Something’s Coming

During the long winter months, every biker tries to find something biking related to occupy them when riding is less possible. Usually this is fettling the bike(s) in some way, getting them ready for the riding season. Well, in my particular case, it was something a little different.

In November of last year, myself and the other members of the Serious Racing crew headed to Almeria to grab some winter Spanish sunshine and some glorious sun-soaked trackdays. Well, kind of. In the end it pissed it down with rain for a fair portion of the time we were there. However, one pretty cool discovery we made while there was GPS lap timing devices, and RaceChrono in particular. It’s a free app for Android that lets you attach an external bluetooth GPS device like the Garmin Glo, and get 10 updates a second of your position and speed on track. It has a pretty cool interface on the phone for looking at your data and analysing your sessions. We were pretty blown away by it. And we all thought, wouldn’t it be great if we could easily compare these online? As it turned out, there wasn’t something that provided this yet, so I thought I’d have a crack at writing one myself. The results are soon to be available to the public (we’re currently in a closed beta) for free (at least until it gets so popular I can no longer afford to host it out of my own pocket) at https://serious-racing.com/. You can use it to compare lap times with friends, and get faster by drilling down into the data and seeing where someone is faster, or comparing your own laps and seeing where you’re faster. It’s pretty cool stuff, and we hope you’ll be as excited about it as we are!

A blade too far

As an owner of what is widely acknowledged to be the best road going Litre sports bike, all be it a 2006 vintage (the boring years), it would seem there is only one bike on the market today that can be seen to be an upgrade; I give you the 2012 Fireblade. (I also put the caveat that it is in every way better than the RSV-4 :p well ok apart from the noise )

hmm bladed beauty

Looks as ever are subjective but to me the mild facelift with the restyled headlights has added some welcome aggression to the otherwise mild mannered countenance of the pug nosed bike. There are little other changes to the aesthetics and the new bike will otherwise be all too easily confused with the bike first introduced in 2008. I guess they had the Porsche design team in during the initial stages who talked about evolution not revolution, I mean look at the last 4 generations of 911 as to how to ensure continuity of form. Again no bad thing as like the Porsche the bike is a well thought out grown up design, some say a little “safe” but still fresh after all these years.

The other design change is in the new all digital clocks, gone is the analogue rev counter and in it’s place is a digital Lcd screen showing revs as across the top in an bar with speed, temperature, odometer and trip functions as normal. The big addition here is the gear indicator, something not before seen on the big Honda. Overall the clocks work well and are easy to read and have all the basic information needed. They do however look very much as they have been built to a price, and not a high one at that. There is not the quality of the Ducati or even Aprilia digital dashes and I hate to say there is a slight cheap Casio watch feel to the graphics. This is a shame as this is the main visual that riders have of the bikes they are riding and it would have been nice if they had at least a little more of a quality appearance.

The big news about this bike is the big piston forks (BPF) at the front and the twin tube shock at the rear, both are quality bits of kit. The front forks are well known from their use in the GSX-R1000 K9 and ZX-6R 09 where they have won much praise. The shock is new to this market as a production spec item, it is similar to the Ohlin TTX36 after market shock and is supposed to improve damping consistency in hard (track) use and provide more traction on corner exits. Both offer the full range of damping adjustment as is to be expected these days, though I always wonder how often these are ever adjusted by the majority of non track riders.

How does it ride? That is the main and most important question. I was able to get an hour on the bike from my friendly local Honda dealer. The thing about the Fireblade and what identifies it as the road bike standard is the smoothness of delivery, both in terms of throttle pick up off the bottom and the quality of the suspension. Pulling away the bike picks up off small revs and pulls into traffic with ease. There is an urgency in the pick up that shows the game has moved on from my 06 bike but that power increase is easily modulated buy the immaculate fuelling on small throttle openings. The ride is so smooth and pillow soft, it cossets the ride without removing feedback. The bike tells you what it is up to without shouting it at you and making you nervous.

