On Facebook I had seen a post on Bennetts by the Bike social team asking if anybody wanted to ride the new Fireblade SP1. I thought it’s not every day you get to ride a blade, so it’s worth a shot. A few emails later I had bagged an invite, an invite to the illustrious Bruntingthorpe proving ground. Bruntingthorpe is an airfield circuit and up until a few years ago, was home to Vulcan to the skies project. Now it consists of a 2 mile long straight, and some very, two tight right-handers and then a pair of left and then right very tasty sweeping corners with another straight and then a nice flip flop chicane.
A week before, there had been a lot of speculation over the 2017 fireblade. I was riding it a few days after the TT, and we all know what happened there. Or at least people think they do. The race bikes on the road racing scene had been plagued with issues. Gearbox issues and electronic issues were some of the troubles on the bike with social media being set alight with speculation, as we all know, social media is taken as gospel and rumour spreads like wildfire. The thing is if I didn’t have common sense, wait…how do I word this…. If I wasn’t an idiot… erm… if I didn’t have a brain I would have believed the Facebook engineers/racers/keyboard warriors/people in the know (delete as appropriate), and thought that the bike was rubbish and that is that. That’s not how my mind works and I couldn’t really form any valid opinion of it without actually giving it a go, so I went in with an open mind. A little apprehensive because it dawned on me that this was a top of the range £20K bike, which wasn’t mine.
I saw the bike parked up and it looked absolutely beautiful. The HRC colour scheme really sets this bike on fire. Gold wheels and the classic, but revised HRC livery certainly make it a looker. The SP is extremely well equipped, full-colour TFT dashboard, Ohlins electronic adjustable front suspension and up and down quickshifter/autoblipper.
Having never ridden or even sat on a fireblade before this one, I don’t have an awful lot to compare it to, from previous models, but it did feel small, very 600ish in size, but this also makes it feel very agile. The windscreen on the SP is very small. I am 5”7’ and weigh around 75Kg’s when soaked to the cored and I couldn’t get fully tucked up behind it so there is quite a lot of wind and noise but nothing massive to worry about. I do understand why this got replaced with a fruity double bubble number on the race bikes. The Ohlins electronic suspension is a real trick piece of kit. Admittedly the blade isn’t the only bike employing such as system, it is becoming a good feature on a lot of the top of the range bikes, but on the fireblade it soaks up the bumps nicely although I haven’t been on the standard fireblade to compare it to the non-ohlins version. I wasn’t sure what mode the suspension was in when I was riding, and I didn’t change the settings at all as I was too busy enjoying myself. The dashboard is a work of art. It gives clear and concise information but then also some real novelty items too such as lean angle and lap timer features, and changes to the fully adjustable suspension, traction control and engine modes, again, I didn’t mess with the engine modes or other electronics, nor was I getting huge lean angles or blistering lap times.
Yet another new experience to me was riding with an autoblipper. Having never used one before it was a great piece of equipment to get used to. Easy to use and something you quickly get accustomed to, flicking up through the gears effortlessly. I’ll be honest, I don’t always use the clutch for going up and down the box on my road bike (unless I’m selling it to you in which case I have always, always used the clutch). The autoblipper is also a thing of beauty. The throttle has to be completely closed and with a good click down with the left boot, it clicks into gear and rev matches nicely, making me look like a pro! Quite the opposite in reality.
Throughout the day we were reminded that Bruntingthorpe is not a race track, but a “proving ground”. I guess this was proven by the fact there was a great mix of traffic on at once, ranging from Vauxhall Astra’s to trucks, sports cars and other mixtures. Triumph were not there, not testing a new bike, and likewise, mclaren were also not there.
Having never been on “track” before it was initially quite daunting, especially when I remembered it was a borrowed bike. The long straight and twisty wide corners had me wondering what was coming the other way, before remembering there was nothing but clear tarmac. A good experience though nonetheless and I definitely have the itch to do a proper track day now.
The fireblade was lapping this up despite my nerves, I started off slowly gradually building the speed and confidence. What also helped was having an accomplished racer as a chaperone giving me some pointers after each session. Mainly asking me why I was going so slow. This wasn’t the fireblades fault. The bike itself was well capable. I’ll hold my hands up and call myself a straight line hero, going fast on a straight line is easy, you just gotta sit there with the throttle pinned, and a huge runway had me wondering what the blade would do. After twisting the throttle to the stops and smashing it up through the box, with the quickshifter working it’s magic, I hit 176 indicated on the speedo. Pretty good going, but I was determined to hit the magic 180. I got a second wind and twisted again, determined to hit the 180. The engine just kept going, it sounded amazing and kept pulling all the way past my 180mph indicated goal. That was when I backed it off, happy with that. Bearing in mind though, that is an indicated speed, so in actual fact, it was probably only about 90. From watching the footage back a full throttle roll on from 45mph to 180 took around 14 seconds. Mental.
The engine on the SP is subtly tweaked over the standard blade. It revs harder, faster, and is lighter but it pulls like a train. The revs seem to build and build and just keep going. I don’t think I got anywhere near the redline on it, not because I didn’t want to, but because it wasn’t needed. The way it builds speed is insane. By the end of the day, I was getting really confident and letting it go ballistic down the long straight, fully tucking behind the tiny screen and grinning from ear to ear.
Going back the past few years, designers haven’t really been on form when it comes to designing nice looking exhaust systems. Some of them look bloody awful, like sick in your mouth hideous. Fortunately though the fireblade exhaust looks the part, and it sounds fantastic too. The engine note really howls, both from behind the screen and also when spectating from afar. I know There are various aftermarket systems available and I can only imagine that they sound unreal judging by how good the stock is. I have heard mutterings that some tracks are pretty unhappy with the noise made by the standard SP can so be careful when putting that full system on as if it’s hard to pass noise tests on the standard can, then that shiny new Akrapovic is definitely going to blow the noise meters.
With hindsight now, my thoughts go back to the internet trolls, making jokes about endless false neutrals on fireblades, well I had nothing of the sort. The bike ran flawlessly for me all day. I guess the joke is on them. All I have said to anybody who has brought it up was that they need to get on a blade themselves and try it out for themselves.
Price wise it does seem expensive I have seen used ones for around 16.5k with low mileage and some tasty goodies already fitted, a bargain to the circa 20k new, if you can get your hands on one. (prices correct at time of writing June 2017). Price does seem very steep, but then it’s expensive because of the quality components equipped. Electric Ohlins, colour displays and all the other electronic aids are certain to bump the price up, Honda has gone all out with this bike. It is worth every penny, I’m going to have to get saving, or failing that, does anybody want to buy a slightly used kidney?