My passion for working on bikes stems from being forced (in a good way) to rebuild two-stroke motocross engines as a teenager,
locked in a garage by my father with only battery acid to drink. You either love it or hate it, and patience is a vital prerequisite – something I still haven’t grasped.
So when Baron suffered one of his frequent tarty episodes and purchased a set of Öhlins FGRT forks for the Vonda, I jumped at the chance to fit them and save a few quid in labour. To be fair to his lordship, the front-end of the ‘Blade desperately needed sorting. Apart from being one of very few standard items that remain, having a lovely plush action courtesy of a TTX shock in the back is dandy, though largely redundant with the standard fork set-up that hampers handling – particularly with a track-only steed.
Simply opening the Öhlins box merits an angelic harmony-filled soundtrack with halos and novelty illumination, as two golden poles of joy greet you. Then again, when you’re spending just over £2k on extravagant kit, you want it to make you feel special.
Removing the standard forks and fitting the Öhlins isn’t an arduous task but you may need few special tools. And patience. It’s made easier by working on a trackday bike without the expensive OE fairings and lights getting in the way. Don’t forget to mark the positioning of the clip-ons to the top yoke, and depending on the fork, measure from the top to the centre of the fork bottom for geometry reference – the Öhlins are slightly longer than the stock legs but glide into the triple clamps with consummate ease.
Having raced a Fireblade, getting weight on the rear is essential for track-based shenanigans – just look at the HRC tank covers, which move the rider’s weight further back. There’s no traction control to mask poor rear-end mechanical grip, so setting the Vonda up like a chopper may seem alien at first but soon becomes natural.
A minor issue with owning a pre-2012 Fireblade is that Öhlins has stopped making FGRTs for this particular model, which is no concern if a cartridge kit will suffice. If you have tarty tendencies like Baron and insist on the whole golden unit, it’s also no real concern – if you have access to a milling machine. Honda altered the offset by 5mm, meaning you have to shave 5mm from either the caliper or the fork’s mounting point as the pads only grip half of the disc. Aging caliper it was…
Thankfully, the boys and girls at JHS Racing have all the skills and utensils for the job. Skimming 5mm from the calipers was made to look easy, as was refitting them. There’s something sadistically wrong about seeing some expensive, carefully machined calipers being bastardised though.
There are other benefits of opting for the entire Öhlins fork over the cartridges. Although the aftermarket gold is actually heavier by a few grams, the billet material used is denser, giving superior integral strength and more controlled flex than the budget cast stuff. And they look blisteringly erotic.
However sticky the rubber is, there’s only so much the stock suspension can take when you’re giving it the berries on track. And having a set of 7-year-old forks that haven’t been serviced since birth won’t help lap times either. We’ll give you the full Öhlins review in a few weeks after the circuit debut.
Thanks to JHS Racing for letting me ruin their workshop