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Isle of Man TT Honda Fireblade

SENSATIONAL TT FIREBLADE TESTED

Weighing the same as a superbike and with 180 bhp on tap, could this have been the bike to beat Yamaha and Suzuki? MCN'S Keith Farr went to find out.

This is the bike Honda hoped would reclaim their TT glory this year. Featuring internals engineered by the FireBlade’s progenitor Tadao Baba himself, this is a very, very special machine indeed. We took it to Brands Hatch to get an idea of what we all missed on the Island.

The Monday morning crawl around the M25 and over the Dartford Bridge goes by unnoticed. Rain has been forecast and, reluctantly, I’m in the car. But I’m too busy thinking about the bike world’s ultimate ‘Blade – the £50,000 special set to be raced by Supersport 600 frontrunner John McGuinness at the North West 200, the TT and Macau to care much about the 30mph average speed.

Finally, four hours after I set off 117 miles away, I’m here.

The sun is shining and Brands’ hallowed Tarmac beckons me on.

Honda TT Fireblade

Castrol Supersport hotshot McGuinness is already waiting, along with Honda UK race boss Roger Harvey and the bike’s chief fettler, Paul Bird Motorsport mechanic Stuart Bland.
Honda has kindly lent us a standard FireBlade in road trim too. It’ll make a perfect comparison tool.

I opt to take the stocker out first of all. I need to reacquaint myself with the circuit. I haven’t been here for two years.

McGuinness agrees we’ll just go our separate ways for this first session of four.

We’re waved out of pitlane and I never see him again. Um, yeah, this boy’s fast. I pull in on lap three to have the footrests’ hero blobs removed. They’re getting in the way around the tightish Druids and the breathtakingly quick Clearways right handers.

The stock ‘Blade does well around here. Hopelessly overgeared, it’s still pulling 145-148mph along the main start/finish straight before the stomach-in-your-throat dropaway that is the universally feared Paddock Hill Bend.
I’m happy enough with the first session. It’s nothing more than a chance to reacquaint myself with the track and only a handful of traffic on tricked-up bikes and pukka racers has come past. It’s not an exclusively booked day.

The time has almost come to step aboard what is probably the fastest, most powerful, most technically developed, most accurately engineered and most expensive FireBlade ever to be built. £70,000 of exclusive racebike and I’m about to be let loose.

Butterflies beat furiously in my stomach. I’m nervous of the bike’s prowess.

As Bland bump-starts the bike, I’m wondering what 180bhp at the rear wheel on a short chassis will be like.

I trundle off down pit lane, waiting for the marshals to give us the all clear. I’m waved through as I approach and head out down Paddock Hill.
I’ve never ridden on slicks before and I’m waiting for the squirminess I’ve been told to expect by a dozen people in the past. It’s absent. These feel just like any road tyre, but with 100 times more grip.

The power delivery is smooth from tickover all the way up. There are no discernable glitches and the torque is big. It’s not huge, but it feels almost like this could be a twin. Almost.
The brakes, with race compound pads, will take some warming up, but they’re already better than most road set-ups on the first, cold approach to Druids Bend.
The butterflies have gone and I’m concentrating on, er, concentrating. That means learning the bike for the first few laps.

The first three laps pass strangely. I’m tickling the bike, hardly trying at all, and it’s catching and passing others on litre bike specials.
I’m purposely only revving it to 9,000rpm – 4,000 short of the redline – in this " breaking in " session and there’s not a lot that’s quicker in a straightline out there.
I must have McGuinness sitting on the back steering for me, too, because the lines are effortless through the corners and, despite the high-set, rearset footpegs, I’m already grinding the side of my boot away. And this thing has got serious ground clearance, which can only mean one thing – it’s leaning a long way. McGuinness is following me on the stock ‘Blade, sticking his front wheel in front of me in places to show where my lines could be better.

Honda TT Fireblade detail pics

The circuit is dominated by R1s, with a smattering of big bore Kawasakis and the odd ‘Blade and SP-1 for good measure. The SP-1 gets passed like it’s in reverse, the Kawasakis, with the exception of one brilliantly-ridden machine, suffer a near similar fate, and the majority of the R1s and ‘Blades are passed with minimum effort too.
Everyone is holding me up around Clearways. And I don’t mean a little bit. I mean by 20mph, or, in some cases, a lot more. It doesn’t register why for another few laps then, suddenly, the lights come on. Clearways most closely replicates the kind of corner you’d find on a fast road circuit. It’s fairly wide, you can go in fast, and the potential to build up speed mid-corner and on the exit is phenomenal. It’s a lot smoother than most road bends but it is the kind of battleground this bike has been built for. My toe slider, calf, lower leg and knee are grinding away, trapped beneath the bike, which is leant over as far as I can possibly get it. And it’s still not twitching.

I pull in, followed by McGuinness, who looks like he wants to mug me and take the special back out. He’s found the limits of the stock ‘Blade and he’s getting a bit bored. But he’s a true professional and is eager to see what a journo with some club-level racing experience makes of it.

He already knows the bike will get a good write-up. It’s the only kind something of this calibre could ever expect to receive.
Then he hits me with the words you’d never expect to hear. They rank on a par with Angelina Jolie saying: " Of course I’d love to sleep with you " , or the bank manager barking: " I tell you what. We’ll cancel your debts and start from fresh again " .

He says: " We need to do some photo riding in the last session. We need to be right behind each other. Any chance you can slow down a bit around Clearways. I can’t keep up. "
A wry, then monster grin breaks out across my face.

Out on the track and every lap gets a bit quicker and I’m wondering when the tyres are going to slide. If this was road rubber, it would be all over by now. They barely squirm, or complain. To lose it, I’d need to grab a stupid fistful of throttle out of Druids or Clearways. I’m not about to.

We ease up for a few photo laps. My brain goes back to tickover. What a machine. What a tool. What would it be like on the road?

I fleetingly try to concoct a plan to smuggle this beauty to the Isle of Man and its speed limitless roads. Or I could just ride out of Brands and gas it down the empty M20. Hmm, no fun. No bends.