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Honda Fireblade a scorcher

2006-02-13 09:09

Brett Hamilton

The first 'Blade in 1992 sold not just because it was a cutting-edge sports machine, but also because it's civilised. Most people could live with it.

It managed to redefine the sports motorcycle and dominated the market until the launch of the seminal R1 from Yamaha in 1998 and Suzuki GSX-R1000 four years later.

These bikes were focussed, fast and manic. The CBR was different. It stayed different and, now, is back on top of the pile.

Whereas the GSX-R would drag you behind the bushes and beat you with a big stick, the CBR is more progressive. It's a twirling ballerina with a big, black gun.

Despite more power and torque, for 2006 the reworked suspension and chassis means the new bike is even easier to ride - if you can believe that.

It doesn't take much to ride this bike fast, exactly what Honda planned.

First, the changes to the engine and chassis are hardly extreme. Small, but significant revisions in a bid to regain the top spot in its class.

The intake and exhaust ports are bigger and the combustion chambers are smaller: the compression ratio has increased and more efficient combustion boosts power output.

This also sees the redline go up to 12 200 r/min.

A new crankshaft is stronger and stiffer and weighs 450g less. The clutch now rides on needle bearings for improved pull-offs.

Another 100g has been shaved off thanks to the magnesium engine covers and oil pan.

The aluminium radiator has been revised and is a massive 500g lighter. New hoses sees a further 200g weight reduction.

Other changes to the mechanics include the lighter under-seat exhaust system and rear sub-assembly.

Add it up and the bike weighs in a full 3kg less than before.

In theory this should make the bike easier through the corners. And it does.

Flat out on a short straight rushing toward a tight left-hander it is a grit your teeth moment as you're hard on the brakes and thinking about the fast kink that takes you onto the next short straight.

On these roads you need good stoppers and the 'Blade delivers.

The units are radial-mount and despite having an increased diameter of 320mm (up from 310mm), they are also thinner and, as a result, lighter.

Under the restyled bodywork the 998cc now pushes out 127 kW at 11 250 r/min and 115 Nm at 10 000 r/min.

Twist the throttle and you know that you're on a big machine. Even at low revs the bike pulls strong, but not as insanely as on the ZX.

You are rewarded with a beefy mid-range and if you ask anything from the engine below 9 000r/min, you get it.

Fireblades have always been known for their quick steering and crisp handling and the boys at Honda have worked on the new bike to keep it that way.

The caster angle is reduced and the trail now measures 100 mm (down from 102mm). The swingarm is 5mm shorter and the wheelbase is less by 10 mm.

The new 'Blade, as with the older one, changes direction without any effort.

At the back, the Unit Pro-Link damper features an aluminium spring load adjuster ring, replacing the steel unit of the old machine - reducing weight and sharpening up the steering.

The bike sees off a series of insignificant corners with a quick-few left-right-left flicks and an insatiable appetite for long straights.

A right-hander rushes up and the bike falls to a comfortable lean angle. It has a long radius and invites you to be greedy with the throttle. The front catches a few bumps and the rear jiggles over the uneven surface.

It is one of those hold your breath, grip the bike and say your prayer moments that inevitably sees you exit on the other side with a Cheshire cat smile on your face.

I can't help but think that two years ago, when the Fireblade wasn't fitted with an Electronic Steering Damper (HESD), things may have been very different.

Engineering pride took a back seat when Honda admitted a steering damper isn't such a bad idea.

The HESD unit adjusts the damping for speed and acceleration: it firms up as speeds increase - minimising the effects of bumps in high-speed corners. At low speeds its damping valve permits free and nimble movement.

As for the styling, the front and side cowls are sleek and aggressive - exposing more of the right hand engine and giving it a racy look.

The fairing is shapely with flared edges and the bottom part doesn't extend as far to the rear.

Even the chassis gets a stylish treatment with a black swingarm and frame. The radial brake mounts and fork lowers are also in black.

Colours include Black, Red and Black, or Silver.

Well, that's about it. The price remains unchanged from 2005 at R115 000. As for the styling, the front and side cowls are sleeker and aggressive. It exposes more of the right hand engine - giving it a racy look.

Up front, the fairing is shapelier with flared edges and the bottom part doesn't extend as far to the rear.

Even the chassis gets a stylish treatment with a black swingarm and frame. The radial brake mounts and fork lowers are also in black.

The colours include Black, Red and Black, or Silver.


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