Bike review

Tested – 2017 Honda CBR1000RR

17YM CBR1000RR Fireblade

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.

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Tested – 2017 Suzuki GSX-R1000

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Meet the Suzuki GSX-R1000, the bike Suzuki hopes will restore their brand image and see them return to the top of the sportsbike tree.

It has already got off to a good start – it made a winning debut in this year’s superstock class at the hands of Richard Cooper while Michael Dunlop piloted it to a win in this year’s Senior TT race. So, the package works, but just how good is it on Britain’s roads?

Looking at the bike in the flesh and the bike’s styling is dominated by THAT exhaust. Yes, the MotoGP paint is well finished, and the clocks look neat, if unspectacular, but there’s no getting away from that end can. It’s massive. Bigger than the Hubble Space Telescope. And it’s hideous too. Unfortunately, the official line from Suzuki is that they’d rather you didn’t ditch it in favour of a tasty, sleeker aftermarket item. Bummer. And then there’s the plastics. They’re very samey. Think evolution, not revolution. Shame.

Now we’ve addressed the elephants in the room, let’s get back to the bike itself. Swing a leg over the bike and the first the first thing you’ll notice is that everything feels ‘just so’. Everything fits – bars and pegs easily accommodate my 6ft 2in frame – yet the bike feels really small and compact. It feels very much like a 600 and makes you feel properly in control. It’s a neat trick.

Turn the key, watch the weirdly retro clocks do their thing, twist the throttle and the next thing you’ll notice is the exhaust note. Suzuki claims this is the most powerful, hardest-accelerating, cleanest-running GSX-R to date, and it sounds menacing. Angry even. As well as shorter-stroke dimensions, a higher compression ratio, a new valve operating system (finger followers instead of bucket tappets), this GSX-R features the MotoGP-developed SR-VVT (Suzuki Racing Variable Valve Timing). This centrifugally operated system, built into the intake cam sprocket, uses 12 steel balls and slanted grooves to rotate the sprocket and retard the intake valve timing at 10,000rpm.

A new, ride-by-wire intake system and revised ram-air system also help. The result of all that is a 14,500rpm rev limit and 199bhp peak power at 13,200rpm.

Sounds impressive enough, but words cannot do justice to just how rampant this combination feels on the open road. The bike has plenty of grunt on tap from 5,000rpm, but get the needle dancing above 10,000 rpm and the VVT system starts rotating the position of the cam sprocket on the camshaft – then you’ll feel the bike take off and accelerate like a locked-on heat seeking missile. It feels fast, really fast, so fast that you’ll have to recalibrate your mind to deal with the violent acceleration. Delivery is smooth, linear and instant – hedges fly past in blur as you scream your way to the limiter, seamlessly snicking gears thanks to the optional bi-directional quickshifter and autoblipper. It’s a pure assault on the senses – intoxicating and addictive – everything biking should be.

And that quickshifter is also worthy of praise. It’s as good as faultless. In the 1200 miles we spent together I never missed a shift or snicked a false neutral. It’s easily the best in class and far superior to the systems used by BMW, Aprilia and the likes. The fuelling is spot on too, allowing you to mete out all that power as you see fit. In fact, it’s so good that I never felt the need to try either of the two softer riding modes, both of which give a less immediate throttle response while still giving you access to all of those 199 ponies.

And then there’s the sophisticated suite of rider aids which do a good job of enhancing the riding experience. The traction control system is unobtrusive and works well. It’s divided into three categories, with levels 1 to 4 designed for the track, 5 to 8 for street riding, and 9 and 10 for wet riding conditions.

There’s no wheelie control as such, although the traction control cuts  naturally bring the front wheel down. You can even adjust the traction control on the move, but you have to roll off to select the different settings. It’s not a major inconvenience, but it’s worth pointing out.

The ride is decent too, thanks to the suspension, which is still from Showa. The Big Piston Forks are proven, while the revised, multi-adjustable shock does a good job of smoothing out the worst bumps while letting you feel exactly what is happening beneath you.

Show the GSX-R a bend and the big Suzuki’s chassis shines. Suzuki’s engineers have again turned to MotoGP for the frame design, and to this end it is 20 per cent lighter than that used in the outgoing model. And rotating the engine back in the frame by six degrees has allowed its centre of mass to be moved forward by 20mm, and this, when combined with a 20mm extended swingarm, has resulted in more weight over the front wheel. This change inspires huge levels of confidence, allowing you to enjoy the  accurate and predictable steering as you motor through the twisties.

