Developing a 170bhp Blade

Published: 11 February 2002

THIS 170bhp FireBlade is the basis for a 2002 British Superbike – and you can buy one for around £13,000.

It is being developed by Motopower, a leading Honda squad in this year’s championship. I say " being " because the men behind it, top tuner Russell Savory and ex-racer Mick Grant, are canvassing opinion about how to turn it into the ultimate Blade for the road.

And that’s why MCN has been invited to Leicester’s Bruntingthorpe Proving Ground for the first test. We’ve been asked for our input to ensure Motopower builds a bike perfectly suited to you and your lifestyle.

As well as the bike we’re riding today, there’ll be a 180bhp version, too. It’s imperative both remain reliable and easy to ride at real-world speeds. That means tuning the engines for top-end power without the expense of a trade-off in the mid-range.

In fact, Motopower has been so successful at spreading the power that peak torque and bhp are held for a monumental 2000rpm. That translates to easy rideability and a bike that simply can’t fall out of the very upper range of its power with each subsequent gearshift – as long as you’re revving it hard to begin with.

It’s not such a big deal in the upper gears on the road – you’d be doing over 150mph to take advantage of it – but the broad spread will come into its own during track days.

Brunters combines a two-mile straight with a weird selection of corners, some of which are race track quality, others on cracking slabs of concrete. It’s the perfect venue to assess a bike which needs to cope just as well with potholes and overbanding as track-smooth Tarmac.

But the damp and greasy conditions at this Midlands venue mean we’re not going to be able to find the limits of its true cornering potential – not that we’d be able to if the circuit was baking, either.

You see, the firm has concentrated its efforts so far on developing the engine. The chassis needs more work to turn it into the razor-sharp handler it will be by the time the Blade goes on sale.

The bike fires up instantly, a controlled growl becoming a rasping snarl with each blip of the throttle. Savory says there’s 170bhp at the rear wheel (at least 180 at the crank), but the bike doesn’t have a steering damper. It needs one. A quick squirt through the first couple of gears lifts the front end, but there’s nothing you can do other than close the throttle.

As it gains momentum, it begins moving around on the rough surface. The bars waggle and MCN test rider and national racer Bruce Dunn short-shifts into third, then fourth. Head down, and with stability restored, he cracks the throttle with almost two miles of straight still ahead.

The front goes light again and the bars shake.

He reaches top gear, but admits to being unnerved. He says: " The bike has an absolutely unbelievable engine. It’s amazing. The spread of power is huge, considering how much has been squeezed out.

" It’s a bit woolly to 2000rpm, but you’re never going to live there. Above that, it feels like a Blade engine – times two. But the chassis can’t cope as it is. It needs careful setting up, though it won’t need much, if any, actual engineering work. It’s a bit lively.

" There’s so much power it makes the front go light in unexpected places, where a stock Blade’s wouldn’t.

" The stock frame is as beefy as they come and the swingarm has been developed with the help of the engineers who’ve developed the RCV V5 at Honda’s racing department. That means Motopower won’t need to touch it, either.

" As a good starting point, we need to dial compliancy into the suspension by getting the settings right, and hold the bike’s head with a decent damper. "

Apart from these mods, which Motopower intends to implement, the final bike will also get braided brake hoses. Additional options will include Ohlins suspension front and rear, cast Oz wheels and a Beringer quadruple front disc and caliper assembly – like the one seen on the race bike which Matt Llewellyn will ride this season.

These will push the price up by a couple of thousand pounds, but Dunn reckons the stock calipers, master cylinder and discs are up to the job. " They’re superb, " he says. " Honda has kept the same 330mm Nissin discs and master cylinder as last year’s bike, but fitted larger pistons for 2002. They improve the braking by at least 10 per cent. "

The 180bhp version will start from around £18,000, though you could pay as much as you want and the firm will fit anything made for Blades to improve performance.

Both 170 and 180bhp engines are tuned in the same way, with subtle differences to improve the latter. They’re stripped, blueprinted and balanced. The head is gas-flowed and stainless one-piece valves are fitted, along with modified valve seats and special valve springs which reduce damaging valve flutter caused by the high rev ceiling.

High-lift, longer-duration camshafts raise compression to 12.5:1 - still well within safety guidelines to ensure longevity and low enough for the engine not to need litres of octane booster, unlike some tuned litre bikes on sale.

A modified version of the standard Honda ECU " electronic brain " is fitted to the 170bhp bikes, raising the rev ceiling from the stock 12,200rpm to 13,000 – hence the need for stiffer valve springs. The 180bhp version gets Motopower’s own ECU, which revs to 13,500rpm.

Both are likely to get ram-air, too, but this is still being developed. It won’t affect top speed – that’s governed by gearing – but it could improve acceleration measurably. And as both bikes need to be road-legal to ensure a broad enough appeal, Motopower will supply a road and race can to fit a full Lazer exhaust system.

Apart from the obvious attention you’d get at race meetings and pub meets, owners’ perks will include free membership of the Motopower customer team, which earns you free hospitality at any or all of the 13 BSB races this year. There’ll also be a track day this summer where owners exclusively get to ride with the team, and pump them for advice and tips.

And because insuring non-standard bikes can be tricky, Savory is negotiating with various underwriters to offer realistic quotes as well.

So far only CIS has been named, but at least one other won’t insist on the usual two years no-claims.

If you’re interested, Savory plans special try-out days at Bruntingthorpe, where prospective owners can find out what they’re letting themselves in for. You’ll pay a deposit, refundable as a discount on the bike’s cost.

MCN will be testing the first, finished Motopower Blade in three weeks, and we’ll be riding it on the road, as well as the track.