NO SPORTBIKE BATTLE HAS RAGED FOR AS LONG OR AS HARD AS THIS ONE...
WORDS: SIMON ‘ROOTSY’ ROOTS
PIC: MARK MANNING
The biking world is full of big battles – it always has been. Ever since Hildebrand and Wolfmuller put the first commercial machine up for sale in 1894, rivalries have been at the heart of motorcycling. Be it commercial or in competition, we’ve seen some classic encounters. On the racetrack it’s been the likes of Ago against Hailwood, Sheene versus Roberts, Rossi duelling with Biaggi that has provided spellbinding entertainment. But in the showrooms it’s been Harley Davidson and Indian battling it out in America in the early part of the 20th century, Japan slugging it out with Britain in the Sixties, right through to today’s skirmishes between any manufacturers you’d care to mention; competition has ruled throughout. Pick any rider, bike or brand and there’s been an adversary that has bred a ruthless rivalry.
And over the last 15 years one battle has raged like no other; the Honda FireBlade versus the Yamaha YZF-R1. The brainchildren of Tadeo Baba and Kunihiko Miwa, these two bikes defined a generation and more, created the benchmarks many thought never possible but now this pair almost languish after other manufacturers have learned the tricks of their trade and put them to great effect.
The FireBlade had been the king of bikes ever since its launch in 1992. Nothing else came close. Yamaha’s efforts were confined to the race based YZF750 (latterly the R7) and the more humble FZR1000 and Thunderace machines. The FireBlade’s domination was set to last, especially as racing bikes this big was confined to superstock classes.
And then it happened. From nowhere Yamaha produced a machine so spectacular, it made Honda look quite the chumps. Kunihiko Miwa’s principles for a sportsbike machine looked spectacularly similar to Baba-san’s, with Yamaha’s core design ethos being that of ‘no compromise’. 150bhp, 172kg and supersport-like handling blew the FireBlade into the weeds and laid down the foundations for a fight that continues today.
Here we pick three key battlegrounds and detail each bike’s capabilities, how they reacted to each other’s advances and which machine has stood the test of time better. But the best thing? This war has raged for 15 years – and thankfully it doesn’t look like stopping anytime soon. Seconds out, round one...