HEROIC LAST STAND

Honda Fireblade, Suzuki GSX R750 and Tri­umph Day­tona – tra­di­tional pure sports­bikes rein­vented or dropped al­to­gether in 2017. Bike cel­e­brates the faff-free race replica while we still can...

BIKE (UK) - - CONTENTS - By Mike Ar­mitage Pho­tog­ra­phy Jamie Mor­ris

Tri­umph 675R, Suzuki GSX‘R750, Honda Blade – these pure faff-free sports­bikes may be leav­ing but they're still amaz­ing.

THERE’S NOTH­ING QUITE like a Tri­umph Day­tona 675. Thumb through a dic­tionary to ‘crisp’ and the def­i­ni­tion should just have a pic­ture of Hinck­ley’s slen­der mid­dleweight, es­pe­cially this hopped-up R model. The in­line-three mo­tor ap­pears to have no in­ter­nal mass and re­sponds in­stantly, and with gear ra­tios per­fectly matched to the torque curve it’s up and away on the mere scent of un­leaded. The chas­sis is like a sur­geon’s tool, high-spec Öh­lins sus­pen­sion flood­ing senses with feel as the 675R traces fast turns with laser­guided ac­cu­racy. Overkill Brembo brakes can buckle arms with tar­mac-creas­ing power. Add the evoca­tive ex­haust note, smooth fu­elling, fine de­tails and more than a lit­tle rep­u­ta­tion, and the Tri­umph is wholly en­gag­ing. Es­pe­cially as there are no modes to faff with, or umpteen point­less trac­tion con­trol lev­els, or en­gine brak­ing set­tings you’ll never ad­just. The 675 is a pure sports­bike, with di­rect and in­tense sen­sa­tions. Red faced and grin­ning af­ter a morn­ing of low-level as­saults on un­sus­pect­ing Le­ices­ter­shire B-roads, Bike’s de­signer Paul Lang over­flows with en­thu­si­asm. ‘It feels so spe­cial, and that makes me feel spe­cial. How could you not want one in the garage?’ It’s a per­ti­nent ques­tion. The 675R makes other sports 600s seem gut­less and chubby, makes you go ‘ooh’ with gen­uine al­lure, but is be­ing dropped in 2017 be­cause we don’t want them in our garages. Sports­bikes aren’t as pop­u­lar as they used to be, and while we still buy 1000cc su­per­bikes the su­per­sport class is dead. Com­ply­ing with next year’s Euro 4 emis­sion regs would re­quire in­vest­ment that would be wasted if no­body’s buy­ing and so, with the Street Triple that uses the same en­gine set to be­come an 800, Tri­umph in­sid­ers say the sweet 675 is no more. The rea­son for to­day’s sunny autumn blast is it’s not the only icon that’s de­part­ing. Suzuki’s GSX-R750 has been a defin­ing model for over 30 years, yet will dis­ap­pear from show­rooms – it’s not get­ting fur­ther devel­op­ment, and just a hand­ful will be sold

‘We reach the switch­ing, dart­ing B6047 as the sun drops low bathing end­less coun­try­side in golden, autumn light’

un­der Euro 4 dero­ga­tion. (End-of-se­ries Euro 3 bikes can be sold for 24 months as long as they’re phys­i­cally in Europe by 31 De­cem­ber 2016 but quan­ti­ties are lim­ited to 10% of the to­tal sold in the last two years, or 100 units if this is higher – this is also the case for the GSX-R600, Hayabusa and Burgman 650, all of which are leav­ing.) It’s also the end of the line for Honda’s straight­for­ward CBR1000RR Fireblade. Yes, there’s a new Blade for 2017 (see p38), how­ever it’s fes­tooned with giz­mos – the de­part­ing one is the last big CBR true to the orig­i­nal Fireblade’s ‘to­tal con­trol’ mantra. To­tal con­trol is ac­tu­ally an ac­cu­rate de­scrip­tion of the sen­sa­tion given by the Honda. Road tester Pete Boast has plenty of ex­pe­ri­ence of Blades from us­ing them while in­struct­ing at Ron Haslam’s race school, and points out, ‘the throt­tle’s snatchy – it’s too sharp go­ing to part open from a closed throt­tle’. It’s the only neg­a­tive how­ever, as the CBR1000RR is as com­posed, us­able and re­fined to­day as it’s al­ways been. It’s the largest ca­pac­ity here but eas­i­est to ride. All the weight feels lo­cated be­tween your an­kles, the chas­sis rolling ef­fort­lessly to gen­tle in­put and never, ever get­ting ruf­fled, even us­ing all the read­ilyavail­able 168 rear-wheel horse­power. Yes, it’s very pow­er­ful, and com­pact, with track-ready ge­om­e­try, but so beau­ti­fully bal­anced it makes the Tri­umph seem point­lessly fo­cused and the Suzuki hard work. Trac­tion con­trol, modes, elec­tronic sus­pen­sion? You’re so con­nected and con­fi­dent they’re not missed. This 2014 bike doesn’t have ABS – Langy only misses it when told it’s not there. ‘The Honda’s bars feel wider than the oth­ers, with a real sense that you’re in charge,’ says Boastie. ‘It’s a re­ally com­fort­able rid­ing po­si­tion too, helped by the fact it’s the best road sus­pen­sion. Ride qual­ity’s re­ally, re­ally good.’ Af­ter re­fu­elling our­selves with the largest, tasti­est coro­na­tion chicken butties known to man (the vil­lage stores in Med­bourne if you’re in­ter­ested, on the roller­coaster B664), we push north into Rut­land. Suzuki’s GSX-R is weighty af­ter the Honda, al­most with