Even the brakes – the traditional Achilles heel of every GSX-R – work. Yes, lack the savagery of a BMW S1000RR, but they’re a vast improvement on Gixxer’s of old. They’re consistent, progressive and have good ultimate stopping power.

A Gixxer has always been the weapon of choice for sporty road riders, but as the litre class moved on bikes like Aprilia’s RSV4, BMW’s S1000RR and Ducati’s Panigale meant the Gixxer suddenly felt very analogue in an age dominated by digital bikes. However, this bike is good enough to return Suzuki to the very pinnacle of the species. It really is that good, and even now, a week after I rode the bike, I’m still grinning like a loon in exactly the same way I did after my first ride. It may not be the most powerful, the fastest or the most agile, but it’s a supremely capable and confidence-inspiring motorcycle, one which has the perfect balance of rider-friendliness and blistering, exhilarating performance. Ride one and discover that intoxicating acceleration for yourself. I guarantee you’ll be smiling from ear to ear if you do.

Tested – BMW RnineT Racer

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There are now five bikes bearing the R nine T moniker, and this is the latest addition to the family – the Racer.

Essentially the sporty version of the range, the Racer S definitely looks the part. Long and low, the Racer comes with a fairing complete with BMW Motorsport paint, a steel fuel tank, a set of clip-on bars, new rearsets and a single seat. The rest – the headlight, clocks, the tail – has already been seen on the original R nineT. Yes, it may be a spare parts lash-up, but the overall effect is stunning – this looks every inch the carefully crafted cafe racer. This is in no small part down to the fact that Boxer motor looks perfectly so at home in a café-racer, especially one as sleekly proportioned as the Racer.

The first thing that makes itself known when sitting on the bike’s comfortable and beautifully sculpted solo seat is the long reach to the bars. It’s really, really long and effectively forces you to lean forward across the long petrol tank, putting pressure on your wrists, forearms and neck.

Trundling through town this splayed riding position feels counter intuitive, but leave town, head for the open roads and wind the throttle on and you’ll notice that that low fairing does a good job of directing some of the wind from your chest, allowing you to take some weight off your wrists.

On the move, the dohc, 1170cc eight-valve Boxer engine, which is based on the unit which previously powered bikes such as the R1200GS, has a broad spread of torque and enough power for very lively and engaging ride. The fuelling is crisp and the mid-range acceleration is strong, meaning that the Racer pulls cleanly at low speed, surges past traffic with a twist of the throttle, and sits smoothly and effortlessly at the legal limit.

It’s vibey though – its unique configuration, whereby both pistons go in and out at the same time, means you’re always aware of the engine thumping furiously below you. Admittedly, it’s never that intrusive, but it’s still there nonetheless. No doubt BMW owners would refer to this as ‘character’.

Push on and you’ll notice just how much mass there is over the Racer’s front wheel. This, when combined with the narrow clip-ons, means that the Racer struggles with the tight and really twisty stuff, initially feeling reluctant to turn in, but it’s perfectly happy on the more flowing, sweeping bends. It’s very much a bike which responds to firm rider input and feels stable and predictable, allowing you to push it to the limit of its modest ground clearance.

As you’d expect from BMW, there are a wide range of accessories for the bike with everything from a brushed aluminium petrol tank to a pillion seat available. And if customising your Racer feels too much like hard work, there’s even a Racer S version, complete wire wheels and heated grips.

So, the Racer is a very good looking bike which is perfect for short Sunday blast and popping down to the local bike meet for a drink and a blether. Try one, you may just like it.

 

 

Tested – Suzuki V-Strom 1000

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This is the new Suzuki V-Strom 1000, a bike which looks very similar to the outgoing model it replaces. But looks can be deceiving.

The biggest changes are that the new bike is now Euro4 emission compliant, as witnessed by that massive can, and to this end the breathed-on 1037cc liquid-cooled, 90-degree V-twin engine has lost just one lb.ft of torque.

There’s also a subtle tweak to the styling – the new nose beak now faithfully mimics the look of the 1990 DR-Z desert racer and DR-Big models, and there are now hand guards and an under-engine cowl as standard equipment. The windscreen has also been updated making it a little wider and 9mm higher. The height can still only be adjusted with an Allen key, but that doesn’t come in the toolkit. However, you can still change the angle with a one-handed push.

