Road Tests


Friday 4th May 2012


More of a facelift than a new model - but if it ain't broke, why fix it?

Can you believe the Fireblade is 20 years old? Yep, Tadao Baba's baby is nearly old enough to get the key to the front door - how time flies. Remember the impact the 1992 Blade had on the two-wheeled world? The first bike that truly brought handling, performance and beauty together in one package.

The first 'proper' sports bike and a machine that shaped a generation. Twenty years on, what has changed? Carbs have died, the 123hp of the original model (nearer 110hp at the rear) looks paltry compared to the 2012 bike's claimed 177hp (about 167hp at the rear), ABS has entered the sports bike world and analogue dials are so old hat - digital is the way forward. Oh, and 16-inch front rims are (thankfully) a thing of the past!

What's new?
Since the 'new-style' Blade was launched in 2008, bar a slight modification to the flywheel to alter the engine's inertia in 2010, the Blade has remained virtually unchanged. Considering how fast the superbike class moves, it's a hell of an achievement that the Honda is still one of the best-selling bikes in the UK. So what's different for 2012? Again, not a lot. The styling is more angular, the suspension overhauled with a new design of Showa shock and Showa's Big Piston Forks, the wheels are now 12-spoke hoops and the dash has been given a cool LCD look with a gear indicator and lap timer included. The motor is essentially unchanged, aside from the usual ECU updates.

Does it feel any different?
I've ridden the 2012 Blade a few times in the last couple of weeks, once on track at Portimao and another time on the UK's roads, and to be honest it feels a hell of a lot like the old model - which is no bad thing. Sitting on it, the riding position is sporty without being too extreme and, if it wasn't for the superbly dtyled new dash, you would struggle to spot the differences.

On the go, the engine also feels virtually identical. The Blade's motor is quite unlike the GSX-R1000 or ZX-10R in-line fours. Where the Suzuki and Kawasaki have distinct power bands, the Blade is just one huge turbine of power that drives seamlessly and with a smooth and fluid build-up of torque. It's a motor that makes lazy riding remarkably easy and is deceptively fast - on the road it's very easy to accidentally go very, very, fast indeed on the Honda!

On track, this fluid nature and excellent chassis make the Honda feel superbly balanced. Like the GSX-R1000, it's not a hard bike to ride fast on track and, although it feels a little less agile than the Suzuki, it is certainly an easier and more natural bike to ride. Honda claims the Blade delivers 'total control', which is a marketing-speak way of saying it's very user-friendly - another Honda trait.

The updated suspension certainly adds to this feeling of balance. The new design of Showa shock is basically the same technology that Ohlins uses in its TTX and the BPF forks are also excellent in their performance, helping the tyres dig in for grip and soaking up the bumps. Compared with the 2011 Blade, the 2012 model feels more secure in corners with improved damping qualities, too. I'd be interested to drive the two models back to back; I suspect the differences would become even more apparent.

Where does it stand?
I asked the same question of the 2012 GSX-R1000, and with the Honda the answer is the same - not at the top on track but up there on the road. The BMW S1000RR will dominate on track, but on the road the Blade's easy-going engine and balanced chassis will make it one of the top contenders. Where do most of the sports 1000s spend their days? On the track or the road? The answer is in the sales figures and is the reason why the Blade continues to be one of the best selling bikes in the UK...

: 998cc, liquid-cooled, DOHC, fuel injection
Power: 177hp @ 12,000rpm
Torque: 84 lb ft @ 8,500rpm
Top speed: 181mph (est)
Weight: 200kg (dry)
MPG: 45 (est)
Price: £11,175 (£11,675 ABS)

Jeremy McWilliams on track in the 2012 Fireblade



Author: Jon Urry