By Andy Ibbott, Bikenet
As you look ahead, you see a crest in the road. Exiting the 30mph limit, you nail the bike hard in second gear, then third. Timing it just right, you back off the throttle a little as the crest gets nearer. BANG, hard on the gas you time the peak of the crest with the peak power of the 929cc Honda. Up comes the front end and as the clocks come into your line of view you see 124mph showing – in third – on the back wheel.
Weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee! The dry roads are back! The English weather is a strange old bugger and it seems to pick the worst moments to rain. I swear it knew I had got the Bikenet editor’s FireBlade as every time I went out on it to do the photo session the skies opened and back to the unit we went, getting soaked and dirty in the process. 400 miles and two and a half weeks later I awoke, looked out the window, and was greeted with a dry road and even a little sun. Brilliant! A quick call to the snapper and we were game on.
It’s amazing just how much difference a dry road makes. Aggressive throttle control, quick turns and grip all come flooding back and before you can say “speed camera” the cobwebs have been blown out and the madness begins. That crest was exactly two miles into the trip. D’oh! But that’s the problem. The moment you put the key in the ignition, watch the LCD clocks fire up and listen to the fuel injection priming – you know it’s going to be a good day, a fast day, a day when everything feels almost right.
When you first sit on the new Blade it immediately feels like the CBR600. If you were blindfolded, you would be hard pressed to tell the difference – until you select first gear with a clonk (once a Honda always a Honda) and whoosh, of you go.
Designer, Baba-san, has tried to recapture the essence of the original Blade by making the new millennium bike wild yet still refined. It seems strange that Honda even considered taming the CBR900RR in the first place by making it more dull every year until, in 1998, it was called a sports tourer by many (myself included) when it was ridden against the mighty Yamaha R1 and overshadowed by the versatile Kawasaki ZX-9R C1.
Well, you can still go touring on the Blade, but it isn’t as mild and timid as it once was. The new engine, with its fuel injection and exhaust management system, starts to pull from as little as 3,000rpm. Once the dial swings around to 7,000 all hell breaks loose until it runs out of steam 500rpm shy of the redline at 11,500. Pretty impressive and thanks to its light weight, you can’t help but conserve front tyre wear. It will be as wild or as tame as your throttle hand allows. The motor is very responsive yet, and it’s a big yet, after 20 miles of this you want more. “More power Mr Scott”, comes the cry from the bridge. “She canne make any more Capt’n.” Comes the reply. Bummer.
If you have never ridden an R1 or ZX-9R, then you might not come to the same conclusion, as ridden in isolation it feels more than enough. We must be getting spoilt nowadays because as little as three years ago this bike would have been a stunner, a beast, a man’s machine. And although the Blade has moved on with this latest incarnation, don’t let the hype fool you, it’s still subdued and refined – and that’s its strength. There will be fewer Blades for sale second-hand this year as there will be R1s and ZX-9Rs whose owners have had to admit defeat and get something a little easier to ride. Yes it’s good, but not as wild as the other two.
Handling-wise Honda have a made a really nice package. The bike feels nimble, turns nicely and holds a line well. A far cry from the horrible 16-inch wheeled beasties of the past that felt vague mid corner. And about time too. Every bend can be attacked hard, but don’t hang on too tightly to the bars or you will be in the land of the tank slapper sooner than you would like. Nimble and a touch unstable – just how we like ‘em.
On the road the suspension feels just fine, soaking up all the roads can throw at it with ease. However, if you really turn the wick up, then it does feel a little bit on the soft side. Nearly every SuperStock bike has had stiffer springs fitted front and rear when the bike is used in the white-hot heat of racing. The pivot-less swing arm works well too and goes against the grain of conventional thinking. The “ideal” as far as frame construction goes is to connect the headstock to the swing arm pivot with as direct and as strong a route as possible. Honda throws this out of the door by mounting the swing arm to the back of the engine and then the engine to the mainframe rails. It works and saves weight so we won’t knock it for now.
Hauling the bike down from speed is easily done too. The front stoppers are top spec and two fingers are enough to get the bike to go slower faster if you see what we mean! One finger braking isn’t as rewarding as you can’t get quiet enough pressure on the lever to translate into solid stopping power. Not being a great fan of the rear brake, it seems to cope well enough when the conditions are wet, offering good feedback so you don’t lock the wheel. Grip from the Michelin Pilot Sports is excellent once the tyres have got some heat into them. Take a little care when they are cold as they can slip away from you at an alarming speed. Take it easy for the first mile or so, particularly if the roads are cold.
There are few bad points to say about the Blade this year. The power is good, the handling excellent, the riding position superb for all and sundry, but it has to be said that the big H needs to sort the fuel injection. Like the RC45 before it and the new SP-1, the Blade also suffers from throttle on/off switch in slow corners at low revs. Come on guys, Ducati have been making smooth delivery fuel injection systems for years, and on lumpy V twins to boot. Honda, you really must try harder.
You will enjoy the Blade unless you are a complete adrenaline junkie, in which case the Yam or Kawa will be more your cup of tea. Oh, and by the way, the very next day after I had returned the bike safe and well to the eager hands of the editor – it was sunny and warm all day.
Liquid-cooled, DOHC, in-line four
Bore x stroke: 74 x 54mm
Compression ratio: 11.3:1
Fuel Delivery: PGM-FI Fuel Injection
Max power: 152bhp @ 11,000 rpm (claimed)
Max torque: 76ft-lb @ 9,000 rpm
Final Drive: O ring chain
Gear Box: 6 speed
Wheelbase: 1400mm (54.9in)
Seat height: 815mm (32.3in)
Rake/Trail: 23.8Â¤/97mm (3.8inch)
Frame: Twin spar alloy
Fuel capacity: 18 litres (3.9 gal UK)
Front – 120/70 ZR 17
Rear – 190/50 ZR 17
Front – 43mm cartridge forks with adjustable preload, compression and rebound damping
Rear – Prolink with adjustable preload, compression and rebound damping
Front – Twin 330mm discs, 4 piston calipers
Rear – Single 220mm disc, single piston caliper
Dry weight: 170kg (374lb)
Colours: Black/Red,white; blue/Yellow,white