How much faster is a Superbike vs a road bike? Fireblade Face-off


Honda Fireblade Faceoff: road bike vs Superstock vs Superbike (amateur vs pro)

In life there are days that we will all recall when we’re sitting in a rocking chair in our 80s surrounded by our grandchildren asking Grandpa about life before day trips to the moon or when potholes or combustion engines were an actual thing. This particular day I’m going to walk you through is to be filed alongside ‘Wedding’ and ‘Birth of firstborn’.

At first, this rather exclusive invitation made me feel embarrassingly pretentious which was thankfully and quickly destroyed with huge humble hammer. Allow me to explain – this was a track day to kill all others; a Fireblade day at Oulton Park. Yes, Honda’s Bennetts British Superbike race team had hired the beautiful, challenging, engaging and rewarding ribbon of rolling Cheshire circuit for a handful of us mortals to share their elite 2021 sports bike and race bike line-up.

In one garage stood half-a-dozen recently run-in CBR1000RR-R SPs, the ‘Fireblade’, as most would know it. Sitting on paddock stands with their standard treaded road Pirelli’s wrapped in tyre warmers though still retaining mirrors and registration plate holders. In fact, apart from the gear lever being in the race shift (one up, five down) position it was absolutely standard. Deliberately so to give us a taste of how exquisite a road-legal bike can be. If this 214bhp / 201.3kg combo wasn’t hearty enough then look in the next garage and two of Tom Neave’s 227bhp / 190kg Superstock race bikes stand among technicians with laptops and matching uniforms. Shuffle right and, before laying eyes on the handful of BSB championship winning motorcycles formerly ridden by the likes of Ryuichi Kiyonari and Sam Lowes, there stands three full factory 2021-spec Honda Superbikes with Glenn Irwin, Ryo Mizuno and Takumi Takahashi’s respective race numbers adorning their highly-polished fairings. 241.4 bhp / 180kg. Eek indeed. More technicians, more laptops, more equipment, desks, cables, tyre warmers, paddock stands surround these thoroughbreds. It’s intimidating to think that in a matter of hours I’ll be let loose on one little more than a week before the final official pre-season test. No pressure then.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is dreamland. When I say dream, I mean we’ve all be prone to exaggerating our talents when following the Bennetts British Superbike championship pack on TV as 24 of them hurtle around the challenging array of circuits here in the UK, from the tight and twisty Knockhill to the flat and fast Silverstone. I could surely be a match for those guys, right? Well maybe the chaps at the back, I’d be able to run with them… I mean I do alright in the fast group. How hard can it be?

BIGGEST understatement ever. Sofa racers need not apply.

But how do the three bikes differ? Who has ridden all three in anger? Well, apart from the five mortals/journalists (well, four racers and me) invited to the day, there’s only one man; Glenn Irwin. And it was on this very day too. So, I asked him about the differences on and off track and just how good the standard road bike is in road trim. We strapped a datalogger to the road bike then relied on the Superstock and Superbike’s clever built-in systems to share their data.


Three Bike Fireblade Face-Off: How much faster is a professional vs amateur?
Honda Racing’s Glenn Irwin and BikeSocial’s Mann discuss the three bikes and then ride them. Then compare lap times. 


What are the differences? Production vs Superstock vs Superbike


Road bike












Havier Beltran, Team Manager, Honda Racing UK, explains. “The road bike and the Superstock are the closest. The chassis, engine, headstock, triple clamps and linkages are all identical as well as the fuel tank’s capacity and position. Changes to the race bike include giving the bike a full titanium Akrapovič exhaust system, adding Goodridge brained brake lines, the addition of race bodywork which includes the removal of the lights and replacing the electronics with the HRC race package – which gives us a much greater range of adjustability of the torque control and engine brake control. One of the most significant changes is replacing the electronic suspension (which isn’t allowed in racing) with an Öhlins Superstock race kit. In total this saves 10kg in overall weight.

“As for the Superbike, mechanically the engine is the same, as well as the main frame, but there are a lot of differences across the rest of the bike. After we receive the bikes from Japan, the engines are re-built within the regulations, which allow us to modify the cylinder head, camshafts, and valve springs. We use a Suter clutch and upside-down racing swingarm, alongside a modified six-speed Nova gearbox. The ECU is replaced by the MoTec M170 BSB Championship-controlled ECU.

