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McGuinness’ Fireblade

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THE GREATEST FIREBLADE PB is offered a go on John McGuinness’ multiple TT-winning Honda Fireblade. Are they sure? Words Matt Wildee and Emma Franklin Pics Jason Critchell

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‘D McGuinness’ Fireblade

on’t worry if you crash it,” shrugs John McGuinness in his Morecambe drawl with typical understatement. “It’s just a motorcycle. It can be hammered straight.” Except this one can’t. Until Casey Stoner wins the MotoGP title on the same machine for three years running, there hasn’t been a Honda racebike that has consistently done the business like this one has. In fact, the Fireblade that I am just about to sling my leg over is probably the single most successful road-racing bike there has ever been. Since 2008, John has used this bike to win two NW200s, three TTs and set an outright Island lap record of 131.578mph. It is the winner of this year’s Senior and Superbike TTs. Gulp. This is the bike that brought McGuinness’ brilliance to the fore. With this bike the man transformed from being just another accomplished TT racer to the greatest living road racer. And now he’s going to let a nobber like me ride it. It has been a frustrating few hours. The cold nip of autumn is in the air at Cadwell Park and black clouds have been scudding across the Lincolnshire Wolds, depositing their contents with depressing regularity. And just as it seems to dry, down comes the rain again. It is now nearing lunchtime and the TT Legends Honda Fireblade has been ready to go since nine, sheltering in the scrutineering bay, sitting on its HRC-branded stands, slicks shrouded in warmers. We’ve been waiting for sun that never comes. They are happy for me to ride it on the wets, and we’ve just popped back to the factory to pick them up, but I’d rather not. This bike has 205bhp, no traction control and is worth far more than the house I’ll never own. For the moment, I’m just happy to look at the thing. The RC30-esque paintjob suits the Blade’s lines so well I’m at a loss to reason why there

heads-up The most beautiful road-going K5 we’ve seen. Turns in as well as it turns heads

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isn’t a road-going replica. It is pretty, but this machine exudes purpose. and Joey Dunlop. I hadn’t spent any time with McGuinness before and I’m And it has seen some action. Every scratch, every ding tells a story. The struck by his wisdom, modesty and Northern, piss-taking humour. He’d be good value down the pub. As I start to lap Cadwell, I try to apply his anodising at the bottom of the Showa forks has been blasted away by observations to what I am feeling. 190mph slipstreaming, the frame is roughened and scratched from The first thing that hits you is the sheer, violent acceleration. The track is a knees and van damage. John’s right Sidi has polished the paint off the mixture of wet and dry, of grippy and slippy and I’m taking it very easy on swingarm. This is about as authentic as it gets. my first lap; this bike is irreplaceable, but I can’t help but wind on the A weak sun starts poking through, casting shadows along the treethrottle as the bike rolls onto the start/finish straight for the second time. lined tunnel of Hall Bends. The track is still damp in places and I’ll be on wets, but at least I can see where I’m going. I’ve ridden plenty of racebikes, but the significance of this bike isn’t ‘It’s amazing how the way it makes power lost on me. “You’ll love it, just ride it,” he says reassuringly is reminiscent of a standard Fireblade’ to me. “He’s shitting himself,” he says to his mate. You start a TT Superbike Fireblade in much the same way as you start a normal Blade – push the starter button. There are no It pulls so hard I almost regret it. The TT Legends Fireblade wails through the open pipe and shunts forward harder than anything I’ve ever ridden. outboard starters or computers to hook up here. The engine is basically the same as Honda’s 2009 BSB bike and it makes The CBR fires instantly, settling into a deep, aggressive high-speed huge power, pulling hard from just 5000rpm. It kicks on again at 8000rpm, idle, the thrum of the megaphone Akrapovic filling the scutineering bay and bouncing off the walls. It is loud. So loud that every blip sends before having a final spurt at 12,000rpm. It is amazing how the way it makes power is reminiscent of a standard Fireblade, but all the niceties sound waves that penetrate through your body and make your ears ring. TT racers don’t have the noise restrictions of a normal superbike have been removed and replaced with weapons-grade attitude and what feels like twice the muscle. With 205bhp at the back wheel and TT gearing it and the Fireblade booms and snarls like a MotoGP bike. McGuinness hits a datalogged 193mph on the Sulby straight. says he doesn’t wear earplugs, but is looking forward to being deaf so It squirms and smears on the damp track and I fire in third, fourth and he has less earache from the wife. I think he’s mental. fifth, the slick HRC quickshifter meaning there is no punctuation in The Blade runs a heavier crank than most race bikes and with each violence. I’m pushed to the back of the seat, peering through the tall screen. blip of the throttle you can feel the momentum and the suggestion of I’d struggle to hold onto to this for ten laps; I haven’t got a clue how John limitless power building beneath you. The needle on the stock dash could manage the best part of two hours flat-out. “It still feels fucking fast (which is turned into a race display by the HRC kit ECU) blurs as it keeps up. Woody, John’s mechanic, takes the warmers off and the bike when I first get on it,” he’d told me earlier. Glad it’s not just me then. The curving, uphill left-hander of Coppice is ahead, but it’s easy to shed is lowered to the ground without any ceremony. I head out through the speed. It’s damp, but the Dunlop wets work well and the factory Showa narrow access road onto the track. suspension is so amazingly plush that everything feels easy. The forks date As I do, the recent memory of the sage-like half hour I’ve just spent with John chewing the fat and talking racing recalls in my brain. Like back to 2007. McGuinness hasn’t found anything better for dealing with a slightly less chubby version of Roy ‘Chubby’ Brown, he’s an engaging the first third of the stroke that is the key to stability on the Island. Squeeze the Brembo 19x18 master cylinder, hear the fizzing of the pads character, full of non-PC anecdotes and the kind of racing wisdom biting on the discs, feel the retardation through your forearms. that can only be gained by sharing grids with both Valentino Rossi 009


