In 1997, Honda dropped a street-bomb, packaged as a new CBR model, packed with an 1100 cc motor.
The company intended for the CBR 1100XX Blackbird to not only top its own lineup at the time, but also to dethrone the Kawasaki Ninja as the world’s fastest stock bike.
Honda went for the throat of the Ninja and succeeded. 175 MPH was a big deal at the time, but how reliable is the Honda CBR 1100XX Blackbird by today’s standards?
We’ve burrowed into the Blackbird buzz to bring you a few examples of the three most common problems with the Honda CBR 1100XX
Improperly Shaped Proportioning Control Valve Seal (Solved via Recall)
Let’s start with the basics, a recall issued on the 2002-2003 CB 1100XX Blackbird for a malformed seal inside the brake’s proportioning control valve.
It took Honda a few years to tally up the 36,046 sprouting cases and decide a recall was warranted, issuing the service notice officially on January 24, 2005.
Honda acknowledged that they’d equipped specific CBR 1100XXs with combined-brake systems that use a proportioning control valve or a PCV.
The PVC mechanically proportions the brake’s force when rider input employs the rear brake. A seal in the original PCV was improperly shaped, and brake fluid was leaking through it.
If a Blackbird is roasted on while still leaking, it will eventually render the rear brake useless.
A useless rear brake is an obvious problem, so Honda prompted their dealerships and equipped their mechanics to examine the rear brake for leakage and replace the PCV free.
If you’re romping around on a used 2003 Blackbird, this message is for you. Take your bike to Honda and run its VIN to make sure Honda’s already fitted your motorcycle with the upgraded seal.
Cam Chain Tensioner Wears Fast
If there is a single most common problem with the Honda CBR 1100XX Blackbird, this is it.
The Blackbird used a standard Cam Chain Tensioner, a simple spring-wound device that automatically builds the cam chain’s tension. Cam chain wear is inevitable, and the tensioner keeps the slack out as the chain wears out.
As the cam chain slacks, the spring rotates the inner shaft, killing the free-play. The chain tries to push back on the plunger, as worm gears can’t be back driven.
However, in time, the springs inside the Blackbird’s Cam Chain Tensioner lose the force it uses to keep the plunger out.
Symptoms of a Worn Cam Chain Tensioner:
Blackbird riders describe the sound made by a worn cam chain tensioner as a rattle can noise crackling from the right side, by the cylinders, most noticeably after hitting a cold start.
CBR 1100XX owners tend to agree that it may disappear once the bike warms up, but not always.
This clink-clang rattle is more than just annoying; a failing tensioner means a loose cam chain, and a slacked cam chain runs the risk of the chain shooting off the sprockets and jumping teeth.
Repairing Your Cam Chain Tensioner:
Tools that you will need:
- 5mm Allen Wrench
- 8mm Socket Wrench
- 8mm Box End Wrench
- 12mm Socket Wrench
- 14mm Socket Wrench
- Mechanism to wind the spring (some use a flathead screwdriver, others make one on the fly)
- Remove your Blackbird’s right panel, the right rear cowl, and the lower cowling.
- Once you’ve removed the lower cowling, detach the lower Clutch Cable bracket and the right Engine Hanger bracket. To wind up the spring inside the tensioner, remove the 8mm bolt on the head of the tensioner.
- Insert the mechanism you’ve fashioned together to tighten the spring. NOTE: Consult the CBR 1100XX’s shop manual on how to fashion said mechanism from scrap metal.
- Rotate the spring clockwise and engage it with the joints of the tensioner. Once you’ve wound the spring, you’ll know, as it’ll engage with the tensioner’s slots.
- Remove the 25mm Allen head bolts that hold the tensioner in place. Detach tensioner.
- Under the tensioner is a gasket to which the tensioner’s removal will no doubt do some damage. Plug the hole where the tensioner was to block the old gasket material from dropping into the motor. Clean the old gasket off with a scouring pad and replace it with a fresh gasket.
- The new tensioner has a small tool inserted to retract its plunger. If the plunger is extended, you won’t be installing it anytime soon, so leave it be.
- Replace the brackets and fasten up your cowls, and let that Blackbird fly.
Electrical Problems Due to Regulator/Rectifier Failure
There was a period when Honda Regulator/Rectifiers were notorious for failing early.
It’s notable enough to mention that they’ve since updated their design. Unfortunately, though, the Honda CBR 1100XX Blackbird was manufactured smack-dab in the middle of the years R/Rs were failing left and right.
Before a Blackbird rider can know if their regulator/rectifier is bad, it’s vital to explain how this critical part works.
Like cars, Blackbirds, and other bikes, run off of a battery. A charging system powers the battery, and a regulator rectifier is a crucial component of that charging circuit.
