Honda ups the stakes
Just like the GP-winning RC211V (and the CBR600RR, which also shares the same DNA) the new Fireblade is phenomenally quick. But also, just like the RCV and RR, it is so smooth and slick there’s no major drama, no frights, no terror lurking on the exit of every corner. Never has a 180bhp superbike been so easy to ride.
It’s the same story with the handling. Corner speed is dictated more by your own bravery than the bike’s limitations. When you wind on the power out of corners the result is simply surging forward motion rather than a frenzy of GSX-R1000-style wheelies or wheelspin.
Even the new electronic steering damper works so well you don’t even notice it, keeping potential tank slappers under control at speed, and effectively switching itself off at very low speeds for good manoeuvrability.
You can’t fail to be impressed with the potency of that smooth engine. There’s an abundance of power from 4000rpm all the way to 11,000rpm, when the shift light signals it’s time to change up. But acceleration really takes off above 9000rpm – not in a vicious and violent GSX-R1000 type of way. The Blade is more refined – but equally effective.
Overall handling characteristics are very similar to the CBR600RR, the dominant one being supreme mid-corner stability, which gives the confidence to experiment with serious angles of lean. Steering response entering corners is very precise and neutral too, requiring only the lightest nudge of the bars. However it doesn’t like to turn on the brakes.
Another key aspect of the Blade’s confidence-inspiring handling are its all-new tyres, developed especially for it by Bridgestone. The BT014s (which will eventually take over from the BT010 and BT012) give very good grip, especially at the front. Although designed for the road, they perform impressively on the track and slide predictably.
The new radially-mounted brakes carry on where the old Blade’s brakes left off; being very strong, fade-free with loads of feel.
The new FireBlade is sure to be on the pace of the new Kawasaki ZX-10R and Yamaha R1 when it arrives in dealers next March. And it is definitely going to offer a serious challenge to the current king of superbikes – the GSX-R1000.
The Honda’s purpose in life, however, is to cosset you. It likes you and doesn’t want to see you get out of control. It lets you use every single last ounce of its power with ease. And for that reason alone it could well be the 2004 superbike that disappears off over the horizon. Just like its big brother, the RC211V.