One for the road: Honda’s stunning RC213V-S ridden on the streets

Published: 08 July 2016

Finally, we get to ride the world’s most expensive production bike on British tarmac

ith such tall, racy gearing the £138,000 RC213V-S burbles along the M20 motorway, barely above tickover in top. We’re doing 70mph… I think. There’s no speedo.

With the eight grand extra Sports Kit fitted the Honda’s full colour TFT dash display is changed from road to race mode. A lap timer now sits where the speed readout should be. 

All I do know is I’m going slowly. Today isn’t about MotoGP speed, so I’m happy to let cars, vans and other bikes drift on by. No, today is all about trying to get my head around what it must be like to live with the finest, most exotic sportsbike ever produced for the road… or ever likely to be.

Last autumn I was lucky enough to ride the RC213V-S at the Valencia MotoGP circuit; I rode the standard 159bhp version and a kitted one like this. Two weeks ago I also got to test Bruce Anstey’s Padgetts TT-prepped RC213V-S at Cadwell Park.

These special track experiences will be etched in my mind forever, but I’m quickly discovering that here on the road there’s so much more to this Honda MotoGP replica than its obvious speed and poise.

Riding the RC213V-S is an occasion, even on a Kent motorway. Away from a speed-blurred track I’ve now got the time to look down and around the Honda as I ride along. I’m sat right over the front. The stubby MotoGP nose and surprisingly low screen is almost under my chin. I can’t help but stroke the weave of the lacquered carbon fairing edges, ogle the chunky bronze-finished top yoke and delight in the creamy smoothness of the clutch, gearbox, throttle and brakes. Strangely, I find myself wiping my feet every time I get on, so I don’t dirty the milled aluminium rearsets. The Honda is more than just a fast motorcycle. It’s spiritual.

It looks so much sexier, smaller, compact and purposeful in the flesh than it does in pictures. Owner Kevin Wood has treated the formerly satin-finish exposed carbon-fibre bodywork to lashings of lacquer, to give it a swimming pool-deep gloss shine. It makes your knees collapse with lust.

That braced swingarm, the titanium exhausts, exposed dry clutch and the golden sheen of the Öhlins gas forks all scream MotoGP. It announces, even to those who don’t know what it is, that they’re in the presence of greatness.

Honda originally planned to produce 213 of these handmade jewels before the start of 2017, when Euro4 regulations come into force. But that figure could well be more than halved, due to earthquake damage at Honda’s factory in Japan. So this RC213V-S, ‘Serial Number 20’, could be even rarer than anyone had imagined. Kevin reckons his is the only one registered for the road in the UK.

And yes, it’s also the RC213V-S that got knocked over outside the Creg Ny Baa, making Kevin’s bike an unfortunate Internet sensation. Everywhere we stop someone asks the same question: “Is this the RCV that got knocked over at the TT?”

Yes. Leaning over to get a picture of Kevin’s bike someone nudged the BMW F800 ST parked next to it, knocking the Honda over and pinning it to the floor. It broke the mirror, brake lever protector, and dented the frame and swingarm. Padgetts bent the left footpeg back out again, so Kevin could carry on riding at the Island, and he’s getting a new frame fitted over the winter.

“When one of my mates came in and told me someone had knocked my bike over, I thought, you’ll have to do better than that to wind me up,” Kevin winces. “But I went outside and saw it lying on the floor.”

Based on the 999cc V4 RC213V MotoGP racer, introduced in 2012, after five years of 800s, Kevin’s RC213V-S road bike is arguably more exclusive than the real thing. But he didn’t buy it to keep it in the lounge, he uses it as HRC intended.

Not a garage ornament

When I first meet Kevin I follow him down his drive on my ZX-10R, and on to a damp, gravel-strewn narrow country lane. Expecting him to trickle down the road at 10mph, to dodge the debris, I’m shocked when he belts off into the distance. With stones pinging off the Honda’s rear Bridgestone RS10 and on to my Arai, I can barely keep up.

Kevin laughs: “You’ve got to forget about how much it costs and just ride it, or else you wouldn’t use it. It’s such a fantastic bike. I bought it to use, not to make money. I think Honda were actually surprised I wanted to register it for the road and not let it end up being an expensive coffee table.”

