THE BLADES THAT CHANGED THE WORLD
The first v the best v the newest + used guide
Oh, this is good. Three of my all-time favourites parked in a line outside one of the truly great fish and chip shops. Not only that, we are literally minutes from the best road in Lincolnshire and, therefore, in the whole damn world.
We half-heartedly discuss the pros and cons of eating cod with a wooden fork but our focus is across the park on that trio of Honda Fireblades. We have one from each decade of its 25year reign: a 1992 original CBR900RR, a £19-grand SP and, from the middle years, a 2002 954 in outrageous yellow.
We’ve been swapping bikes and posi- tions all morning, and I still can’t decide if I like best being squadron leader or tail-end Charley. At the front I see, in clear mirrors – a Blade trademark for 25 years – two of the most evocative and familiar faces in motorcycling. At the back, I get the oily whiff of precat’ burn and the angry rasps of three inline fours snarling to their redlines.
Now Chippy’s out front on his 25,000-mile original which, despite the acquisition of a family and mortgage, he has manfully clung on to over the years.
Ped, lurking passive-aggressively on his 954, also has the body language of a man who wouldn’t swap his bike for anything less than the rollover jackpot. Both Blades are still totally equipped to deliver an epic afternoon on Lincolnshire’s sweepers. My 2017 SP, meanwhile, looks kind of familiar, and is a relative of these old boys for sure. Up close though it is smaller and much thinner; no bigger, in fact, than a CBR400RR. Ridiculed and written off by many, this is one of the smartest sportsbikes I’ve ridden and near-perfection on the road. It’s compact, yes, but roomy, balanced and comfortable all day. And if you recall how the original Blade was the lightest and flightiest bag of tricks we’d ever seen in 1992, consider how the new SP, despite the Euro4 baggage it has to carry, makes
it feel like it’s made of lead.
The SP floats down the A15 on its semi-active Öhlins suspension like a 176bhp gondola. It’s so tight, precise and relentlessly efficient that its crisp TFT dash needs regular monitoring as it typically travels 20mph faster than you think. Its tiny screen doesn’t slow it down, nothing does, except perhaps the din when its throttle is pinned. At a trackside noise test it registered a sensible 94db at 5500rpm but at 10,000rpm the SP is acoustic anarchy – so ear-splittingly loud I was booted off a trackday at Spa, despite the SP being the only road legal bike in my group.
If Chippy’s original feels more planted and less giddy than it did in 1992 and Ped’s 954 is still one of the fasteststeering headcases you can ride, the SP is all about control. Its electronic brain relentlessly works to minimise wheelies and all the bi-products of throttle abuse. Instead it maximises stability and traction, driving the bike forward, and while the steering is potentially as exciting as the 954’s there now a delicious HESD metered weight to it just when you need it. As Ped said after his go on my bike: “I can put the SP wherever I want!’
The strangest thing about the new cool and clinical iteration of the Honda Fireblade is that, after a faltering start, I’ve fallen for it. Emotionally, it does it for me no less than the attentionseeking, drama queen histrionics of the Panigale 1299 S. Its efficiency and calmness are the polar opposite of what you think a motorcycle should be, but are in their way no less beguiling.
Three men, three Fireblades… but which incarnation of the Honda is the very best?
The 954 Blade turns corners well and turns heads too It goes where you point it... and it goes there fast