2008 HONDA FIREBLADE
More power, less weight, better suspension: PB’s high-mileage Honda is ready to be a Rutter test hero
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.
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