A little bit of what you fancy
IT was all a bit ironic. Here I was in the middle of Germany, howling along on an exotic FireBlade-engined bike I had travelled halfway across Europe to ride. But along with its Japanese-made engine, the most important components of the Hesa Motosport CBR900RR were its shining steel frame and swingarm - which had been made back home in England by Spondon Engineering.
The Derbyshire firm has built hundreds of frames over the years. But it’s doubtful whether there is a classier Spondon special anywhere than the blue Blade designed by Hesa boss Karsten Henkel and built in his workshop at Meinerzhagen, in northern Germany.
Hesa’s speciality is the streetfighter look – big Jap four-cylinder engine, flat bars, little or no wind protection and serious attitude. When I called, Henkel’s workshop was crowded with bikes of that kind, mostly belonging to customers and powered by a variety of engines, from up-to-date GSX-R750s and ZX-9Rs to the elderly FZR1000-powered bike he started with three years ago.
The blue bike gleaming in the middle of the workshop is subtly different, though. The FireBlade-powered machine Henkel calls Ego is not a one-off creation like the others, but the first of a small series.
While Spondon prefers to sell just frame kits, leaving the owner to build the bike, Henkel is setting out to produce complete specials like this one. They’re available for sale - tuned, painted in any colour you like and ready to ride away.
The HesaBlade is certainly one of the most striking bikes you’re likely to find anywhere. It is beautifully detailed and finished, from its sculpted nose fairing via those highly-polished tubes of the frame and swingarm to a tailpiece that completely encloses the silencer.
" I wanted to make something new and when I saw a Spondon frame I thought that would be a great base for a project. Then a friend of mine bought a CBR900, we swopped bikes for a short ride and I was so impressed that I decided my next bike must use that engine, " he recalls.
Spondon’s big, shiny tubes suit the aggressive Hesa look perfectly. The frame is made from 44mm diameter chrome-molybdenum steel, with a hefty asymmetrical swingarm made from a blend of steel tube and box-section aluminium. Spondon’s kit normally includes an aluminium fuel tank, yokes and footrests. Henkel sources his own yokes and has designed and patented his own footrests, adjustable via an eccentric insert.
Forks are 40mm upside-down units from WP. The rear shock is a multi-adjustable Ohlins, its yellow spring painted blue to match the bike. Seventeen-inch wheels from PVM of Germany wear Pirelli Dragons and the rear is a 190/50-section radial on a 6in rim. The brakes are Beringer – six-piston calipers on Hesa brackets up front, biting 310mm discs from the same French firm.
Henkel created all the bike’s bodywork himself, despite insisting that he’s no expert. " A good designer would paint on a piece of paper then start working, " he says. " I have to start directly on the bike, using special clay. It’s the only way I can do it, and it’s a problem for me. " When the results are this good, who’s worrying?
Completely enclosing the silencer in the stylishly shaped tailpiece gives the bike’s back end a uniquely clean look. Apart from the tarnished downpipes - the bike’s only cosmetic flaw, and one that Henkel claims will not be repeated on future bikes – the exhaust system is cleverly done. It not only incorporates a catalytic converter, but is also so quiet that Henkel is putting the bike through Germany’s ultra-strict homologation test.
A crashed Blade supplied the engine, which Henkel painted to match the bodywork. Carbs are standard CBR-issue 38mm Keihins, modified internally by noted German tuner Christian Mende, who did all the engine tweaks. They include modifications to the the inlet manifolds, polishing the cylinder head, increasing compression ratio slightly and fitting this early-model CBR engine with the 1mm wider pistons from the last-generation, 918cc Blade. Peak output is now 130bhp at 11,500rpm, up from the standard bike’s 119bhp on the same dyno.
That efficient exhaust system means the HesaBlade sounded surprisingly normal as I fired it up, but there was definitely nothing else ordinary about this bike.A classy Stack digital instrument panel sat beneath the low screen. The riding position was almost upright, dictated by the flat bars that are made even wider by the indicators. Both front and rear turn signals sit at either side of neat little oval mounts at each end of the bar.