You might imagine a MotoGP replica is a fickle, hard-to-manage beast at normal speeds, especially through town traffic, but the truth is it’s easy. The RC213V-S might have the performance to lap the TT at almost 132mph and the guile to scorch around a MotoGP circuit faster and easier than you’d ever imagined, but it’s no harder to ride than an A2 licence-friendly CBR300R.

With the Honda Smart Key wedged down my leathers (there’s no ignition barrel), a quick poke of the starter button gets Honda’s wild V4 spinning until it fires, like a mid-90s Ducati.

Once trickling along there’s lots of steering lock so it’s easy to handle at walking pace, it doesn’t overheat, and stop/start traffic gives you the excuse to pull and twist its delicious controls. 

Magnesium wheels float lightly over bumps and the plush Öhlins turn age-cracked roads into freshly laid velvety ribbons of tarmac. There’s plenty of legroom, the bar position is perfection and the padded RC30-style seat is comfier than the Kawasaki’s I arrived on. Kevin reckons it’s no worse on fuel than the S1000RR he also owns.

Honda claims 215bhp, but the power is smooth and tractable at road speeds. That exquisite titanium race exhaust isn’t overly loud at low revs, but the jangle of the dry clutch is a giveaway that you’re on something very racy.

Blip the throttle through narrow streets and under bridges and the Honda’s deep, rasping V4 bark echoes and bounces off the buildings. Suddenly the road to Sainsbury’s opens out into Mugello’s Scarperia. Thinking about it, the RC213V-S is so friendly you could load it up with luggage and ride it all the way to the Tuscan hills.

Kevin adds: “You can ride it with one hand compared to the S1000RR. The RCV would make anyone look good. You don’t need to be talented to sit on it. That’s what Honda said when they launched it. They wanted to produce the easiest motorcycle to ride.”

This is as perfect a sportsbike as you’ll ever ride. The only thing you could possibly criticise it for is the long first gear. Designed for the wide expanses of Misano, rather than the narrow streets of Maidstone, slipping the clutch so much to pull away makes you cringe, but the RCV-S never seems to worry.

That self-supporting tail unit also gets a bit hot in town, and not having a speedo could get you banned by teatime. But these things are mere specks of dust on a carbon-clad masterpiece. 

The RC213V-S is a bike created and assembled by Honda’s finest racing brains. It’s built using the best components and materials money can buy, engineered to perfection. No other road-going motorcycle, built down to a price, will ever get close to the breathtaking purity of the Honda.

Of course there are the designer labels: Öhlins, Brembos, magnesium Marchesinis and the brilliant IMU controlled electronics. The frame is fabricated by Moriwaki and assembled by HRC. Most of the engine and chassis parts are made in Mugen’s high-tech factory in Tokyo. This is the place where parts for Honda’s racing vehicles, everything from F1 to MotoGP, are precision engineered.

Leaving Maidstone town centre and out into the Kent countryside I overtake Kevin, who’s on my ZX-10R. I figure he’d like to see his RC213V-S rolling along and enjoy the noise, which gets twice as fruity from behind. Click up on the race-pattern gearbox, to go down through the box, and let her rip.

The RC213V-S is all devastating speed with little drama. With its long wheelbase and wide, progressive spread of V4 power, the Honda accelerates hard through its long gears without a wheelie or shimmy. It just goes from here to there in an unflustered instant. It might be easy to ride slowly, but it’s even easier to ride fast.

It sounds fantastic. What starts off as a clattery rumble at low revs, builds into a warbling, spitting, treble-laden snarl as the revs climb. Flick in another quickshift-assisted gear and the MotoGP symphony starts all over again.

Weighing 160kg dry, the complete lack of weight is something you’d only ever feel on a MotoGP bike or a full-blown WSB racer. It’s why the RCV-S has a factory race bike feel that a mass-produced road bike can never match. It takes little physical and mental effort to ride. It’s stable in fast corners and rolls beautifully into nadgery bends. The brakes are tactile and devastatingly effective.