The route I took was a nice mix of narrow bumpy B roads a bit of nice flowing A road and a bit of duel carriageway to round it off. The overall impression of the performance is one of linearity, the power comes in low down in the rev range and it just builds in a straight line all the way to 12k revs. There are no major dips or jumps in power, it is precise and easily measured out by the nicely connected throttle. Pick up out the corners, even off closed throttle was nice and progressive, there is more power lower down than my 06 Blade and that at first made me think the fuelling was off. With a couple of miles under my belt it soon became obvious that the bike was just a bit more urgent but just as smooth. This urgency is something that is apparent all the way to the top with the bike pulling in every gear with more drive than my 06.

To counteract this overall pace the brakes on this non ABS bike were progressive powerful and very effective. Not quite the brick wall stopping power of monoblock Brembos but certainly powerful enough for the road riding Blade. I did try a couple of hard stops and on the first attempt almost lost the ability to ever have children thanks to a slidy seat and not bracing hard enough with my legs. Part of that may be down to the way the BPF seem to delay the dive that normal forks show when braking hard, you seem to go forward with the G force before the dive transfers the weight your wrists. The Blade turns easily into corners with little input and whilst maybe not as quick to turn as the shortly RSV4 it is more than capable of maintaining pace through a series of bends.

This ability to maintain pace is in part due to the magic carpet ride offered by the rear shock. It is still a sports bike with firm suspension that will unseat you if the road is sufficiently B quality, but the way it is able to mask all the harsh high frequency road imperfections is amazing. It really does provide you with a ride smooth enough to tour on. I would be very interested to see how it feels on track with more drive applied out of turns. At road pace it is difficult to great a feel for any finer details of the damping except to say it works well with the forks and feels all of a piece.

My overall feeling was of a bike that was easy to ride, easy to ride well and easy to ride fast. I was quicker over my little route than I have been on my own bike and this was without trying, the bike just had that much extra pace and handling that would leave older blades trying to see which way the new one went. The licence is very much at risk. The only trouble is that as an accessible road bike it may be too well rounded, it could be seen to be too easy, maybe lacking a little character or not having something unique about it. It may not have the noise of the RSV-4, the power of the BMW, the torque of the RC8 or the electronics that have begun to appear on many bikes. It does however have a sense of cohesive ability, all the elements of the bike fit with each other and work to the same level. This allows you to get on and in a way forget about the bike and just focus on the ride. There is something very pure in that.

A Gentle Half An Hour On The R6

I’m still looking for the next great biking love of my life, specifically a bike I can use mainly if not completely on track. After chatting to people I know, and quite a lot I don’t via the flavour of disconnected awesomeness that is the internets I’ve decided to keep with a 600. But which one? We’ll I’ve owned a CBR600RR so would like to try some something else. The something else that is generally favoured by those who run a 600 on track is the ’06 onwards R6. Known for it’s lack of rice pudding skin bothering midrange, the top end is really great. Allegedly.

I have ridden one of these on track with the California SuperBike School, but the only thing I can only remember about that was the seat was really high (850mm) and the leathers they gave me were way too big. So that’s not a lot of help really –  I was just way to inexperienced to judge the bike properly on the day.

So it was time to take one for a ride at my local neighbour Yamaha dealer. They had a nice looking MY09 model for sale. Three years old at time of writing but still not cheap – it seems R6s really hold there money. Yamaha have raised the price of these a lot recently (like all the other Japanese manufacturers) so no doubt supply of used bikes is limited even before we factor in ejits like me throwing them down the track and writing them off. Anyway it looked nice in red and white but boy did it have a high mileage which I only discovered when it was fired up. Most late model R6’s only have a few thousand miles but this one had 13 thousand. Good on the last owner for actually using it.

So the ride: It was only a short one – after discovering the mileage I was never going to buy the bike (given it’s price – much better value ones are available else where). Plus after leaving the dealers I managed to find every 30 and 40 mph limited road in Suffolk. Grrr. Nevertheless, this ‘gutless’ bike had a reasonable midrange which turned into proper acceleration at about 8K on the rev counter – this is the point she lifted here skirts and became much more fun. It sounds lovely – I’ve never been on bike that pops and burbles on the overrun as much as this one,  and it howls on the upper reaches of the rpm band. My CBR600RR always droned and after fitting a race can it still droned only a lot louder.

