MCN Fleet: Fire and brimstone - the Honda CBR1000RR-R Fireblade SP hits Silverstone

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It’s there in black and white on Honda’s website: 'The CBR1000RR-R SP is not built with a road-rider's needs in mind; the race-track is where it belongs.' The Big H have made no bones about it, this Blade is all about circuit riding, which suits me down to the ground. And what better place to take a 215bhp, be-winged, 1000cc missile than to one of the fastest, most modern MotoGP circuits on Planet Earth – Silverstone’s stunning Arena GP.

As much as it had pained me, I’d purposely waited for Silverstone to start running trackdays again post-lockdown, rather than get my first taste of the super-fast Honda at somewhere smaller, like Cadwell or Brands Indy, which wouldn’t allow the new short-stroke engine to shine as much.

More long-term tests

Silverstone’s straights – the high-speed Hangar and Wellington – are the best places in the UK to exploit a modern litre sportsbike’s potential, and in relative safety, too.

But it’s not just about the upright bits, Silverstone’s got an intoxicating mix of super-fast corners, as well as a decent sprinkling of slower ones, all of which flow together in a way that makes it feel extremely natural. It might be 3.6 miles long, but the layout is easy to learn… Mastering it, however, is a different matter.

And the surface; let’s not forget that new-for-2019 super-grippy, billiard-table smooth surface, which for me as I went out into the damp for my first session aboard a £23,500-super-focused-sportsbike-that-doesn’t-belong-to-me, was enough to put my mind at ease.

I’ve ridden 1200 road miles with the Blade since I collected it post-lockdown and loved each and every one. But as I rolled out of the Wing pits, I realised I hardly knew the bike at all. Other than revelling in the gorgeous handling and silky power delivery (as well as countless hours spent admiring it in the garage), my road miles hadn’t given me any clue about the RR-R SP’s true character.

As I funnelled out onto the track, exhaust howl reverberating off the pit exit wall, I could open up the throttle fully for the first time without any need for hesitation; I could push the revs into their happy place without any guilt.

The engine character is a bizarre combination of mania and smoothness, and it’s very exploitable. Powering out of Aintree corner in second gear and on to the Wellington Straight, I felt confident to go to right to full throttle as I was standing the bike up, helped by the fact that I wasn’t having to wrestle against an excess of power at a point where I still felt vulnerable. I’ve never felt so instantly comfortable pinning a litre bike to the stop before. It made me feel like a proper hero!

Now tucked in, I was basically a passenger aboard a red, while and blue ballistic missile. It’s proper fast – and I mean proper. It just feels limitless, even here at Silverstone. I didn’t dare glimpse at the dash to clock my speed, but later on a look at the GPS data from my Dainese D-Air suit, that had been recording my every move on track, revealed a top speed of 168mph (on the Hangar straight); a more committed rider would easily smash 180mph…

The CBR1000RR-R’s so stable and smooth – but at the same time aggressive and thrilling. I love how the riding position – the low clip ons and high pegs – put me in an absolutely perfect position, both for moving my bodyweight around and for hunkering down beneath the screen. It never feels reluctant, awkward or an effort; the whole bike feels like an extension of myself here on track.

Through the fast direction changes it’s light steering and accurate; the front end encourages you to carry big corner entry speed as you would on a smaller bike, and it’s only the brakes that I feel let the side down slightly – sure, they’re plenty powerful enough and when combined with the autoblipper and slipper clutch work absolutely beautifully at keeping everything stable when hard braking into first gear corners like the Vale chicane and Village, but they just lack feel at the lever.

Also, like other bikes, the CBR’s hazard lights flash during hard braking – which caused a bit of distraction and confusion for other track users who thought I was signalling that I had a problem. I ended up putting duct tape over the indicators, but I think that there should be a way to disable this function for track use.

The nature of the Blade’s engine means that you don’t get much flexibility with gears in a way that you would with say an R1 or S1000RR, and you have to be happy absolutely flailing it deep into the revs at all times, and be comfortable with using first gear.

I honestly think you could get the best out of it when riding it like a big supersport bike – going fast in and carrying momentum through the corner then blasting it out – rather than the traditional point-and-squirt technique you’d use on a 1000. It’s something I’ll have to experiment with.

Another aspect I still need to explore is the electronics. Before today, I had big plans to spend each session fiddling with the vast array of electronic settings available to me, as well as the Öhlins electronic Objective Based Tuning menu, that allows the rider to fine-tune the suspension characteristics for a specific area, such as more braking, mid corner or acceleration support. But I didn’t.

I left the Blade in Track mode and full power, but toggled the traction control to level 3/10, knocked the engine braking to its lowest level (3) and left the anti-wheelie control at level 2 (its middle setting). I didn’t feel any of it working – other than a wonderful sense of confidence at every point of the track.

Naturally, I’ve got some more trackdays on the horizon – one of which is at Mallory Park, where I’ll be riding it back-to-back with my own Honda RS125R Grand Prix bike, which will be an eyeopener!

But I’ll definitely be back to Silverstone and I can’t recommend strongly enough that you should do the same. As a track it’s got it all and you get the feeling you can explore the limits of your bike without too much risk; the garages are huge; there’s loads of space out on circuit so you don’t feel like your laps are being corrupted by other riders; plus the events are exceptionally well run with staff that couldn’t be more helpful and knowledgeable instructors (who offer free coaching).

