The Firestorm has been around for a few years now, overshadowed perhaps by the SP1 and SP2 models, but still offering a great V-twin sporting package, for not much cash. The Firestorm is like many Honda’s – very underrated, except by its owners.
Dozens of insidebikes readers have been emailing us to review the Firestorm and at long last, Alastair Walker has got his keyboard head on and written a review.
Is this one of the best used big bikes on the market right now?
The Firestorm is one of my favourite Honda’s for the simple reason that it´s so damn easy to ride. From the moment you push the button and hear the civilised burble from underneath the compact bodywork, you know that this makes a perfect choice for the novices, born-agains, or just plain lazy. The used 2000 model featured here however looked and felt totally different, with the only change being a Def Leppard level Remus underseat exhaust system fitted.
Suddenly Dr Honda had turned into Mr Hyde. Not only was the Firestorm louder than a Town Crier´s convention, but the bike seemed to be making most of its 100bhp or so that bit lower down the rev range, which gave the bike a bit of a lairy feel to it, particularly on a wet road.
The 90 degree, DOHC, twin cylinder `Storm engine´s a peach of course, despite the occasional bad report about its sister power unit failing in a few Varaderos. The 996cc pots make a healthy 100bhp or so, but of much more importance is the seamlessly fluid way it delivers those ponies.
There´s not so much as a faint cough all the way along the VTR´s rev range, regardless of what gear you happen to be in at the time – it just goes, period. In that respect, I much prefer the Firestorm to the fuel injected SP1, which tends to `hunt´ occasionally at low revs in town, which is a minor niggle you can do without on today´s gridlocked roads.
Better than that, this deceptively quick engine is perfectly matched to the chassis, letting the rider jump on the bike and make rapid progress within five minutes. Although it comes with a slightly soft suspension set-up as standard, the VTR has a pretty close to perfect balance in the real world, away from trackday lunacy.
The ride is firm, but not as harsh as something like a Ducati 996, or an R1 for example. The bike´s tiny dimensions are more likely to upset riders over 5 foot 9ins, than any jarring they may get from the suspension. If you´re the right size, or shape, the Firestorm offers superior than average comfort for commuting in the big V-twins class. The Firestorm also has the higher set handlebars than rivals like the Aprilia Mille, Duke or Suzy TL1000, which for me, makes it the best choice on motorways – in fact, the VTR is pretty close to sports-tourer territory, except that the Honda VFR800, or Ducati ST4 have got that ballpark pretty well covered.
Like so many Honda’s, the Firestorm is a Jack-of-all-trades. A blast around the Rockingham circuit in the summer proved that a low mileage machine like this can cut it with any other bunch of totally lost punters. Whilst a passing hero on his Ducati 748 neatly went straight on at a chicane and buried his bike in the sand trap, the Firestorm just twitched sideways a little bit then got on with the job – it´s steady power delivery allows you to take liberties sometimes and get away with it. Only the Firestorm´s front forks, which dive too much when the impressive Nissin front brake calipers bite hard, let the bike down, but about £200 worth of fettling at the front end can solve that for you.
The only slight criticism I can come up with against the VTR is – perversely – that it lacks character compared to the Italian Vees, or even the TL1000.
Although there is real bite inside that engine, it hides its real kick-ass nature until you get the rev counter up around 10,000rpm. Then the Firestorm is a deceptively fast bike, capable of getting you arrested very soon on the open road.
It also drinks fuel like crazy once you open the taps on those huge 48mm carbs. One banzai trip around some fave backroads sucked almost a tenner´s worth of unleaded in just 78 miles – owners should consider buying shares in Shell, or maybe just buying their own gas station. To be fair, gentle trundling through Altrincham´s school-run-Mum 4X4 jams produced around 100 miles between fuel stops. The face-lifted 2001 model has a bigger, 19 litre gas tank, which helps.
For a mere 2,000 miles, this Firestorm hadn´t worn that well. Alloy was getting furry on pipe joints here and there and the paint seemed dulled and lacklustre. It´s a handsome enough bike, but it lacks the absolutely jaw-dropping finish of a Honda model like the VFR800i to my eyes. Don´t think the blue colour is as nice as the yellow either, but that´s just me .
Other minor faults include the seat (too hard, too narrow) and the footrests being set for Frankie Dettori, but on the plus side, you could actually glimpse the odd car lurking behind you in the mirrors, which was nice.
Taken all round, this Firestorm was a great used buy, because important stuff like the brakes, forks, suspension and engine all felt tip-top when you rode the bike, even if its appearance wasn´t 100% mint. If anything, the brakes felt more powerful, more controllable than on the new `Storms that I´ve ridden, whilst the handling at speed was totally stable; the thing just went exactly where you wanted, with minimum effort. It felt sharp, aggressive, poised for action.
The Firestorm has a wonderfully slick, user-friendly feel to it, compared against more glamorous rivals like the RSV1000 Mille, Ducati 996, TL1000, or Cagiva V-Raptor. It also feels tough, durable, likely to last with little more than routine maintenance – only a complete optimist would expect the same daily reliability from an Italian V-twin. Although I reckon the Aprilia Falco is perhaps the equal of the Firestorm in many ways – and looks better.
Like every used bike buying decision, the search for the perfect sporting V-twin is an impossible task. All you can do is balance what your heart craves, with what the bank´s tele-loans operative will chuck your way. It isn´t gorgeous to look at, but with the right end cans/exhaust, it can sound exciting and once on board, you get pretty much the same V-twin experience as the Italian fans do.
Middle of the road for sure, but with prices for early 1997 Firestorms now dropping to almost £2500 private, it’s hard to convince yourself that you really need to blow another 1500-2000 notes on sexier looking bikes like the 996, Mille and Falco. Which just leaves the TL1000 Suzy. That bike is a genuine rival, if you have a tall body – and balls of steel to handle the occasional wobbly moment at 120mph plus.
Me? I´ll take the sensible little Honda. Preferably with an exhaust system that sounds like Bonnie Tyler spitting gravel. Call me anti-social, but it´s part of what makes biking so addictive, so different to bland, samey `fast´ cars. Deep down, the Firestorm´s got V-twin soul, it just needs some work to find it.
Get Honda motorbike insurance for the honda vtr1000 firestorm.
|ENGINE||90 degree V-twin, liquid cooled four stroke|
|CHASSIS||Twin spar aluminium, using engine as stressed member|
|FRONT SUSPENSION||41mm cartridge forks, multi adjustable|
|REAR SUSPENSION||monoshock, multi adjustable|
|WHEELS/TYRES||17 inch diameter|
|COLOURS||Blue, Red or Yellow|
|TOP SPEED||160mph (est)|
|FUEL CAPACITY||16 litres|
|CURRENT PRICE||2000 used model: Approx £3,500 private, £4,300 trade|