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Second chance - Honda VTR1000 Firestorm

A look at one of the most popular motorcycles made by Honda, the VTR1000 Firestorm

Click to read: Honda Firestorm owners reviews

How do you fancy a V-twin 1,000, good for a genuine 155mph, set in a sleek alloy beam frame offering more than passable handling, decent brakes and damn fine build quality for a starting price of £1,500? Or you can quite easily catch one with fairing damage for a grand.

That's a deal hard to pass up - and it's a deal that's repeated week after week because we're talking Honda's brilliant VTR1000 Firestorm here, Honda's repost to the Ducati phenomenon of the late 1990s.

Their homologation specials, the SP-1 and SP-2, were of course the ultimate no-holds-barred answer that did indeed slay 998s in WSB, but you're talking £4-5k plus there. Buy a Firestorm and you'll get at least three-quarters of the performance package for one-third of the ticket. Now that's a steal.

The Firestorm ran at the forefront of the late '90s V-twin revolution that swept through superbiking in response to Ducati's legendary 916 and Monster ranges. The Japanese, never ones to shy from a fight, fought fire with fire - the first salvos being Suzuki's brilliantly wayward TL1000S and Honda's altogether more balanced Firestorm.

The Firestorm matched the base model 916 literally blow for blow: 996cc, 110bhp, 155mph top speed, 193kg. Only the packaging was a lot less racey, a lot more streetbike, and while attractive from certain angles, it was nowhere near as drop-dead beautiful as the 916. But it did offer the usual Honda attributes - a wonderfully strong motor, year-in year-out dependability and a build quality that said 'this bike will last'.

And bless those engineers in Hamamatsu for they even managed to engineer a seriously cool booming exhaust note. The Firestorm was a V-twin with an edge, but also with civility and that Honda wing. So while the radical TL1000S went by the wayside,  the Firestorm sold in droves.

Of course it wasn't perfect. Honda had cut corners to keep costs down and the suspension was soft and pretty crude. You'll want to know what modifications, if any, previous owners have made. The forks are typically revalved and the springs changed for better kit, such as WP or Hyperpro. An alternative fix, and a popular one too, was to throw in a set of conventional 1996-97 FireBlade forks, although we'd stay away from such radical botching. The shock too can be reworked or replaced - you're looking at a lighter spring and better valving there.

But the simple suspension in no way held the Firestorm back. In fact it meant you could keep the bike absolutely pinned over bumpy surfaces, and the bike is extremely comfortable on motorways. However a suspension sort-out would also sort a carburetion problem that extremely hard braking could bring about. With the standard set-up the kind of hard braking you can do on-track could lead to the fuel in the carburettor float bowls swashing forward - leaving the jets sucking air - and so leaving the Firestorm running on one. We've never ridden a Firestorm that this has happened on, but plenty of owners will attest to it.

The silliest thing about the whole bike is the tiny 16-litre fuel tank, which holds more like 14 litres and therefore gives the bike a range of about 90 miles. Fuel stops are annoyingly frequent - especially since the motor's a thirsty one (post 2000, among other subtle changes, the tank grew to 19-litres). But once you've got your head around these, you'll find the Firestorm is truly a cracking bike.

With the suspension changes it becomes a real sweet road bike and bloody handy track tool to boot. The motor is intoxicating. On standard pipes it sounds good, on aftermarket jobbies it's borderline symphonic - nothing like the flat bark of the Suzuki TL, much more 916.

Back in 1997 the Firestorm pretty much hit the spot. But it was quickly engulfed by the waves of fancy twins that followed, the SP-1, Aprilia Milles and such. And when the tide turned back again in favour of fours it was left high and dry. So today, almost forgotten, it offers great buying. Only unlike the potential horrors that face the buyer of a decade-old 916, the Firestorm purchaser can buy with some confidence in the VTR mechanicals.

The Firestorm is not, and never was, very sexy, with TDM900-levels of styling and appeal. But if you can get around this it would make an ideal first big bike for those looking to make the move to 1,000cc power for the first time. Spares are plentiful and due to the bike's semi-faired style, they're all also very crash-proof. Storming indeed.

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Honda VTR1000 Firestorm Specifications

Year: 1997 – 2003
Engine: 996cc V-twin four stroke
Power: 105bhp at 9000 rpm Torque: 69ft/lb at 7000 rpm
Compression ratio: 9.4:1 Bore & stroke: 98 x 66 mm
Front suspension: telescopic 41mm fork adjustable preload and rebound damping
Rear suspension: Pro-Link shock adjustable spring preload and rebound damping
Front brakes: double 296mm discs Rear brakes: single 220mm disc
Dry weight: 193kg Seat height: 810mm Fuel capacity: 19 litres