“We machine carious different triple clamp options, handlebars and rear sets in-house, and the wheels are replaced by lightweight forged aluminium OZ racing wheels. The fuel tank is almost 5L larger and sits lower in the bike, spreading under the seat – the fuel tank cowl houses several electronic components. Brakes are a Nissin set up, again with Goodridge lines.

“The suspension is fully replaced with an Öhlins race kit. All the bodywork is replaced with carbon fibre and finally, we use lighter titanium fasteners throughout, bringing the wet weight down to 180kg.



Session 1: CBR10000RR-R SP

The circuit is empty. My allocated bike has been warmed up. It’s a dry yet cloudy day, ideal for a nerve-jangling few hours. I’ll be allowed a 20-minute session on the road bike which will include a few laps circulating with Glenn Irwin in front and Tom Neave behind, also on road bikes, though theirs are equipped with onboard cameras.

It’s been at least 18 months since I’d last ridden this magnificent 2.7-mile collection of challenges where, for each apex you aim for, the brain must be calculating requirements for two corners ahead. Momentum, accuracy, and confidence in the machine all require bravery and they’re all key elements to getting around this place well. It’s rewarding like no other with fast, blind crests, straights that aren’t straight, and plenty of nearby scenery.

Rolling out of the pits, down The Avenue, into Dentons and then the beautiful Cascades are just a taste of what’s to come. I’m familiar enough with the latest generation Fireblade having ridden at the International press launch at Qatar and then on the UK roads and at Cadwell Park later in 2020, and despite my track-riding rustiness I wasn’t too daunted by the machinery, though it’s not every day the Honda BSB team are watching on. Plus, there were only four riders on track so there were to be no excuses about being held up. The day was to designed to demonstrate just how close in performance these three motorbikes are. And my lap times, which we’ll come on to soon, demonstrated just that.

While I built up speed and a better understanding of the track, I knew I was under the watchful gaze of two of the fastest riders in the UK though as Glenn explained, he’d not ridden the road bike in this completely standard guise before. And to listen to a racer talk about tyres makes you realise how much difference they really do make… at his level. To underline what a difference they make, Glenn set a lap time on the standard road bike with standard road-going Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP’s of 1m44.7. Not shabby at all, and just 7.9s off the Superstock pole position time. Then the team swapped the tyres for Pirelli race slicks and Glenn went 5.7s faster, recording a lap time of 1m39.0. He’d have qualified in 26th position out of 40 on the recent Superstock grid. On a road bike, after just three laps!

Glenn said, “To start the day on a road bike on road-going tyres was a new experience for me. It really impressed me. Even the ABS didn’t spoil the fun on track. The power is very usable, and there are so many parts on this bike that I have on my Superbike. It’s a little bit softer but you don’t need to bully it. It feels every bit as good as a Superstock bike.”

As a track bike, the Fireblade performs so, so well. It’s dynamic, it’s sharp, the brakes are classy, the riding position suits the circuits, the engine delivers emphatically, it’s stable, sounds explosively melodic and has a suite of intelligent electronics for fine-tuning. The chassis and top-end power are characteristics that would usually have it at the top of the tree for desirable bikes at a track day – but not this one. It was the warm-up act.

Even the unnaturally long first gear seems ok around Oulton Park – through the Foulston’s chicane especially, I didn’t get the pull out and up to Hilltop with second gear which would my natural selection. Choosing first instead didn’t upset the bike as much as I expected. With perseverance and more laps, I’d have perhaps used first more often on track such is its versatility.

Yes, my six-foot frame is a little snug when wedged into the SP but this is a racer, not a tourer, though my physique is quite the opposite.



Session 2: Superstock (Tom Neave)

About 0.1s after swinging a leg over the Superstock bike belonging to multiple race winner and 2020 National Superstock championship runner-up, Tom Neave, the difference between road and race bike is easy to spot. This is from the championship that provides the closest representation to a production bike sitting in a dealership that you or I could go and buy right now.

