The first v the best v the new­est + used guide

Motorcycle News (UK) - - News - By Tim Thom­pon HEAD OF CON­TENT @MCNNEWS mo­tor­cy­cle­news

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

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