2017 marks the 25th anniversary of the Honda Fireblade, and to mark the occasion Honda gathered a collection of heritage Fireblades at Rockingham circuit and invited us a long, along with a few special guests.
It's not an understatement to say the Honda FireBlade shaped the modern superbike when it was first introduced in 1992. Rather than chasing big power from a 750cc engine, Honda upped the cc to 900 and focussed on making the bike as light as they could. It even ended up being lighter than the CBR600 of the time!
With this year's new Fireblade it's clear to see Honda have stuck to that DNA. The new Sp weighs just 196kg and produces 189bhp. It's no secret that the bike has struggled on the track, but it impressed us enough to win our 2017 superbike shootout.
We took the opportunity at the Honda25 event to speak to people about the new Fireblade and just what the 25-year-old Fireblade range means to them.
Dan Gold, tattooist and avid motorcyclist has probably spent some time on eBay after getting the chance to ride the original FireBlade: "I can't believe we got the chance to ride the original model! As soon as I got on it I fell in love with it. Compared to a modern bike the brakes aren't great, but I couldn't believe how well it handled for an old bike. I might have to go and buy one! I love the new one as well, it's just unbelievable on the track."
Gordon Sheddon, three-time British Touring Car champion, is a fan of the new bike: "It's mega, it's always better than I'll ever be. It's such a step forward from the previous one with the electronics. For me not being a professional rider it's a big assist for me to get that confidence, especially on the brakes."
Gareth Roberts, Riding Instructor at the Ron Haslam Race School on Fireblades old and new: "I've ridden the last 14 years worth of Fireblades, so I've done a fair few miles on them. The power delivery on the new one is phenomenal. I did a back-to-back test compared to last year's SP at Cadwell and the way the new one delivers the power it's just pulling your arms off everywhere. It's really, really good, and with the quickshifter you just throw gears at it and it's leaping out of corners. When you ride them back to back it feels a lot more nimble and a lot quicker as well.
"I'm pretty old school, I grew up with FZR1000s but the electronics do make a difference. They give you that confidence so you know you can pin it from before the apex and it'll just leave huge dark lines on the way out. I own an old urban tiger foxeye Fireblade, which is hopefully sitting there gather money, but mostly dust! The one before this was just like putting your best running trainers on. It's moved on with the new model but it's taking me a bit of time to adjust to the new electronics. I think I'd still be slightly faster on the older model."
Neil Fletcher, Head of Motorcycles at Honda UK: "I joined Honda in 1996 so I've been here through pretty much all of them. Even though it was before my time at Honda the original FireBlade is so iconic for me and obviously we've got lots of pictures of it back at Honda. And of course the urban tiger when that came out caused such a stir. One in three sportsbikes on UK roads is a Honda, but we're still suffering a little bit from the big earthquake in Japan which is why we didn't get the Fireblades as early as we wanted this year. So although we've sold over 600 Fireblade's this year, we could have sold more this year. The demand in the UK is really, really good and we've got so many loyal customers.
"I met a guy at Brands Hatch recently who had recently picked up his SP2. He rode it straight to the Nurburgring, rode round there then came back via Spa and rode round there. He's done 4500 miles on it! The feedback we've had so far has mirrored what we've seen in the press, people love it and we're really pleased."
Honda making a racket
Our Content editor Tim Thompson has been running a new Honda Fireblade SP on the MCN Fleet this year. During a recent track day at Snetterton he was told the Fireblade was the loudest production bike they'd ever heard, and previous to that he was kicked off a track day at Spa for the same reason.
I asked Neil if the noise problem was something Honda was aware of: "I've heard from a couple of customers that they've got to go on the loud days. Ron Haslam use a different exhaust because they have a very strict decibel level. We're looking at whether something like that might be an option for people who want to go on track. I think it will become an issue in the long term. We're talking about developing a can with Akrapovic, purely to make it quieter. It's only come up to my memory on about two occasions, but there's only one way noise regulations are going so it's definitely something we need to look at."
Riding Fireblades through the ages
Honda had a selection of Fireblades at the Honda25 event, from the original 1992 model, right up to the new model. I was lucky enough to grab a quick ride on some of the models during they day.
I was still in nappies when the original FireBlade came out, so forgive me for this, but it doesn't really mean a great deal to me. I know how important it is to many of my colleagues, who go all googley eyed and stare of into the middle-distance whenever the bike is mentioned, but it was just a little before my time.
Nevertheless, it was the 'Blade I wanted to ride the most. The seating position is roomier than today's sportsbikes, but still heavy on the wrists. The mirrors, though ugly, are nice and big, and they actually work. Bonus!
The '92 FireBlade was an absolute pleasure to ride. The engine is an absolute peach, with real useable power absolutely anywhere in the rev range. I never felt like I had to work it to make overtakes. The handling was surprisingly light and even the brakes weren't terrible.
If Honda made a bike that made power exactly like the '92 vintage FireBlade and weighed the same today, it'd sell. It's that good.
In many ways it's difficult to differentiate this from the original 'Blade, but it just feels like an evolution of the first model. The engine has a little more pull and the handling a little more planted.
The first fuel-injected model
This is where the FireBlade starts to feel like a modern day sportsbike. The seating position becomes more cramped and everything feels a little more geared for the track. Suspension is hard without sacrificing too much comfort or plushness for the road. The engine on this model feels more like a modern sportsbike inline-four. This is where the Fireblade range starts to get a little too focused for me.
The underseat pipe one
This is the Fireblade that sticks in my mind the most. I remember seeing them absolutely everywhere when I was a teenager. It's a bike that makes no fuss and just does what you ask. They engine is incredibly smooth, with plenty of torque and the handle is beautifully balanced. The only criticism I could level at this model is that it was a little forgettable.
The Urban Tiger 2.0
Brutal efficiency is what you get with the outgoing Fireblade. It had been lagging behind its rivals for a few years before Honda replaced it this year, but it's still a good, simple superbike. As with any modern day superbike it's got a ridiculous amount of power, super-sharp brakes and handling that 99% of riders, myself included, will never be able to test. But as good as it is, the new Fireblade really is a step up in class.
Honda Fireblade facts
- Fireblade connoisseurs have a soft spot for the 2002 Fireblade - the last machine to be developed under Tadao Baba's leadership. It took his original ideas of mass centralisation and honed the Fireblade 'Total Control' concept to perfection.
- Prices of the new 2017 Fireblade all end in 25, in honour of the machine's 25th anniversary.
- Only 500 of the road-legal homologation special 2017 Fireblade SP2 will be built.
- The world's first titanium fuel tank on a mass-production motorcycle is fitted to the 2017 Fireblade SP. It saves 1kg over the standard tank.
- Tadao Baba had retired by 2004. In his honour, the capital 'B' in FireBlade was dropped from this point on.
- The 2017 Honda Fireblade has a 65% better power-to-weight ratio than the 1992 original.
- The TFT display on the 2017 Fireblade automatically adjusts to ambient light levels, so it always remains super-vivid and crisp.
- The advanced ECU introduced in the 2000 CBR929RR Fireblade could treat each cylinder individually; it had dual 3D maps for each cylinder's fuel injection profile.
- The FireBlade name is believed to be a (very) loose translation from French to English of the Japanese word for lightning.
Oh, and Honda also had a Fireblade replica autonomous lawnmower at the event...
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