Not many people know this, but one of the revered rituals at Honda HQ in Kumamoto is The Honourable Washing Ceremony, in which every new motorcycle is lovingly cleaned before being presented to the world.
It’s hardly surprising, in a country where even the word for bath, furo, is given an o in front to make it o-furo, the honourable bath.
Japanese people even wash themselves before getting in, rather than dishonour its honourable honour,
Anyway, where was I before I interrupted myself? Ah, yes, The Honourable Washing Ceremony at Honda.
This is carried out on every new bike by Katsutoshi Nekoda, who in the evening places the machine in a pristine chamber, bows, then presses a red button which overnight sprays the bike with water from the melted snows of Mount Fuji and heated to 45C, the same temperature at which warm sake should be served.
It is then dried with air at the same temperature, in which can be detected the merest hint of the exquisite aroma of cherry blossom.
Tragically, just as Nekoda-san was about to press the red button for the Fireblade, his wife Yuko phoned with the tragic news that her origami school had folded, and so shocked was he that he leaned momentarily against the temperature control, increasing it to 100C.
As a result, the next morning, the great and good of Honda gathered for the unveiling of the freshly washed Fireblade, only to utter a collective gasp.
“Er, Nekoda-san, is it just me, or is it smaller than it was yesterday?” said Project Leader Yuzuru Ishikawa as Nekoda gazed in horror at the temperature control.
“Ishikiwa-san, I have made a terrible blunder. I will commit seppuku immediately,” said Nekoda.
“No, wait, I have an idea. I was watching the Father Ted episode last night where Father Dougal thinks the cows are small when they are just far away,” said Ishikiwa.
“We’ll just take the publicity photos from closer. Now put that knife away before you do yourself a mischief.”
As a result, their cunning plan to hide the tragedy of the Fireblade that shrunk in the wash didn’t come to light until I walked up to it and realised that it certainly looked more compact than previous models – and I’ve ridden all of them.
A quick bound into the saddle confirmed my suspicions, so anyone over 6ft tall can stop reading now and buy an Africa Twin instead.
As I said, I’ve ridden every model of Fireblade since the first one in 1992, and they all shared the same DNA – fast but safe, and agile but stable compared to other superbikes such as the ZX-10, early models of which were a twitchy blend of excitement and fear until Kawasaki fitted them with a steering damper.
In the hands of TT superheroes such as John McGuinness, the Fireblade was a legend, yet ordinary riders could enjoy its astonishing 185bhp performance without fear of imminent death.
All the same, it was designed as a road bike which could be raced, and was starting to struggle against machines such as the Ducati Panigale V4, BMW S1000RR, Aprilia RSV4 and Yamaha R1, and Yuzuru Ishikawa has made it clear that this was designed mainly as a race bike to beat those.
When I interviewed John McGuinness before the 2015 TT, he said: “I’ve been with Honda for 10 years now, and the Fireblade’s like an old armchair for me.”
I fear he’d find this latest model more like a footstool, I thought as I perched on top of it feeling like a giraffe on a unicycle.
All my weight was on the bars, which have been moved forward and down from the previous model, I couldn’t even read the instrument panel because it was right below my head, and all I could see in the mirrors were my elbows.
Ducking enough to read the TFT screen, it’s a cluttered affair, with 13 different pieces of information on display, although at least the speed, gear, revs and mode are clear. You can change the display to make it all a lot simpler, though.
Toggling into Sport, I shoehorned my feet onto the pegs, which are about the length of a gnat’s inside leg from the seat, and rode off.
At speed, it got a little better when I gripped the tank with my knees and the wind on my chest lifted some weight off the bars. I’d love to tell you what speed it was, but of course I couldn’t see the instrument panel.
I don’t think it was 132mph, which the bike can do in second gear thanks to a much more high-revving engine than previous Blades which reaches a ludicrous peak power of just under 215bhp at an even more ludicrous 14,500rpm.
Acceleration, as you can imagine, is as if someone’s pressed the fast forward button, especially during a brief and, er, exciting foray into Track mode. There’s also Rain mode and three rider bespoke modes, and at all of them the soundtrack becomes an unmitigated howl at 7,000rpm when extra butterfly valves open to let the engine fill its lungs like Pavarotti singing Nessun Dorma.
In spite of the mammoth power on tap, the slightly longer wheelbase, infinitely adjustable Ohlins suspension linked to six-axis Bosch cornering ABS and traction control makes handling as agile but stable as ever, and braking is as brutal but controlled as acceleration.
By now I’d lost the feeling in all but my little finger, gangrene had set in in my legs and it was time to leave the bike back to the dealers then head straight to the nearest chiropractor. For a week.
What Honda’s produced here, as I said, is basically a race bike with mirrors and indicators, and it’s winning BSB races more or less straight out of the box as a result.
So if you’re a small rider with a big talent, step right up. As a big rider with a small talent, I’ll be keeping my credit card safe and warm in my wallet.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to put on a wash. After carefully checking the temperature.
*Bike supplied by Charles Hurst Honda belfasthonda.com
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