MCN’s long-term test Honda Fireblade SP arrived shortly after we awarded it the win in our group test of the 2017 superbikes. Honda had just signed Guy Martin to ride one alongside John McGuinness for the TT. The sun was shining and all looked good for the 25th anniversary summer of the Blade.
Here we are a few weeks later, with two of the country’s best-loved racers thrown down the road while riding the uncompetitive racing Blade – a ‘Jonah' bike, Martin called it on ITV3 – with Honda withdrawing their new flagship from the two biggest road races of the year and the rest of us struggling to remember a more difficult new-model birth.
So what is the Honda Racing Blade’s problem: mechanical or electronic? Both or neither? Only those at Honda know for sure, and they’re not saying. Social media, spotting this info vacuum, has gone into overdrive, with all the new Blades largely condemned as rubbish or worse before most people have even seen one, let alone had a ride. If racing success on a Sunday really does sell bikes on a Monday then the year so far has been a complete disaster for the Blade.
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Meanwhile, I’ve covered 1700 miles on my SP – and, guess what, I’m still here. The bike is fault free (apart from a sticking mode button) and delivering on a daily basis a clinical and at times beautiful motorcycling experience. For those who like to go batshit quick as calmly as possible, this is the tool you need.
The essence of the SP is its efficiency rather than its excitement. Unlike the Blades up to and including 2002 954, it is no scream inducing roller coaster. The ride is classy, the steering measured and despite having he hottest power-to-weight ratio of any Honda ever – mine makes a true 176bhp peak – the power is managed in a way that makes it go relentlessly forward. There’s little sense of mischief.
Core to this is the electronic package introduced this year. Clearly it does a job, though I am still in a learning phase with it. On a freezing day at Snetterton the TC (torque control as Honda call it) was bizarrely intrusive, even set in Honda’s track mode. Later, at Spa in Belgium and on Michelin Power RS tyres, it was better. This week, on ContiAttack rubber and in 28 degrees at Rockingham, it was near perfect. The throttle off-to-on is abrupt in first and second corners. There is, too, a general inconsistency in the way the engine braking and anti-wheelie behave. Sometimes the SP wheelies over, say, a crest in the road and sometimes it doesn’t even though I’m doing the same things each time.
The bikes I have ridden most in the two years are the Ducati Panigale 1299 S and Yamaha MT-10, two of the craziest petrol wasters on the planet. You can’t help but love their passion and sense of outrageous fun. The Blade’s passion is harder to spot but it’s there – in its refinement and refusal to waste energy. And, though sometimes it does you good to ride like an idiot, the Blade calms me. When I see it in the morning my heart races in a different way. I am excited by the prospect of its smooth precision and its stealth. The likelihood is I will only realise how quick it’s going when its excellent mirrors are full of flashing blue lights.