £461. So we set off to collect it from the Essex scrap dealer, who was clearly NOT happy at the price, left us to push it out the gravel yard with 2 flat tyres. It hadn’t run for 4 years, apparently the owner had dropped it and removed the fairings then parked it at the back of his workshop for 4 years. Once home, a spare battery was attached, the carbs and tank drained, fresh fuel, turn key, pull choke lever, press button and PURR! A runner.
With well-under 30k miles on the clock, it was a bargain. I slapped a pair of headlights I had hanging around on it, upside-down Diversion screen and a pair of Venom Exhausts purchased of the BIRD forum and took it for MOT. Passed. No advisories. What a cheap bike! I also fitted a pair of Renthal bars to it by bolting two clamp to the top yoke. Re-jigged the wiring & pipework to reach the new position, it made little difference to the handling but did change the comfort somewhat. Took it on tour and loved it; But needed some ready cash so once more made the wrong decision and flogged it for 950 quid. The new owner loved it, sending me mesages after the purchase extolling its virtues.
Well, you can imagine my surprise earlier this year when the wife (serial facebook & ebay bike sale watcher) saw another one for sale for £400. This one had been in a front-end accident, and was a runner but no screen, front fairings, headlights or mudguard. I went and bought it, half in a mind to break it (NOTE of CAUTION – ALL ally framed bikes – like the Bird – do not take kindly to front-end impacts; the lower head-race bearing will elongate the recess it sits in forever causing a clonk with every bump you ride over and it shifts backwards & forwards inside this recess – usually means a write-off insurance-wise & a potential MOT failure too) but when I got it home, the rest of the bike (and that engine purring!!!) persuaded me other wise; so with the help of the SuperBlackbird forum members I secured the missing bits, sprayed them and the rebuild was done in a few weeks.
So, from this £400 mess …
To this, £450 quid later, and a few weeks…
The inevitable full 3-box Givi rack soon followed, and after a few months of riding it around England & Wales, I took it to Europe (see another story on here) and did 2400 happy miles around the Alps and Italy. Faultless performance throughout.
So what have we learned? You can buy one cheaply if you hunt about, it will transport you and everything you want around at incredible velocities with great comfort, it will guzzle fuel if you attempt to thrash it (you can’t thrash it, it’s too powerful, you can only ride it fast) but it will return well over 40 MPG around Europe thanks to their very low (and heavily-enforced) speed limits; I was getting over 180 miles to the tank, not even on the reserve light (that’s about 30 more than hooning around England chasing the wife on her bike).
What should you look out for when buying? Wheels can get dings in them if the rider has not slowed for road humps; radiators can corrode horribly hidden inside the fairings, as can Oil Cooler Pipes and Exhaust Downpipes, & Collector Boxes are quick-rot too – all fixable, at a cost; There are various upgrades for things like the loom on the Injection, (see the forum for all things like upgrades) Manual Cam Chain Tensioners for when the spring in yours gets week (though I’ve just bought a new standard one from Jaws for mine – the choice is yours); The Afore-mentioned head-stock bearing clonk if it’s been crashed; Forks get rust spots hidden away under the fairing; make sure the brakes don’t drag (sticky, dirty calipers) as the discs will over-heat and warp. All the fairings line up properly with all the correct fittings? So apart form all the usual suspension checks, wiring checks for nasty bits of tape here & there, cosmetic checks & so-forth, if it runs and rides perfectly, there’s a good chance it’s OK. TOP TIP – when putting on the Main Stand, watch out for the side fairing!! Lots get cracked where owners pull up against them (using the main-stand lift-assist bar inside) – I use the rear foot-peg hanger instead to save the fairing.
BUY A STOCK ONE if you can or with the upgrades you might want – (Full Luggage, Double Bubble Screen, Heated Grips etc) – and it should come with the handbook, service book (HOPEFULLY stamped up fully – Birds USUALLY attract more mature, sensible owners) and a WODGE of old MOT’s & receipts plus spare key (H.I.S.S on later ones, Honda Igntion Security System- if you have to buy a spare key, consider the cost implications PLUS reliability – then go buy a carb version LMAO) MILEAGE – not too important, these things are unburstable (Like The VFR800’s) and 150,000+ is not unkown – my 65k bike purrs like my new kitten. Just as long as the peripherals are ok, then no problems…
Parts – the best place is the Blackbird specialist Jaws Motorcycles – very helpful – plus there’s the bird forum above for help, advice, bikes & bits (as well as leg-pulling and grumpy old know-it-alls you get on every forum) and a plethora of Facebook Blackbird pages too. Oh, Dave Silver Motorcycle Spares is another valuable resource – for all old jap bikes. Very helpful too,
So, why the CARB version over the Injection? Well, I’m old-fashioned, and I like my simplicity too, so when it comes to bikes, the less new-fangled crap, the better; Ok, it has electronic ignition, they all do these days, but they’re pretty darn reliable; BUT the injection, with all its extra engine sensors, air temp sensors, injectors, fuel pump, well, there’s a lot to go wrong (not to mention the ever-annoying F1 warning light that seems to illuminate with annoying regularity according to some people) so, no, thanks, I’ll just stick to me simple (and more powerful, more reliable – apparently) carburettor version Bird and you can keep all the extra-fancy doowicky stuff on your Injection ones. Carbs, I can fix; Injectors and pumps and sensors, too complex. Unnecessary tomfoolery, I tell you!!
Well, I’m so impressed with my current bike (now sporting over 65-odd thousand miles and running like a dream) I decided to treat myself to a lower-mileage one in better, more original condition; here it is, still on the trailer. Took some searching (and a lot of wasted journeys to visit DREAMERS and their old dogs-on-wheels) but I’ve just bagged this new long-term-keeper with 20K miles, original except for the nasty chromed screen, almost mint bodywork, CARB of course, needs oil cooler pipes and a good check-over, £1600. Welcome to your new home, Red, I will swap my luggage and screen onto you from my out-going Repsol bike and never let you go. Get one of these, they’re fast, handle, don’t mind trickling along in traffic, a joy to ride, and, CHEAP! Don’t spend more than 2K TOPS!!! I’ve seen the dreamers and the shops listing low-mileage bikes at 4 to 5 THOUSAND Pounds. Long may they keep them! Good Hunting!!