HONDA has opted to update the FireBlade instead of completely reinventing it. Its move into 2002 is evolutionary rather than revolutionary. On paper, at least.
It’s not until you ride the sixth generation of the FireBlade that you realise the changes are actually significant ones, each with a dramatic effect on the bike’s overall character and capabilities.
The biggest change is a 1mm increase in bore size to 75mm. This means new pistons with shallower skirts and a compression ratio of 11.5:1 compared with last year’s 11.3:1. This all adds up to an extra 2bhp, much stronger low-end and mid-range power, and easier rideability, too.
The crankshaft and cases have been reworked, improving ground clearance, and there’s a new oil spray which fires lube toward the undersides of the pistons, to reduce the build-up of heat.
The fuel injection system has been heavily revised and now features a cleverer computer that dials into more throttle and rev positions than before.
The fuel injector bodies have grown from last year’s 40mm to 42mm.
The front brake calipers sprout bigger pistons, although the discs remain the same as last year’s model at 330mm.
The swingarm is built using data made available to Honda Japan by Honda Racing Corporation – the firm’s racing arm. It resembles a 500 GP bike’s and is torsionally more rigid – though to be honest There wasn’t a lot wrong with the old one.
The front fairing has been slimmed down following demands from customers. Honda itself hadn’t planned to do this. The rear seat unit is also more trim and there’s a love-it-or-loathe-it LED tail light, which should at least make you more visible at night even if you think it looks more like the display from a 1970s calculator than part of a bike.
The fairing’s side panels are one piece instead of the last model’s two pieces for a cleaner look and, theoretically, less wind resistance.
There’s a new rear hugger as standard and you’ve got the option of an aftermarket seat hump, which requires removal of the pillion seat, too. There’s also an taller aftermarket screen and a motion and vibration-sensitive alarm system. No prices for any of the three accessories have been announced.
The headlamp is new, as is the instrument display panel, though it’s visually similar to the old one. The first thing you’ll notice when you ride it is a fuel consumption indicator, which tells you how many miles you’re doing to the gallon. Only look at it when you’re accelerating hard in first if you’re brave.
The pillion seat still sits on top of enough under-seat storage to take a U-lock.
Titanium lovers will get excited by the new exhaust – it’s made of the stuff and looks the part. It doesn’t spark much when the bike’s crashed, though.
There’s also an improved cooling system with a wider radiator and modified internal cooling tracts. The rear shock is brand new and is more adjustable than the old one. Tiny adjustments make a big difference.
The mounting for the shock is new, too and features a pair of adjustable sleeves that make it possible to adjust the ride height without affecting other suspension settings.
Externally, the forks are identical to last year’s and the springs are also unchanged. But they behave quite differently thanks to revised settings. They’re sprung firmly enough to absorb everything the likes of Ron Haslam could throw at them during the track launch and, on stock settings, will give a firm, but comfortable, ride for average-weight owners on both road and track.
The bike is shod with Bridgestone’s new BT012 tyres, which offer track day levels of grip, but are road-legal. They steer neutrally though moderately quickly and there’s no sidewall squirm.
Honda UK is importing all three colour options – red (with black), white with metallic blue, and yellow with metallic blue. The red generally got the thumbs up at the bike’s launch, whereas the white one was frowned upon.