2008 HONDA FIRE­BLADE

More power, less weight, bet­ter sus­pen­sion: PB’s high-mileage Honda is ready to be a Rut­ter test hero

Performance Bikes (UK) - - Performance Bikes - Photography Chippy Wood & Mark Man­ning

WE’VE AL­READY PROVEN our punt on a high-mileage sports­bike wasn’t a waste of cash: with a good ser­vice and a bit of love, it’s now just as pow­er­ful as it was 40,500 miles ago, and ready to dish out the smooth, ef­fec­tive drive that we’re bas­ing our hopes for lap­time glory on. But, as good as it is, we’ll need more than a stan­dard bike of­fers. Now we’re not fight­ing age and ne­glect, it’s time to coax some more out of the en­gine and han­dling.

Re­mem­ber, we’re keep­ing a lid on the bud­get: we’re aim­ing for £3500 on top of the £4000 we paid for the bike, for a to­tal of £7500. Which is about half the price of a new Fire­blade, S1000RR, GSX-R... Ex­pe­ri­ence tells us the eas­i­est gains come from the chassis, and given that the Honda’s parts need sort­ing any­way, it’s a no-brainer to di­rect the bulk of our bud­get here.

So any power-chasing had to be rel­a­tively cost­ef­fec­tive – for now, kit cams and a head job aren’t prac­ti­cal, as much as we might like the idea... To test some bits and pieces, we tapped up PB’s pal Chris Walker and his deal­er­ship/per­for­mance cen­tre just off the A1 in Gran­tham. As well as shelves full of bolt-ons, he also has a Dyno­jet 250i dyno that’s not do­ing too much this time of year, so we com­man­deered it for the day to tin­ker with the Honda. We laid down a base run first: although we tested it last month on BSD’s dyno, which we usu­ally use for our com­pa­ra­ble dyno re­sults, we ran the bike on a par­tic­u­larly cold day with at­mo­spheric con­di­tions that pro­duced an un­usu­ally high read­ing.

Our work­shop day at Stalker Per­for­mance was a milder day in early spring. The Honda knocked out 164bhp. That’s ex­actly what Mark at BSD thought would be the re­al­is­tic fig­ure on his iden­ti­cal dyno – right at the up­per end of early SC59 fig­ures, be­fore Honda re­vised the head de­sign in 2014. Good stuff.

Cheap/free im­prove­ments

Our first test was a free mod – dis­con­nect­ing the ex­haust valve cable. The Honda’s noise sup­press­ing valve is sprung to stay open; the servo acts to close it. Dis­con­nect it and the si­lencer doesn’t stay closed be­low 4500rpm. There’s a small dip in torque at low rpm as stan­dard – we wanted to see if own­ers of stan­dard bikes could smooth this out by leav­ing it open. They can’t... In­ter­est­ingly, the bike gained a 2bhp at peak, but we’re putting this down to the bike get­ting warmer and looser. No free power from the ex­haust flap: only from get­ting it hot and loose.

Test two was to cir­cum­vent an­other EU-pleas­ing mea­sure, the PAIR valve. These reed valves al­low clean air/oxy­gen from the air­box to be drawn into the ex­haust ports, and as­sist any un­burnt fuel ex­it­ing the com­bus­tion cham­ber to burn up in the bike’s pip­ing hot cat­a­lyst... which we’re about to bin. It also means the lambda sen­sor gets a false read­ing. Ditch it, and the ECU will know ex­actly what is com­ing out of the ex­haust ports. There’s also a the­ory that added cool air re­duces gas tem­per­a­ture and slows the gases down. But it’s an un­proven the­ory so far. In any case, they don’t help it go faster, so we’re bin­ning them.

Alone, this shouldn’t help much, but it will help later. We fit­ted a pair of £25 Smart Moto plates picked up on eBay: they’re nicely made and fit prop­erly. The only grief is the arse-ache of pulling the air­box off for ac­cess. Al­ter­na­tively, you can just cap the pipework off. It did add half a horse­power, sur­pris­ingly – it could be just the nat­u­ral dif­fer­ence be­tween runs, but it’s worth do­ing. While we had it in bits, we also fit­ted new throt­tle and clutch ca­bles. Whitey had spot­ted a few bro­ken strands – the new ones feel much slicker and smoother for lit­tle cash. We went with OE – it’s taken nine years and 40,000 miles to kill the orig­i­nals. Less than £50 on new ones is no hard­ship.