There always seems to be a nice crowd of riders too, and road bikes seem to make up the vast majority which seems to set the tone.

A trackday at Silverstone Arena GP is one of those motorcycling must-dos. A day costs £249 (£189 for International and National layout) and there’s still dates left for this year. Get it booked in www.silverstone.co.uk


Update two: Four surprising things about Honda's CBR1000RR-R Fireblade SP

Published: 30.06.20

MCN's Emma at home with the 2020 Honda CBR1000RR-R Fireblade SP

They say good things come to those who wait, and boy have we all had to exercise a bit of patience so far this year.

After three months lockdown, last week I was finally able to collect the Honda CBR1000RR-R Fireblade SP long termer that was due in March, and just the sight of it being wheeled out of Honda’s workshop was enough to ease the frustrations of 12 weeks without a ride.

Heavily influenced by the RC213V-S and built unashamedly for the track, it’s the most radical Blade ever and boasts aerodynamic wings, a highly sophisticated electronics package as well as, Honda claim, the most powerful naturally aspirated inline four production motorcycle engine ever made – an insane 214bhp at a screaming 14,500rpm.

Red, white and blue HRC paintwork looking stunning in the June sunshine, it was time to get my first proper eyeful of this £23,499 ultra-high-tech racer for the road. Here are the first four things that caught my attention before I’d even turned a wheel…

1. 'How the hell do you start this thing?'

Keyless ignitions are nothing new, but still there’s usually an 'ignition on' push button near to where a key barrel would traditionally sit. That's not the case with the new Blade...

Honda’s Smart Key system has allowed them to do away with a traditional ignition barrel so that the RAM AIR scoop can go straight through the headstock and directly into the airbox, just like the pure prototype RC213V.

Once you have the electronic fob within range, the ignition is then activated via a press-and-hold push button down on the left-hand side of the front subframe, just inside the nose fairing.

To turn the ignition off again, the outer spring-loaded ring of the subframe-mounted button needs to be rocked forward.

As well as allowing maximum airflow into the engine, the coolest thing about the Smart Key ignition system is that it makes the cockpit look like a proper GP racer, because there’s no hint of a traditional production bike ignition barrel. Factory!

2. 'It’s long…'

You don’t notice it so much in the pictures but up close the Blade’s length is very obvious.

Compared with the previous model, the new RR-R is 50mm longer thanks in part to an all-new swingarm which, despite being 30.5mm longer with more horizontal flex is actually the same weight as the shorter, stiffer 2017 version.

This has been achieved with, yes, you guessed it, more RC213V-inspired production methods; the 'arm is made from 18 individual-thickness pieces of aluminium that have been pressed together, rather than just a traditional single cast aluminium unit.

3. '…but so narrow'

With the largest bores of any 1000cc inline four-cylinder engine (a whopping 81mm, up from the previous model’s 76mm) it’s incredible that Honda have actually made the new Blade’s motor more compact than before.

In fact, it looks odd inside the fairing, as if someone’s replaced the actual engine with a CBR400 lump instead!

This has been achieved through repackaging the starter motor so that it engages with the clutch main shaft rather than the crankshaft, which also allows the use of a shorter idler gear shaft.

The engine is also shorter in length thanks to reduction in distance between the crankshaft, counter shaft and main shafts. This narrow, compact motor has also allowed Honda to maximise the Blade’s agility too.

4. 'Objective Based Tuning!' Say what?

The SP Blade comes with Swedish suspension supremoes Öhlins' Smart EC 2.0 electronic suspension system, which features three pre-set automatic modes, Track, Sport and Rain.

Within these modes, the system alters the damping using feedback from the bike’s IMU, wheel speed sensors and ECU continuously in real time.

The system’s OBTi (Objective Based Tuning interface) is accessible via the Blade’s full-colour dash and, in a nutshell, it allows you to fine tune the damping characteristics in five key areas: Front stiffness, rear stiffness, braking, acceleration and cornering. Each area has 10 levels of adjustability, and each mode can be individually adjusted.

Put simply, it’s a bit like having an Öhlins engineer with you at all times; you decide what you want in terms of an outcome (say, a bit more support on the brakes) and the system makes it easy to achieve.

Well, I say that in theory, I’m still yet to try it out for real yet, but hopefully a trackday or two will allow me to explore more of what the Blade is all about…

Now, where’s that Smart Key…


Update one: introducing the Honda CBR1000RR-R Fireblade SP

Published: 17.03.20

 

2020 Honda CBR1000RR-R Fireblade SP

I’ll be using the all-new CBR1000RR-R Fireblade SP precisely how Honda intended – with copious amounts of track action.

I’ll try racy rubber, experiment with its myriad of settings, then get ownership advice from the riders who know it the best – Leon Haslam and Alvaro Bautista.

The rider Emma Franklin, MCN Deputy Editor, 38, 5ft 7in. Riding for 17 years. Rides for fun on road and track. Emma.franklin@motorcyclenews.com

Bike specs 999cc | 215bhp | 201kg | 831mm seat height

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Emma Franklin

By Emma Franklin

Deputy Editor, road tester, club racer