All of these changes have clearly been designed to emphasise Suzuki’s heritage in the category, but make no mistake, this isn’t a full-blown adventure machine. Instead it’s a sports-tourer with a comfy, upright riding position and a sticker on the beak that says ‘Adventure’.

Aside from the changes to the engine, the biggest ehancement to the bike is the addition of a cornering-aware ABS system and linked brakes. It’s based on the system used on the 2017 GSX-R and uses a new inertial measurement unit (IMU) to add lean data to the information collected by the existing wheel speed sensors to judge whether you’re braking too much at the wrong time. The brakes are also linked, which means the system adds a measured amount of “stability enhancing” rear brake when the front is applied. Unfortunately, the TC system hasn’t been changed to reap the benefits from the onboard IMU.

Turn the key and you’ll notice another new feature – the Suzuki Easy Start System. This enables you to start the engine with only a single push of the starter button. Is it lifechanging? No. But it’s a neat trick. And once you’re on the move you’ll notice the Low RPM Assist feature, a rider aid which automatically raises idle revs when pulling away from stops or crawling through town at low rpm. It’s been designed to prevent the bike from stalling, but it feels more like a gimmick than anything else. Whatever happened to entrusting bike control to the rider’s right hand?

Out of town and on the move, and the V-Strom 1000 feels like a decent enough bike, with the gearing on open roads feeling especially good. At first, gears five and six feel tall, but the V-Twin engine is infinitely comfortable hauling from low revs and pulling you forward. In fact, riding the bike at low revs is where it is most comfortable, and it handles better and rides smoother when you keep a gear high and roll through the meat of the torque curve. Yes, the V-Strom is capable of being a revver, but Suzuki has made the torque curve fat and juicy low down and it’s a much more enjoyable bike when kept down there.

The handling characteristics are typical Suzuki – it tips into corners in a linear, non-dramatic fashion, and while the handling isn’t sharp, it’s not lazy either. It’s a bike which will roll onto its side predictably and comfortably, inspiring confidence.

It’s comfortable too. The redesigned screen does a good job of protecting the rider from the elements, and that big comfy seat allows you to cover big miles with ease.

The more time I spend with the bike, the more it becomes clear that this would make a brilliant weekend tourer. It dispatches motorways with ease, and still has enough about it to make the twisties fun, if not spectacular.

And there is a decent selection of official accessories available to allow you to bespoke the bike to tailor it exactly to your needs – low and high saddles, centrestand, taller touring screen, heated grips, crash bars, fog lamps and a very practical 55-litre topbox capable of swallowing two helmets.

So, there’s an awful lot to like about the new V-Strom, especially when it can be yours for less than £10K. But for me, by far the biggest strength of the bike is that it’s not trying to be a rival to the ubiquitous BMW GS. Result.

Kit advice – one-piece leathers buying guide

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Motorcycle race suits are the very best form of riding protection. They’re constructed with abrasion resistant materials, have generous impact protection and are designed to keep you as safe as possible in the event of a crash.

For maximum safety, a one-piece race suit is what you want. One of the drawbacks of a two-piece suit is the vulnerability of the connection between the pants and jacket, an issue that isn’t present with a single-piece set. They’re comprised primarily of high-quality leather (both cow and kangaroo hides), with stretch panels strategically placed in areas to improve fit, flexibility and comfort. Internal armor is often complimented by external protection.

WHAT IS BEST – COW HIDE OR KANGAROO?

When it comes to materials – there are two main choices; cow hide and kangaroo. Kangaroo is lighter, stronger and more supple, but it’s also thinner, which means it’s unlikely to survive more than one spill.

There’s a reason why most suits are made of cow hide – leather is more durable and wears better. Leather slides incredibly well, and in most cases it won’t hole – you’re more likely to suffer heat burns from your skin rubbing against the leather than damage from cuts and the likes. Speed causes a lot of injuries but the injuries caused by friction are far greater.

WHAT SHOULD I LOOK FOR WHEN IT COMES TO ARMOUR?