Yes, the engine, chassis, headstock and so on are identical but with no catalytic converter and a host of suspension, brake and electronic upgrades, the Superstock machine sheds 11kg but while gaining 13bhp.

It starts on the button, I click up into first and head out with Irwin and Neave chaperoning me on road bikes once more. It’s worthwhile stating that while Tom and I are approximately the same height, he’s far more athletic and doesn’t consume nearly as much wine and profiteroles as I do. Thus, because the bike is set-up perfectly for his frame and preferences, I already notice how pitched forwards it seems, high at the rear and with much stiffer suspension settings than the road bike. Of course, we’re also running on the Pirelli Supercorsa SC race rubber which is recognisable the first time through the sweeping left of Cascades. The smooth transition from upright to knee-down is fast, pure and beautifully predictable allowing me to focus on applying as much of those horses as I dare to ensure a good run towards Island Bend, a ballsy-quick left that looks like it disappears to a point on the horizon. Too many times during my trackdays at Oulton Park I’ve not been brave enough here at Turn 4. When you nail it, it can be one of the most rewarding. Like Coppice (Turn 1) at Cadwell.

The ride is firm, and the bike is rigid, and as it skips merrily over Oulton’s undulations and I was expecting more wheelies because of them, but the electronics are tuned to focus on presentation of power rather than sticking a front tyre in the air (i.e. wheelie control). The gearbox is slicker, neater with different sprockets on the front and rear contributing to the immediacy of the even-faster-that-the-road-bike change. Plus, the throttle connection feels even sharper and more alert. It makes me feel more vigilant too – I’ve not forgotten that this is a race bike and there aren’t enough spare parts, time or emotions to fix it or me if I did something silly. It’s a strange sensation because one part of me is saying, “go on, this is such a rare opportunity, make the most of it” while the more rational side is reminding me not to be daft. Yes, I wanted to test my ability, I wanted to feel what those tyres were like, how well connected the electronics are and what a difference the gear ratios make but I had just a handful of laps and needed to retain my dignity too.

Then again, in the right hands and on lap time alone vs. the CBR1000RR-R SP road bike, there’s just 6.5 seconds per lap difference. That’s how race-focused Honda managed to make the production version.

Glenn had never ridden Tom’s Superstock bike before and after just five laps had set a time of 1m38.1, claiming that the bike could “easily go around here in a 36 on a race weekend and win”. No pressure then Tom. A 38.1 would have put Glenn in 18th on the grid for the recent round at Oulton by the way.



Session 3: Superbike (Glenn Irwin)

And then this day went from extraordinary to unreal. There’s an insatiable, exhilarating buzz of anticipation before I’d mounted this 240bhp+ track-ready weapon. We’re talking about a race-winning machine from one of the most fiercely competitive series on the planet – the Bennetts British Superbike championship is well recognised as being the premier domestic competition. Gleaming and with a fresh set of Pirelli slicks heated to the optimum temperature, I was now the one who had the bike wheeled out of the garage and held in position for me to hop on. Because of its gearbox layout (no neutral between 1st and 2nd), Spider (Glenn’s Crew Chief) has first gear engaged and reminds me to hold the clutch in before pushing the green button on the right side of the handlebars to fire her into life.

A bark from the Akrapovič at initial ignition followed by a pulsating eagerness of noise to get going. I oblige. Feeding the clutch out little-by-little while ensuring enough revs to avoid a mortifying stall… and we’re away down pitlane. I’m tempted to use the pitlane speed limiter but to be honest, I’m not sure which button to press! This is real. Imagine lads from Autocar or Top Gear magazine being let out to play in Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes? It just wouldn’t happen.

Oulton Park is a crest-laden, technical circuit and Glenn Irwin’s full-factory Honda race bike has too much ability so the mapping has been set in accordance to the layout and what the rider, Glenn, would want from the throttle and engine braking, for example. Full power is not available from first to third gear – it’s not necessary. The engine-braking is set for Glenn’s specification. And as I’m rolling down to Cascades on my out-lap I can feel just how strong the off-throttle deceleration is, more than the Superstock. The Northern Irishman also likes a thumb brake – a push lever placed under the left handlebar to replace the traditional right-sided and foot operated lever. He says it allows him to control wheelies, steady to bike at corner entry while regulating the throttle from mid-corner and corner exit.