Bet­ter sparks and breath­ing

Slightly more salty was fit­ting a new set of OE Denso stick coils: de­spite the big ser­vice, the hot idle was still grumbly, and cold start­ing dif­fi­cult, of­ten drop­ping on to three cylin­ders. Mark at BSD reck­oned the age and miles on our coils was prob­a­bly the cul­prit: he was right. We fit­ted them, and it was much hap­pier for it – four cylin­ders, all the time. They might be lighter and more ef­fi­cient than old-style coils/leads/caps, but they’re not a life­time com­po­nent. Make sure the rub­ber seals are seated, too – one of ours showed signs of wa­ter dam­age, prob­a­bly con­tribut­ing to the fail­ure.

Next up for a run was the DNA fil­ter that came with the bike, to com­pare with a new OE fil­ter. Whitey cor­rectly cleaned and oiled the race fil­ter. The re­sult wasn’t stun­ning: but we still got 0.7bhp and half a lb.ft of torque. It was free to us, so it’s worth leav­ing in. There’s a the­ory they work bet­ter on track with a bet­ter ram-air feed pass­ing through than the still air in the dyno, so we may back-to-back test these on an air­field later on to see if it makes any dif­fer­ence in nor­mal use.

Now, a new can. Power isn’t an im­me­di­ate pri­or­ity so we didn’t want to spend bud­get that could be bet­ter spent on the chassis for now, but bet­ter breath­ing and a weight re­duc­tion is worth a go. We chose Hawk’s new Ti­tan si­lencer – an

en­try-level, all-ti­ta­nium op­tion. Fire­blades favour a long-ish sys­tem, and hav­ing a bike that’s day-to-day use­able (as well as pass­ing track­day noise tests) is also im­por­tant, so we chose a full-length si­lencer. Hawk’s link pipe is a de­cent length, mount­ing it high-level style rather than try­ing to cram it un­der the bike. I like it: there’s a touch of ’90s Muzzy to the high-exit. It was a mi­nor faff to fit – the link/header and si­lencer/link joins are in­cred­i­bly snug and needed a fair amount of force to lo­cate. They’re mounted with fairly large clamps, too; springs would be a nice fin­ish­ing touch. But that’s why it’s cheaper – there has to be a com­pro­mise, and we’re pleased with it as an af­ford­able upgrade.

Espe­cially when we tested it – gains all the way through, hold­ing most of its peak torque from 725010,750rpm. It’s not stupidly loud, ei­ther – noise testers and filth will have no im­me­di­ate cause for com­plaint.

Last job: fuelling. We’ve opted to test Rapid Bike’s Racing mod­ule. It’s sim­i­lar to a Power Com­man­der in that it’s an in­line sys­tem, tak­ing sig­nals from the ECU and mod­i­fy­ing fuel/ig­ni­tion set­tings. But it in­cor­po­rates an auto-tune func­tion us­ing air/fuel data from the lambda sen­sor to con­tin­u­ously learn and adapt as you ride, re­spond­ing to how the bike is run­ning in a par­tic­u­lar sce­nario – cold days, high al­ti­tude and so on. It doesn’t need any dyno time: it sorts its own life out. In the­ory, any­way; the Fire­blade is the per­fect test mule be­cause it’ll be do­ing plenty of road and track work.

We opted for the range-top­ping box as it al­lows the most add-ons – trac­tion con­trol, launch con­trol and a quick­shifter. It’ll give us more op­tions later if we want to do more with the bike. We’ve fit­ted the quick­shifter – a neat sys­tem that al­lows you to set dif­fer­ent kill-times at dif­fer­ent rpm. We opted for a slightly longer kill in the midrange – a short kill works great at full throt­tle/high rpm, but a longer du­ra­tion is bet­ter for short-shifts or road use. We’ve set it to only work above 4000rpm – be­low that isn’t best for the gear­box.

We ran it up a few times, and could see the mod­ule be­gin­ning to adapt the air/fuel. It was lean ini­tially, but be­gan adding more fuel. Power was up, but un­til it’s run­ning right we’re go­ing to dis­re­gard the ex­tra 2bhp – it’s not sus­tain­able to run a bike that way, de­spite the ap­par­ent ben­e­fit.

So we’re at least 6bhp up on the start of the day at peak, but im­por­tantly we’ve gained around 5bhp all the way through, and we’re mak­ing more than 80lb.ft. The boys at Chris Walker’s place are ob­vi­ously Kawasaki fans and quipped that it’s far from the 190bhp a ZX-10R churns out: but over­laid, the Fire­blade is far stronger un­til 10,000rpm. That sort of off-cor­ner drive can eas­ily pull out bike lengths of ad­van­tage – it’ll take a while for more pow­er­ful (but peakier) bikes to get go­ing, pull it back and over­take.

Han­dling it all

The Fire­blade’s abil­ity to re­main in close con­tention de­spite a power deficit is largely down to its han­dling. The pre-2017 Blade SP ac­tu­ally posts higher cor­ner speeds than just about any other 1000 on the Rut­ter test, with pro­duc­tion-spec Öh­lins, which is not only set up as a com­pro­mise, but also built to a slightly lower spec in­ter­nally to keep costs down. Our ref­er­ence test bike also used the heavy, in­tru­sive C-ABS sys­tem – there’s po­ten­tial for gains right there.