When it comes to leathers fit is incredibly important. Armour that doesn’t stay in place and moves is dangerous. Most suits have a mixture of soft internal armour and heavy-duty exterior armour. The armour is designed to disperse force at a certain point, whether it’s the shoulder, elbow, knees or wherever. If it moves, then it can’t dissipate the force away from the area it’s supposed to be protecting.

Look for suits which have CE-approved armour. These suits will have protective external features which have been designed to slide rather than grip, and will thus offer more protection.

WHAT ABOUT STITCHING?

Look for double and triple stitching. This is proven to offer the best protection in the case of a spill – double and triple stitching means the seams are less prone to bursting in an impact.

WHAT OTHER FEATURES SHOULD I LOOK OUT FOR?

This mainly comes down to ease of use. An inner suit will make the leathers easier to get on and off, as well as more comfortable on the bike. The same is true with neoprene cuffs and collars – no more chafing.

Zips are another often overlooked feature. They need to be sturdy and easy to operate with a gloved hand. And they need to stay closed – there’s nothing worse than a zip working its way loose.

HOW IMPORTANT IS FIT?

As with all areas of motorcycle clothing, fit is crucial. Leathers are always a compromise between fit and protection. Too snug and they’ll restrict movement, too loose and all the armour won’t be in the right place.

For a one-piece, fit will be snug, bordering on tight if you’re aiming to get a race-appropriate fit. You don’t want material or protective elements shifting in the event of a crash.

One-piece suits are also designed to be comfortable in the tucked riding position, so may not be all that comfortable when standing or sitting. Stretch panels on the arms, legs and lower back aid movement and flexibility, and thus comfort.

There’s also the option of choosing a size above the race-fit if your plans are to wear the suit while carving canyons or looking for a more spacious fit. Follow the standard fitment instructions for jackets and pants when choosing a two-piece suit.

It’s best to visit your local bike shop, get measured and try on a variety of suits from a range of manufacturers. Try them on with your normal kit – back protector, chest protector, helmet – and make sure everything works together. Bin any that restrict movement.

DO I NEED A SUIT WITH AN AERO HUMP?

Speed humps have been getter smaller over recent years, and apart from the aerodynamic benefits, some manufacturers are using the humps to house airbag systems or hydration packs.

However, there is also a school of thought which says to avoid them where possible. the late Doc John Hinds advised against leathers with a speed hump as he’d noticed that if a rider was unconscious and on their back, the head tended to roll back against the speed hump, which made it difficult to treat them – you can’t keep airways clear when the head’s tilted back as it narrows the airways.

DO YOU HAVE ANY TIPS FOR BEDDING A NEW SUIT IN?

Leathers bed in a lot, sometimes by as much as 10%. I know that double TT winner Ivan Lintin has a little trick he uses to expand a specific part of the suit. He had an issue around his knees at the TT one year and put a motorcycle inner tube into the problem area, blew it up and left overnight.

That may well work for him, but the only real way to bed a new suit in is to wear it, whether that be wearing it round the house, or out on the bike.

CAN I GET AWAY WITH BUYING SECONDHAND LEATHERS?

I’d advise against buying secondhand gear. With leathers they may well be the right size for you on paper, but the leather itself will have stretched to whoever had them before, and they’ll have a different body shape and size to you. So that means they won’t fit you as well as they should, and if they don’t fit then they aren’t going to be of much use in a spill.

New metal – BMW HP4 RACE

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Meet the BMW’s HP4 RACE carbon superbike – the first BMW motorcycle to feature a full carbon fibre frame.

The HP4 RACE will be strictly limited, and just 750 bikes will be produced.

BMW’s engineers have gone to town making the bike as light as possible, and to this end the bike uses a monocoque construction frame which weighs just 7.8kg and has carbon wheels, which BMW says are 30 per cent lighter than those made of conventional materials.

This weight saving programme means the bike weighs just 171kg fully-fuelled – about the same weight as a MotoGP bike – no mean feat for a bike making 212bhp.

This bike has been designed solely for the track and it shows in its impressive spec, much of which is the same spec as the BW WSBK machines: Öhlins FGR 300 upside-down forks and TTX 36 GP rear suspension, Brembo GP4 PR monoblock brake calipers, 320 T-type racing steel brake disks, Dynamic Traction Control DTC (programmable for selected gears at 15 levels), Engine Brake EBR (programmable for selected gears at 15 levels) and Wheelie Control (programmable for selected gears).

