James May

James May

James and the Fireblade

Its official model designation is CBR1000RR, which I quite like. ‘R' is a proper performance letter, in a way that ‘A' or ‘N' never can be, and having two together at the end is strangely enticing.

But its name is Fireblade, and that is the best name ever conceived for a machine; better even than Spitfire.

It's a while since I've ridden a proper big-bore sports bike, having degenerated in middle age to grumbly naked stuff from Triumph and Moto Guzzi. All motorcycles are liberating, even my 72cc Honda Cub, but the Fireblade interferes with the mind.

A great deal of twaddle has been written about cars and motorcycles as extensions of the brain and body; about synaptic relationships and telepathic responses. But this bike seems to advance the science of the man/machine interface in a very surreal way, because there is very little sensation of actually riding a motorcycle at all. Instead, the Fireblade transforms you from a mortal to a fantastic athlete, without really making its substance known. It is like being endowed with supernatural powers.

I don't remember it, but it seems that someone at Honda tripped me up so that I fell on my hands and knees into a bath of wet plaster of Paris, then allowed it to set and used the shape as the basis for a bike. Into this they installed an incredibly compact 163bhp 1.0-litre engine and then placed some simple controls under my fingers and feet. You don't wear the Fireblade, you sort of absorb it into your being. The sensation is incredible.

“What’s a Fireblade doing in my supercars column? The truth is that I cocked up the admin, but the official line is that it’s here to put things into perspective”

But what's it doing here, in my supercars column? Well, the truth is that I cocked up the admin and booked the Ferrari for the wrong week, but the official version is that the Honda is here to put things into perspective. It costs £9,300, but is quicker over a standing quarter mile than Bugatti's Veyron.

They're not really comparable, obviously. The bike is compromised, it can never corner as hard as the car, and its top speed is 70mph slower. But the car is compromised, too - by its bulk, its poor visibility, and by its mass. And you get to the interesting bit more quickly on the bike, because traffic isn't an issue. Both, by nature of their remit, make sacrifices in the name of performance - you wouldn't want to ride pillion on the 'Blade, for example, and you wouldn't want to park the Bug in a multi-storey - so the comparison is maybe not so daft after all.

What do we really like about driving supercars? Sensation, I reckon, and mainly g, which comes from accelerating, braking and cornering. The eyeballs-out and eyeballs-in effects of the first two are similar for the car and the bike (this Blade has ABS to reassure you). In corners, the driver experiences lateral g, but the rider, like the pilot, always feels the force acting pretty much vertically. You, your weight, and even how much you tense a leg muscle has an effect on all this, and the impression is that you tilt the world rather than steer the bike.

So no matter how well a car steers, it will never respond as naturally as this bike does. If you could fix a piece of chalk to the bottom of the frame and drag it along the road, every curve would resolve beautifully into the next, even in the hands of a relative amateur like me. Even when simply slicing through traffic on a clogged-up dual carriageway. The low weight (199kg fully wet), its distribution, the occult management of gyroscopic forces, the pressures needed on the controls; they all contribute to this. Every aspect of the Fireblade's envelope is as crisp as freshly folded origami. I've often wondered if someone who couldn't ride a bicycle could ride a motorcycle. If they can, it will be this one.

And let's be honest. I've never driven a car that lifts its front wheels when given the berries, or that has already reduced me to gibbering with the last third of the rev range still in hand. If cheap visceral thrills are what we want, then the Fireblade is better value than supermarket own-brand cornflakes.

So the CBR1000RR did what I expected it to do; rekindle my nagging suspicion that supercars are a bit silly. With a Fireblade to sate your appetite for terror, a Citroen C6 becomes terribly appealing.

Fireblade describes exactly what this bike is, and what it does. It's a blazing weapon, a red-hot tool that slices effortlessly and painlessly through conventional performance wisdom. Do I want one?

I've got as far as the brochure.


James May, Column, Honda

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