Test Ride: Honda RC51

Words: Rob Harris/Larry Tate/Scot Magnish
INTRODUCTION – By Editor ‘arris

Photo credit: John Florey/Honda Canada

The RC’s 999cc four stroke, 90 degree, v-twin motor comes with fuel injection and ram air to produce a claimed 130bhp @ 9,500rpm, with a max torque of 71 lb.ft. at 7,000rpm, in stock form. The PGM-FI fuel injection utilises two injectors per cylinder with the ram air passing directly through the frames steering head. Camshafts are driven by a gear train off the crankshaft.

The twin spar extruded aluminium frame uses a combined swing arm pivot that uses both engine and frame mounted pivot points. Total frame weight is 25.8 lbs, to give an overall dry weight of 432lbs. (up 4lbs on the VTR). Front forks are the same as fitted to the new Blade – 43mm inverted types.

The RC51 is the basis for Honda’s new Superbike racing platform, with Honda offering three HRC racing kit upgrades for the engine and suspension. Jordan Szoke and Steve Crevier are slated to be racing the RC this year and if you want a piece of the action, good luck – apparently most, if not all, of the 300 RC51’s slated for Canada are already spoken for.

For detailed spec, see info we published in ’99 when the model was originally announced.

Following we have Messers Tate and Magnish with a quick impression of the bike. My comments are missing because we were originally told that the RC was subject to an embargo till March. Sod that I thought, we’ll hjust do a full test in the Spring, and I didn’t give it any attention, focusing on the Blade and Sabre instead. Well, the embargo’s been removed and I’ve been caught with my pants down, yet again. There’s also a bit of a wind chill, which explains the small size, but that’s not important right now.


Larry Tate

Honda’s new RC51 V-twin superbike is clearly just that – a Superbike. That is, it was designed as a racer, and has been “dumbed-down” for street use in order to get homologated for racing purposes. That being said, what’s it like to ride?

Sort of scary, as it happens. The thing is compact and stuffed; mechanically, there’s very little room inside thanks to the extremely tight packaging. Sitting on it, the RC51 feels tiny; compared to any other big displacement V-twin – including Honda’s own VTR1000, either of Suzuki’s TL twins, or even Ducati’s legendary 996 – it’s narrow and feels almost ephemeral when you’re straddling it.

That may sound contradictory in view of what I just said about all that equipment being jammed into a small space, but it simply doesn’t feel BIG. Sitting on it, there’s almost nothing in front of your face; it feels like sitting on an RS or TZ 250 cc GP bike. Your ass is way up in the air, the bars are low, the pegs are seriously high (the “hero blobs” are almost three inches long!), and when you get settled in place you’re wrapped around and in the bike in a way usually familiar only to those who race GP machines.

Having said all that, the bike is as easy to ride as you’d expect from a Honda in terms of control lightness and so forth. Riding away for the first time, it feels more like a street bike in terms of clutch and throttle pull. But the first time you whack the throttle wide open after a lap or two (I never rode it on the street, although I had the chance. Seemed there was no point…) the beast awakens.

We had 929s to ride the same day; fearsomely fast motorcycles with astonishing power and handling ability. I’m sure the RC51 will be ultimately faster – in fact, 1998 Canadian superbike champ Jordan Szoke was on hand and was going fearsomely quickly on the RC51 at one point – but it was easier for all the non-racers (and even one of the racers) to feel faster on the 929.

My reactions other than respect, awe, and a knowledge that I should be riding something else? The thing is surgically brutal, and does exactly what you tell it…where a really good street bike will have good habits built into it, as it were, to counteract a ham-handed rider’s errors, the RC51 is built to translate the instructions of an excellent rider directly into the pavement. And if you get it wrong, God help you, because the bike is only going to do what you tell it.

Race Kit anybody?

Not that it’s scary in what it does, far from it – it’s just the potential that’s awesome. I came onto the front straight at Roebling Road faster than I could on the 929, and the fearsome little dip that shook the 929’s head a bit might as well not even have been there. I carried more speed into the braking area at the end of the straight and still braked later without drama. I could whack the throttle open at ridiculous lean angles and the little bugger just shot out with a bit of wheelspin… Absolutely awesome.

I was impressed, I believe it’ll be a great race bike – but I don’t want one. Jordan and Steve Crevier and guys like that can use the thing the way it was designed, but I can’t, and by a margin so big there’s no point in even thinking about it.

Wonderful device – but experts or collectors only, please.

 


Scot Magnish

Photo credit: John Florey/Honda Canada

I wasn’t thinking about the claimed 130 horsepower as I rocketted towards the end of Roebling Road’s straight-away aboard Honda’s new RC-51. And the 71 ft-lbs of torque the 999 cc twin supposedly cranks out was similarly out of mind as the corner loomed into view.

No, I was thinking about brakes as I headed into the long, sweeping right-hander, and whether the RVT1000R could deliver the stopping power I was going to be looking for in a milisecond or two. Of course it did; a two-finger tap on the lever was akin to throwing out a boat anchor and the action sent me sailing over the gas tank. Luckily the bike’s throttle is equally sensitive; a twist in the right direction slammed me back into the seat and both man and machine were heeled over and headed into the next corner in the blink of an eye.

 

This, my friends, is life on the RC-51. In my brief time in the saddle of this race-bred twin, there were only two speeds I could find; stop and go.

Blame it on the high-pressure fuel injection system or the ram air system; the gear-driven cams, the composite-coated cylinders or the anti-friction coating on the pistons. This bike is crazy fast and I, for one, don’t think I could ride it on the street for more than a week or two without loosing some serious points. It’s a thoroughbred; a race bike with headlights, a point-and-shoot weapon with a seat thrown in for good measure.

The VTR is yesterday’s mashed potatoes compared to this machine.

I want one – and you will, too, if you can get your hands on and RC-51 long enough to take it for a test ride.

BikeHonda RC51 (RVT1000R)
MSL$15,299
Displacement999 cc
Engine typeLiquid-cooled DOHC four-stroke 90 degree v-twin
CarburetionPGM-FI with two injectors per cylinder
Final driveSix-speed, chain final drive
Tires, front120/70 ZR17
Tires, rear190/50 ZR17
Brakes, fronttwin 320 mm disc with four-piston caliper
Brakes, rearsingle 220 mm disc with single piston caliper
Seat height813 mm
Wheelbase1,409 mm
Dry weight196.5 kg (432lbs) (claimed)
Canadian coloursRed/Metallic Silver

CREDITS DUE ….

More of Master Tate’s comments on the RC51 and on the rest of Honda’s 2000 line-up will soon be available in Inside Motorcycles. If you want to know more about Inside Motorcycles or would like to get a subscription you can contact them at 416-962-7223 or email to greggo@inforamp.net.

Mr Magnish publishes a regular column in the Toronto Sunday Sun called Rider Source, which used to be published on CMG Online by permission from the author, but now ‘e’s gone a got ‘imself syndicated ain’t ‘e, so the future for CMG with Rider Source is looking bleak. Scot will be writing more on the new Hondas in upcoming editions of the Sunday Sun and ‘alf of North America’s newspapers. You can reach Scot by e-mail or by mailing him at the Toronto Sun, 333 King St. E., Toronto, Ont. M5A 3X5.

Join the conversation!