At the end of 2017 I decided to drop down to a less powerful 600cc bike to help me improve my riding, For this I chose the Yamaha YZF-R6 which is lightweight, nimble and a joy to ride. During 2018 this helped me to improve my corner speed, both entry and exit. I essentially learned to be a smoother rider and flow through the corners.
By the end of 2018 I had gained consistency and my lap times had dropped dramatically. However, despite the improvements I was now struggling with speed down the straights, probably due to being a little on the heavy side (fat) for the 600cc bike. Now in hindsight, a diet and a little exercise would have probably been the best approach. Instead, I decided to look for a more powerful bike… this is where my story starts.
Having decided to move to a bigger bike the question now was, which one? Having owned a few litre bikes over the years I had an idea which ones would be a good candidate. It is important to point out at this point that my requirements for the bike were to be both a road bike as well as a bike I could take to the track for a bit of fun and shenanigans. Deciding which bike to opt for was a difficult choice, there are so many very capable machines to choose from but I’d decided that I want something modern and reliable. Due to wanting a reliable bike, I narrowed it down to one of two from Japanese manufacturers, either the Yamaha YZF-R1 or the Honda CBR1000RR Fireblade.
Having owned a R1 previously I was familiar with the bike and knew its characteristics. (Caveat – I am a Yamaha fanboy). I have also owned a Fireblade, a 2011 model, which I have to say was a wonderful bike. The R1, as good as it was, also had a few failings, mainly its rather choppy and unpredictable throttle. Out of the box it was pretty awful, but a de-cat and run on the dyno cured the throttle problems and made the power much more linear across the range. The other problem was that the stock suspension was a little soft for me and would require an upgrade. This would mean either new cartridges or springs in the front and a rear shock. All this would amount to a reasonable investment to get the bike to where I wanted it to be and add several thousands to the price.
Of course, I could have opted for the R1M with its Ohlins suspension but it would have still required an exhaust and a dyno run like the standard R1, all adding to the price. Also, as nice as the carbon fairings look, they are rather expensive to replace should one have a moment!
The other option was the Honda CBR1000RR Fireblade. As mentioned previous, I have owned a 2011 Fireblade which was a fantastic bike and joy to ride. I decided to have a look at the then, newer, version of the Fireblade. Honda have since released a completely new version for 2020. Initially I looked at the standard CBR1000RR. A test ride allowed me to decide that I liked the feel of the bike, more importantly the bike suited me. As with the R1 I then started to look at what I need to do to the bike. Unlike the R1 the throttle response was predictable and linear. But like the R1 I felt that the suspension would need to be upgraded. Again, adding more to the cost of the bike.
Now the Fireblade has three different models, the Standard, SP and SP2. The SP2 was created to homologate the Fireblade to race at national and international championships. The SP version comes with upgraded brakes and suspension. I took the SP for a ride on the road and loved it! The Ohlins suspension and Brembo brakes made a huge difference to the ride.
Now, there were a couple of factors that helped me in making my decision, the feel of the bike and, of course, price! As much as I love the R1 and the noise it makes, it was going to be too expensive. The R1M would have been even more so! The standard Fireblade was OK but I felt that the suspension and brakes did not cut it. This was confirmed after riding the SP version, when testing it on the road the bike just felt right. The other factor was price, I did not want to be spending too much on top of the base price of the bike, the SP version had what I needed included in the price. So this is how I came to my decision, the Honda CBR1000RR Fireblade SP was my choice of bike for 2019. The Fireblade SP had everything I was looking for at the right price, or so I thought.
I collected the bike in late December 2018, not exactly the best time of year to be picking up a new motorcycle. During the winter months I thought long and hard about what needed doing to make the bike ready for the coming season. I had some ideas about what I wanted to do, but I decided that the priority was to fit crash protection.
One lesson I have learnt to my cost, is to fit a radiator guard. A few years ago I had a stone through my radiator which ended up costing me the best part of £1,300. The radiator guard I choose was made by Evotech, These are well made and fit perfectly. Fitting is quite straightforward and Evotech supply excellent instructions to guide you through the process. Personally I feel this is one of the most important items to fit to any bike. The cost is relatively low when you consider the price of replacing a radiator should something unfortunate happen. Making sure one is fitted will prevent you from being stranded somewhere with an expensive repair bill.
I planned to fit engine covers to protect the engine casing. I have always favoured GB Racing covers as they are well made and have a good track record when called upon to prevent the engine from damage in the event of an off. This is hugely important when riding on track. If something should happen and the bike goes down the engine cases could be compromised, spilling oil over the track. This would cause serious problems for other riders and mean that the circuit would need to be closed until the mess had been cleared. As with the radiator guard, these covers are relatively cheap to buy and easy to fit. And god forbid, if something should happen, they would protect your bikes engine casings from receiving any serious damage.
Next I wanted to add some frame protection, I think that R&G Racing make one of the best products to protect frames. Others might disagree but this is my personal opinion and I have trusted them for years. In order to fit these the fairings need to be removed, which on the Fireblade is a right faff. Once the fairings are off the task of fitting the crash protection is quite straightforward, just take note of the various torque settings. Whilst I have said that R&G products are good, the instructions that came with my set of crash protectors where awful. The instruction sheet looked as if it had been photocopied from another photocopy and was unreadable. For a product that cost over £200 you would think that a decent fitting guide would have been included!
Front & Rear Hubs
Another area that I also like to protect are the front and rear hubs, especial the front as these are at the end of rather expensive Ohlins shocks. I chose the Evotech spindle bobbins as they’re cheaper than the R&G options and, in my opinion, they look better.