The seat is thinly padded and quite low, but the tailpiece pushes you against the petrol tank and will be scooped out slightly more on future bikes. That didn’t stop the bike feeling relaxed and easy to ride as I pobbled through Meinerzhagen, though, feeling as if I was aboard an early 1980s-style sit-up-and-beg superbike racer. For town posing and medium-speed cruising, the riding position is just about right.
Any bike powered by a tweaked FireBlade engine is bound to be rapid, and once out of town the Hesa stomped off like a frightened racehorse, its windswept riding position making its acceleration seem all the fiercer.
Even on a short straight the bike stormed to an indicated 120mph in a matter of seconds. The small fairing gives some wind protection even when you’re sitting normally, but high-speed stuff is hard work.
I’d expected a flat-barred bike with such a potent motor to spend much of its time with the front wheel off the ground, but the HesaBlade was, if anything, slightly less wheelie-prone than a standard CBR. The bike ran fine at low revs but its response around 5000rpm was a shade flat, because the tuning and exhaust system has shifted power towards the top end. Henkel is planning further carb and exhaust mods to beef up the mid-range.
The handsome and strong Spondon cage is ideal for a partially faired bike like this, especially as the Hesa is more stable at high speed than you might expect of such a light and powerful machine.
Spondon’s official wheelbase figure of 1372mm is very short, but the rear spindle was set far enough back in the chain adjusters to take that to a more typical 1405mm.
Similarly, Spondon’s Bob Stevenson says his chassis has 24 degrees of rake and a short 80mm of trail, but the blue bike, fitted with Hesa’s own billet aluminium yokes, felt a fair bit less racy – it’s stable at close to 150mph in a straight line. That inevitably meant that the blue bike didn’t slice though slower turns with quite the ease I’d expected, but it was certainly no slug.
On these bumpy roads, to ride fast and avoid oncoming coaches you need a light, agile bike with sharp brakes and sticky tyres - and this Blade-powered beast was well up to the task.
The firm suspension meant the bike occasionally thumped me against the tank with eye-watering force when hitting potholes (don’t forget, this seat is forcing me farther forward than I’d like, anyway). But the rest of the time the well-damped forks and shock did their jobs just fine. The six-pot Beringer front brake system was suitably fierce, too –good enough to make me wonder why more racers and specials builders don’t use the French stoppers.
Maybe cost has got something to do with that, but it isn’t a factor that bothers Karsten Henkel unduly. At a price of DM59900 - almost £20,000 - with a standard, nearly-new engine, this bike is right up there in the territory occupied by the likes of MV’s F4 Serie Oro and Yamaha’s R7. And while the HesaBlade’s aerodynamics means it wouldn’t match them for pure speed, the Anglo-German-Japanese machine is just as powerful and even more exclusive.
This bike’s streetfighter style has its advantages at less crazy speeds, too, although Henkel doesn’t like that term.
" In Germany we don’t call this type of bike a streetfighter, " he says. " We call it an ‘eidelbike’, which means an ideal bike. "
And that, for the HesaBlade, isn’t far from being spot-on.
Availability: Hesa Motorsport 0049-2354-12164
Colours: You choose
Engine: Liquid-cooled, 918cc (71mm x 58mm) 16v dohc four-stroke in-line four. 4 x 38mm Mikuni carbs. 6 gears
Chassis: Spondon twin-spar aluminium
Front suspension: Ohlins 40mm inverted telescopic forks, adjustments for pre-load, compression and rebound damping
Rear suspension: Ohlins single shock with rising-rate linkage , adjustments for pre-load, compression and rebound damping
Tyres: Pirelli Dragon; 120/70 x 17 front, 190/50 x 17 rear
Brakes: Beringer; 2 x 310mm front discs with 6-piston calipers, 210mm rear disc with twin-piston caliper
Weight/power to weight ratio: 175kg (385.9lb), 0.743bhp/kg
Top speed (claimed): 155mph
Geometry (Rake/trail/wheelbase): 24°, 9.5cm, 141cm