Red line district

Save 50,000 litres of water a year from your leaking plumbing fixtures; recycle 250 litres of plastic bottles and save enough energy to generate 45Kw; donate some litres of blood and save life; drink two litres of water daily; GET yourself a Litre Sport bike and forget about the righteous deeds towards Mother Nature; your respectable etiquette; those honourable mannerisms to family, friends and foe; that cool, calm and particular walk for gentlemen never run.

We ride three of Honda’s iconic bikes in a tête-à-tête between two generations of Fireblade, CBR954RR vs CBR1000RR and a wildcard Honda VTR1000. We see how newer generation litres give more value for power, much faster than fast and lighter than flight. Steve, Chris and Ryan come from different saddles of life. Steve rides a naked Suzi SV650. Ryan a Z1000 Kawa and Chris has a stableful of interesting machines to the likes of a suped-up Blackbird, an FZR1000 and the original HRC MS21 NSR.

Ryan’s blade

We all seem to have instantly chosen our “idyllic” date. I’m not sure at what point the Honda Fireblade transformed from absolute hooligan in 1992 to the very fast, but smoothly controllable 2007 model.

Without much hesitation I admit it’s a triumph of engineering to make a bike faster, more powerful and yet easier to ride, but in doing so Honda in the eyes of many destroyed its character. Nobody wants a bike that bites, no? Sure not, but why do people choose to keep Boa Constrictors as aquarium pets rather than a peaceful community of Kissing Gouramis?

Honda has gone back to basics by reinventing the original 1992 Blade and producing a bike that’s more track-focused and ready to challenge the likes of Suzuki’s GSX-R1000. The 2007 1000RR has a similar race focus of the CBR600RR. The way it handles and steers highlights a very important fact. Big bikes are getting smaller and lighter and the result is incomparable. Unit Pro-Link rear suspension, Dual Stage Fuel Injection System (DSFI) and the lengthy swing arm are introduced from the technologies of the RC211V MotoGP bike.

Cocking a leg over the 2007 Blade for the first time, it felt instantly comfortable. It feels smaller than the CBR954RR although just slightly heavier. Had I not looked up the stats I would have vouched it was the other way round. I found the 1000RR outstandingly comfortable, even for a six-footer like me. Coming from riding non faired bikes I admit that my wrists felt tired after a couple of hours of leaning forward, still I’m sure its something that will eventually fade through frequent spurts of ‘Blading’!

This bike’s meat is not just in its refined appearance. We dashed through the popular decent open roads with some long stretches that allowed me to appreciate how keen Honda has been to perfect its race technology. It is extremely easy to get lost in watching the needle closing on the red line. The power delivery is ultra smooth and immediate. The throttle is so responsive that you’re instantly into another dimension.

Eyes water as the needle reaches too much into the next corner where I dared myself to be as late as possible on the brake… the fun disguised red mist clouded over wisdom. I shut off my right hand and clutched a handful of front brake while the gearbox worked fluidly through my pressing downshifting… clean through in full control I’m awed at the deliberate quantity of biting power of the four-piston radial-mounted calipers against the dual full-floating 320mm front discs.

The steering setup offers a fantastic poise and control through the HESD rotary-type steering damper that electronically modulates steering damping based on road speed and acceleration. A concoction of ECU sense, solenoid control and oil-pressure relieving results in reduced damping force and lighter steering effort. At higher speeds, oil flow restriction increased damping force and adds stability. Brilliant!

The 2007 1000RR continues to be a Fireblade for the masses. Its very user friendly set-up yet sharp performance and intriguing styling gives it an exuberance that a few others behold. Would I ever own one? Now who said there’s a tap that needs fixing…?

Steve’s Red Line

A great number of sport bikers out there ride 600’s. It seems the logical choice for our small island. We haven’t got great distances to travel so commuting a Sixer should be more than enough to muck around from A to B (… to C to D to…) in a quick, fun manner, right? But there’s always 400cc more that lingers in your sublime thoughts as to what you’d do with them on a 1000cc format. The new(ish) trend to take your bike to Sicily and beyond may sound a fair excuse to some more disposable power. Should one plunge in?

Can mere mortals like us normal folk handle such powerful machines?
I myself am in such a dilemma. I’ve been riding my trusty Suzi from the day they emerged off the production line, back in 1999. I wonder whether the bigger machine would be too much to handle, which one should fit me best? The Suzuki TL1000 came to mind, but so many reviews against the bike’s rear damper and the fact they call it the widow maker put me off somewhat, and I’ve always secretly craved for a Honda.

“The new Fireblade represents total control”, that was what the Honda people were banging about at the time the 2004 954RR beauty came out. They didn’t want to build a bike for outright power to compete with Suzuki’s GSX-R1000 which had been king since 2001. For the moment, they decided not to tackle the competition on the stat sheets but instead build a machine they said is more accessible, more usable and consequently more fun to ride. Performance you can use. Total control. A fine theory and it’s easy to understand what Honda means.

This incarnation is fantastically easy to ride fast, slow or in between. When you want to put your head down and trash it with your mates you’re only giving 50 per cent effort to keep up. 130bhp at the back wheel and 168kg do make for a nimble, quick bike even by today’s standards. The drive from low revs is always strong, but not so brutal as to be off putting, before the high rev frenzy kicks in and races you to peak power.

