Big UK road miles on new Blade and GSX-R1000
Forget sunny Spain & super-smooth tracks, this test pits the new standard Blade & GSX-R in a battle on Britain’s roads
Just two weeks ago we brought you our exclusive superbike shootout. The bikes went through six days of testing on road, track, drag strip and dyno. In that battle, the new Fireblade SP eclipsed the new GSX-R1000R and romped on to take the overall test win.
But if your pockets aren’t deep enough to stretch to the hottest versions – salvation might be found with their simpler siblings. They might lack a little bling, but they share the same engines as their expensive stablemates, and at £13,599 the stock GSX-R is £2500 less expensive than the R version, while the base Fireblade, at £15,225 will cost you a whopping £3900 less than the SP.
By sheer coincidence both firms supplied us with matt black bikes, which made it easier to compare the aesthetics. We posted shots on social media and visited Rocky Jo’s bike night at Wellingborough for a wide range of opinions.
A pattern soon emerged; with the majority preferring the Honda by 75% to 25% – and everyone expressed a dislike of the Suzuki’s exhaust. But you could fit a different can, and even with a new exhaust and re-mapping the Suzuki would still be cheaper than the Honda.
It wasn’t just the exhaust that put people off. Next to the Honda, the GSX-R’S clocks are dull, aren’t full colour and don’t have the same level of info. The pattern continued throughout each person’s appraisal of the Suzuki – with some even saying that it reminded them of the budget GSX650F.
For me it just doesn’t have that wow factor. The black pegs and messy area around the bottom of the sub-frame let the Suzuki down, the fairing decals look poor quality, and the rear-end is bland. Some of the body panels were just a fraction out on line-up, too, whereas on the Honda they were pretty much perfect.
Going the distance
I’m blasting up the A1 in vented race leathers as the sun starts to set and the temperature plummets – and I’m having problems getting out of the wind blast. I’m only 5ft 6in and the only way to hide behind the Honda’s small screen is to slide my arse against
the pillion seat and tuck in 125-style with my elbows on my knees. But I’m not a contortionist and I can’t hold this position for another hour. I’ve got 75 miles left of empty A1, and cruising at motorway speeds isn’t going to be fun.
The Suzuki’s screen is much larger, and the bodywork wider, meaning fast touring isn’t a problem. Both bikes have 16-litre fuel tanks, but the Honda is a little more fuel efficient, giving you around 10 miles extra per tankful.
The actual riding position of the Honda isn’t bad, the triangle between bars, seat and footpegs proving fine even for 6ft 1in Dave – it’s simply the fact the bodywork and screen are too small to offer any protection. I’m sure someone will be making a killing on TT screens for the new Blade.
In our previous test the Honda’s semi-active suspension give it a sub- stantial edge on the road, letting you transform it from sportsbike to almost tourer levels of compliance at the touch of a button. But the standard model has conventional suspension, meaning the Honda has lost its versatility. The ride quality between the two bikes here is very similar on the road, but if I were to embark on some serious road miles I’d probably choose the Suzuki for solo work, and the Honda if I were taking a pillion because the seat is less of a perch, a little wider, and closer to the rider.
Each bike is capable of exceeding 150mph in just over 10 seconds from a standing start, but you can’t use all that power on the road. And this meant the Suzuki always had a slight edge. The GSX-R’S variable valve timing (VVT) engine and Broad Power System design means it has that bit more grunt in the mid-range, and that’s noticeable when overtaking in 5th and 6th. Above 50mph you only ever need 5th or 6th for a fast overtakes, with the power delivery arriving with insistent urgency.
The Honda isn’t slow though, and is only a fraction behind the GSX-R. Again, you only need the top two gears for fast overtakes, but it just feels a little lazier than the Suzuki. Once both bikes get towards the top end of their power curves the differences are less noticeable, but on the road you really can feel the Suzuki’s extra grunt.
This is where the Fireblade suddenly comes into its own. It’s lighter, turns more easily and is much more forgiving and easier to manage than the Suzuki. The Honda feels more accurate, and you can always put it where you want it with ease. We negotiated countless
‘The Suzuki’s VVT means it has more grunt in the mid-range’
fast corners and endless roundabouts, and the Honda always edged ahead.
It’s the same story down bumpy back roads, the Honda always being easier to manage, slightly more stable, less likely to wheelie, and more composed.
No matter which rider mode we selected the fuelling was always a little snatchy on the GSX-R, and certainly not as smooth as the Honda’s. Let’s be clear though, we are splitting hairs over marginal differences.
Suzuki have managed to imbue the GSX-R with their typical aggressive hooligan edginess. In many ways, it feels like just its predecessor, but with more power. You can change the traction control on the move, even deactivating it ( just like the Honda), but the TC is slightly more intrusive than the Blade’s. When both bikes are running maximum TC the Suzuki splutters and misfires while the Honda is getting on with making rapid progress.
The long game
After a day on the Suzuki I felt like I exhausted all its toys. In contrast, the Honda was still keeping me entertained. The Honda has a ‘grip readout’ which shows how much you’ve opened the throttle, using a real-time percentage readout on the bottom right corner of the dash. At night and in strong sunlight the clocks are also easier to read on the Honda. Other practicalities for living with the duo revealed that the mirrors on the Suzuki are wider, while there are also little hooks on the pillion pegs to strap weekend luggage.
Fast yet forgiving, you can put the Honda exactly where you want it Side-by-side it’s the GSX-R (left) that wins on wind protection The GSX-R doesn’t look quite as fresh as its Honda rival