Remember, there are no rider aids on the Superbike. Traction control, ABS, wheelie control are all courtesy of my inputs. And that’s worrying me. It’s challenging enough to make the most of the opportunity and try to squeeze out as much information in terms of feedback from the bike as possible without overcooking it. I have no shame in reporting that I pootled around enjoying experimenting with throttle connection, working out the level of grip vs. corner speed, and attempting to feel how the thumb-operated rear brake lever felt. These five laps were about understanding the differences between the road bike and the Superbike too – Glenn told me that actually so much of the road bike is represented on the Superbike from swing arm to engine. This opportunity was not an audition, nor were there any fastest lap prizes. Thankfully.


Above: full factory details including Glenn’s thumb-operated rear brake lever


There’s a misconception the Superbikes of this ilk are absolute monsters that just need wrestling. That may have stemmed from the 500cc GP era but in the modern-day level of technical development, the Honda is comfortable, responsive, fast-turning, grippy and so, so powerful but harnessed in a far more manageable manner than I, and perhaps many, would have expected. Yes, it needs to be ridden hard to reap any kind of benefit but it’s not a horror to handle. Concentration levels of the professional racer are extraordinary because barrelling into turn one with 24 others all fighting for the same apex wouldn’t be particularly ‘easy’.

Sweeping through Cascades taking a late apex and getting brave with the right wrist as the power surges through the rear Pirelli as we hurtle towards Island. Short shift to 4th (short-shifting at 12,000rpm!), glance to confirm which gear I’m in and to sneak a peek at my delta time. I make sure I’m at 100% throttle – mainly because Spider told me he’d be watching my data – and then I’m too timid around the perfect left arc of Island but there’s no time for regrets because the banked Shell Oils bend is upon me. Back to second and it feels pedestrian. Glenn explains that while I carry more corner speed than him at the apex, when you consider the time from corner entry to exit, he’s quicker overall because of his angles. He’s far more aggressive at squaring it off, better on the brakes and uncompromising with the throttle which then catapults him out towards Foulston’s. My moment of glory is short-lived.

Oulton Park is a circuit where the slightest misjudgement in approach to one corner can have ramifications three or four corners further along. Shell Oils exit in a prime example. Get too eager on the exit and the change from positive to negative camber can catch you out. It’s easy to push yourself wide and compromise the entry into the Foulston’s left-right-left chicane. You get the picture. So having a bike that is close to race-perfect as the Honda Racing can get within the technical specifications of the BSB rules encourages you to maximise this awesome combination of power, brakes, chassis, suspension and grip. The Fireblade CBR10000RR-R SP is a truly spectacular machine on track, but Glenn’s bike takes every element to the extreme. Engine braking offers enough stability to allow me to hold onto the front brake for the minimal amount of time and I don’t have to worry about unsettling the bike too much when gradually releasing matching my hard-and-late style. There’s a boundary with how hard one can brake and therefore how the bike would react with a more abrupt release. I was playing so far away from the boundary, I could barely see it! And the same goes for the extraordinary grip levels… so the flip-flop through the two chicanes at Oulton offer the perfect circumstances to feel how quickly the bike can get from one knee down angle to the other with poise, precision and such composure from the forks and shock. Then it’s the fast, uphill, blind crest of Clay Hill, one of the most fulfilling corners of the British championship – just aim for the big tree under the bridge until you get to the bridge! Another perfect section of track to make you feel like a million dollars yet totally inadequate at the same time. It’s quick through there but so much faster if you’re a professional. It’s almost as good as the hard acceleration from Lodge down the hollow and back up through Deer Leap and across the start/finish line while banked over to the left at maximum throttle (in Glenn’s case).

There’s no rest because it all happens again as your looking for your brake marker and the turn-in point for Old Hall before the flag is out and the dream is over.



The Results

Breaking news: professional racer is faster than tubby journalist. It’s hardly surprising but what the tale of this tape tells us is how the bike and its performance capabilities are not the limiting factor – I am. My times for all three bikes are within 0.9s, with my fastest lap coming on the road bike! Probably because I got two sessions on it and have had previous experience. Whereas Glenn knows how and where to push each machine, his best times differing by 9.3s per lap.

