2012 Honda Fireblade launch

First track impressions

Just got back in after our first track session on the new 2012 Fireblade.

Portimao has had quite  lot of rain recently and even though it's dry now there's very little grip which is a bit tricky bearing in mind we've got some new Bridgestone S20 tyres to test as well. The scrape marks at a few of the corner are testament to the lack of grip from earlier in the week. We suspect this is the track surface's fault - not Bridgestone's.

As the owner of a 2011 Blade this year I was keen to find out whether Honda's fiddling had altered the personality of the Blade. It may not be the most powerful superbike out there, or the fastest or the most technologically advanced but it is far and above the easiest to ride, the most forgiving and the most balanced road bike of the crop. 

Don't panic. They haven't.

In this, the first of four sessions, I managed a couple of out laps and then started to up the pace tentatively. My first impressions are that the small throttle opening mapping is better and it's very easy to flow and roll your way around this undulating circuit in a higher gear than you first suppose. The gearbox is nicer than my 2011 Blade as well, with a much quieter, less clonky selection off first gear and more positive backshifting.The big piston front forks feel brilliant in the sixth gear braking zone at the end of the straight but I might have to feed a bit more rebound damping in to help them cope with the huge step at turn five as the forks extend way too quickly here. Strangely enough there are a lot of scrapemarks at this point on the circuit.

The rear shock I'm not sure about yet. It seems under damped and under sprung for my 80 kilo bulk. Hopefully the technicians will allow us to fiddle with the settings. There are a couple of corners where the entry up to the apex is a tad floaty and you have to wait for it to calm down before even getting on the gas,

I came in after six laps having had the mother of all near highsides. I didn't think I provoked it by doing anything too crazy but it very nearly caught me out and I rushed back to the pits to let my heart rate recover.

This first session has confirmed that the 2012 Blade is still the forgiving, manageable, flexible beast it always was but there's more polish - especially in the throttle response and creamy power delivery.

Got to dash. Next session's up soon...