Steering is quick and precise and the Blade seems to fall intuitively to turn without the need to force it down or heave it up. Nothing wrong with this bike’s brakes, think of stopping and you’re stationary. The feel is the best I’ve ever felt on any bike’s, building up your confidence to no end. It is a super bike, however it’s so civilised and easy to live with that there’s little to wonder upon why it sold like hotcakes. Honda kept their reputation of producing well put together, high performance bikes. Total control, it works for me.

The 2007 edition of the Fireblade looks awesome. It comes second in the looks department only to KTM’s RC8 in my opinion and is much better looking than the 2008 edition of the Fireblade with its stubby nose and short rear end. It’s great for the experienced but for now more than I can handle.

Second in line is the Firestorm. It’s a V-twin which sounds awesome especially when revved hard, but to me it was more of the same and didn’t fire my taste buds all that much. My overall winner is the 2004 Fireblade, it just felt so right. Being honest, I was the “thou” virgin here and to have kept up with my more experienced mates without feeling that I rode over my comfort zone is a testimony to this bike’s greatness. This is power for the masses and you’ll want to go on forever.

Chris’s Wild Card

Having ridden and owned throughout the years a very large number of super bikes (at present my stable includes an original Honda Racing Corporation MC21 NSR , a turbocharged Honda CBR 1100 Super Blackbird, a street-fighter-ized Yamaha FZR 1000 Genesis Ex-up and a 1973 Kawasaki H2 750 “widow maker”) I must say that I had already set my eyes on a particular bike of the trio… not because of its looks or styling, neither because of its technology, but because of the fun factor, reliability, background and practicality of the package it comes with.

The Firestorm was the oldest bike of the trio with only 108bhp, but who cares, 192kg again who cares… heavy and slow for today’s standards… the brakes?? Suspension?? I must be nuts having set my eyes on a nine-year old machine when there were the two CBR’s within reach!

The Firestorm has actually two “brothers”, the Varadero, a heavy weight endurance bike that looks like a tame dinosaur and shares the same engine as the Firestorm; detuned to 100bhp and five-gears instead of six, and the VTR 1000 SP1: the Firestorm’s Big Brotha’ boasting 130bhp in standard tune, digital dash, upside down forks, larger brakes, fuel injection and an optional HRC tuning package. The SP1 was later developed into the SP2, just 132bhp and enough torque to raise the front wheel right off the ground in fifth gear (I had actually ridden an SP1 in 2000 and the bike was incredible).

The throttle is light, engine a bit nervous in low revs, jam the throttle open and you can feel the front forks extending themselves in first, second and third gears, Though its heavier than the CBR’s, it feels as light and well balanced, the reason being its v-twin engine. Cornering is light and precise at both high and low speeds. I’m sure that a steering damper would be a good addition due to the bike’s eagerness to wheelie and the perfection (oh God, please help me!) of our roads.

Pity the braking is not well up to its handling. Suspension is just right for the Maltese roads and the riding position is very comfortable. Second-hand bikes are quite decent unless accident damaged. This particular one was in very good working order and, considering it’s a 1,000cc, it is very well priced on the market.

The Fireblade was first released way back in 1992 based on the concept “less is more”. Honda wanted to literally pull out a racing bike from the superbike scene, modify and develop it for road use, the Fireblades became exactly what Honda intended them to become, fast, light, user-friendly and very reliable. Honda made CBR’s in all capacities imaginable, from the 250cc four cylinder screamers to the more common CBR 400s, CBR 600s, CBR 900, the 954, the 2007 CBR 1000 and the CBR 1100 Blackbird and Super Blackbird.

The CBR’s loaned to us were beautiful examples of Hondas best. I’m sure that not everyone will agree with me regarding these bikes and also the Firestorm; this is my opinion, my feelings and facts that are important to me as a biker and speed freak. I could have produced graphs and figures that would have been universally approved but no… we will go one step further!

The 954 should be faster and lighter than the 1000; well that’s what the figures say… no way, the feeling is that the 1000 is much faster, it looks more beautiful to my eyes and that’s a fact, under the fuel tank lies a masterpiece of engineering, the fuelling is meticulously microprocessor-controlled as most modern super bikes in this class. The weight distribution is neutral in both bikes. The bikes have a racer feel (as they are in fact racers indeed) the acceleration is incredible, braking and traction are at the limit.

The power delivery of the 954 is smooth, the 1000 is smooth too, but at a certain point in the rev range, when the chemistry of the engine starts to do its thing, the adrenalin rush becomes instant.

The test day was a windy one. There was no need for the bikes to be thrashed to their limit. I must say that the limit is quite high; 0 to 62mph being well under three seconds and top speeds in excess of 290km/hr. It is a very well-known fact that these are bikes made to perform and there is no doubt about that.

Some speed freaks tend to say that if a bike does not perform well up a drag strip, the bike is not fast. These bikes are not meant to go fast in a straight line, they are not drag racers. They are meant to be fast and reliable round corners. Not Maltese roads either as they are too powerful for that! I have talked to people who say that these particular Hondas are slow for what they cost and that other makes go faster. Maybe the geometry of a drag racing bike is different from that of a track derived bike someday we might even deal with this issue.

This article was first published on Times of Malta on June 2, 2008
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