Then there’s the 2D dash complete with data logger, a weight-optimised electrical system featuring light lithium-ion battery with 5 Ah, and self-supporting carbon fibre rear frame with three-stage height adjustment function.

This is a very trick bike, essentially a customer version of the BMW WSBK machine, and this is reflected in the price tag; the HP4 RACE will cost £68,000 when it hits the market in September. Bikes will be allocated on a first-come, first-served basis and can be ordered at all BMW Motorrad Centres in the UK.

Riding – #ride5000miles initiative

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The average annual mileage for a British biker is just 3500 miles, with many riders struggling to even leave their own county.

That’s a real shame, and to this end our friends at MCN have launched their #ride5000miles initiative, a scheme aimed at encouraging riders to get out and enjoy their bikes.

It’s something we wholeheartedly support, so we took to Lincolnshire’s roads on an Aprilia V4 1100 Factory APRC to fly the flag and spread the word.

9:00am: It’s early, the sun is peeking through the clouds, and the silver and red paint on the Aprilia is burning through my eyes like a laser. It looks stunning, even when it’s not moving, and I’m genuinely looking forward to riding this bike. No map, no plan…just hit the road and head wherever takes my fancy. Lincolnshire is a big old county, and I’m eager to explore.

9:09am: The sensation of heading out with no plan, no fixed destination and no set return time is liberating. The bike is warmed up, and the bark from the Arrow can sounds purposeful. Let’s do this.

10:25am: The clouds have given way to brilliant sunshine, the tarmac is warming up nicely and the roads seem to be emptying. As I fill up with fuel in Sleaford, the Aprilia is already making an impression on me. The engine is phenomenal, with the ride-by-wire throttle meting out power predictably and smoothly with just a hint of snatch in first, although you’re always aware of the sheer brute force available on tap with a twist of your right hand. The steering feels light, and while the steering lock isn’t great, it’s not so bad as to be restrictive.

10:40am: I decide to head north along the A15 towards Lincoln, enjoying this undulating rollercoaster before turning right and taking a B road towards Digby, savouring the empty tarmac. I’m the only vehicle on this ribbon of asphalt and as the speed increases it becomes noticeable just how effective the Tuono’s nose fairing and cowl is at cosseting the rider from the wind. It’s really efficient and provides much more protection than a naked bike has any right to offer.

11:15am: I carry on until I get to Woodhall Spa, then chuck a left at the crossroads and let the Bucknall bends take me to Bardney. This really is biking heaven. The Tuono is built for roads like this, and the modifications on this bike let it really shine – the Dymag carbon wheels allow it to turn in quickly and accurately with the lightest of touches, and the Swedish suspension offers loads of feedback, taking the Tuono’s cornering brilliance to another level, inspiring huge levels of confidence and urging you to brake later and get on the throttle earlier in every corner.

12:00am: After another fuel stop in Horncastle I continue to head north and make a beeline for Cadwell Park, the spectacular 2.2-mile circuit carved into the sides of the Lincolnshire Wolds. The ‘Mini-Nürburgring’ may well be the narrowest track on the BSB calendar, but it’s also the most memorable – it has a striking mix of slow and fast corners, cambers, bumps and elevation changes, and every rider should experience it at least once in their lives.

1:08pm: After enjoying a snack at Cadwell’s café, I get suited and booted and hit the road again, taking a left followed by a quick right, to take a back road which will take me to one of the best road’s in the country – the rip roaring Caistor High Road.

This old Roman Road is technical, challenging and a joy to ride. It demands your total concentration and its flowing nature showcases just how good the V4 engine is. The acceleration is savage, the quick-revving engine delivering huge amounts of rapid grunt, giving the bike superbike levels of performance with every touch of the quickshifter. And that quickshifter is good, really good, seamlessly building speed and adding a satisfying pop to the V4’s booming feral soundtrack with every upshift.

1:55pm: I carry on heading north, the air starting to feel cooler as I get closer to the coast. We’re close to Humberside airport now, so I peel right and pull in to Kirmington and pull over outside Guy Martin’s pub. The road racing maverick isn’t around – must be busy with the day job – so I stick my lid back on, and retrace my route back to Horncastle, which is no bad thing.

3:04pm: I fill up again, brimming the Tuono’s tank before deciding to head to Willingham Woods to see if anyone’s around.

