RID­ING

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years have not dulled the an­tic­i­pa­tion of rid­ing a 1992 Fire­blade. It’s not some­thing we do lightly. True, the leg we swing over its grand seat unit is more re­spect­ful than trem­bling, these days. And fear of the ’Blade has ma­tured, like a 22 year-old malt, into a re­fined palate of flavours. Trep­i­da­tion is tem­pered with re­spect, and awe no longer re­served solely for its per­for­mance. The 118bhp, 165mph and 200kg vi­tals have long been bet­tered and ex­ceeded – al­though it still packs a wal­lop when we pull the pin.

But the pas­sage of time brings ap­pre­ci­a­tion of what the Fire­blade achieved. It changed the world – all of us, whether we owned one, rode one, saw them from afar or bought a ri­val, have been in­flu­enced by its round head­lights, pep­per­pot­ted blunt nose and bulging-bi­cep ally frame spars. Which is why it’s al­ways a plea­sure to ride. Even on a damp, windy, bone-chill­ing day sur­rounded by sheep and seag­ulls, high on a Welsh hill­top.

This is Steve Mar­tin’s 30,000-mile 1993 CBR900RR-P – iden­ti­cal to the 1992 RR-N save for pur­ple in­stead of blue and the shade of red. As a first-gen ’Blade it’s sup­posed to be less re­fined than the next three mod­els: the di­rect link­age gear­box is said to be stiffer; the Showa sus­pen­sion less con­trolled; and the 893cc en­gine peakier and less meaty. But as a fel­low Fire­blade owner (1996 RR-T), and hav­ing re­cently rid­den both a 1998 RR-W and a 1994 Ur­ban Tiger RR-R, I’m heav­ily, heav­ily bi­ased. It would take a very scabby Fire­blade to make me think ill of it.

Steve’s ’Blade shows signs of a life well­rid­den with dirt un­der its fin­ger­nails. A mish­mash of bolts hold the fair­ing (and I note with alarm, brake calipers) on. “It had orange wheels on too, un­til last night,” says Steve. “I changed them over for you.”

Steve owns “three-and-a-half” ’Blades, all 1992 or 1993 bikes. Like many of us, he wanted one back in the day but, like most of us, he couldn’t af­ford it. “Then life got in the way,” he says. He ended up nail­ing a ’Blade four years ago when his nephew went to look at one, but it was too grubby for him. “So I bought it in­stead be­cause it was £1300 cheap,” says Steve. “I ab­so­lutely loved it im­me­di­ately. They’re un­burstable, you know? They’re such tools and it’s fan­tas­tic just to own. And it does ex­actly what you want it to; it’s very for­giv­ing. It’s com­fort­able, and it’ll go through traf­fic and be­have it­self, or it’ll get over 8000rpm and scare you. And it’s still good for a track­day. This one came from a Satur­day night with a few too many beers on ebay,” he says as I get on board.

I press the starter and the en­gine im­me­di­ately bursts into that well-known cammy bur­ble, am­pli­fied by the space un­der the tank act­ing like an echo cham­ber. It’s an ac­tive, ea­ger en­gine, smoothly rac­ing up and down the rev range as you blip the throt­tle with tiger-ish re­sponse. The steer­ing feels light and di­rect, the con­trols all light and con­trol­lable. The ’Blade rolls cau­tiously onto the Welsh tar­mac. And we get rock­ing.

Wow. Still got it. Still. Got. It. How can any­one ever tire of this sen­sa­tion? The way the CBR jumps when you get on the gas – not with a hor­ri­bly harsh, mod­ern, emis­sions stran­gled snatch, but with a smear­ing, blurred tran­si­tion from not mov­ing to mov­ing very fast. The gearchanges slip neatly home – this is the best ’Blade box I’ve used; bet­ter than mine – as the revs pile up­wards on that lit­tle, foam-set dial. And, it’s a de­tail, but rac­ing foam. On a road bike. You can stuff your dig­i­tal boxes and trip com­put­ers, mate – this one’s got rac­ing foam.

Steve’s bike is fun­da­men­tally sound. It flicks left and right through the land­scape – seems to have a slight pref­er­ence to lefts over rights, for some rea­son – and is com­posed enough to be con­fi­dent in dodgy con­di­tions, but with enough pat­ter­ing from both ends un­der brak­ing and ac­cel­er­a­tion to keep me hon­est. The trade­mark CBR900RR top­ple into cor­ners is present; you need a front tyre you can trust on a 1990s ’Blade. For­tu­nately there are still plenty of op­tions to­day, with Bridge­stone’s S20s com­ing in for praise. Dun­lop Qual­i­fier IIS, as we have here, go down well also. “They’re re­ally good,” says Steve, when I stop for a chat. “When it’s got new boots it han­dles lovely, but when the rear tyre wears the front drops in.”

I tell him his bike feels fit­ter than my 1996 ’Blade, which it shouldn’t. ’Blades are fond of wheel­ies, but this thing is paw­ing the air all the way through sec­ond gear, on the gas. Steve smiles: “It’s geared down – go to a 44T rear sprocket.”

I race off again, un­able to stop smil­ing de­spite the tem­per­a­tures. Truth is I don’t even feel the cold; the ’Blade is so in­volv­ing, so alive. We ap­pre­ci­ate all that new bikes have to of­fer, but it’s sober­ing to think that we’re as far away from this bike now as we were from a 1970s CB750F when the ’Blade was orig­i­nally launched. How’s that for his­tor­i­cal per­spec­tive?

We take for granted the idea that as we ride a bike through the world we change it. We swap the fruit of our labours for re­fined fos­sil fuel, con­vert­ing it into mo­men­tum and ex­haust gas. We leave rub­ber on the road, brake dust on our wheel rims and by­standers our wake. When we ride a bike, we are the but­ter­fly’s wings that cause a hur­ri­cane.

But we rarely stop to think about how it changes us. No-one who rides any bike comes away from the ex­pe­ri­ence the same per­son they were be­fore. But you’re even less the same af­ter rid­ing a 1990s Fire­blade. I give Steve’s bike back to him, hot, ping­ing and used. And that’s just me.

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