Out and about on the RIDE fleet bikes

The two Fire­blades in Si’s shed are split by 21 years and £17,000. And it feels like it…

RiDE (UK) - - Contents - SI­MON HAR­G­REAVES

PER­HAPS, HUN­DREDS OF thou­sands of years from now, cock­roach-based ar­chae­ol­o­gists of Earth’s then-dom­i­nant species will de­bate the piv­otal mo­ment when Homo sapi­ens flipped from striv­ing for tech­ni­cal and so­cial en­light­en­ment into a self-de­struc­tive par­ody. Some may con­clude it was 2016 – partly be­cause that was when David Bowie stopped and Pres­i­dent Trump started but also, it was the year Honda an­nounced the fi­nal ver­sion of the in­line four Fire­blade (be­fore launch­ing a V4-pow­ered su­per­bike in 2020, ahem).

As hy­po­thet­i­cal ev­i­dence, a se­nior cock­roach might give a TED talk at which he scut­tles out a 1996 Fire­blade along­side the 2017 CBR1000RR SP and in­vites his au­di­ence to com­pare the el­e­gant sim­plic­ity of the ear­lier classic against the dis­pos­abil­ity of the newer ma­chine.

Of course, our in­sec­toid in­tel­lec­tual will prob­a­bly never ex­ist. But the point of his imag­i­nary pre­sen­ta­tion lives on in my garage. And, as the owner of a 1996 CBR900RR-T Fire­blade and cus­to­dian of a 2017 CBR1000RR SP, it would be re­miss not to lay a few com­par­a­tive myths that may, or may not, mis­lead a SPEC HONDA CBR1000RR FIRE­BLADE SP £19,125 + 999cc in­line four + 189bhp + 196kg + 16-litre tank + 832mm seat + Miles so far: 1653

fu­ture six-legged Tony Robin­son. Which one de­serves to be con­sid­ered classic?

The older bike’s smoother, rounded shape is more pleas­ing to the com­pound eye than the new bike’s an­gu­lar chaos; lines cost less than curves. And the CBR900RR’S el­e­men­tal de­sign econ­omy is con­trasted by the CBR1000RR’S overt tech­ni­cal com­plex­ity. Fir­ing up the clunker’s in­ti­mate, ana­logue me­chan­i­cals, all hol­low cam­chain rat­tle and un­bal­anced carbs, fills ears with more primeval joy than the dig­i­tal wave­form of the new bike. Although that’s loud too, trip­ping the noise me­ter at a Mal­lory Park track­day. But go for a ride, back to back, and it’s clear the older bike is nos­tal­gic guff; re­liv­ing an­cient bat­tles with vin­tage der­ring-do. It’s quick, and han­dles well on Mct-tuned sus­pen­sion and Bridge­stone S20s. But the 2017 Blade is all, en­tirely, about mov­ing as fast as in­sec­toidally pos­si­ble. Dy­nam­i­cally, it’s an ex­po­nen­tially more ad­vanced life-form. The CBR1000RR SP’S per­for­mance and con­trol is

“Which one de­serves to be classic?”

phe­nom­e­nal. Öh­lins semi-ac­tive is like glid­ing on but­ter­cream, chas­sis feed­back is im­mense and the engine’s barely-con­tained fury is ter­ri­fy­ing. I wish the new Blade was phys­i­cally big­ger – es­pe­cially the com­edy fair­ing; might as well be a naked bike. Suzuki’s GSX-R, BMW’S S1000RR and even Du­cati’s Pani­gale have a more civilised hyper­space game.

When I rode the base model Blade a few months ago, I com­plained - loudly that the re­la­tion­ship between throt­tle and engine was odd. Dis­con­nected and ran­dom com­ing out of a cor­ner, the engine’s pick-up never seemed in the right place to get back on the gas. It was sub­tle but dis­con­cert­ing; the bike didn’t feel dan­ger­ous but was hard to trust. It was easy to point at the Honda’s ride-by­wire (only its sec­ond, af­ter the VFR1200) and so­phis­ti­cated engine man­age­ment. Maybe the bike was too clever?

By chance, I found my­self rid­ing a few 2017 Blades in­clud­ing my cur­rent SP. But they all felt dif­fer­ent; my base bike was poor, an­other I tried was bet­ter, an SP I had a go on felt sub­lime and fi­nally, this SP is also fault­less. Which set me think­ing: the only dif­fer­ences are the tyres: the first, bad, Blade was on Dun­lop D214s. Not ideal. The next was on Bridge­stone S21s; bet­ter tyres, bet­ter throt­tle feel­ing. The first SP was on Miche­lin Power RSS and this one, Pirelli Di­ablo Su­per­corsa SPS. Both amaz­ing.

So here’s a the­ory: put the new Blade on poor tyres, dial up the trac­tion con­trol (be­cause that’s sen­si­ble, right?) and the bike de­tects lower grip and trans­lates your TC set­ting as a re­quest to in­ter­vene early – it’s su­per-sen­si­tive, sub­tly hold­ing the mo­tor back by lim­it­ing throt­tle open­ing even at mod­est speeds and lean an­gles. Re­sult? Even in the full power engine mode, you still don’t get the ex­pected throt­tle con­trol.

How­ever, stick the Blade on proper sports tyres, drop the trac­tion con­trol to near-min­i­mum and the bike works out there’s lots of grip and that you’re happy to use it. So it lets you get on with the job in hand with­out in­ter­fer­ing.

So far it’s only a the­ory. I’m hop­ing to turn it into fact with an ex­per­i­ment next month. Un­less the cock­roaches get there first.

Classic or mod­ern? Si’s hair­style could eas­ily be ei­ther

As time has gone on, the Blade’s been on a diet, slim­ming down and get­ting a bit more buff at the same time While the body­work has slimmed down, the mus­cles have bulked up, with the lat­est ver­sion sport­ing a larger clutch hous­ing

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