EN­DURANCE TEST

Honda’s new SP2 shines af­ter nine hours, 277 miles and 111 laps

Motorcycle News (UK) - - This Week - MICHAEL NEEVES michael.neeves@mo­tor­cy­cle­news.com @Mc­n­sport mo­tor­cy­cle­news

Honda’s Fireblade has been the lifeblood of Ron Haslam’s race school since it started in 1996. Dur­ing those 21 years the school has used ev­ery Blade evo­lu­tion but here we are on the lat­est ad­di­tion to Honda’s su­per­bike fam­ily: the SP2.

It costs £22,225 and only 500 have been pro­duced to sat­isfy WSB ho­molo­ga­tion rules. Cus­tomers were ex­pect­ing it to ar­rive ear­lier in the year… so bet­ter late then never.

To­day I’m rid­ing one of just 39 SP2S to be brought into the UK, to spend the day in­struct­ing some of the Haslam School’s Elite course rid­ers at Don­ing­ton Park.

It’s the Blade’s 25th an­niver­sary and the new model is do­ing well in MCE Bri­tish Su­per­bikes (see p64-69) but poor re­sults in WSB and dis­as­trous events in road rac­ing have tar­nished the SP2’S rep­u­ta­tion and that’s fil­tered down to the new-for-2017 stan­dard (£15,225) and SP (£19,125) ver­sions.

The SP2’S ba­sic chas­sis, en­gine, elec­tron­ics pack­age, Brem­bos and semi­ac­tive Öh­lins are iden­ti­cal to the SP – which won MCN’S 2017 su­per­bike shootout ear­lier this year. Power stays at a claimed 189bhp, but the mo­tor’s top end is more ro­bust, ready for tun­ing.

It has stronger pis­tons, more room in the head for high-lift cams (à la ZX-10RR), re­vised shape and an­gle in­take valves (1mm big­ger) and ex­haust valves (1.5mm big­ger), elon­gated spark plugs and, as with the RC213V Mo­togp bike, a new wa­ter jacket wraps around re­shaped com­bus­tion cham­bers.

In the chas­sis depart­ment the SP2 gains light­weight forged alu­minium March­esini wheels and the body­work has car­bon-look blue stripes.

It’s nat­u­ral to com­pare race bikes with their road-go­ing coun­ter­parts, but top-level com­pe­ti­tion ma­chines, with their spe­cialised elec­tron­ics, gear­boxes, sus­pen­sion, gear­ing, en­gine tune, swingarms and ev­ery­thing in be­tween are worlds apart.

Trial by in­ter­net sug­gests the SP2’S throt­tle will have a mind of its own and a gear­box full of neu­trals. But as I’m lead­ing my rapid stu­dents around this breath-tak­ing track, their Blade SPS large in my mir­rors, the SP2 be­haves like a nor­mal mo­tor­cy­cle and not a ‘trou­bled’ Honda racer.

It goes and stops like it should, doesn’t miss gears, ac­cel­er­ates like stink and han­dles like Blades al­ways have: it’s agile but sta­ble and has more than a hint of RCV DNA cours­ing through its veins. But like the rest of the new Blade range the SP2’S pipe is still bloody loud, so you’re go­ing to strug­gle at qui­eter track­days.

At 195kg, full of fuel, the nor­mal SP weighs less than its su­per­bike ri­vals, which is the se­cret to its suc­cess. On MCN’S scales it’s a kilo lighter (and less an­gry) than a Du­cati 1299 Pani­gale S and an in­cred­i­ble 16kg less than an Aprilia RSV4 Fac­tory. The Blade may not have head­line-grab­bing bhp, but its power-to-weight ra­tio is for­mi­da­ble.

The SP2’S forged ali wheels shed even more mass (al­though Honda haven’t re­vealed by how much) mak­ing it feel race bike-light, es­pe­cially when the fuel load goes down.

With Ron Haslam’s rec­om­mended

‘It’s agile but sta­ble and has more than a hint of RCV DNA cours­ing through its veins’

sus­pen­sion set­tings di­alled-in (see right), fast di­rec­tion changes down through Craner Curves and up into Mclean’s have never been eas­ier and danc­ing from side-to-side in the Foggy Esses takes zero ef­fort. That’s a god­send when you’re track-rid­ing the equiv­a­lent of Calais to the Nür­burg­ing in a day.

Honda’s Torque Con­trol fit­ted to the whole Blade range trims power when you slide or wheelie on the road. It ac­ti­vates once and then re­leases its elec­tronic grip, as­sum­ing the rider will have let off too. That’s fine for the road, but means on the track you can’t lean on the elec­tron­ics like you can with the best trac­tion and wheelie con­trol sys­tems.

You get around this by fit­ting sticky tyres, so you don’t set the elec­tron­ics off in the first place, or turn the Torque Con­trol right down, or off.

Af­ter three lots of three-hour oneto-one ses­sions with stu­dents, the SP2 has saved me from any real dis­com­fort. The low screen and high pegs take their toll on a tall rider like me, but the Blade is so re­fined, light and com­fort­able I could go on for another nine hours.

On the road

Pil­ing another two hours and 100 miles to my day on the round trip from home to Don­ing­ton, the Blade SP2 impresses even more. Its light­weight wheels make an al­ready agile ma­chine steer more crisply and im­prove ride qual­ity, mak­ing it feel more vivid and alive.

Slic­ing through the sweet quick shif­tas­sisted gear­box keeps the en­gine spin­ning along my favourite route via the B676 to Mel­ton Mow­bray and bat­ting the Honda be­tween my legs at traf­fic lights it feels all the world like a hol­lowed-out 600cc su­per­sport racer.

With so few ma­chines be­ing brought into the UK ex­clu­siv­ity is as­sured and the classy build qual­ity is ev­ery­thing you ex­pect from a 22-grand, HRCbadged ho­molo­ga­tion spe­cial.

Neeves in in­struc­tor mode at Don­ing­ton Park

Elec­tronic sus­pen­sion pro­vides ex­quis­ite han­dling around Don­ing­ton Park

Light­weight March­esi­nis boost agility

Three most im­por­tant let­ters in bik­ing

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