Ridiculously fast made ridiculously easy
THE new Honda CBR1000RR has been developed by the same team that was behind the unstoppable GP-winning RC211V.
And boy does it show.
After the first track session at the new Blade’s world launch in Arizona, USA, the supremely effortless and effective character of that machine also shines through in Honda’s new flagship. Just like the RCV (and the CBR600RR, which also shares the same DNA) the new Blade 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.
In fact it’s so damn efficient that, at first, it almost seems a bit of an anticlimax. The power delivery is so smooth and the exhaust note so muted that it disguises the massive speeds the big Honda is actually capable of.
It’s the same story with the handling. Corner speed is dictated more by your own bravery than the bike’s limitations. Thanks to a new, longer swingarm (made possible by shrinking the overall length of the new motor), 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.
But that’s not the whole story. The more time you spend on the new Blade the more it starts to jam your senses with feedback.
Like favourite songs that improve the more you hear them, the Blade simply gets better and better the more you ride it.
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.
That smooth power delivery will be even more effective (and useful) away from the track. To get an idea of what it will be like on the road, we did a few laps of the tight and twisty circuit using just sixth gear and found the engine to be very tractable. It pulled cleanly from as low as 3000rpm, building revs impressively quickly. Throttle response is very smooth, too.
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, like its little brother, the new Blade asks that you do most of your braking while still upright, as 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. Track day riders would want to fit more circuit-based rubber anyway.
The new radially-mounted brakes carry on where the old Blade’s brakes left off; being very strong, fade-free with loads of feel. However, under severe braking the rear lifts a little too readily, swaying (gently) from side to side and unsettling the bike slightly going into turns. Keeping yourself slightly tucked in while still braking or trying to push to the back of the seat greatly helps matters, as does braking a little earlier...
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.
There’s no doubt the GSX-R1000 feels faster. The Suzuki uses its immense power to thrill you, excite you and, more often than not, scare you. Riding a GSX-R1000 quickly takes immense concentration as you are always aware that a few degrees too much throttle will have the rear tyre spinning or the front pointing to the stars.
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.
The new FireBlade looks much smaller in the flesh than it does in these pictures. It might have something to do with the unflattering colour schemes, but it has the same dinky dimensions as the CBR600RR and RC211V GP bike.
Swing your leg over the angular RCV-style tail unit, and you’re immediately put into a more aggressive stance than the CBR600RR. The broader tank splays your legs slightly wider, the wide clip-ons are set lower, and the footpegs are set higher and further back for optimum ground clearance.
On track the riding position makes perfect sense, guiding you into a racing tuck and keeping weight over the front wheel, making the most of front tyre grip. But the riding position is comfortable, even for taller riders.
Electronic Steering Damper
The best thing about the new damper is that you don’t even notice it when you’re riding. Slowly negotiating your way out of the pits and along the windy pit lane exit, you would never guess that there was a steering damper fitted.
As the speeds rise, you still don’t notice the damper. It just gets on quietly and efficiently with its job of ironing out the surface imperfections that might threaten to induce a tank slapper, especially when accelerating hard out of a bumpy corner.
Whether the new FireBlade actually needs a steering damper is debatable, but seeing as it is fitted as standard we’re unlikely to find out. But the bike isn’t as quick steering as the CBR600RR.
TUG on the FireBlade’s new radially-mounted front calipers and you’ll send the front fork stanchions slamming down on to their stops and the rear wheel up in the air. The new bike’s brakes are extremely powerful. But they also offer incredible amounts of feel and the brakes remained fade-free, even after relentless hard use at the track.
The standard suspension set-up is soft for hard track work, but it’s fully adjustable. Each click of the adjusters makes a marked difference – a sign that the damper units inside the 43mm inverted front forks and rear shock are good quality.
We made a few minor adjustments to firm up the suspension for the smooth and grippy track, so the bike could be pushed a bit harder (see right).
The FireBlade feels nicely balanced making it very easy to ride. Even at a standstill, it feels very light when you rock the bike from left to right. That’s because much of the weight, including the tank and fuel load, is positioned as low down in the bike as possible, rather than perched above the frame rails as on most bikes.
The FireBlade feels very stable mid-corner, giving you a feeling of security and allowing you to lay the bike right over through a turn with confidence.
However, it is very difficult to steer when you’re on the brakes.
The new bike has a tendency to want to go straight on when steering input and brakes are applied at the same time. But if you ride smoothly and scrub off speed before you start turning the bike, the steering feels crisp, light and accurate.
Despite a claimed 180bhp at the crank, which includes a ram-air effect at high speed of about 10bhp, the FireBlade’s power delivery feels very docile. Crack open the throttle – even in the first two gears – and there’s no manic bouts of wheelspin or wheelie action like you’d find riding a GSX-R1000.
What you do get is a seamless wave of relentless, arm-stretching power from 4000rpm to the 11,500rpm redline. Acceleration is equally hard in the higher gears, making every cog seem like first.
Coupled with its all-round user-friendliness, the motor allows you to get from point to point incredibly quickly, so it should be an excellent tool for wasting your mates at your next track day – without breaking a sweat.
Throttle response is equally good. There’s absolutely no hesitation when you twist the throttle. It can be a little bit jerky at very low speeds from a closed throttle, but that should never be a problem during normal riding.
In making the engine feel so smooth, Honda has engineered out some of the excitement from that powerful motor. The FireBlade is incredibly quick – it just doesn’t feel it. That could be good for less experienced riders who may be put off by more extreme sports bikes like the ZX-10R, but if you like to get a bit out of shape occasionally the FireBlade may seem too tame.
That said, out of the current crop of litre sports bikes, it would be the FireBlade you’d choose if you wanted to go fast without scaring yourself.