Honda's Fireblade still sharpest
20 YEARS IN THE MAKING: Surely the finest Fireblade yet – matured beyond its years for 2012. Image gallery
With BMW’s S1000RR arguably stealing the limelight in the superbike stakes there were some who thought Honda's Fireblade, just launched in South Africa, would at the very least usurp its German rival in the kiloWatt stakes.
Whatever, Honda still seems content to trail BMW with slightly less engine output (albeit academic figures), but I guarantee you won’t ever feel the difference because there just aren’t any racing circuits (let alone highways) on the planet where one could honestly say one or other feels distinctly quicker or more agile.
I speak from experience: late in 2011 I spent a day at the Ricardo Tormo circuit in Valencia riding the revamped S1000RR Beemer and, in my mind, now that I’ve had the opportunity to ride the Honda CBR1000RR Fireblade at one of the best circuits here in South Africa (Aldo Scribante in the Eastern Cape), one really is unable to detect a cigarette paper output of difference between the two bikes – on the back straight or accelerating out of the tightest of curves.
Yoshiaki Nakamura, president of Honda Motors SA, said at the launch: “What I can tell you with certainty is that Honda has, in this the bike's 20th year, produced arguably the greatest superbike yet by refining the Fireblade beyond comparison in many, many ways.
"My job is to satisfy all types of riders whether they be simply enthusiasts or maybe amateur or professional racers.”
If the above sounds a little like "media speak" it’s worth reflecting that 56-year-old Nakamura-san was once a factory rider for Honda and has a 250cc World championship title to his credit. In fact, only last month he was out at the Zwartkops circuit near Pretoria for a National Historic Race Day meeting and led the field by more than half a lap… apparently just to keep his eye in!
A little potted history of the Fireblade records that back in 1992 it was "just 893cc, along with its ultra-light chassis and competition geometry that created the Fireblade legend almost overnight. Since then it has increased in stature in just about every department through 919cc, 929cc and 954cc to the 999cc "beating heart" we know today.
Peer pressure aside, due mainly to a handful of South African motorcycle champs who turned up for the test ride in the Windy City, it was without doubt the most enjoyable track day I’ve ever had - here or abroad. Honda’s Fireblade has to be the easiest superbike yet to ride confidently after a few short laps – it’s that friendly.
It’s also worth recording some of the more salient and obvious details found on the bike: there’s a new nose, main fairing and tail section – not just cosmetic changes but designed to make the bike look even more assertive, dynamic and smooth.
The Honda R&D guys decided to fit a Showa rear shock system (as found on other Japanese thoroughbreds such as Suzuki’s GSX-R) while the inverted front forks on the ’Blade have Showa 'Big Piston' technology up front - improved damping front and rear. Factor in gorgeous cast alloy rims (now 12-spoked) that provide even further rigidity.
Gone are the conventional dials – in their place is an all-digital combo with built-in lap-timer, gear position indicator and a tachometer with four modes of display. Easy to read and check, if time permits!
The bike is essentially lighter, more compact and more powerful and it was time to get a few laps under my belt on the superb, but short (2.48km) Scribante circuit. Easing out on to the track, the infamous Firehawk Sweep beckoned.
Two laps to familiarise myself and warm up the tyres was always going to be a good idea – one that soon paid dividends because the ‘Blade is so simple to ride and control it encourages the rider to turn in safely yet go quicker and quicker.
I rarely do wheelies on purpose but coming out of the Goodyear Sweep on lap three up she came for quite a few metres. I hope that somebody took a picture if only for posterity’s sake! Easy to control with just a dab of the rear brake (Honda linked brakes are standard on the ’Blade), yet the bike still managed to reach 227km/h along the straight before the Luk Repco curve came into play.
The 20-minute session seemed to fly by. I was quickly gaining confidence in my own ability, and that’s not a bad thing. But that’s the rub with ’Blade ownership, methinks.
Prices start at R141 999 for the basic Fireblade; a R10K premium gets you the C-ABS version – and probably worth every penny …
2012 Honda Fireblade
Four-cylinder, 998cc, liquid-cooled
Power: 131kW @ 12 000rpm
Torque: 78Nm @ 11 000rpm
Top speed: 300km/h
Tank capacity: 17.7 litres
Seat height: 820mm
Kerb weight: 200 g
Brakes: Linked discs
Final drive: O-ring chain
PRICE: From R141 999