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The Man behind the Machine: Hiroyuki Ito, Large Project Leader on the 2003 CBR600RR
At only 46 years of age, Hiroyuki Ito, Large Project Leader on the new CBR600RR, has already banked more than a quarter-century of experience working on a wide variety of Honda motorcycle projects, including the all-new CBR. His resume ranges from development projects on bikes displacing anywhere from 50cc to 1300cc, for street and off-road work. Significantly, Ito was also the LPL on the 2001 CBR600F4i, and his experience on that project afforded him a greater overall view of what the CBR600RR was to become.
Ito is a lifelong motorcyclist of merit. He was a top racer in Japan, a member of Honda Research and Development's fabled Blue Helmet Team, finishing as high as second overall at the prestigious Suzuka Eight-Hour on a Honda race bike of his own design. As another young lion within Honda's corps of engineers, Ito brings a deep background in racing to his work, experience that has been applied directly to the CBR600RR.
Question: Tell us about your first motorcycle.
Answer: I had ridden other motorcycles, but when I was 16 years old, I bought my first bike, a Honda SL90. Like many young motorcyclists, I was an avid fan of motorcycle magazines. I liked two motocross riders in particular at that time, Roger DeCoster and Gaston Rahier. Actually, they served as a trigger point in my life; they really instilled in me a passion for motorcycles.
As I studied photos of these two racers, I decided I wanted to adopt their style of riding. So, I would go out on my SL90 and try to imitate them, down by the river in my home town of Fukushima, but it was really difficult riding because the soil contained a lot of gravel. Then I found some good riding in a harvested field to practice countersteering and sliding.
By the way, I didn't have permission to ride in this farmer's field--I was just sneaking in because I had to have a place to ride. Unfortunately, the rice field was in a low area, with the roadway elevated above it. And one day while I was out riding, the owner saw me, and he started to come toward me, yelling. I had to get away, so I looked around, gassed it up the road embankment, jumped the road, and took off. (Laughing) You know, I never did get caught!
Q: Later, after joining Honda as an Associate, you had a very successful privateer racing career, including All-Japan Championships as a 125cc Novice and Junior, then terrific success in the Suzuka Eight-Hour Endurance races. Do you have a favorite memory from that time?
A: My favorite event was the Eight-Hour in 1982. After seeing some photos of a race bike in Europe--I can't remember which brand it was--I decided to build something like it. So, we modified a CB900F to create what we called the RS1000. We changed the frame from a cradle configuration to a double top-tube design that had the engine suspended as a stressed member, rather than cradled. It worked, and worked well--much better than I had hoped. Our team finished in second place that year, in the most competitive class, the Formula 1 class, which allowed unlimited changes from a stock machine. That was a very gratifying experience.
Q: Has your racing experience shaped the way you approached your job as the Large Project Leader (LPL) for the CBR600F4i and CBR600RR?
A: Yes, definitely. I find that I put my racing mind to work when we make initial drawings, then produce models in the next step of project development. This is not just a design phase per se; my job is to birth ideas and concepts, then work together with the testing team to bring the concept forward. They are the ones who take a newborn idea, then grow the baby up to maturity and fruition.
As an LPL, I'm kind of like the general manager of a race team. My responsibility is to oversee the project as a whole, and bring it to a concrete end. It's not just a styling exercise; we work to optimize the machine's overall power and performance. And like a race team, ultimately we have to test the machine to measure improvements, to know we are achieving our desired goal.
Many times, there's no book that tells you how to execute an idea; it's often a complicated process. We develop and test our designs, finally using test riding to arrive at final specifications. Besides the quantitative elements, we also take into account the subjective feel of the motorcycle as well, since riding motorcycles should be a fun experience.