This mod is another one from the book of lessons learnt over the years. The headlight unit on this bike is, by all accounts, an expensive replacement. So i decided to look for some protection to fit to the headlights of the Fireblade. I found that R&G produce a very nice kit that moulded to fit around the headlights. The kit is easy to fit and only took a few minutes.
Changing the Screen
After riding the bike a couple of times one of the main criticisms I had was the screen, which was woefully low and did not provide any protection.
I decided to fit another screen and opted for the MRA double-bubble supplied by BikeHPS. These screens are really well made and look great as well. Fitting was a simple case of loosening some bolts from the fairing to remove the OEM screen. Then fitting the MRA screen in its place and tightening the fairing bolts. Once fitted I took the bike for a quick ride and immediately I noticed how much more protection the MRA screen gave me. Money well spent there!
Clutch & Brake Levers
Not being a fan of the stock levers I decided to fit some after-market ones. I am not a fan of short levers, plus I wanted them to be adjustable. The ones I settled on were billet levers from UK Race Support. These levers are extremely well made, easy to fit and feel great. Both brake and clutch levers are folding and have span adjusters allowing you to set your preferred reach on either lever.
Time to Ride
The weather started to get better at the end of February, early March. This gave me the opportunity to run the bike in on the road. Taking care to be gentle on the engine, not over-revving it for the first 600 miles I soon managed to get the bike to its first service. Service done, I could now think about taking the bike to the track and winding the power on a little more.
With the running in period completed, I was looking forward to getting the Fireblade onto the track. Had I made the right choice? Could I remember how to ride? It had been a while. First impressions were good, the bike felt great. After I tweaked the suspension a little to make it turn in easier and stop the rear from squatting too much I felt confident on the bike, happy days.
All is not well…
In early May 2019 I went to Donington Park for a couple of days on track, one of my favourite circuits. In the third session of the day, entering Redgate, the first corner on the track I down-shifted to third. As I turned the bike and applied the throttle something did not feel right. I soon realised that I had no drive, the bike had slipped out of gear, or as some people say a false neutral. With no drive I drifted to the outside of the corner and into the gravel trap.
Gears… or the lack of…
Now I’d be lying if I said that experience didn’t scare me. I put it down to a lazy left foot and was thankful I didn’t bin it. During the first session of the afternoon I had another moment. Turning into Goddards, the last corner on the track, I thought I was in first gear, I wound the throttle on and nothing! Almost dropping the bike, this got me thinking. I have missed the odd gear change over the years but I was sure I’d selected a gear in both instances. This continued throughout the year, the bike falling out of gear for no reason.
Arrggghhh.B.S braking system…
In early June I took the bike to Mallory Park, a circuit I really enjoy riding. The day was going well, during one of the sessions, as I was on the straight, I broke for Goddards, the first corner, this was reasonably heavy braking. I first I felt the brakes bite, I then applied more pressure and suddenly the ABS kicked in and released the brakes causing me to run on into the corner. I won’t deny that a little poop might have came out at that point! The ABS system is there to save you, in this case it almost caused a crash! It’s far too intrusive for track riding. And with no option to disable it this is a major concern.
At Silverstone, when exiting the pits, as I shifted through the gears heading towards Maggots the bike slipped out of gear. I was at the front of the group, to all of a sudden lose drive with approx. 20 other riders screaming up behind you, all accelerating hard scared me. Luckily they all flew past without making contact but this really got me thinking, I’d lost confidence in the bike. Throughout the season I rode at various tracks, such as Donington Park, Cadwell Park, Silverstone, Mallory Park, Croft and Castle Combe. I continued to experience issues with the bike dropping out of gear and the ABS being far too intrusive. For general road riding this bike is great, if you want to push it a little harder on track, its borderline dangerous.
One other issue, that does seem mad as my Fireblade has not been tuned and still has its stock exhaust system, is noise. This bike struggles to pass noise tests on nearly all circuits I’ve been to. Most circuits use ACU testing regulations, for a bike of this size, 5,500rpm is the testing level. The Fireblade blew 105db which is bonkers. Without some very kind noise testers I doubt I would have been allowed on half of the circuits I’ve visited in 2019. How have Honda produced a Euro 5 bike that is this loud?! I have researched this and it appears that Scorpion have produced an end can to cure the noise issues, more money to spend!
Having since researched the issues I’m experiencing, it would appear I’m not the only one to have suffered. Speaking with my local dealer, they have been very helpful and have offered to investigate the problems. But, without actually getting the bike out on track they cannot replicate them and this is not their problem, its a manufacturing problem. I have spoken Honda UK, they simply asked for the VIN number, then stated that there were no recalls or issues with the model! Not the most helpful!
I’ll be honest, I’ve lost confidence in the bike. Which is a shame as I really enjoy riding it. As you’d expect it has Honda build quality, looks great and sounds great, even with the stock exhaust system, albeit a little loud. But I wanted a machine that I could confidently ride on both road and track. Sadly the 2018 Honda CBR1000RR Fireblade SP is not that machine. I have persisted for months, covering approx. 2,500 miles on track. Without some major changes this bike is quite honestly dangerous to ride as a track bike.
I am now in the process of looking for a new bike. The Fireblade that cost me the best part of £20,000 is now, only one year later, valued at less than half that price. That tells a story doesn’t it? Dealers are distressing the Fireblade models all over the country, clearly they are not wanted! I wonder why? So, yours truly will be massively out of pocket! If anyone from Honda gets to read this article please do get in touch? I’d welcome the chance to discuss my experiences with you.