Intense

Well that was an intense 24 hours. Woke up at 6am to get a flight to San Francisco, did the whole airport commute, airport wait, plane ride, customs rigmarole, and found myself 16 hours later in sunny San Francisco. And this time it really was sunny. Because it wasn’t really San Francisco. I’m staying with friends in Burlingame, just south of the winter micro-climate that often is San Francisco itself, and the weather here was just perfect. Coming from London at the moment, that means a lot.

Within a few hours, I was sitting on the back of a Triumph Tiger XC 800 soaking up the sunshine on my way to pick up my ride for the week. We pulled up outside Armando’s house to see a pristine R6 with a fully adjustable shock, custom shorty end can, gold rearsets and gold levers being washed and prepped for me by my good friend Armando. It really doesn’t get much better than this. Except it does, because after chatting for a while and catching up, gawping at the bike for about 30 minutes or so, toweling down the bike and lubing the chain, Mario and I headed off for what would be one of the most intense motorbiking experiences of recent memory. Almost four hours on totally varying roads – a bit of city riding to get us out of San Francisco, some freeway to get us south of the city, then twisties of all descriptions from there onwards. Bumpy on and off camber B-road type twisties, tight, nadgery, narrow twisties on “goat track” tarmac, and finally sweeping smooth tarmac snaking its way with perfect switchback curves from the coast up to the ridge at Alice’s Restaurant. Wow.

A quick burger (what else, this is Merika, folks) and then a quick night ride back to Burlingame. And let’s just cap it all off with a beer in Mario’s garden looking at the stars, shall we? Lovely jubblies.

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.

The restoration project

Well, having just got the RSV4 out of its run-in period, I’m sorry, and somewhat ashamed, to say it’s also recovering from it’s first scrapes. Dodgy incident involving a U-turn, only a very little throttle and some cold wet tyres on a cold wet road. This meant I had to have the wing mirror replaced, as well as the clutch lever assembly, and left me with a scratch on the tank and a bent frame slider. Well, I’m happy to say she’s almost back to her former glory. Some tank sliders have taken care of the tank, and all other bits have been replaced. See for yourself:

Snetterton – 13/5/12 – Group 1 (Novice).

Time for the second trackday of the year. This is back at Snetterton with Focused Events and it’s going to be popular as it’s one of the few available at the weekend. And thank the stars the suns’ out for my journey up and will be for the rest of the day, but boy is it cold to begin with. My first stop is for petrol at Newmarket but the main purpose is too put on two sets of petrol pump gloves under my Alpinestar gauntlets. This means I can concentrate on riding for the rest of the journey.

Almost fully clothed

Got the front and side fairings mostly on. The fit isn’t perfect, but it does fit with a bit of pulling here and there. The only thing that doesn’t quite line up is the holes for the mirrors, so I’ll need to do a bit of cutting/drilling there. Overall pretty happy. I think it’s pretty close to being sellable at this stage.

Stripped

It was pouring with rain most of the day, but I still had a good day with the bikes. How? Well, I thought I’d take the opportunity to strip the Daytona 675 and get her ready to put the new fairings on. Something about working on bikes, no matter how trivial that just makes me feel good. And then once I was done, I cleaned her up a bit, and threw the tail piece on from the new fairing set. There was a little straining involved, as it’s not quite a perfect fit, but overall it wasn’t too bad. Things don’t line up perfectly (as you’ll see below), but overall it’s not too bad. Will have to see how the rest of the pieces line up…

Three weeks in the life of an RSV4 owner

It’s been a mixture of elation and frustration. Elation because the bike is, and always feels, special. Every time I get on it it’s a joy, even if it’s just to go a few miles around town. Why? The look of the bike. The sound of it – having replaced the standard can with an Akrapovic slip on exhaust, I’d initially not been able to tell the difference, but now I can, and love it. The punch of power it delivers everywhere – hitting about 10k revs once on it felt like a freight train. And surprisingly, the flickability of it – for the first time ever on a bike, I really feel like I can steer it with pressure from my feet on the pegs, whereas before it always felt like I *should* be doing that, but really wasn’t.
And frustration because I know I have so much to learn about this bike, and the weather seems to be conspiring to prevent me from really enjoying it. I’ve essentially had three (proper) rides on the bike, two in pretty cold but bright conditions, and one with some short rain showers. Since I’ve been running it in, I’ve never really had the revs above 7k, except for very quick bursts, but to be honest, I don’t know if I could ever get above 7k on the road without endangering my life or my license or both. This really is a bike that belongs on track. I’m pretty fearful of how it’s going to behave on the track. I suspect the top end of the rev range is close to terrifying. All I can hope is that one day I’m able to do it justice on the track…
In any case, more immediately, I have now got past the 600 mile mark, and will hopefully be getting the first service out of the way pretty soon. At which point I think I’m allowed up to 9.5k revs for the next 400 miles or so. As if…

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.