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Honda RC51 Press Intro – Day Two


Editor Dirck Edge Exiting Turn Two at Laguna Seca on the RC51

Well, we were successfully dodging a “bullet” called rain here in Monterey, California until the skies burst open at 2:30 PM. I have had limited time on the RC51 for three reasons. First of all, the rain. Second, with only 7 bikes to go around, I rode the 2000 VTR1000 Super Hawk for most of the first session this morning. Third, 5 laps into my second session (aboard the RC51) I lowsided coming out of Turn 2.

I’ll take responsibility for the lowside crash. My lean angle was too severe for the cold and somewhat damp track. The RC51, meanwhile, is a precision instrument that, in my limited experience, is hard to fault.


Power Comparison – VTR1000
Super Hawk vs RC51

The motor is extremely potent for a 999cc V-Twin. Although the power delivery is smooth, and, like most V-Twins, the acceleration is deceptive, the bike really moves out. This fact was underscored when I rode the VTR1000 Super Hawk. The Super Hawk is no slouch in the acceleration department, but the RC51 is much stronger from bottom to top.

Not surprisingly, the RC51 steers very precisely. Last night, at the tech presentation, Honda stressed the efforts made to build a very stiff chassis (far stiffer than the Super Hawk). Indeed, the dry weight of the RC51 (441 pounds) is 18 pounds heavier than the Super Hawk. The RC51 chassis is 53 pounds heavier than the Super Hawk chassis. This is primarily due to the extra rigidity built into the frame, swingarm, and front suspension (featuring 43mm, inverted Showa forks).

The steering precision must also result from the chassis geometry, which has been carefully developed by Honda. The RC51 goes exactly where you want it to go. Don’t take my word for it, just ask Colin Edwards.

At the speeds you (as opposed to superbike stars like Colin Edwards and Miguel DuHamel) are likely to ride on this bike, you will never tax the chassis. It feels completely unflappable.

Although we will not be sampling the RC51 on the street during this test, it is clear from riding it on the track that you will do less shifting on this bike than, perhaps, any streetbike you have ever owned. You can accelerate quickly with the tach indicating anything between 2000 rpm and redline. For example, select a gear which gives you approximately 20mph at 2000 rpm, and you can take that gear to 100mph with no problem.

Given the somewhat damp nature of the track, I did not brake as late for corners as I might have, so I didn’t test the brakes to their limits. Nevertheless, I frequently braked far harder than I normally would during a street ride, and the brakes were strong and progressive.

Like many of Honda’s new designs, the RC51 has a very refined feel. All of the controls (including brakes, clutch, throttle, etc.) function smoothly and predictably, despite a surge when applying the throttle at very low rpm (which I doubt would be a significant concern in day to day riding).

The RC51 comes with Dunlop D207s, reformulated specifically for Honda’s OEM application on this bike. The RC51′s OEM D207s, according to a Dunlop representative present here at the track, provide increased grip over the standard D207 tire. Although feedback was generally good from both the front and rear tire, it did not reach the superb level of feel and feedback I experienced riding Honda’s CBR929RR last month at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The CBR929RR wore Michelin Pilot Sport tires, rather than Dunlops.

The California model features different fuel injection mapping, according to Honda, but provides the same peak horsepower and torque as bikes sold outside of California. Honda’s figures are 126 bhp @ 9000 rpm and 75 lb/ft @ 8000 rpm. When riding the bike, it is obvious that the torque curve is very flat and broad. Honda claims a top speed of 170 mph, due largely to superb aerodynamics. The RC51 is the most aerodynamic street motorcycle ever manufactured by Honda with one exception – the Japan-only NC30 400cc V-4.

The US model RC51 carries several design cues of its racing heritage, including gold-anodized upper fork tubes, red “Showa” lettering on the forks and shock, and the initials of HRC on both sides of the engine cases.

Back to the handling of the RC51. It does change direction far easier than its dry weight would indicate. There is a scientific reason for this, namely, the narrowness of the V-Twin crank, which minimizes the gyroscopic effects of the turning crank. This is why V-Twins will inherently turn more nimbly than an inline four-cylinder bike of the same weight. So don’t worry too much about the dry weight of the RC51.

As a Honda executive stated last evening, the RC51 reflects Honda’s decision that, under current rules, a 1000cc V-Twin is the “best package” for superbike racing. According to statements by Castrol Honda’s Colin Edwards, and American Honda’s Miguel DuHamel (who was literally shocked at the lap times he turned on the RC51 at Daytona earlier this year with virtually zero setup), the RC51 is one of the best handling sportbikes (or racebikes, for that matter) ever available. The street-legal version, not surprisingly, is an outstanding motorcycle for it’s intended purpose. More comments tomorrow.