Gallery: Honda V4 super test
Think of Honda and you'd be forgiven for thinking of workhorse-like bikes that just keep going without breaking down. But there's another side to Honda. The side that makes bikes dripping in tech and ultra-high quality parts that make grown men go weak at the knees.
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These four bikes - the VFR750R RC30, RVF750 RC45, NSR750 and RC213V-S - are the most special Hondas you can buy, so we decided to take them to the south of France for a little jaunt up the Route Napoleon.
Honda VFR750R RC30
The RC30 is Japan’s first race bike on the road, built in 1988 for homologation for the new World Superbike race series. The project was given the go-ahead by HRC bigwig Michihiko Aika after an epic vodka-drinking session in Tokyo with American ex-racer and promoter Steve McLaughlin, who needed Japanese factory support if his new series was to get off the ground.
Honda were the only ones who took McLaughlin seriously and their faith was repaid with victory in the first two WSB seasons.
The RC30 is a racer with lights, built by hand to an exacting, blue-printed spec: titanium rods, close ratio box, 43mm adjustable quick-release fork, Pro-Link, single-sided ally swingarm, extruded and hand-welded twin spar ally frame, dinner plate brake discs, single seat, twin headlamps, bolt-on subframe, Dzus fasteners and lockwired rear sprocket.
With a claimed 112bhp it might not have been the most powerful 750 on the road, but it was the best handling and, at £8495, it was the most expensive (until the £12,700 OW01 floored it a year later). Exact numbers are hard to pin down, but Honda built around 5000 RC30s, and just over 500 came to the UK.
On track, the RC cleaned up, winning multiple club, national, international, endurance, road and track races. It’s a true classic with a price tag to match.
Honda RVF750 RC45
Within 12 months of the launch of the RC30, Honda started work on its successor, with a different team of engineers. The RC45 was more refinement than radical – bores widened and stroke shortened for more revs, larger valves, fuel injection arrived, and cam gear drive shifted from the centre to the right of the motor to save space. The gearbox kept the same ratios but pulled a taller final drive for an 80mph first gear. The chassis used a similar, beefed-up frame with uprated suspension, braking and tyre tech. Power went up, but so did weight.
So the RC45 is seen as less ‘pure racing’ than the RC30. But with a 25% WSB win-to-race ratio (34 wins, 144 races), it’s more than twice as successful as the RC30 (although the RC30 won twice as many titles, two to one). But the RC45’s real home was the Isle Of Man TT, where its strengths – high speed stability, midrange flexibility and reliability – meant in the hands of Phil McCallen, Steve Hislop and Joey Dunlop it won most of the F1 and Senior races between 1994 and 1998.
In 1999 Jim Moodie took the seven-year-old outright lap record from a standing start. And, in endurance racing, the RC45 cleaned up where it mattered most: at Suzuka. The 45 won every year from 1994 to 1999, losing only once, in 1996.
Honda NSR750 RC40
If the RC30 was designed to win races, 1992’s NR750 was designed to prove to the world how Honda could convert the public failure of the NR500 GP project into the most prestigious and technically brilliant production motorcycle ever built. Costing close to £37,000 and with only around 300 produced, it was a kind of massive, corporate, engineering ‘so there’.
Like the 1979 NR500 GP bike and the subsequent 1985 NR750 endurance racer it spawned, the NR750’s chief technical talking points were its oval pistons, sitting atop twin titanium conrods, fed by eight valves per cylinder and fired by twin plugs (technically, the shape of the pistons is called a stadium – a rectangle with circular ends). In the GP bike, the layout was designed purely to circumnavigate rules that favoured two-strokes; solving the intractable problems that came with it – including how to make suitable piston rings – led directly to the development of a host of later technologies (including variable valve timing, slipper clutches, fuel injection, low-friction coatings, etc).
The NR also showcased styling elements, such as the endurance racing single-sided swingarm and GP-style underseat exhausts, that Massimo Tamburini admitted he appropriated for Ducati’s 916 (ironically, given future clashes in World Superbike).
Honda had been badgered to build a road-going version of their V5 and V4 MotoGP bikes since the series migrated from two-strokes 15 years ago – after all, road-based spin-off technology was the point of it all. And, despite protestations about the cost and complexity of putting a GP bike on the road, it was hard to imagine Honda would resist the temptation.
So when Casey Stoner put a V4 on top of the MotoGP championship for the first time in 2011 (Hayden won on a V5), and with Marc Marquez repeating the trick in 2013 and 2014, rumours began to spread that Honda were building something wicked for the road. The only question was would it be a watered-down version?
In the end the answer was a definitive ‘no’. Hand-built at their Kumamoto plant, the idea, Honda said, was to let customers experience MotoGP ‘fun’ (their words). Not many of them, though – numbers were limited to 213 (see what they did there?) – but in the end fewer than 100 made it to the road (or museum), thanks to the combined effects of earthquakes and Euro4.
The basic, 160bhp model cost £150,000, with an £8000 track-only race kit taking performance to over 215bhp. Spec-wise, the few changes included dropping the works bike’s pneumatic valve operation and seamless gearbox.