Words: Boothy

It’s hard to imagine that the Firestorm has ever been a striking bike, even when its very first iteration was released way back in 1997. If you ask me, it looks a little bit bland. Actually, very bland. But it’s not ugly, and in fairness to the Firestorm, its blandness and lack of aggression gives it a rather approachable demeanour.

If you didn’t know it had a litre engine, I reckon even the newest of motorcyclists would be quite happy to throw a leg over it. And when you do throw a leg over it, as expected there’s plenty of space, and bags of comfort.

Once upon a time I had an old CBR600F, of a similar era to the VTR, and I couldn’t help but be reminded of my old Supersport sensation when astride the Firestorm. Just like my old CBR6, the clocks were whoppingly big and analogue, the steering was light and un-damped, and the switchgears were square and chunky. But its 20 years old, so that can be forgiven.

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Still running carbs (a big pair of 48mm Keihin carbs, to be precise), the ’Storm liked a bit of choke to get it started and did take a minute before it was happy to tick over without the aid of said choke, or a little bit of throttle.

Even when warm, the engine didn’t sound particularly comfortable when merely ticking over, but the throttle response was perfectly acceptable when you asked for a blip. And when you did ask for a blip, it sounded great, too – almost like a big, four-stroke MX bike from back in the day.

With the VTR up to temperature I whipped the hydraulic clutch in and slotted it into gear – no complaints there – and as I headed off down the road all was well. It was all very ‘Honda’. To be supercritical, at mega low speed or when you are using the very bottom of the rev range, the throttle pick-up felt a tiny bit fluffy, but once you were diving, the fuelling was reasonably precise. The gearbox was faultless, being just as happy to go up the box as down it.

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As we started to head out on to the open, faster roads and up the pace a bit I started rushing my upshifts, forcing the thing to change gear at higher and higher revs, usually without the clutch, and nothing seemed to be too much to ask of the 20-year-old Firestorm.

I was really quite impressed. I soon worked out that leaving my gear changes to the very last nanosecond wasn’t necessarily the best way to ride the VTR. The thing had quite a bit of punch low down in the revs, but (like my esteemed colleague Frodo), not a lot up top, so taking it to its redline felt like a bit of a waste of time.

To really get a move on, it seemed much more effective keeping the motor in its punchy mid-range. We managed to throw a whole load of fast and flowing bends at the Honda, and despite its soft suspension it held its own and if I gritted my teeth I could just about keep up with Dangerous Bruce on the Tuono.

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Trying to turn from fast left to fast right could be a bit of an ordeal, and required a good deal of effort; and if there were any surface undulations, the under damped suspension and undamped steering sometimes sent the whole thing into a bit of a hissy fit. Indeed, the steering was that light it made the whole bike feel a little bit loose, particularly if the front ever lifted slightly over a crest.

It wasn’t a game-changer, but it certainly didn’t inspire much confidence in the ride. And in all fairness, the addition of a modern steering damper for a few hundred quid ought to sort that issue out. Whenever I had cause to grab the brakes in any urgency I was never disappointed.

Though the front brake lever felt a little soft and squidgy, there was more than enough power to get the thing stood on its nose, and the feel of the lever didn’t alter once during our ride. The back brake, too, was more than serviceable and would either aid the deceleration process, or let you pull a big skid – whichever you desired.

It is always nice to ride a bike that lets you use the brakes to their full potential, rather than having an over-zealous ABS computer thinking it knows best – in my experience they rarely do. After stopping for a piss and a packet of crisps I hopped back on the Firestorm with the intention of taking it down one of my favourite stretches of Tarmac in the UK, but I needn’t have been so hasty, for as soon as I shot off down the road, the VFR started coughing and spluttering and running quite nastily.

“That’s strange,” I thought. It had been running fine before. I pulled over, parked up and miraculously the misfire stopped. I decided to give the VTR another try on the road, so flicked the side-stand up to head off, and that’s when I noticed what I think must have been the problem.

The stand was just touching the fairing and I deducedcthat it might have been enough to, in some instances, stop the stand from fully engaging the side-stand switch, just enough to cause a slight misfire. I can’t be certain that’s what caused it, but whenever I made sure the stand was fully up, there was no misfire.

No sooner had I kicked the misfire into touch, did my next issue rear its ugly head. Fuel. The VFR has got a tiny little 15.8-litre tank, and with its thirsty fuelling system you don’t get a whole load of miles on a tank of fuel.

So before I could make the most of my day on the Firestorm, I thought I had better top the tank up. The later Firestorm came with a bigger, 19-litre fuel tank, which went some way to address the issue, but by all accounts they were still pretty thirsty animals.

…For the full feature, pick up the February 2020 issue of Fast Bikes. For more information on how to get your hands on a copy click HERE.

Ross Mowbray

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