The firsT Time...

Triumph Daytona 900, first group test in Performance Bikes, August 1993

Triumph started making bikes again “I met with John Bloor shortly after Triumph unveiled six brand new bikes at the 1990 Cologne bike show and the scale of planning and investment that had been taking place over the last six years was clear. “Before the Cologne show the whole Triumph project had been kept remarkably secret. John had bought the rights to the Triumph name in 1984 and had spent six years building the new Hinckley factory and developing the range of bikes that were shown in Germany. “John was very determined not to show the bikes or release any information until everything was ready and in place, which is why Triumph unveiled six new models in Cologne rather than some prototypes. There had simply been too many alleged British comebacks of famous brands. It was an astonishing achievement and John actually took every member of the 80 or 90 strong Triumph staff out to Germany in appreciation of their efforts. “When I joined the company it was a few weeks Who is after Cologne and I honestly thought it would be a Bruno small scale operation, more along the lines of Tagliaferri? Bruno, 60, is what Norton has been doing in the last couple of Triumph’s National years. Then I walked into the factory and quickly Sales Manager. realised how advanced the whole project was… Having started “The size of the equipment already in place, the working for the Motorcycle Industry CNC machines and the production lines were just Association in 1975, the start, they had already stocked up on Bruno moved to components and were ready to build the first 200 Honda UK in 1978 and bikes. It was a very serious project indeed. became their Motorcycle Sales and “To start with we were making eight bikes a day. Marketing Manager. We would go down to the production lines and In 1990 he joined write down the chassis numbers of the bikes on Triumph and has been the line because we had orders ready to process there ever since, one of the few people who with dealers chasing us for bikes! At that time we has been with the were only selling to two markets – Germany and company since it was the UK, with Germany being potentially the relaunched. 130