3:37pm: It may be a Friday, but there’s a fair few who have decided to do the same as me, fly splattered helmet and leathers testimony to the miles we’ve all covered. There’s a healthy selection of bikes from all manufacturers, and after a blather about the merits of V-twins versus V4s it’s time to hit the road again.

4:08pm: I suit up and head back towards Bardney, taking in an eclectic 12-mile triangle of twisting tarmac around the village before heading south west via Potterhanworth to pick up the A15 near Waddington.

4:33pm: A quick splash and dash in Sleaford before heading south and throwing a right in Bourne and hooking up with the fast and flowing A151 to Corby Glen. Left at the crossroads then it’s a back road blast all the way back to Stamford, complete with hump back bridges, blind corners and a couple of viaducts for the bark from the Arrow to bounce off.

5:48pm: I pull up outside my house, take off my lid and enjoy the warmth of the sun. I’ve done some 330 miles, and as the bike pinks in the early evening air, I look at its headlights, which are caked in the remains of a thousand flies.

Today has reminded me about what I love about bikes – the thrill, the freedom, the connection between man and machine.

What a ride.

Tested – 2006 Triumph Daytona 675

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This is the bike which has dominated supersports sales in recent years. It’s British, it’s a triple and it’s a world beater – meet the Triumph Daytona 675.

Let’s not make any bones about it, this bike is a bone fide racer, and you know this as soon as you sit on the bike. The riding position is focused – you’re very much leant forward, and there’s a lot of weight through your wrists. It’s narrow too, and feels tiny below my 6ft 2in frame.

The dash features Triumph’s trademark arrangement, which has always felt a bit too Fisherprice for me, the extensive use of plastics making the styling feel cheap. It’s the only part of the bike that does however, and the angular upper fairing and lights give the Daytona a sharp, purposeful look.

As soon as you thumb the throttle and hear the engine burble into life it become clear that it’s the 675cc, 126bhp powerplant which is the star of the show here, with the three-cylinder unit emitting a raspy, aggressive snarl with every blip of the throttle. It sounds mean, and the aftermarket can gives the note a louder, crisper, more menacing edge higher up in the rev range.

That triple lump is a joy, and the flat torque curve together with a beefy midrange mean there’s plenty of grunt in the rev range where you need it most. Simply wind the throttle on, wring its neck and keep feeding it cogs– sit back and enjoy the ride. Scream if you want to go faster. It’s a brilliant engine, and almost perfect for fast road riding.

The handling is just as impressive, and the owner of this bike has been at the spanners, setting it up to get it just so. It’s very nose heavy now, and the steering feels really light. That translates to wonderful agility, allowing you to throw the bike into corners with your fingertips. I love it – it’s almost as if you can get it to turn purely through thought alone – but I realise this set-up won’t suit everyone.

The ride quality is equally outstanding, with the bike dealing with the many poor road surfaces in its stride. It’s always compliant and it’s reassuringly stable, allowing you to drive out of corners with ever increasing confidence. It’s a proper scratching tool, aided in part by the bike’s massive ground clearance.

And should you need them the Triumph’s anchors offer loads of feel and bite, with the 308mm discs, radial-mount monoblock Nissins scrubbing off speed safely, predictably and rapidly.

This is a bike which is built for the track, but one which excels on our roads. It’s a bike which can be ridden hard, but one which is just as capable as an everyday bike. Triumph got it right with their 675 triple engine, and the Daytona is the bike which beat the established Japanese manufacturers at their own game, totally redefining the class the class in the process. Enough said.

Tested – Aprilia V4 1100 Factory APRC

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I’ve had this bike for the weekend and put quite simply, this is the best bike I’ve ever ridden by a country mile…and I’m still grinning now. I make no apologies if this review comes across as a gushing love letter to this bike…the V4 1100 Factory APRC has moved me and got under my skin like no other bike has to date. It’s addictive, intoxicating and the way it mixes state-of-the-art technology derived from Aprilia’s participation in WSBK with blistering performance means it never fails to entertain.

So what’s the difference between the standard RR and the Factory? Well, this bike comes with fully-adjustable Öhlins rear shock, forks and steering damper and the simply stunning ‘Superpole’ paint scheme, which really suits the bike and is exquisitely finished in the metal.

