This is the bike many fans have been waiting for, and its debut has certainly generated a lot of headlines. Lagging badly behind in WSBK, the 2017 Fireblade has also had a shocker on the road racing front – a stuck throttle saw John McGuinness lose control of his Fireblade at the NW200, with the veteran crashing out of the Superbike practice session and breaking his leg in the process. And then team-mate Guy Martin suffered a fast crash at the TT after finding a ‘box full of neutrals’ on the racebike, an incident which ultimately led to the Lincolnshire maverick quitting the team. Yet Motorcycle News awarded it best in class in its litre bike review earlier in the year, so it can’t be that bad surely? We spent a week with one to see how bad – or good – it really is.
This is the stock Fireblade, a bike which costs some £4,000 less than the SP.
The bike has the same engine, the same electronics and a similar chassis to its more expensive sibling, but there are some crucial differences – the standard Blade gets a steel tank, Showa Big Piston Forks, Tokico monoblocks and there’s also an optional quickshifter.
The big news is that the Fireblade has finally been dragged into the digital age and now features a ride by wire throttle, ride lean sensitive traction control, power modes, engine brake assist, wheelie control and cornering ABS as standard.
Twist the key and you’re greeted with a trick full-colour TFT liquid crystal dash which looks exactly the same as that used on the exotic and ultra-rare RCV. It’s right up there with the best and automatically adjusts to ambient light. There are three display modes; Street, Circuit and Mechanic. Street mode displays riding modes and the settings for power, traction control, selectable engine braking and suspension. Circuit mode adds a lap timer, number of laps and difference from the best lap, while Mechanic mode displays the digital tacho, gear position, grip angle, coolant temperature and battery voltage. Then there’s the other information such as instantaneous and average fuel economy, trip fuel consumption, average speed and it even shows the amount of fuel still remaining after the reserve light comes on. Like we said, it’s very trick and oozes quality, giving the Blade that proper ‘factory’ feel.
On the move it becomes obvious that the tweaks made to the engine have resulted in the bike lacking useful, potent grunt where you need it most – low down and in the midrange. Yes, it’s quick, without boasting the outright speed of its rivals, but you have to make the engine sing to make any progress. You’ll have to work the throttle much harder to compensate for the lack of midrange, and you’ll either love that or hate it. Either way, it’s a more involving ride than the older Blades and the linear delivery means you can now you can use all of the Blade’s power.
Unfortunately, the Euro 4 compliant exhaust doesn’t help the dynamic riding experience. It sounds muted at low speeds. Yes, it’s still got that Honda roar when feed her gears, but the tone doesn’t tug at your heart strings and urge you to open her up.
It’s not as comfortable as the model it replaces either. I’m 6’2in tall, quite lanky, and the bike feels small. It may share the same ergonomics as its predecessor, but it feels really thin. It feels more like a 600 than a thou’, and the small fairing is pretty ineffective at keeping the elements away from me.
That narrowness works in the bike’s favour once you get to the twisties. It’s so easy to ride, effortless even, and carves its way through corners with impunity. The front gives lots of feedback, and it feels planted. This feeling of control is enhanced by the full Showa suspension set-up, which does a good job of dealing with the worst the county’s roads can throw at us. And if you do need to bring things to a halt, the brakes work – they’re not savage or sharp, but they’re good enough.
And what of the dreaded false neutrals? I’m not going to lie, I experienced a few in our time together. What’s more disconcerting is the iffy throttle response – it’s hard to gauge. Sometimes it’s silky smooth, other times it’s hesitant. There’s no rhyme nor reason either – it is what it is.
Parked up at Cadwell Park I remove my helmet, grab a drink at the café, and come back to the bike and reflect on the last five days with the bike. It’s pretty enough to look at, and as you’d expect there’s plenty of the quality you’d expect of a Honda. The panels fit, the paint looks gorgeous and it really suits the bike’s lines. So it’s a looker, and it very much looks like the finished article.
But on the road, it doesn’t feel so polished. Yes, the ride is good, and yes it turns in nicely, really nicely, but it’s missing any real ‘wow’ factor. The word I keep coming back to is ‘alright’. It feels alright. Nice. Yes, it’s capable, but it lacks the sense of occasion of its rivals. It feels very much like a work in progress, which in turns makes this an expensive bike. A bike which promises much, but ultimately flatters to deceive. And that’s a shame.