Honda RC51 First Ride
Riding Honda's exciting RC51 at Laguna Seca Raceway
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Shoei Contour RF-R Helmet $284.99
FirstGear Honda Race Jacket $499.95
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FirstGear Flightline Pant $377.49
FirstGear Honda Rain Jacket & Pant $69.95/$50.95
Tour Master RoboMax Glove $99.99
Action photos by Kevin Wing
What could be better than riding Honda's new CBR929RR at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway? Maybe, just maybe, riding the companies soon-to-be released and eagerly awaited RC51 V-twin sportbike at the legendary Laguna Seca Raceway in Monterey California.
Honda's CBR929 was developed primarily for street use, as opposed to the RC51 which was developed as a production based motorcycle to function as Honda's platform for future superbike racing efforts. In fact, Honda's racing personnel (HRC) played a large role in the development of the 441 pound (dry) RC51, a bike Honda claims is "destined to dominate Superbike racing the world over." Their involvement is apparent as you gaze upon the bikes design and features. The rolling chassis, complete with removable aluminum subframe, is designed to face the rigorous demands of racing with little or no modification.
So what's it like to ride?
Our chance to ride the RC51 came on a cold and wet morning. The track crew was doing their best to dry the track but with cold temperatures, dark threatening skies and earlier rain it would take more to dry the track than they could muster, so out we went.
The first thing we noticed about the RC is that it's very slim and small in size. Once fired, it revs quickly and with far more authority than Honda's own VTR 1000 (also on hand to ride). The engine produces a throaty note, mixing the tone of a V-twin with the wine of gear driven cams. The bike sounds very good in stock trim, one can only imagine how well it will sound with a performance exhaust mounted.
Here it now! (119K wav good quality, exiting turn 11)
Here it now! (240K wav better quality, exiting turn 11)
(please tell us if you can't play this Heck, tell us if you can play it.)
Engaging the clutch and getting under way on Laguna Seca's pit row demonstrated that even though the RC51 is a race bike in street clothing, it still carries Honda's exceptional refinement. It has a smooth and light clutch pull, slick shifting, and an overall feel of quality. Cracking the throttle proved there was a great deal of fun ahead, as the new V-twin puts out considerable power and torque. The RC runs like you'd expect from a V-twin, with good low-end and great mid-range. The twist here is that it runs even stronger up top where 75 pounds of torque kick in at 8,000 rpm and a claimed 126 bhp (crank) peak at 9,000 rpm, just shy of the 10,000 rpm redline. It seemed like a lot of journalist have been riding in-line fours recently, as they were bouncing off the rev limiter much of the day - something that's not necessary or even productive on the stock RC.
The RC51's 999cc DOHC eight-valve 90-degree V-twin engine was also designed to withstand the rigors of world class racing. It's fed cool air through the centrally mounted ram-air intake duct which actually routes pressurized air directly through the frames steering head to the 10-liter airbox fitted with two round paper elements. This allows greater breathing efficiencies and maximizes filter surface area. Fuel is fed by high pressure (50 psi) fuel injection through two injectors per cylinder with four nozzles each. The direct shim-under-bucket valve actuation system is good for high rpm durability and allows for 16,000 mile adjustment intervals.
Honda did a good job of adjusting the power output of the RC to be predictable and easy to use, though this is an inherent trait of a V-twin engine. The power is so well spread it could be a little deceiving on the street as you may find yourself going faster than you think. Riding tight roads ought to be a two gear proposition, leaving you to concentrate on your lines. If you're experienced at riding V-twins on the street, you may have found yourself turning on the gas early when exiting corners to build momentum. This won't quite be the case with the RC as it produces enough horsepower that you'll need to be on top of things if you simply nail the throttle early exiting tighter corners.
Laguna is a fast, power-robbing track. Allowing a stock motorcycle to be tested here is either ludicrous or a testimonial to a streetbike with exceptional power. The RC in stock form runs extremely well, not leaving you wishing for more power (well maybe Freddie felt different). Acceleration is strong and extremely crisp given the bikes fuel injection. The front end carries under hard acceleration and if you choose, it's easy to wheelie along the entire front straight. The bike even produces enough power to wheelie up the hill after turn five if you cheat and set up for it coming out of the turn.
Learning the wet and slippery track proved mentally tough for the rider but the Honda proved tractable, stable and precise as you carefully picked your way around the track. The only noticeable glitch was when you lugged the engine down to nothing and then tried to roll the throttle on in slow corners. This would produce surging as the engine didn't like to be lugged this low.
As things dried and speeds increased the RC proved extremely capable on the track. At slow speeds the steering feels light and quick, but as speeds increase the handling changes to controlled and precise. The RC proved very stable and rideable as we carefully negotiated the slick track. At slower than race speeds, the RC handled so well we were unable to detect any flaws what-so-ever in the bikes on-track performance.
