The new Fireblade feels very similar to the 2003 ‘Blade when it comes to riding position, despite the fact that Honda has moved the pegs slightly up and back and the bars slightly down. Which came as a bit of a surprise to me. Because of the new styling I kind of assumed that like the CBR600RR the new ‘Blade would be tiny, but it isn’t. For a six-footer like myself it doesn’t feel cramped, although the pegs are a touch high. It keeps the real world riding position of the previous model, which was a big selling point for the majority of ‘Blade owners who used their bike for more than just the occasional weekend blast. It doesn’t have the perched-on-the-top-yoke 600RR feel, but it’s slightly more aggressive than the old ‘Blade with your weight slightly more forward.Corner properly and the new Fireblade is every bit as good and planted as the CBR600RR, which is saying something indeed.Through the tight chicanes in the track the ‘Blade went from knee-down right to knee-down left bloody quickly and with half the usual effort that it usually requires, but it’s mid-corner the bike really impresses. Get the Honda over and it just feels like you could keep on leaning it forever and if it ever decides to let go it will have the common decency to let you know first, probably by post. Honestly, the chassis really is that good you have that much warning time. There were quite a few corners on the track where cars had broken up the surface and even with the ‘Blade right on its ear the bumps still couldn’t unsettle its composure. But as well as being so composed mid-corner the new chassis also allows you to use the new 998cc motor with confidence. Looking at the stats I thought the new ‘Blade would be a wheelie monster, but it isn’t really. Yes, it will wheelie with encouragement but the chassis is designed to allow the rider to put the power down with both wheels remaining on the road. Where the old bike would wheelie as you exited corners, the new one won’t.Second gear corners and hard acceleration are usually a decent recipe for a highside, but the Fireblade doesn’t have the feeling it’s going to do this. Open the throttle hard exiting a corner and the thing just drives forward. Fast.Despite the claims of 172bhp this is at the crank, so take off around ten per cent for a rear wheel figure and you’re left at a genuine 145bhp. Which isn’t exactly weedy. But the ‘Blade doesn’t feel like a 145bhp bike, well not in the intimidating way.The power builds up really smoothly to the 12,250rpm redline with no real kicks or power bands. Where the GSX-R has several distinct jumps in power the ‘Blade just keeps on building. This can take some of the harsh and exciting edge off it but when you’re trying to drive out of a corner with the bike still leant over I much prefer the feeling of a constant build up of power than a sudden change in delivery. But it can be a bit deceptive. Because the power builds up gently it is very easy to get carried away and find yourself arriving at corners far faster than you actually think you’re going.Which is probably why Honda has made the brakes so strong. The new radial calipers on the 2004 ‘Blade are excellent. Two fingers is all you need no matter what speed you’re going at and the power and feeling is brilliant, once you get used to them. Initially they almost feel like overkill, which is what I thought after the first session, but once you recalibrate your head to how good they are this feeling goes. I did find that the rear tended to go a bit light under hard braking on standard suspension settings, but this is cured by increasing the preload and rebound stiffness on the forks.Having spent a morning riding the bike I suddenly remembered the new electronic steering damper. Does it work? Well, I suppose so because I forgot it was there. I struggle to find any faults with the Fireblade. It is just my kind of bike – a 600 on steroids. It turns quickly, handles fantastically, has a beautifully smooth engine, brilliant brakes and above all is comfortable. The fuel injection is still a bit snatchy going from a closed throttle to open but really this is about the only fault, although personally I don’t like the colour schemes as I think they make the bike look duller than it is.The new Blade doesn’t quite give you the adrenaline kick the GSX-R does because the engine’s so smooth to use, but I reckon most riders won’t consider this a problem and will be able to explore the potential of the chassis both on the road and track with greater confidence.
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