Specifically, the regulator/rectifier regulates and rectifies your battery’s voltage. Your CBR 1100’s stator charges its battery by producing AC voltage.
The regulator/rectifier has the important job of converting the stator’s AC into DC power to assure its power doesn’t exceed 14.5 volts before routing the power to the bike’s battery.
So, how do you discern if the regulator rectifier on your CBR 1100XX is bad?
There are two dominant forms of regulator/rectifier failure:
- The diode can burn out, draining the battery. If the battery is the cause, diagnosing a faulty regulator rectifier begins with weak starts, wavering volt readings, and headlights dimming, especially when on the throttle.
- As soon as these signs reveal themselves, it’s a good idea to hook up a voltmeter and inspect its readings like a pro. If the voltage dips under 13 volts, the bike’s functions will cause battery drainage, and the countdown to engine failure begins.
- The other way that your Blackbird’s regulator/rectifier might fail is when the regulator burns out. If the regulator rectifier fails to curb the voltage, your Bird’s battery will overcharge and explode.
- Use a voltmeter to diagnose overcharge. Above 17 volts indicates the regulator/rectifier isn’t transforming the excess power. You may notice your headlights getting brighter, but sooner or later, they’ll extinguish.
Always consider the condition of your motorcycle’s electrical parts.
Issues with any connections can cause R/R death. Unfortunately, Regulator/Rectifier failure on a Honda of 1100XX age is usually due to defective or weak Regulator/Rectifier.
The good news is that Honda is aware of it, and if you confirm that your regulator is the problem, they’ll update your Blackbird with the newer, more robust design.
How to Test the Regulator Rectifier for Failure:
- Start by disconnecting the wires and set the multimeter to its diode function.
- Inspect the positive diode by touching your Blackbird’s positive diode with the positive lead.
- Insert your negative lead to the stator inputs. The meter shouldn’t give readings yet.
- If you’re all good thus far, insert the positive diode to the negative lead. Then, connect the positive lead to all stator inputs. The meter should read something, but the reading doesn’t matter yet.
- Repeat for the negative diode—insert the positive lead to the negative diode. Connect the stator inputs and negative lead.
- The meter shouldn’t give a reading when you attach the positive lead and stator inputs.
- To check the regulator, connect the meter leads to the CBR 1100XX’s battery while the bike is running. The reading should not be greater than 14.5 volts, nor less than 13.5 volts. If the reading is above 14.5 volts, your battery is overcharged; time for a replacement Regulator/Rectifier.
The earlier you catch a failing Honda R/R, the better. They’ll swap it out for the upgrade before you get to total battery death and any other electrical damage an exploding battery may cause.
General Pros and Cons of the Honda CBR 1100XX Blackbird
The Blackbird rocks a 1137cc inline liquid-cooled engine with dual overhead cams and four valves per cylinder.
Honda is renowned for reliability, and despite the complaints mentioned here, this bike is overall a low-maintenance road-ripper.
A simple valve adjustment per 16,000 miles keeps this street-fighter at war.
With a bore and stroke of 79 x 58mm and a compression ratio of 11.0:1, the Blackbird rip roared without the requirement of premium fuel.
It revved to 11,000 RPMs, peaking with power around 10K, though.
The exhaust system was a trip, piped up with a 4-into-2-into-1-into-2.
- Improperly Shaped Proportioning Control Valve Seal (Solved via Recall)
- Cam Chain Tensioner Wears Fast
- Electrical Problems Due to Regulator/Rectifier Failure
What Do The Reviews Say?
“One big advantage the CBR had over its Kawasaki rival was weight. The CBR came in almost 50 pounds lighter than the ZX-11, but on the dyno, their engines cranked out nearly identical numbers-approximately 133 horsepower and 78 ft-lb of torque. When the bikes finally lined up in side-by-side, top speed runs, the CBR-XX didn’t exactly do a flyby of the old Ninja. In fact, both of them were still running 174-179 mph, depending on the conditions they were tested in. On the drag strip, their performance was also similar, with the CBR doing a quarter-mile in about 10.25 seconds vs. the heavier Kawasaki at 10.40 seconds. The Honda produced trap speeds of approximately 135 mph, with the ZX-11 a couple of miles per hour slower.
Though it was the top speed talk that drew a lot of fans toward the bike, those that actually rode and owned one came away with another set of attributes that gave it the cult-like following and earned it a spot in this series of articles. In addition to being fast, it was also lauded as being very smooth, stable, and nimble despite the non-adjustable suspension. As is typically the case with Hondas, the fit and finish were also beyond reproach.”
What’s the Resale Value of a Honda CBR 1100XX Blackbird?