2017 sportsbike of the year: Honda Fireblade SP

Published: 26 October 2017

Where do you start with the new Honda Fireblade? Talk about contentious. It’s been hopeless in World Superbikes, disastrous at the TT and bombed in a handful of other magazine group tests. So how can it be our Sportsbike of the Year?

Well, to find out, we need to rewind the clock to the beginning of the year. We couldn’t wait to ride the long awaited new Blade, or the higher-spec Blade SP, complete with its semi-active Öhlins and up/down quickshifter and it didn’t disappoint. At its January launch in Portimao the compact superbike proved itself to be lighter, crisper, sharper and more urgent than ever and impressed all who rode it.

The good times kept rolling when we invited five Blade owners to ride the first new bike (a standard version) to arrive in the UK. They were bowled over by the machine’s beefier power, its smoothness, lightness and refinement. For riders with little experience of electronics they loved the safety of the new Torque Control system and its effort-saving anti-wheelie system.

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For our superbike shootout in March we assembled the new Blade SP, the new Suzuki GSX-R1000R, the Aprilia RSV4 RF, a BMW S1000RR, a Yamaha R1M, the lightly-modded Ducati 1299 Panigale S and the only machine unchanged for 2107: Kawasaki’s ZX-10R. A thorough test followed at Rockingham Circuit, a road trip to Wales, the test strip and dyno.

We weighed them and fitted Pirelli control tyres along the way, too. The new SP was third quickest, just behind the Ducati and BMW. It was an impressive leap and fitted with slicks the Honda felt more like an RC213V-S MotoGP replica than a road bike. On the road the SP carried on where the old Blade left off and impressed our testers with its easy accuracy and its sumptuous RC30-like build quality. The Blade SP also proved to be the lightest of its rivals (a massive 16kg less than an Aprilia RSV4 RF). So while the 189bhp Honda is around 10bhp down on its rivals, its power-to-weight ratio is formidable.

Later in the year black clouds formed over Honda’s new superbike and rained on its reputation as the new Blade went racing. WSB bikes under performed and the firm’s road racing bikes unceremoniously dumped their star riders on the tarmac. But wins in BSB and a podium in World Endurance later in the year hinted at the Blade’s true potential as a racer. Gearboxes and throttle connections aren’t a problem on unmolested road bikes.

The Ron Haslam Race School has run new Blades and Blade SPs for thousands of miles around Donington this year without issue. But the Honda’s real Achilles Heel on track (and sometimes even on the road) is its road-focused Torque Control. It’s designed to trim power when you start to slide or wheelie. It activates once and then releases its electronic grip, assuming the rider will have let off too.

That’s fine for the road, but on the track you can’t lean on its rider aids, like you can with conventional traction and wheelie control systems.You get around this by fitting sticky tyres, so you don’t set the electronics off in the first place, or turn the Torque Control right down, or off. Ride the Blade SP back-to-back against its rivals and it makes them feel heavy, unrefined and slightly clumsy. And that’s why it’s unashamedly its road-focused Torque Control.

It’s designed to trim power when you start to slide or wheelie. It activates once and then releases its electronic grip, assuming the rider will have leto ff too. That’s fine for the road, but on the track you can’t lean on its rider aids, like you can with conventional traction and wheelie control systems. You get around this by fitting sticky tyres, so you don’t set the electronics off in the first place, or turn the Torque Control right down, or off.

Ride the Blade SP back-to-back against its rivals and it makes them feel heavy, unrefined and slightly clumsy. And that’s why it’s unashamedly our Sportsbike of the Year.

Senior Road Tester Adam 'Chad' Child was the lucky devil at the launch of the new Honda Fireblade and Fireblade SP at the Portimao circuit. You can view his video review above.

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