‘It’s the best Blade ever built’
The ZX-10R is still fast, and certainly packs enough power – but it’s all at the top- end, and that makes it hard to access on the road. It’s got a communicative chassis, but high pegs and low bars make for uncompromising ergonomics. Combined with its dated feel, it’s demoted to last place in this company.
A step ahead is the Panigale. It’s the one we all wanted if we were buying with our hearts because it feels so special. It’s also roomier and smoother than you might expect, but awkward at low speeds and on bumpy roads. The most desirable fifth place finisher ever.
Just ahead, despite being far from stock, is the S1000RR. It’s a brilliant bike, fits all sizes and is devastatingly quick. But it’s also so clinically efficient that it’s bland, and that feeling isn’t diminished by ticking all the accessory options.
Stepping onto the podium, despite being one of the oldest bikes on test, is the R1. That stunning engine, rewarding ride, and soulful character make riding it a hugely enjoyable experience, but the hewn- of- granite seat is uncomfortable, and the whole bike screams track, not road.
At the top it’s almost too close to call. But it’s the GSX-R, ultimately, that comes a very close second to the Fireblade. It is the cheapest on test, has more power and torque then the Honda, and is a superb road bike – but it just doesn’t have the refinement, or visual excitement of the Blade. And while thr Blade may need a bigger screen, it is the best Blade ever built, and that lovely, snarling soundtrack entertains whether you’re bimbling about or pushing on.
‘Nothing matches its refinement or excitement’
Some of Europe’s best motorcycling roads can be found in Scotland, with each region offering something different in terms of scenery and sense of adventure. This special ride takes in the wilds of Argyll, starting and finishing at the self proclaimed ‘Gateway to the Highlands’, Crianlarich. Begin with a short trundle west on the A82 to Tyndrum where you’ll find the Green Welly Stop, a suitable spot for both bike and rider to top up – fuel and food will be few and far between on this route so you may wish to make the most of this long established staging post.
Keep left at the fork as you roll out of town (heading for Oban on the A85) and you’ll be rewarded with a glorious strip of asphalt that weaves gently along a fir-lined river valley. The road runs parallel with the mainline rail, flat grey and cold steel in contrast to the vibrant sparkle of the River Lochy; funnelled by steep slopes, this meandering watercourse leads you on to its confluence with the Orchy, which you’ll cross to ride down the northern shore of Loch Awe. A spectacular vista is revealed before the tarmac takes a turn to follow the River Awe, dipping along the water’s edge to dive through a natural groove between the hills. Beyond this crevice the landscape levels out and the road sweeps away from the river before reaching Loch Etive and rolling onward to Oban.
From Oban take the A816 – fuel up on the way out of town if needs be as the next opportunity is some 40 miles on. This next section has an entirely different charm as the blacktop transforms from a smooth rolling cruise to a ribbon of challenging twisties; it’s a sensational ride that corkscrews through the heather, hugging the terrain as it crests and falls through relentless rippling undulations. Eventually you’ll reach Lochgilphead, whose filling station may well prove a welcome sight. If you’re hungry try the Argyll Café – their traditional home cooked food is sure to make you ‘bide a wee’ before pushing on up the A83.
A flowing flit along Loch Fyne comes next, where you can race your reflection north to the rugged mountains of the Arrochar Alps and a steady climb to the Rest and be Thankful. Take a moment at the summit to do just that before making a dramatic descent through Glen Croe and a spin around the head of picturesque Loch Long. At Tarbet turn left and head for home on the A82.
‘It’s a sensational ride that corkscrews through the heather, hugging the terrain’