MCN had the first test of the heavily-revised 2002 Honda FireBlade in Estoril, Portugal earlier this week. Read Keith Farr’s first impression of the bike below or click the video and audio links in the " related stories " box below the pictures right, to see action and hear what the bike’s designer has to say. Read the full no-detail-left-unmentioned test in MCN on Wednesday December 12.
IT’S impossible to be absolutely certain one bike can live with another without testing them back-to-back. But it’s been three hours since I’ve stepped off Honda’s new FireBlade, which has just been launched at Estoril in Portugal, and I’m more convinced than ever that what I’m about to claim holds true.
The Blade’s rivals have problems.
I’m trying to tell myself that such a bold statement is a bit rash but the proof is in the pudding - in this case six hours of flat-out fun and testing around the sunny circuit.
The 2002 Blade is a new beast and it kicks serious ass.
I’ve been to Estoril a couple of times before and managed some OK lap times. In fact, the year 2000 CBR900 was launched here. But this time, the experience is different, even though the track is exactly the same.
The world, through my black visor, is going ballistic. Everything is speeded up on previous efforts and I couldn’t be having a happier or better time.
On paper, the new Blade’s changes seem moderate. But on the track, the bike has just moved into a whole new world – a world where whatever comes to do battle with the mighty warrior had better be pretty sure of itself first.
The quantum improvement over the Y2K Blade, which is already a mega bike, though it does have some shortcomings, is mainly down to four new, or modified parts.
The first is a 1mm bigger bore.
This has increased capacity from 929 to 954cc and upped power by 2bhp. Big deal? Well, the other attribute bestowed upon the motor thanks to the modification is masses more torque. And that is a big deal. A bloody big one.
Figures aren’t available yet – it’s a bit hard to pack a dyno in your flight luggage – but my body is telling me all I need to know. The extra pull makes itself instantly known as the bike exits the circuit’s myriad of slow, medium and ultra, ultra quick corners.
Gas it in second out of the uphill, off camber chicane and the back squats as the tyre hooks up and propels me forward.
Blast out of the final corner before the start/finish straight, a long, long right hander that seems to go on for ever, all the while building up speed, and the bike is propelled, almost flat in fourth, onto the straight, up into top gear at an indicated 160-odd mph and past the pit lane’s unforgiving walls.
The old Blade did this as well, of course, but without nearly as much stomp.
The second modification to make a major difference is what they’ve done to the front brakes. The bike retains the same 330mm discs as last year and the master cylinder has the same internal ratios too. Instead, the trickery is inside the calipers and the change is not complicated at all. Honda has simply made the pistons bigger, resulting in around 10 per cent more force.
That means two finger application is all that’s needed to slow from 160mph to 40 or 50 for the right hander that signals the start/finish straight is at an end.
And I didn’t need to slam them on until the bike was close to the 200m warning sign preceeding the bend. And there was no fade – ever.
The third change to have significant effect is the riding position. All Honda is done is shorten the petrol tank by 10mm, putting the rider 10mm nearer the headstock. And that has transformed its ability to turn by getting the front end to do more work. And where the front goes, the rear is sure to follow…
As Rocket Ron Haslam, who was also on the launch, put it: " It turns like a proper 600 now. It flicks from side to side with so little effort, it’s not tiring to ride fast at all.
" I’m seriously impressed. "
Finally, they’ve bunged in a new rear shock with a new body, new internals, new oil reservoirs and a new spring. And it’s delightfully compliant, predictable and fade resistant too, thank you very much.
Even Ron, who looked like he was on a mission to set a new lap record, couldn’t get it to fade after 30 minutes of flat out riding at race pace on bog stock settings. And that’s an achievement in itself.