Last of the pure Blades

elec­tron­ics-free The last in­car­na­tion of the the the finest road-go­ing CBR1000RR might just be just how good it is... sports­bike ever. MCN in­ves­ti­gates

Motorcycle News (UK) - - This Week - By Michael Neeves MCN SE­NIOR ROAD TESTER

As Honda gear up to launch an all-new Fire­blade we take a fresh look at the old model – the last of the great elec­tron­ics-free litre sports­bikes and as­sem­ble a group of own­ers at the ex­cel­lent Loomies bike café to find out what makes the Blade so spe­cial. And Ron Haslam, who’s been us­ing Blades at his school for 20 years, de­liv­ers his verdict on the last of the old-school Fire­blades.

are t’s fi­nally hap­pen­ing: Honda I And re­leas­ing a new Fire­blade. about bloody time. Their span­gly new model will and mark 25 years of the Blade it will be lighter, more powof er­ful and come with a host first time. elec­tronic rider aids for the three verWhat’s more, there will be stand­sions to choose from next year: trick SP2. ard Fire­blade, SP and su­per- changed The cur­rent Blade hasn’t es­sen­tially since 2012 and even that was still the 2008 ma­chine un­der­neath, The new with a nip, tuck and facelift. com­ing, ma­chine has been a long time the wait. but it prom­ises to be worth someWhen Honda de­cide to do are spe­cial thing prop­erly the re­sults Blades: the – just look at the land­mark the RCVo­rig­i­nal ’92 bike, the ’02 954, the stubby in­spired ’04 ma­chine and are ut­terly nose ’08 model. All of them be­fore we su­perb road bikes, and that’s like the even think of Honda le­gends S. RC30/45, NR750 and RC213V- the The 2017 Blade is all set to bloody but noses of the 200bhp estab­lish­ment, re­ally you know what? Honda didn’t building a need to go to the trou­ble of Fire­blade new bike be­cause the cur­rent of the best is still right up there as one

road-go­ing sports­bikes you can buy.

Granted, it can no longer cut it against the latest su­per­bikes on track and the likes of the R1, ZX-10R, RSV4, S1000RR and 1299 Pani­gale are sec­onds faster over a lap. The last time we ran all the 1000s to­gether, at Jerez in 2015, the 178bhp Blade SP was three sec­onds a lap slower than the R1 and be­hind all of its new­est ri­vals. It was a cou­ple of tenths faster than the GSX-R1000, but of course that’s get­ting an even more over­due over­haul for 2017, too.

As fun as it is to test th­ese bikes to the limit on track, most of us ride on the road and it’s here where to­day’s Fire­blade im­presses most. It has bags of easy grunt, a smooth throt­tle, a flaw­less power curve and bal­anced han­dling. And this Brembo-wear­ing SP ver­sion has even stronger brakes, and the Öh­lins serves up the kind of pol­ished ride only top qual­ity sus­pen­sion can. There’s more grip than you can shake a Pirelli at, too, thanks to the stan­dard Di­ablo Su­per Corsa SP track­day tyres.

And with its blueprinted weight­matched pis­tons, re­shaped pol­ished in­let and ex­haust ports, large di­am­e­ter slash-cut in­let trum­pets and re­vised map­ping it’s the smoothest Fire­blade en­gine ever.

Ride any one of the cur­rent crop of 200bhp, ride-by-wire su­per­bikes on the road and you’d never guess they’re 1000s un­less you revved them like highly-strung 600cc su­pers­port rac­ers. They don’t have much in the way of low-down grunt.

It’s a dif­fer­ent story with the Blade. Sixth gear is meaty enough for just about any oc­ca­sion on the road. Se­lect top and use the Blade like some su­per­sonic twist-and-go scooter. And of course, when you choose to stir that slick six-speed gear­box there’s more growl­ing power and speed than you’ll ever need, and enough to keep up with your mates – no mat­ter what they’re rid­ing.

If the en­gine is a les­son in glossy so­phis­ti­ca­tion, so is the chas­sis. Of­fer­ing the same kind of easy bal­ance as an RC213V-S or an RC30, but at a frac­tion of the cost, the Blade’s han­dling is still up there with the best.

You feel ev­ery grain of tar­mac, ev­ery jagged stone and each shiny peb­ble through your feet, bum and hands as you waft along. Get­ting the Blade to turn is as easy as rolling a ten­nis ball around a smooth ta­ble un­der the palm of your hand. The Blade might not have trac­tion con­trol, but there’s so much feel you never miss it.

Blast­ing through the coun­try­side, the Honda slices through cor­ners like a scalpel and glides serenely off whoops and jumps in the road. But the Blade is just as adept at the hum­drum and its comfy seat and nat­u­ral rid­ing po­si­tion cos­set you on long jour­neys.

The rider’s eye view is pure, clas­sic Honda Rac­ing. The short, flat-pro­file screen could be lifted off an RC45, there’s no wasted space around the com­pact clocks and the rid­ing po­si­tion cants you right over the front, ready for ac­tion. The cock­pit is sparse and lack­ing the full-colour, multi-func­tion dis­plays and switchgear but­tons of its elec­tron­i­cally-en­hanced ri­vals, but the Honda tells you all the im­por­tant stuff.

You know how fast you’re go­ing, how hard the en­gine is spin­ning, what gear you’re in and what time it is. You’ve also got a bril­liant elec­tronic ABS sys­tem that’s packed with feel and power.

Af­ter a week zip­ping around the coun­try on this Blade SP, vis­it­ing Ron Haslam at Don­ing­ton Park, meet­ing the nice peo­ple from the Honda Fire­blade Own­ers Club at Loomies Café near Winch­ester, and en­joy­ing an MCN track­day at Snet­ter­ton, I’ve got noth­ing but ad­mi­ra­tion for the Blade.

It might not be the fastest superbike out there, or loaded with elec­tronic rider aids but it never fails to im­press.

‘ When you choose to stir that slick six-speed gear­box there’s more growl­ing power and speed than you’ll ever need’

Blade’s dis­play might not be the latest TFT full-colour read­out, but it’s ef­fec­tive

The out­go­ing Fire­blade is also a mas­ter­class in chas­sis pack­ag­ing

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