dulled re­sponses, and de­spite ap­pear­ing to have the same Showa big-pis­ton fork its sus­pen­sion hasn’t the CBR’S plush damp­ing. Strid­ing out across fast, open A-roads the Suzuki re­veals dif­fer­ent ap­peal, though. If you rode GSX-RS in the 1990s and early 2000s and want to re­dis­cover those feel­ings and ex­pe­ri­ences, the 750 is chock full of their le­gendary char­ac­ter. Gear­ing is too high – if it could rev-out in top it’d do more than 190mph. Want to re­ally go fast? Sim­ply work that 130bhp, 749cc en­gine hard and, as Langy ob­serves, ‘just go ev­ery­where in se­cond and third gear’. The in­take noise is still ad­dic­tive, too. Just as a Du­cati sounds dif­fer­ent to other V-twins, so the Suzuki is un­like other in­line fours. Deep, hol­low, loud, the air­box sounds like it’s tear­ing the at­mos­phere apart, rather than just gulp­ing it down. From the side of the road the noise of a rapidly ap­proach­ing GSX-R750 is al­most haunt­ing. Ig­nore acres of ter­ri­ble car­bon-ef­fect plas­tic (you can have too much 1990s). In­stead, praise how the stead­fast chas­sis tack­les bumpy roads. No, it hasn’t the nim­ble­ness or sus­pen­sion qual­ity of the Honda and yes, the Tri­umph turns more eas­ily. But where the light, stiff, racy 675R gets flung off line the Suzuki firmly re­fuses to be in­ter­fered with. Solid is a good way to de­scribe the han­dling, and the brakes ace the Tri­umph’s. There’s a tra­di­tional sports air to the rid­ing po­si­tion as well. The twin-spar frame and sparkling blue tank splay legs, and if you slide your rump back fully on the long, spa­cious seat the ’bars seem a long way away. It’s not as light and friendly as the Blade in town, or as com­fort­able on a long straight ride, how­ever you’re aware you’re on a sports­bike. No, more than that. You’re aware you’re rid­ing a GSX-R750 – the sole sur­vivor of the orig­i­nal 750cc su­per­bike class. Our loop into Not­ting­hamshire and back into Le­ices­ter­shire is timed per­fectly. We reach the switch­ing, dart­ing B6047 as the sun drops low, bathing end­less coun­try­side in golden autumn light that brings out the sub­tle sparkle in the Tri­umph’s paint. Back on the 675 it feels im­pos­si­bly trim and cu­ri­ously lofty af­ter the Suzuki; you feel more na­tional hunt jockey than mo­tor­cy­clist. But in that won­der­ful win­dow be­tween com­muters clear­ing the roads and dusk swal­low­ing the land­scape, it’s the per­fect stance for slic­ing up warm roads. At times the Day­tona’s han­dling is sur­real – perched be­hind the low screen and con­trol­ling the bike with the nar­row clip-ons, it’s like pick­ing a line on a games con­sole. You ask and the chas­sis de­liv­ers; I’ll hit that bit of road there, now go over that bit there, and you lean with such con­fi­dence that my kneeslider Vel­cro is cov­ered with grass seeds. And while 180bhp might be ex­cit­ing, my self-preser­va­tion kicks in be­fore I’m close to con­tin­u­ally us­ing all of the triple’s 112bhp. When a mo­tor is this ea­ger and re­spon­sive, it’s hard to see why you’d need more. Mod­ern tyres mean it’d take stag­ger­ingly ham­fisted stu­pid­ity to even get close to need­ing trac­tion con­trol on a dry road, ei­ther. The sun bug­gers off all too quickly so we stop in a gate­way over­look­ing the Wel­land val­ley to com­pare notes. That old non­sense about sports­bikes all be­ing the same has proved just that, each bike hav­ing its own char­ac­ter and pos­i­tives. And a few neg­a­tives. Bling-lov­ing Langy can’t help lean­ing to­wards the high­spec Tri­umph 675R, how­ever we all con­cur that the Honda Fireblade is the stand­out bike. Such bal­ance. Such us­abil­ity. This day out hasn’t been just to test the bikes, of course. We get a bit emo­tional too as this is a farewell to three of the finest sports­bikes of a gen­er­a­tion; fi­nal ex­am­ples of bikes that de­fined us over three decades of round­about surf­ing,

The three iconic lo­gos of three of the great­est-ever pure sport­sters – a cou­ple will live on, but they won’t be the same...

Clas­sic paint scheme, ac­ces­sory pipe and some ewes. Lambs due in four months

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