The fit of the bike is fine for me – it’s certainly a lot more roomy than the CBR, and it feels like a more substantial bike. The clip-ons are somewhere between the CBR600 and a Daytona 675. Steering and control were also good, but it could hardly be bad on slow potter on the roads.

In conclusion it could certainly fit the bill.

Today’s the day I didn’t buy a Fireblade.

Today I didn’t buy a Fireblade. After what was a mostly enjoyable trackday at Snetterton (barring the Captain’s off) and watching some WSB on the telly I should have been gagging at the bit. But I changed my mind, shock the dealer by the hand and told him I didn’t want his 2010 almost new condition, low mileage and well priced bike. Why not – well I guess it fell in the Goldilocks zone of head over heart purchases,  not too expensive, not too crap – a good middle choice. But it didn’t look or sound as nice as the Capt’s new wheels (and almost certainly doesn’t thrill as much as well). It isn’t old or cheap enough to crash on track without a lot of regret and it’s still a big heap of money that could be used for more trackdays or trips. There are the internet stories of big oil consumption and woe. It’s colour is very orange. So even on the journey to the dealers to pick it up I was thinking about what I would replace it with in a couple of years, that doesn’t have it’s cylinders quite in a line, or how could I save up for a cheaper bike for the track, and that’s just not right.

Beemer test ride

Went for a test ride on a BMW S1000RR yesterday. This is something of a new experience for me, as I’m used to just sticking with what I have and not really trying new stuff. So why try new stuff now? Well, I’m at that point where I’m ready for a new (to me) bike, having had my trusty (and long suffering) Daytona 675 for over two years now, and I’m wondering if it’s time for me to step up and get a 1000cc bike. On the one hand I quite like being on a smaller bike, as it means I have to focus a bit more on technique rather than just relying on raw speed, on the other hand, having never actually tried a 1000 except for the odd ride on friends’ bikes I really don’t know how I’d fit with one. Maybe I’d just be much better? Maybe I’d be no better? Yesterday’s experiment was part of trying to find that out.

I arrived a bit early, as I always do, but they were ready for me. A very young (or is it just me that’s very old?) gentleman got me sorted and on my way pretty quickly, and away I went on the S1000RR. I managed to get out of London a bit from their Battersea showroom by heading southwest on the A3, and then turned off, perhaps too early, at the first sign of countryside. Leatherhead, Dorking, Guildford, towards Horsham and then homewards was the basic route, with more getting caught in 30 mph limits and 40 mph limits than I’d like. The weather was dry, but overcast to begin with, and improved as the day went on – a test ride starting at midday would have been perfect. Some of the roads were a bit greasy, and some of the roads I was on were clearly too small for the bike, but good to test it in a few different conditions.

So what were my impressions? Great sound, lots of power, like a big mechanical muscle just waiting to punch through concrete walls below me. Felt lighter than I imagined, and flickable whereas I was expecting to have to haul it from side to side. The brakes initially felt great, but then I found I didn’t really notice them again – do you really get used to that so quickly?. Cracking the throttle on motorways or A-roads felt awesome and terrifying at the same time, and I could hear Mr. Crafar’s words in my head about getting all my weight over the bars as I felt the headstock shake beneath me a few times. Of course, I was miles from the limit of the bike, but overall I’d say I felt comfortable with it, and even on greasy roads, “at the speeds I’m doing” it was fine in “racing” mode on the traction control – I never felt it slide around.

Is it for me? Well, I could certainly see myself on it. I think I’d be able to gel with it pretty well, and would really look forward to getting to know it better. But I think overall I need to try a few more bikes and find out if that’s also the case with others too. The cost is pretty steep, and as I find myself thinking of bikes more as track focused, with a side portion of road riding the fact that it’s just north of fourteen grand new makes me worried that the inevitable binning on a trackday would bruise my wallet even more than my ego. I’ve asked the dealer to let me know on prices, and will look into the price of track fairings, and/or cheaper non-oem fairings for if I’m riding to UK trackdays, and we’ll see what happens.