THIS MONTH I HAVE MOSTLY BEEN… “Deal­ing with the pain.”

Fast Bikes - - LONGTERMERS -

Ihate good­byes, but not as much as I hate road salt or snow. And while we’re at it, iced fin­gers (as in your dig­its, not the cakes) and chilblains can also ‘do one’. The last few weeks of rid­ing have been pretty bleak to say the least, but be­fore I go off on an em­bit­tered rant about the de­bil­i­tat­ing re­al­i­ties of win­ter, I’ll stop my­self for the sake of you and I both. No one needs more moan­ing in their life. Plus, there’s al­ways a pos­i­tive to be found in ev­ery­thing if you dig deep enough, with win­ter pro­vid­ing the ideal time to re­flect on the good, the bad and the un­ex­pected times of this out­go­ing sea­son, which I spent on my soon to be re­turned Honda Fire­blade SP. If you’re up on your re­views and have taken in the many dif­fer­ing opin­ions from journos the world over, you’ll prob­a­bly be left a lit­tle con­fused as to what to make of Honda’s es­teemed flag­ship sports­bike. But take it from some­one that’s lived with one all year; it’s a corker.

In re­al­ity, I think peo­ple ex­pected the 2017 Honda to of­fer more. More power. More rad­i­cal styling. More so­phis­ti­cated. And be­cause it didn’t quite hit some peo­ple’s box tick­ing cri­te­ria, it got poo-poo’d. But Honda never promised that. I was at Mi­lan when this bike was un­veiled, and the mes­sage there was very much as­so­ci­ated with build­ing a bet­ter road bike, de­signed to make ev­ery­day B-roads a blast and much more man­age­able… which is ex­actly what Honda’s de­liv­ered on. Okay, so maybe it’s the low­est claim­ing litre bike on the mar­ket but I’d be a liar if I said I ever felt I needed a few more ponies for an as­sault down my favourite twisties.

This thing is rapid, to the ex­tent that you gen­uinely can’t get near its po­ten­tial on the roads, un­less those roads hap­pened to be the TT course and your name is John McGuin­ness. We live in an age where peo­ple have got hung up on fig­ures, but I’m much more of a fan of us­abil­ity and the Blade ticks that box very nicely. The SP’s mo­tor’s smoother than John Tra­volta when his wife’s not watch­ing, of­fer­ing buck­et­loads of bot­tom-end torque that al­lows you be sloth-like in your ap­proach to rid­ing, es­pe­cially when com­bined with the SP’s stan­dard fit­ment blip­per and shifter.

My favourite fea­ture on the Blade has to be the elec­tronic sus­pen­sion. It’s es­sen­tially what makes the SP dif­fer­ent to the stock RR, and also cranks the price up by three grand. I’ve had loads of peo­ple ask whether it’s worth the ex­tra dol­lar, and to be hon­est it’s a hard one to an­swer. Three grand will buy you a de­cent used bike, to put things in per­spec­tive, but it’s not as if I haven’t used the tech on every sin­gle blast. It’s been my go-to piece of tech and it’s def­i­nitely made the bike more en­joy­able on some of the rougher stretches I’ve tra­versed this year. It is very much a lux­ury, which I’d hap­pily buy into if I had the spare cash be­cause I love how ef­fort­lessly you can al­ter the way this bike han­dles.

Con­tin­u­ing the tech theme, the dash is clear and easy to digest, and the abil­ity to cus­tomise the coloured dis­play is an­other bonus. Its lights are de­cent at night, though the one thing that’s got me chunter­ing is the lay­out of the horn and in­di­ca­tor switches. Maybe it’s just me, but I still can’t avoid look­ing to make sure I’m not mo­ments from beep­ing some at­trac­tive young lady on the high street when I’m ac­tu­ally just wish­ing to in­di­cate – hon­est!

The bike’s brakes have been great on the roads, but the ABS func­tion has let them down on very heavy brak­ing on track, be­cause the sys­tem en­gages too eas­ily. Like­wise, the anti-wheelie sys­tem can be a lit­tle too harsh for my lik­ing, but I’ve got used to it over the course of the year… and typ­i­cally ride with it off any­way. The power modes have proved an as­set in the wet and I’m also a fan of the torque con­trol. It’s not a race sys­tem, but it does what you’d hope it would on the roads. I’d have liked to have banged in a few more miles on the Honda, but we’ve man­aged a de­cent few jour­neys this sea­son. In short, it's not the most fo­cused, all-out sports­bike on the mar­ket, and it’s for that rea­son the SP’s struck such a chord with me. It’s a great road bike. Suits me.

Bruce is al­ways sprin­kling flour on his drive­way.

Beauty meets beauty.

There have been many stand-out and stand-up mo­ments in 2017.

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