As we mentioned, there are the odd, occasional, and brief points on the lap where I’m carrying more speed than Glenn but there’s a reason behind those anomaly’s and it’s all about total corner speed from start to finish, not just at the apex.




Road bike

1m 44.7*

1m 55.7 (+11)


1m 38.1

1m 56.6 (+18.5)


1m 35.4

1m 56.5 (+21.1)

*1m 39.0 with slicks

Road Bike lap breakdown (sector-by-sector)




S1 (S/f to Denton’s)



S2 (to halfway down Lakeside straight)



S3 (towards Shell Oils)



S4 (Shell Oils)



S5 (Foulston’s Chicane over Hilltop)



S6 (Braking into Hislop’s to halfway up Clay Hill)



S7 (Druids and to the bridge)



S8 (Lodge/Deer Leap to Finish)




“Here at Oulton it’s a twisty and undulating circuit where you don’t necessarily need 240bhp… you need throttle finesse and confidence in the grip and trail braking.” Glenn Irwin, Honda Racing UK rider.



With no great surprise, I underperformed. It’s impossible to be a rider of any conviction other than those frequenting the Bennetts British Superbike grid to be able to compare out-and-out lap times on these motorcycles. But that wasn’t the reason why I was invited to ride each. The purpose was to analyse just how good the Fireblade road bike is as best as I could by comparing it to its own potentially ultimate versions (when complying with race regulations). As technology advances, so does the application and harnessing of power, grip and braking, the last 20 years has demonstrated an enormous change in lap times, and while the race machines are progressing at their rate, so are the production models on which they’re based. It’s scary to think of the Fireblade SP being a road-legal machine that anyone with a £5k deposit can go and pick up from their local dealership right now. To learn about the differences then test the step-by-step differences between it, the Superstock racer and the outright brute of a Superbike is an engineering wonder. The Honda Racing UK team has already enjoyed on-track success over the last season and a half in what is one of the most competitive and well-supported race series in the world. While Irwin, Neave, Mizuno and Takahashi have the ability to dominate their machines I, by comparison, barely managed a tickle which is demonstration of how talented you have to be to compete at that level.

To see the race winner of the Macau Grand Prix, numerous North West 200s and BSBs, Glenn Irwin in action, showing just what these machines can do was a pleasure. I watched with admiration each time he fizzed by the pit lane demonstrating some incredible bike control. I didn’t fool myself into thinking I could replicate it and while there was a devil on my shoulder egging me on, on the opposite side stood an angel reminding me of the potential embarrassment and shame should I done the unthinkable and not returned each bike to the team in A1 condition at the end of each session. It now makes me wince to see a superbike of any derivative barrel-rolling towards a tyre-wall – just how much effort, energy and budget has gone into saving tenths of a second just for one tiny, marginal mistake to cause such carnage.

When a racer arrives at a race weekend, the lap time he or she sets after five laps of FP1 will not be the bar. It won’t be their fastest lap time of the weekend. With familiarity of the machine, the circuit, the weather conditions plus data to assess and fine-tuning from the engineers, those times come tumbling. As spoilt as this may sound, I didn’t have that luxury of FP1, 2 and 3 before qualifying unfortunately. Just half-a-dozen laps on one of the finest pieces of engineering, and quite probably the fastest that I’ve ever ridden wasn’t nearly enough for me to understand what it could do even with my limited ability. I’m sure that with three more sessions I’d have shaved at least three seconds off my road bike time, five seconds off my Superstock time and possibly up to eight seconds off my Superbike time… but there are dreams and then there unrealistic ambitions. I understand how privileged the opportunity to ride just one lap on a British Superbike is, it’s almost money-can’t-buy territory and it will be one of those days I will never forget. Thank you Honda Racing UK for trusting me.

And here’s Glenn’s secret to Superbike racing: “Catch a late apex, get the thing up onto the fat part of the tyre, get up the gears and make it friendly and then use the power.”


Honda Fireblade Road Superstock Superbike Comparison_255


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