biggest. I think we made around 2000 bikes in the first year, not huge numbers but the feeling was that there was more to come. “I wouldn’t say there was a particularly patriotic atmosphere within the company, but there was certainly an engineering and manufacturing focus that remains pivotal today. The work ethic and the morale within Triumph was second to none, something that continues to this day. Everyone worked so hard with a great team spirit and really wanting it to succeed. There is still a tremendous mutual respect between staff members. “Even in the early days I remember John saying ‘we have to earn people’s respect if we want Triumph to succeed’. In the 1990s if you wanted a well-engineered bike that didn’t go wrong you probably bought a Japanese bike. That was our benchmark. The fact we were British did not always give customers confidence. The masses in the ’70s and ’80s had defected to competitor machines that were high on performance and reliability, supported with extensive dealer networks. That was the hardest challenge to overcome, changing people’s opinions and making Triumph a serious buying proposition. “Having unveiled the bikes at Cologne the NEC bike show was a tremendous success; the stand was mobbed with people – both riders and dealers. I think we had over 500 franchise applications to become a Triumph dealer, but we only went with 33. We picked dealers that we knew would work with customers, ones with a passion and confidence in the bike. We were realistic and knew that there could be some initial technical issues so it was vital to have dealers that could deal with these quickly and efficiently so that the customers wouldn’t lose faith in Triumph. Good engineering has always been the key. “Looking back at the past 21 years it’s almost unbelievable how much Triumph has grown. We are now producing around 50,000 bikes a year and in April of this year one in four bikes over 500cc sold in the UK was a Triumph. In fact Triumph has been number one in 14 of the last 15 months. That’s remarkable progress from eight bikes a day rolling off the first production line in 1990 and, if I’m honest, whilst being an optimist, I never imagined Triumph doing this or growing so big.”

Interview Jon Urry Pic Bauer archive

by Bruno Tagliaferri, Triumph’s Sales Manager


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Vyrus 986 M2

unproven This is the future of racing, according to tiny Italian manufacturer Vyrus. Meet their Moto2 racer. It’s ready to race. All it needs is a team and rider Words Michael Neeves Pics Mykel Nicolaou

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genius

This stealth bomber-looking contraption is the 986 M2, built by Vyrus, a tiny motorcycle manufacturer tucked away in an industrial unit in Rimini. This is the heart of the Italian motorcycle racing industry. Ducati is just down the road in Bologna, there’s Benelli in Pesaro and any number of anonymous carbon fibre, aluminum, titanium and magnesium companies, who quietly supply some of the biggest GP teams. Misano, Mugello and Imola racetracks are close by. Rimini is also the home to Bimota, where Vyrus owner Ascanio Rodorigo helped design the original hub-steered Tesi. The Vyrus 986 M2 is a Moto2 bike built in the true spirit of the open chassis rules. There are no predictable, ‘safe’ aluminium beam frames or telescopic forks here. The only normal thing about it is its humble Honda CBR600RR engine.

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& massive Blood

sweat

overdrafts No factory support, no personal sponsors, no family holidays: meet the real stars of the Mountain circuit at the Manx GP Words & Pics Stephen Davison

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fter three months of silence the Mountain course once again rumbles to the sound of race bikes. But this time it’s different. Gone is the high frequency wail of full factory 600s piercing the wilderness, gone too are the huge race transporters that got them there. The energy drink sponsorships and the corporate kerfuffle of the TT has long since rolled out of town. This is the Manx GP – long regarded as the amateur alternative – its entry lists swollen by normal people riding relatively normal race bikes. But, as road racing photo journalist Stephen Davison takes a walk around the Manx GP paddock, he discovers that the competitors who take part are more than just every day people. These are the riders who give it all to chase their dream of racing at the Isle of Man…

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s

inful tunter

Words St. John McAvoy Pics Rory Game

The Benelli TNT R160 is great fun. So long as you are as forgiving as a Catholic priest…

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t would be very easy to dismiss the Benelli TNT R160 as just another quirky Italian motorbike, the result of a good idea badly executed. Its flaws are obvious and very real. More than that there are things about the R160 that make me put my head in my hands and wonder how it could have been signed off fit for production. Yet spend time with the bike and you can’t help but come to like it. Benelli are one of Europe’s oldest motorcycle manufacturers. Founded in 1911 (ten years before Moto Guzzi) by Teresa Benelli they miraculously survive, but as relative minnows. Compared with fresher-faced Italian rivals such as Ducati, Aprilia and Moto Guzzi they have much less R&D resource and raw material buying power. Benelli produce as many bikes in one year as Triumph do in a week. That’s the perspective. In typical Italian fashion the TNT R160 is one of five variants in the range and runs the big 1131cc engine. It’s also the second most expensive/exclusive TNT and as such gets the obligatory sprinkling of carbon fibre, a dry clutch, radial brakes, die cast wheels and beefy suspension.

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Benelli TNT R160

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Stock bike, made better

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one for the

bird They say the key to a good relationship is compromise, but Rick Phillips’ Blackbird proves otherwise

Words Matt Wildee Pics Jason Critchell

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Performance Bikes  

PB mag November 2011 sampler

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