Bereft of 200bhp and all the latest gizmos, Honda’s trusty old Fireblade is still the most popular big-bore sportsbike in the UK. Since the remould in 2008, it’s been at the top of the sales charts despite the lack of race wins on a Sunday, and constant updates of rivals. Purists prefer the undiluted nature, other simply can’t afford a £15k techno-queen.
Essentially, it’s the same bike from 2008. A few ponies added here, a few kilos lost there, some different crank/flywheel details and aesthetic alterations: the snazzy new suspension and other trivialities have made little difference. So what about upgrades? It’s a common enquiry, so here’s our top-5 list.
Baron’s had several Fireblades over the years and settled on this carbon-kevlar example as his trackday steed. I’ve had the pleasure of living with a ‘Blade for a year, ridden countless models, and raced one a few times, so together we know what makes ‘em tick – and what doesn’t.
Of course, the top-5 list of mods could comprise of obvious luxuries such as a Magneti Marelli ECU and traction control, a KR swingarm and HRC internals if money was no object, but we’re talking real-world upgrades that make a tangible difference without having to sell your house.
Braking: The ‘Blade’s standard set-up will suffice but it is fairly shoddy when the going gets tough. There’s plenty of initial bite and linear braking power, although continuous abuse and heat means the lever has an annoying tendency to come back to the bar and crush digits. Braided lines banish that spongy feeling for under £100, and for similar coin, a pad upgrade adds bite and feel throughout the lever – EBC’s new GPFAX are the personal pick of the bunch.
Power/fuelling: 155-160bhp is a good dyno figure for 2008 Fireblade. While we could never accuse the Honda of being tiresomely slow, they do respond well to a full system or a de-cat without breaking the bank. You’ll also see a substantial weight loss of around 6kg, which is hugely palpable.
This dyno shows a bog-stock 2009 ‘Blade with a Leo Vince de-cat. The blue line is the standard power-run, the red trace is after the pipe was fitted, and the green is the Leo with the addition of a Power Commander V – all carried out on the same day for a balanced dyno environment.
As you can see by the dyno, the pipe adds a dollop of grunt but the custom map provides healthy power gains and a sweeter throttle. Peak power is up 8bhp but the impressive bit is the midrange: 12bhp between 6000rpm and 7000rpm, pulling harder where it matters. It was the Power Commander, officer…
Gearing: A nice relatively cheap mod. The Fireblade’s stupidly long gearing makes for lazy shifting and surfing the midrange without nearing the redline. The standard 42T rear sprocket can be swapped for a 44T or higher. That sumptuous midrange hits sooner and harder for a more exciting delivery, and you get the added benefit of shorter wheelbase – the ‘Blade certainly isn’t unstable. The other option is taking a tooth off the front cog, but that’s just a pain in the botty…
Gearbox: This is a proper gem for all dodgy gearboxes, recommended by our buddies at JHS Racing. The Honda’s gearbox isn’t as notchy or as gorgonzola-like as a KTM, but shifting isn’t as seamless as it could be and doesn’t feel natural – particularly without a quickshifter. Factory Pro do a replacement gear selector fork and arm for around £200 (with shipping from the US), which eliminates false neutrals and that awkward 1st-2nd gearshift. Yes, it costs a bit to install but it’ll be akin to a new ‘box.
Shock: OE Showa shocks (even the newer models) have a habit of shitting themselves – no damping, no control, nothing. It’s usually a gradual decline in performance, so it’s tricky to feel over a period of time if you’re constantly putting miles on the bike. It’s far from dangerous but takes the edge off/utterly buggers handling. When you consider some manufacturers pay around £12 for an OE shock (not Honda), it’s not surprising the quality is lacking.
Granted, you’re looking at a grand for an aftermarket item to remedy the saggy botty, but it really transforms the whole ride.