Our first im­prove­ment cost £87 – a full set of Galfer braided brake hoses to re­place the orig­i­nal rub­ber tubes. They’re nicely made, align prop­erly and have big, ro­bust banjo bolts. The wash­ers are alu­minium in­stead of the more com­mon cop­per – it’s a small im­prove­ment in ap­pear­ance we ap­pre­ci­ate.

The calipers just needed a clean – the monoblock To­ki­cos are light and pow­er­ful, with good pro­gres­sion. It has nearly-new aftermarket pads that worked well when we tested them last year, so we’re not re­plac­ing them.

The stock Showa sus­pen­sion isn’t bad to start with,

‘Our forks had suf­fered from harsh com­pres­sion damp­ing, and I sus­pected they had been over-filled with oil’

but 40,000 miles on the shock and a dodgy fork re­build have left ours feel­ing mis­matched and soggy/harsh re­spec­tively. As our Honda’s hopes for glory rest in Rut­ter’s hands, we chose K-Tech for sus­pen­sion. He’s used it for years in racing, so the DDS-Pro shock and SSK pis­ton kit we’ve opted for should suit him. And it’s one of the best op­tions any­way.

The shock’s an easy fit – re­move/dis­card shagged orig­i­nal; fit shiny/fresh K-Tech re­place­ment. The re­mote preload ad­juster is a bit more of a faff – Whitey man­aged to ca­jole it into fit­ting neatly on the right pil­lion peg fit­ting with the si­lencer hanger (K-Tech sug­gest the left side). The Unit Pro-Link fit­ment re­al­is­ti­cally re­quires a re­mote ad­juster, which is a cost op­tion on a cheaper DDS Lite shock, but by the time you’ve done that you may as well pay a lit­tle ex­tra for the by­pass valve the Pro ver­sion comes with. Es­sen­tially, it’s a tool for quick set-up changes – pri­mar­ily rac­ers need­ing to soften both com­pres­sion and re­bound damp­ing for a last-minute change to wet set­tings – but it’s use­ful any time you want an easy, re­versible re­duc­tion in comp/ re­bound – if you’ve got to knock out some mo­tor­way miles, for ex­am­ple. One turn and you can put it back to your track or B-road set-up.

The forks are a more in­volved job, so I took the bike over to K-Tech’s base for the ma­chin­ing and re­place­ment parts. The SSK kit is their first upgrade over a ba­sic ser­vice – it’s in­tended for road riders who also do track­days, fit­ting our brief per­fectly.

It’s es­sen­tially the same sys­tem as stan­dard, but as K-Tech’s Michael Han­cock ex­plains, it lacks the mass pro­duc­tion com­pro­mises.

“Stan­dard sus­pen­sion parts are de­signed so you can’t screw them up too badly,” he says. “The ad­just­ment range is lim­ited so you can’t lock your sus­pen­sion out, or re­move all the damp­ing. They’re also built to a price – the same fork pis­ton is used across lots of mod­els and con­trolled with dif­fer­ent shim­ming, rather than tai­lor­ing the pis­ton to the spe­cific bike. Which is what ours do – we make a dif­fer­ent pis­ton for ev­ery bike. The ad­just­ment nee­dles are also a dif­fer­ent ta­per, which gives a wider, finer range.”

Good stuff. Our forks suf­fered from harsh com­pres­sion damp­ing, which I sus­pected to be over-filled oil, and a hy­draulic lock un­der mod­er­ate com­pres­sion, but it was ac­tu­ally a lit­tle low. “That can also cause the same prob­lem,” Michael reck­ons. “These Showas have a hy­draulic bump stop that slows them down for the last 35mm of travel quite sud­denly – it stops most of the oil flow so the forks don’t bot­tom out. It might be that the oil used is far too thick, but the hy­draulic stop is a known lim­i­ta­tion in the Fire­lade’s forks any­way.”

truth for PB’s SC59 Blade on Stalker’s dyno

Dyno snif­fer wouldn’t stay in OE can, so we tapped a take off in to the head­ers Smart Moto plates blank PAIR valves Walker’s at­temptpgggat­gangsigns. Gran­tham will do that to you... Clever Rapid Bike Racing mod­ule ad­justs fuelling

£312 spent on new Denso coils erad­i­cated cold start­ing lumpi­ness

Fray­ing clutch and throt­tle ca­bles cost £50 to re­place with OE

L-R: OE re­bound nee­dle, OE re­moved by K-Tech and new, im­proved ta­per

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