RC51 Test



2001 HONDA RC51 - MN Road Test

Model Details/Photos | Specifications | Laguna Seca Track Ride

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OK, lets get something straight. The RC51 was not designed for you or I. It was designed solely for riders like Miguel Duhamel and Nicky Hayden to go out and win championships on. This bike was built as a platform, one which would be easier to build a world caliber race bike from.

Trick pieces abound as Honda started with a 999cc DOHC, eight-valve liquid-cooled 90 degree V-twin pumping out a claimed 75 lbs. of torque at 8,000 RPM and 126 hp horsepower at 9,000 RPM. The ram-air intake is pressurized directly through the frames steering head leading to a 10 liter airbox. 40mm intake valves are used; exhaust valves are 34mm with a 24 degree included valve angle. Direct shim-under-bucket valve actuation is used to insure high-rpm durability and provide for 16,000 mile valve adjustment intervals. Camshafts are gear-driven; engine redline is 10 grand.

Fuel is delivered through high-pressure programmed fuel injection at 50 psi. There are two injectors per cylinder mounted in 54mm throttle bodies. Iridium plugs provide the spark for ignition. Power is transferred through a compact seven-plate clutch and passed on to a six-speed gearbox. Final drive is through a 530 chain drive.

The new twin-spar extruded aluminum frame weighs in at 25.8 pounds with a swingarm pivot running through both the chassis and the engine crankcase. The swingarm itself is tapered and box-sectioned for exceptional lateral as well as torsional rigidity. The 43mm inverted cartridge forks feature adjustable preload as well as both rebound and compression damping adjusters. The rear shock is also fully adjustable. 

The RC utilizes a 3.5 x 17 inch front wheel and a 6.0 x 17 inch aluminum-alloy spoked rear. Mounted to the front are 320mm floating discs squeezed by four-piston calipers. Out back there's a 220mm disc pinched by a single-piston rear caliper.

With all these great pieces don't get your hopes up thinking this has got to be the greatest street bike to ever come down the pike, because in terms of sport bikes, this one wasn't necessarily meant for the street. We first sampled the exciting RC51 at Honda's memorable press introduction at the legendary Laguna Seca track in Monterey California. It was wet and cold, what could be better for testing a track worthy V-twin? We rode on both stock rubber as well as some incredibly sticky rain slicks. We learned is this is one incredibly capable out-of-the-crate track bike - but we had no opportunity to ride the bike on the street.

Well a year or so had passed and many articles had been published. Repeated comments on how terrible a street bike the RC51 made abounded. It finally came to a point where we had to learn for ourselves, just how good, or bad, the RC51 is for the street use.

Our Findings
Simply stated, if your going to ride this bike to the store, around town or commute to work - forget it. This isn't the bike for you - even if you think it is. If most of your straight-line riding is done to get to your favorite twisties, your in luck. 

The RC51's engine produces a lot of power though it never feels intimidating or uncontrollable. Power delivery is not linear, as the RC starts running at about 4 grand, hits a sweet spot at 5, falls off a bit and then hits surprisingly strong at 7,000 rpm. This forces you to ride your favorite back roads in the 5 to 6 grand range or wail the engine above 7 grand. We found the first of the two options more to our liking, and far more enjoyable. Red line is 10,000 rpm, the rev limiter hits at 10,500. We found the RCs fuel injection lacking a bit in compensating for elevations above 5,000 feet, as the bike would sometimes stumble upon rolling the throttle back on exiting corners while being ridden aggressively.

The brakes on the RC are simply wonderful, though they admittedly require more lever pressure than with some bikes. They work fantastic for normal sport riding as well as when going for broke in really fast conditions. We have never experienced brakes that make this transition as well as those on the RC51. To this day we still miss the power and feedback provided by the RCs brakes. The RC has a slight tendency to stand up under braking in corners, a trait only noticeable when going slow.

One of the interesting things about the RC is that it takes some getting used to in daily street use. Opinions on most street bikes usually come pretty fast, but the RC kept proving itself different. The extremely tall gearing, not quite linear power delivery, skimpy seat and low bars leave you wondering just how well this racer will take to the street. Sometimes you find yourself saying "you've got to be kidding", other times you're left thinking "that wasn't so bad". 

Three of our spoiled test riders, who never had to live with the bike in and around town were handed this precious hardware while in the midst of riding California's incredible Pacific Coast Highway. The results was that all three were ready to write a check on the spot - once we finally got them pull over.

And this kind of sums up the RC, the faster you ride it, and the harder you push it, the more you want one. If you mostly putt around town you don't want an RC51, or deserve one for that matter. If you enjoy going out for weekend sport rides or simply enjoy different types of riding with your buddies, this may still not be the bike for you as it's far from comfortable to ride. The are numerous 600s and liter class bikes to fulfill your needs, and provide you greater enjoyment. If you happen to be and avid and very serious (in terms of commitment not speed) sport rider, the RC will leave you scratching your head while uttering "Wow".

After spending considerable time riding the bike around town, to the mountains and across some of the most boring southern California roads to get to California's exciting central coast, we found the bike tolerable, though just barely. The seat gets to you in about an hour or two, then the knee bend sets in, then the weight placed on the bars takes it toll. From there, things don't get terribly bad, you just find yourself thinking of the legendary seat of Yamaha's old FJ1200 more than you'd like. Over time some of us found different seating positions to partially eliminate the discomfort.