We end our day with a Brands Hatch trackday, just to watch – the RC213V-S is too loud for any UK circuit. We hear Keanu Reeves is there and wonder if we’ll be able to find him. But park an RC213V-S and in seconds it will always draw a crowd, Hollywood stars included. He can’t take his eyes off it.

The Honda RC213V-S is the blueprint for the perfect sportsbike. From here, everything else seems compromised in some way and that includes greats like the Desmosedici RR, H2, Superleggera, R1M and RSV4 RF. I’m not sure how that makes me feel, happy or sad.

In building the RCV-S, Honda have managed to keep as much of Marquez’s bike as possible while keeping it reliable and affordable… sort of. It’s exactly what Honda promised and what we’d dreamed it would be: the best road-going sportsbike ever built.

Tech Spec

Price £138,000 (+ £8000 for Sports Kit)
Engine 999cc V4
Claimed power 215bhp (as tested)
Claimed torque 75ftlb
Frame Fabricated aluminium twin spar
Dry weight 160kg
Tank size 16.3l
Seat height 830mm
On sale Now

HRC top yoke
Breathtaking in bronze, the magnesium HRC top yoke is emblazoned with the bike's unique serial number.

Bodywork
The standard bike's bare carbon-fibre bodywork has been lacquered by owner Kevin to give it a gloss finish.

Exhaust
Full Sports Kit titanium exhaust kit does away with standard cat and variable exhaust valve. It’s 4.8kg and spits 116db of pure MotoGP anger.

Sports Kit heaven
It includes a carbon clutch cover, race plugs, seat hump, sprockets, remote span adjuster, race pads, thermostat and datalogger.

Air scoop
The road bike's front lights are replaced with carbon ram air scoop taken from the Sports Kit. A daytime MoT looks after the legality aspect.

All the right labels
Just like the factory racers, the RC213V-S features Öhlins gas-charged forks and stunning Brembo brake calipers.

Living with an RCV

Owner Kevin Wood

I saw the RCV up on a plinth at the bike show in 2014 and it looked identical to a MotoGP bike, I thought if one of them ever comes out I’m going to try my hardest to get one. I ordered it last September and I picked it up in February. I was excited to get my hands on it and knew it was the start of an adventure, not just another bike.

When I picked it up from Honda Racing in Louth it was an experience trying to get it registered and insured. I don’t think Honda actually expected anyone to put one on the road, but Dave Hancock and Maidstone Honda really looked after me.

Pete at Mech Spray in Rochester lacquered the carbon bodywork. They work on Corvettes, sprayed Nick Mason’s helicopter and have done stuff for the McLaren and the Bat cars for the Batman films.

We had trouble getting hold of the special blend of oil needed for the first 600-mile service, in time for my trip to the TT. We had to get it from Honda Europe in Belgium and I did the oil change myself. It’s quite tricky — there are 20 O-rings in the kit. It cost £498 just for the oil and filter.

When I got it home and rode it down the road for the first time it’s like I’d owned it for 20 years, it was like a glove. I did 135 miles in the first day, down to Rye and along the south coast. It’s so tall geared I don’t think I ever saw fourth. First gear is too tall, but it’s built for racing.

When I rode my S1000RR again it felt like going back to the Stone Age. That’s the difference, they’re chalk and cheese.

I’ve done over 600 miles on it, including a trip to the TT in the back of the van. I’m off to the Classic TT later in the year and I’m doing some parade laps at Jurby. I was mobbed at the Island. Even Whitham and Plater came running over to it in the paddock to stand by it and Parrish’s jaw just dropped.

I want to take it places so people can enjoy seeing it. Although it’s more famous for being damaged at the TT now.

Verdict

After being wowed by the RC213V-S at its Valencia track launch and bowled over with Anstey’s TT racer at Cadwell, riding it on the road was the missing piece of the jigsaw. It may be a MotoGP refugee, but it’s a street bike at the end of the day.

We weren’t disappointed. The Honda is everything we hoped it would be. It’s two-wheeled perfection, built and conceived by the people who built machines for Spencer, Gardner, Doohan, Rossi, Stoner, Marquez… and now Kevin Wood from Maidstone, Kent. 

Words: Michael Neeves Photos: Joe Dick

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