The front brakes utilize dual full-floating 320mm discs grabbed by four piston calipers. The one finger front brake worked extremely well, and offered better feedback than Honda's own new CBR929. In addition, the rear of the 60 pound heavier RC51 doesn't tend to lift under hard braking and chatter nearly as much as on the CBR929. Part of this may be due to the differences in the two bikes suspension packages. Whereas the 929 has soft suspension and works mid-stroke (like most current Honda's) the RC has a stiffer suspension setup which you would anticipate to provide a better track experience.
The aggressive seating position of the RC feels perfect on the track, even for taller riders, though we can't tell you how it will fare on the street. The only complaint we had was that at times it was difficult to reposition our feet on the pags as we transitioned our body weight from side to side.
Since the RC51 will be ridden by most on the street, you'll find all the necessities. This includes Dunlop D207 tires which based on our track experiences, should prove excellent. Specifically designed for the RC51, the OEM Dunlop D207 was derived from the exceptional Dunlop D207 GP tire. For instruments, you'll find a small light-weight panel housing an LCD speedometer and tach. There's also a low fuel light, odometer, trip meter and temperature gauge. Switching from a standard to metric speed readout is simply done by the push of a button or two.
The bike comes with both the rear cowl cover and the passenger seat pod. There is a small storage compartment under the rear seat area, similar to the new CBR929. The steering lock is separate from the ignition switch which may offer a small bit of additional security when parked. When purchasing fuel you'll have to remember this bike calls for premium only.
There simply isn't anything but superlatives to report about the RC51. Well, there is one thing - you can't buy one. Unless you have already plunked down a deposit with your local Honda dealer, and reside upon the very top of his or her waiting list, there won't be enough RC51s made this year. Dealers have ordered many times more units than will be manufactured for 2000. As a result, many dealers are already selling the bike at a premium above the suggested retail price.
If you've got to have one, and we don't blame you, you'd better start calling every obscure small town Honda dealer you can find. If you're lucky enough to find one, even at a premium, it will be well worth it. We only hope Honda made enough RC45s to provide us with one to test on the street.
Editors note: Honda will be selling race kits for the RC51. At the time of our ride no final decision had been made by Honda regarding the kits contents or pricing.
Someone's got to do it!
Attending Honda's RC51 Press Introduction
It started with a tech briefing covering the RC51, where I learned more about the bike than I could retain. This was followed by a dinner topped off with interviews with the likes of Bubba Shobert (a crack up), Miguel Duhamel (healed and ready), up-and-comer Curtis Roberts (driven to win), and the legendary Freddie Spencer (insightful).
The day of our ride began with course instruction from none other than Freddie Spencer and a team of extremely talented riders. This orientation concluded with additional track instruction while driving the track in one of three vans. Our on-track orientation concluded with Freddie putting the full size Ford van sideways in wet turn 9 with none less than 10 passengers aboard, all of whom may have been picturing the results if and when the tire spit off the rim. This brief van ride produced more fear, by far, than anything I experienced all day on the track.
Next came the riding itself, only someone must have goofed, placing me in group one with the fastest riders. This meant we would go out first, kind of acting as guenny pigs on the slick wet track. At the end of our first session things were beginning to dry, leaving things much better for those who would follow.
As the track continued to dry, the fun factor on the RC51 increased substantially. Wheeling down the front straight was a blast, and rolling on the V-twin power between corners and up the hill just felt good. Not thinking things could get better, we then switched from the specially developed stock Dunlop D207 tires to the more sticky D207 GP tires. We didn't get much time on these tires but their additional traction was readily apparent.
Watching a much faster rider lay down a beautiful yellow VTR 1000 right in front of me was a little disconcerting, but there was no harm to the rider and little to the bike. Then it happened, the rain returned and we were called in just as things were really starting to click for me and the Dunlop GPs. Not to worry, Dunlop and Honda were kind enough to bring rain tires along. All tires were switched over and out we went in the rain. The track was slick so speeds decreased considerably, but the Dunlop rain tires were remarkable and showed nearly no wear when we finished riding.
After a successful day on the track, defined by me to mean no crashes, the riding came to an end which is always a letdown. Back at the hotel it was time for a hot shower, drying some riding gear and preparing for the closing dinner. Dinner was great, but the conversations with fellow riders were the best of all.
Most of what I experienced over two days with Honda can't be had at any price. While writing this I realized that every one of you can, however, experience the camaraderie, friendship and story swapping, as I did, with your friends and fellow riders.
To quote Martha, "It's a good thing."
Complete RC51 Model Information
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