BLADE’S BACK

Honda’s dy­namic duo blow sports­bike ti­tle fight wide open

Motorcycle News (UK) - - Front Page - By Adam Child SE­NIOR ROAD TESTER

The Blade is bet­ter than ever. It’s 90% new, lighter, smaller, with more power and a plethora of rider aids and in SP form it looks stun­ning, too – and so it should for close to twenty grand.

Over the years, just like me, the Blade has got a lit­tle soft, put on a bit of weight, and ap­peared bulky along­side sharper ri­vals. But it’s a dif­fer­ent story with the new bike. It’s still a Blade, but a much smaller, lighter and thin­ner one. The po­si­tion of the bars, seat and pegs doesn’t feel much dif­fer­ent from the old model, but the screen is tiny, the frontal area is small, al­most like a su­pers­port bike. Down the main straight at Por­ti­mao, with the full colour dig­i­tal dash read­ing 175mph, I’ve got my bum pushed back against the seat hump as far it will go, with my chin on the fuel cap as I get tucked in.

While it’s fast, the power is use­able, the torque lin­ear, and the wheelie happy old Blade has gone. There are no peaks and troughs in the power curve, just con­tin­u­ous drive to the 13,000rpm red­line – 750rpm higher than be­fore. On pa­per the new Blade might be down on peak bhp com­pared to the com­pe­ti­tion – un­like some, Honda aren’t boast­ing the magic 200bhp – but the bike’s de­sign­ers say you don’t need power, you need con­trol. And this 2017 model makes use of ev­ery last pony with su­perb chas­sis com­po­sure.

At the end of the straight there’s a slight pulse from the ABS through the lever, as the new Brembo calipers eat away at your speed. Un­for­tu­nately, the ABS can’t be de­ac­ti­vated and at times was a lit­tle in­tru­sive for hard track rid­ing. The clutch lever is dor­mant once you’ve pulled away, the auto-blip­per and the en­gine brake as­sist do the work on down­shifts, the quick­shifter fir­ing in the gears on the ups.

Blade re­wards your trust

Hit the apex, knee brush­ing the track, and you can sim­ply crack the throt­tle and let the elec­tron­ics con­trol the wheel­spin and hov­er­ing wheel­ies on the exit. It takes a while to trust the elec­tron­ics, but once you’ve felt them save a slide or con­trol a wheelie you have the con­fi­dence to lean on the rider aids, and let them do the head work. They aren’t in­tru­sive, and have been de­vel­oped to im­prove your lap times not hin­der the fun. If you’re too ag­gres­sive with the throt­tle they will cut in abruptly, but you learn to tickle the edges of grip un­til the clever elec­tron­ics help you out as you push past the limit.

You can tweak the rider aids to suit your rid­ing and the con­di­tions. I even­tu­ally opted for full power, en­gine brak­ing on its least in­tru­sive set­ting, and torque con­trol (trac­tion con­trol to me and you) on its low­est set­ting. You can even change how rapidly the quick­shifter makes its changes. It’s im­pres­sive, and (apart from the ABS) you can switch ev­ery­thing off if you wish. The old Blade didn’t have any rider aids, but in a sin­gle model up­date Honda have de­liv­ered some of the best on the mar­ket. And if you think that is im­pres­sive, wait un­til you get to ride the semi-ac­tive Öh­lins sus­pen­sion.

Sus­pen­sion rev­o­lu­tion

Honda have three pre-set semi ac­tive set­tings: A1 for track, A2 for fast road, and A3 for com­fort. As we rode the new Blade on track (on Bridge­stone slicks) we fo­cused on the A1 semi-ac­tive track set­ting. In this mode there is a de­fault set of pa­ram­e­ters, but you can tai­lor them to per­son­alise the sus­pen­sion. This is when most peo­ple switch off as sus­pen­sion set-up can be con­fus­ing, but Honda have made it easy.

You can im­prove the sus­pen­sion in four ways: Gen­eral, Brake, Cor­ner and Ac­cel­er­a­tion. Within each of these cat­e­gories dis­played on the dash you can change to plus 5 or mi­nus 5. For ex­am­ple: if you want im­proved brak­ing sup­port you add, if you re­quire bet­ter ac­cel­er­a­tion add again. If that is too much you can re­duce it again, while Cor­ner mode helps the bike through fast di­rec­tion changes. You can change these set­tings while on track but I pre­ferred to come in, se­lect my changes, and head back out again be­fore the slicks had time to cool. In a 45-minute ses­sion I was in and out of the pits seven times try­ing dif­fer­ent set­tings, and if you make a mess of it, it doesn’t mat­ter – sim­ply re­vert to the Honda de­faults, which ac­tu­ally work re­ally well.

And for those who still want to ad­just their sus­pen­sion us­ing con­ven­tional pa­ram­e­ters, Honda have cre­ated three stan­dard modes: M1 Track, M2 Wind­ing and M3 Street. You can add and re­duce com­pres­sion and re­bound in 5% in­cre­ments, and again there is a de­fault set­ting if you get it wrong. In man­ual mode the sus­pen­sion is not semi-ac­tive, but you can still make ad­just­ments on the move.

To think the old bike had no rider aids and had re­mained essen­tially un­changed since 2008, this is a big step for­wards for the Blade.

‘There are no peaks and troughs, just con­tin­u­ous drive to the red­line’

BUY ONE FOR £119 A MONTH NEW SP BEST BLADE YET

Clever new elec­tron­ics arenõt out to spoil the fun

The spirit of the orig­i­nal game-changer (right) lives on in the new Fireblade

Turn over to see TT legend John Mcguin­nessõ ver­dict

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