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MCN Fleet: First encounter - four surprising things about Honda's 2020 Fireblade

Published: 30 June 2020

Updated: 30 June 2020

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.

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

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