Swing a leg over this narrow bundle of fun, turn the key, thumb the starter and the 1077cc V4 engine barks into life with a deep, throaty roar. The soundtrack delivered by the Arrow exhaust is ear bleedingly loud and each blip of the throttle is greeted with an aggressive snarl. It feels comfortable too – the riding position feels low and the reach to the flat, tapered bars is spot on, as are the pegs, and they easily accommodate my long limbs.

A quick glance towards the bike’s clock show a dash dominated by a sleek and easy-to-read rev counter that goes all the way to 15,000rpm. There’s no TFT display here, instead you get Aprilia’s traditional square unit showing speed, gear position, traction control setting and range.

On the move and the V4 1100 Factory APRC makes light work of town work. The engine feels civilised, with the ride-by-wire throttle meting out power predictably and smoothly with just a hint of snatch in first, although you’re always aware of the sheer brute force available on tap with a twist of your right hand. The steering feels light, and while the steering lock isn’t great, it’s not so bad as to be restrictive.

Heading out of town and the first thing that becomes noticeable is just how effective the new nose fairing and cowl is at cosseting the rider from the wind. It’s really efficient and provides much more protection than a naked bike has any right to offer.

As speed and revs rise, the second thing that grabs your attention is the engine – the V4 is a weapon and explodes into life with every twist of the throttle. It’s savage, and as the revs rise the surge is so ferocious that the front wheel will be pawing the air with every gear change. And get the engine howling above 7000rpm and the bike changes from a beauty into a beast as all that power propels the bike forward with a time warping urgency. The acceleration is savage, the quick-revving engine delivering huge amounts of rapid grunt, giving the bike superbike levels of performance with every touch of the quickshifter. And that quickshifter is good, really good, seamlessly building speed and adding a satisfying pop to the V4’s booming feral soundtrack with every upshift.

This is a bike that’s mind numbingly fast, but it’s agile too and is just as happy on its ear. The Dymag carbon wheels allow it to turn in quickly and accurately with the lightest of touches, and the Swedish suspension offers loads of feedback, taking the Tuono’s cornering brilliance to another level, inspiring huge levels of confidence and urging you to brake later and get on the throttle earlier in every corner.

But all this performance is easy to control, thanks to that throttle and the sophisticated WSBK-derived APRC electronics package which includes on-the-move traction control, launch control, wheelie control and Race ABS. There are also three riding modes – Track, Sport and Road – and although the power output always remains the same, the throttle response and delivery is adjusted depending on the mode.

And should things ever threaten to get out of control – which they won’t – the Brembo M432 monoblocs rapidly and effortlessly scrub speed with retina bleeding efficiency.

I’ve racked up 450 miles in the two days we’ve been together, and the only weakness in the Factory’s impressive armoury is the price – there’s no getting away from the fact that it comes with huge price tag. But for me personally, it’s worth every penny. I’ve tested some 300 bikes over the years and no bike has moved me like this. It’s by far the best road-going performance bike I’ve ever tested and the blend of WSBK-derived rider aids, the V4’s performance and the distinctive soundtrack delivered by that phenomenal engine mean I’m still grinning now. Everyone should ride one at least once in their lives…

WSBK – Rea wins Race One as Davies crashes out at Aragon

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Race One at Aragon proved to be a happy hunting ground for Kawasaki’s Johnny Rea, as the Ulsterman claimed the win, thus becoming the 200th British winner in the series.

Rea looked comfortable throughout, but it was polesitter and race favourite Chaz Davies who got the holeshot, with Rea right on his tail. The duo then become embroiled in a fascinating duel for the lead, the Welshman’s Ducati faster to accelerate, with Rea’s Kawasaki better at quick direction changes.

The lead continued to swap, and while Rea had the upper hand in the opening-half of the lap, the Ducati was stronger in the second-half of the lap, but with their lap-times very similar, it was difficult to break away.

As the race wore on, it was clear the Ducati rider was having to push harder to keep up the pace, with Rea looking much more comfortable.

The final laps began with the pair once again trading places, but on the penultimate lap Davies carried too much speed on the way into the corner, and ran wide on entry and lost the front-end, his leg getting caught under the Panigale as he slid what seemed like an eternity. Luckily it seems he has escaped unharmed.

That left Rea to cross the finish line in first place, extending his lead to 55-points in the process. With Davies having won five times at Aragon in the past, the win was a real statement of intent from Rea. Let’s hope Race Two is just as explosive.