Honda’s Fireblade has been the lifeblood of Ron Haslam’s race school since it started in 1996. During those 21years the school has used every Blade evolution but here we are on the latest addition to Honda’s superbike family: the SP2.
It costs £22,225 and only 500 have been produced to satisfy WSB homologation rules. Customers were expecting it to arrive earlier in the year… so better late then never.
Today I’m riding one of just 39 SP2s to be brought into the UK, to spend the day instructing some of the Haslam School’s Elite course riders at Donington Park. It’s the Blade’s 25th anniversary and the new model is doing well in MCE British Superbikes but poor results in WSB and disastrous events in road racing have tarnished the SP2’s reputation and that’s filtered down to the new-for-2017 standard (£15,225) and SP (£19,125) versions.
The SP2’s basic chassis, engine, electronics package, Brembos and semi active Öhlins are identical to the SP– which won MCN’s 2017 superbike shootout earlier this year. Power stays at a claimed 189bhp, but the motor’s top end is more robust, ready for tuning. It has stronger pistons, more room in the head for high-lift cams (à la ZX-10RR), revised shape and angle intake valves (1mm bigger) and exhaust valves (1.5mm bigger), elongated spark plugs and, as with the RC213V MotoGP bike, a new water jacket wraps around reshaped combustion chambers.
In the chassis department the SP2 gains lightweight forged aluminium Marchesini wheels and the bodywork has carbon-look blue stripes. It’s natural to compare race bikes with their road-going counterparts, but top-level competition machines, with their specialised electronics, gearboxes, suspension, gearing, engine tune, swingarms and everything in between are worlds apart.
Trial by internet suggests the SP2’s throttle will have a mind of its own and a gearbox full of neutrals. But as I’m leading my rapid students around this breath-taking track, their Blade SPs large in my mirrors, the SP2 behaves like a normal motorcycle and not a ‘troubled’ Honda racer. It goes and stops like it should, doesn’t miss gears, accelerates like stink and handles like Blades always have: it’s agile but stable and has more than a hint of RCV DNA coursing through its veins.
But like the rest of the new Blade range the SP2’s pipe is still bloody loud, so you’re going to struggle at quieter trackdays. At 195kg, full of fuel, the normal SP weighs less than its superbike rivals, which is the secret to its success. On MCN’s scales it’s a kilo lighter (and less angry) than a Ducati 1299 Panigale S and an incredible 16kg less than an Aprilia RSV4 Factory. The Blade may not have headline-grabbing bhp, but its power-to-weight ratio is formidable. The SP2’s forged ali wheels shed even more mass (although Honda haven’t revealed how much) making it feel race bike-light, especially when the fuel load goes down.
With Ron Haslam’s recommended suspension settings dialled-in, fast direction changes down through Craner Curves and up into McLean’s have never been easier and dancing from side-to-side in the Foggy Esses takes zero effort. That’s a godsend when you’re track-riding the equivalent of Calais to the Nürburging in a day.
Honda’s Torque Control fitted to the whole Blade range trims power when you slide or wheelie on the road. It activates once and then releases its electronic grip, assuming the rider will have let off too. That’s fine for the road, but means on the track you can’t lean on the electronics like you can with the best 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.
After three lots of three-hour one-to-one sessions with students, the SP2 has saved me from any real discomfort. The low screen and high pegs take their toll on a tall rider like me, but the Blade is so refined, light and comfortable I could go on for another nine hours.
On the road
Piling another two hours and 100 miles to my day on the round trip from home to Donington, the Blade SP2 impresses even more. Its lightweight wheels make an already agile machine steer more crisply and improve ride quality, making it feel more vivid and alive. Slicing through the sweet quickshift assisted gearbox keeps the engine spinning along my favourite route via the B676 to Melton Mowbray and batting the Honda between my legs at traffic lights it feels all the world like a hollowed-out 600cc supersport racer.
With so few machines being brought into the UK exclusivity is assured and the classy build quality is everything you expect from a 22-grand, HRC badged homologation special.
It’s been drenched in controversy before it’s even turned a wheel, but ride one and you’ll discover the Blade SP2 is superb. Road-biased rider aids aren’t the best on track, but the Honda more than makes up for it by being ridiculously light, fast, and smooth.
Engine: 999cc 16v inline four
Power: 189bhp @ 13,000rpm
Torque: 84ftlb @ 11,000rpm
Weight: 195kg (kerb)
Tank capacity: 16 litres
Frame: Aluminium twin spar
Seat height: 834mm
Suspension: 43mm Öhlins NIX forks and single TTX36 shock. Electronic semi-active.
Brakes: 2 x 320mm front discs with Brembo four-piston monobloc radial calipers. 220mm rear disc with twin-piston caliper
Available: Now (39 coming to the UK)
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