Something we never got used to or quite understood was Honda's choice of overall gearing for street use. The spacing between gears is excellent, but the overall gearing is a joke for street use. At 70 or 80 mph it's better to ride the bike in 5th, as it uncomfortably lopes along in 6th. Any slower, and the bike will shutter along. 1st gear is good for 70mph or so, second takes you well beyond the speeds you need on the street. This means most of your favorite corners will see 1st or 2nd gear. This is admittedly the same as with other current liter class sport bikes. The difference here is that the RC is far more controllable in first gear, unlike large in-line fours. When you wick it up, as you would on the track, the gearing works nicely.

We couldn't resist running the bike against our resident Hayabusa. With a rolling start at about 40mph (1st gear) the RC pretty much hung with the busa until about 129mph. At that point the big Suzuki was rolling out in third and flew by like a booster rocket had been fired. It's important to note the RC is fast. Not rocket ship fast like an R1, but in a power to the ground, lets go now fashion. Sometimes the speed is deceptive as the front wheel doesn't leap to the sky as the rear wheel spins enthusiastically. Instead, the RC just puts power to the ground and moves forward. After 1,500 miles on the odometer, and a good ringing out, the 51 seemed to get markedly faster and a bit smoother.

The RC isn't just about tractable V-twin power. When someone stepped off the machine for the first time, as many of our riders did on the California coast, their first words were usually about how impeccably solid the chassis was - and it is. Remember what we said about this being a factory racing platform? Honda purposely overbuilt the chassis and swingarm, as well as other components, for racing applications. It's virtually impossible to push this bike beyond it chassis limitations on the street. It always feels rock solid, flex free, stable and predictable. (Editors note: We've heard some riders say their RC doesn't work or handle very well. It's important to remember that proper suspension setup is essential to get the most out of the RC51. If you're having problems, go back to the stock settings and try again.

The highly capable suspension is stiff and jars you on the street. As our bike was delivered, it worked well at speeds but jarred us when not on the gas. This also translated to the bike launching itself into the air when accelerating hard over sharp edged street obstacles like raised expansion joints. We continuously softened the suspension to see if we could obtain a less harsh street ride while not sacrificing much in the way of high speed abilities. The results were good, as we got a much smoother ride out of the RC and with little compromise for fast street riding.

Steering on the RC is surprisingly slow, and requires a good amount of rider input. This takes some getting used to, but once accomplished you're rewarded with very precise and stable steering. Though the steering feels slow, you can always put the bike exactly where you want it and it won't budge from that line unless you instruct it to so. Ride the bike enough, and you forget how heavy the steering feels until you jump on another bike. 

It's really hard to say enough good things about the RC51's "at speed" capabilities. With it's precise steering, planted footprint and un-intimidating, yet aggressive power delivery it's easy to ride fast. There's far less shifting and braking required as the V-Twin engine does much of this for you. You're left with more time to focus on choosing and hitting superior entry and exit lines, not to mention you can roll on the throttle much earlier than with most powerful sportbikes. The bikes impeccable stability leaves you without much worry, even on back roads covered with some rocks or gravel in the corners.

- then they'd suddenly be gone, in sport bike nirvana, pulling away and disappearing -

We watched our testers put in a few spirited miles getting a feel for the bike and then they'd suddenly be gone, in sportbike nirvana, pulling away and disappearing. Only when the thought of a pissed off boss entered their mind would they finally pull over and relinquish their mount to another rider. If left unchecked, they'd probably travel from San Simeon to Monterey without stopping for the rest of us. The RC51 is certainly for discriminating riders, ones who appreciate and are willing to sacrifice comfort for cutting edge competency. you'll have to determine what works for you, but we have three test riders who want an RC as their second mount.

Honda: 2001 RC51
Quick Specs: Ratings:  Poor Fair Good V/Good Excellent
Displacement: 999cc, DOHC,
90 degree V-twin
Acceleration               8.5    
Drive:  #530 chain Brakes                 9.5  
Fuel Capacity: 4.75 Gal. (.9 reserve) Carburetion (FI)             7      
Fuel Mileage:  mpg Comfort (overall)         5          
Fuel Range:   miles Comfort (touring)     3              
Susp. Front: 43 Inverted cartridge fork - fully adjustable Finish (quality)                 9  
Susp. Back: Pro-Link single shock - fully adjustable Handling (overall)                 9.5  
Tire Front: 120/70ZR - 17" Radial Stability (handling)                   10
Tire Back: 190/50ZR - 17" Radial Suspension (overall)                 9-  
Weight:   432lbs. (claimed/dry)

Fun Factor

Retail (US): $9,999

Overall Rating



Ups Downs  
At speed, this bike is at one with the rider Suspension is harsh, we backed
everything off for the street
Incredible rigidity, but with good
feel for the blacktop
Gearing for the moon, too tall for street use
The best street or go fast 
brakes we've encountered (2000)
The racer bar bend
Incredibly precise steering Steering feels slow and heavy
Incredible rider control in corners Cramped lay-down seating
V-twin deceleration, far less braking required Give us mirrors we can use - please!
Allows you to choose far better
lines into and out of corners
The seat, what seat?

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