PIC: MARK MANNING
And so to today. Having pioneered the sportsbike world, these two marques are still firing salvos at each other. But they have been victims of their own success. In showing the world what could be done, imitators have come along and aped their offerings, so the FireBlade and R1 battle has raged on the sidelines, rather than constantly vying for the top spot.
It was only at the end of the decade that both manufacturers finally found their voice again. In the case of Honda, that was the stunning 2008 bike. As the economy slowed, so did development of the ’blade – but that hardly matters given the starting point. The 2012 revision, this bike, is a class act. It’s the epitome of balance, offering a rider everything he needs – and nothing he doesn’t.
Eschewing electronic trinkets, the Fireblade relies on a package whose characteristics blend beautifully with each other. It’s not a massive rev head, but it packs a punch in the midrange. It isn’t as precise as a ballet dancer, but it can rave as hard as you like. It’s not a machine to truly lust over, more of a girl nextdoor – who’s probably worth a fling with...
Jump on it in isolation and you feel as invincible as you ever could on a bike. In the 2013 bike, Fukunagasan created a Fireblade for the age. It’s just that this particular age was fleeting as European rivals stepped up and fought an electronics war. But traction control is the last thing you need on this bike the way it offers its power to you. It’s Honda through and through – clean, precise, right.
The riding position may be a little cramped, but stick your race face on and the Fireblade steps up its ability. The friendliness of the low and mid range is replaced by a constant crest of power. The Showa BPFs add the missing link at the front, offering fantastic damping – albeit after you get used to them.
That’s the chalk, and the cheese comes in the form of the R1. The 2009 switch to the cross-plane crank motor was the perfect fillip for Yamaha. This gave the Yamaha a race-based USP, and boy did the marketing department go to town on that. It gives such a different experience to the inline four motor that its no surprise it was a success. But on reflection, did Yamaha’s engineers do enough?
The new motor found no new power, it just delivered it differently. Nor did the chassis offer up any new surprises – because it felt much like the last one. Sure, the new motor masked some of these feelings, but Yamaha stuck some more weight over the snout, but did nothing to try and disguise any of its weight or width.
Turning to traction control in 2012 was all the Yamaha coffers could stretch to, and no matter how good the system is (and it is excellent), this was never a new machine.
Given its friendliness down low, the R1 gets better the harder you push it. The Fireblade works in proportion to your input, but the Yamaha improves exponentially. The more trust you put in the front end, the traction control and the other electronics operating behind the scenes, the more it offers a rider – but a leap of faith is required.
But this battle has been outshone by the blitzkrieg of the BMW S 1000 RR. Arguing the toss over the two stalwarts is largely meaningless – in the same way that no-one was talking much about the ZX-9R and GSX-R750 in 1998. The current class of R1 and Fireblade are both brilliant, brilliant bikes. But no longer are they the best.
998cc cross-plane cranker
...Except an ABS option
Nu Blu colours
You have to work hard at it.
FAST ROAD 8
Motor eggs you on.
Not as crazy as it could be.
NEW RIDER 4
Not at that price!
Love the new colours!
Showa BPF forks
A TT legend
Struggles against the top crop.
FAST ROAD 9
Better with no stopwatch.
Has the midrange to play with.
NEW RIDER 5
The C-ABS is an ally
Over a BMW, Ducati or Aprilia?
DON’T BE FOOLED BY
The latest changes. This is almost like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. We want new bikes!
It’s another close one, but the Fireblade’s inherent balance wins the day over the unique Yamaha...
+ SUBLIME MOTOR, BPF FORKS, LOVELY LOOKS
- NOT ENOUGH POWER, NO GIZMOS, BEHIND BMW