The new millennium was a big occasion around the world. While some were worried the world’s computers would revert back to 1900 once Y2K struck, in the moto world, there was much buzz in the world of racing. Ducati were owning World Superbike with the 996, and Honda wanted a piece of the pie. Since the rules allowed liter-class twins to compete with 750cc fours, after a moderately successful run with the ultra exclusive RC-30 and RC-45, Honda adopted the “if you can’t beat’em, join’em” mantra, and Soichiro’s boys set out to create a Ducati-beating V-Twin. The result? The RC-51. With retrospect on our side, we now know how special this bike became in the hands of Colin Edwards. In this week’s Church of MO, we take you back to 2000, and our first ride review of Honda’s Ducati killer.
First Ride: 2000 Honda RC-51
A Terror of a Twin to Tame the Tracks (and other alliterative devices)
By MO Staff Apr. 20, 2000
Monterey Bay, CA, February 29, 2000 — The air had the sort of crispness that can only come from a seaside locale after a furious winter storm. The smells of the damp, green foliage on the side of track were heightened by the cold air carrying the fragrance into our sinuses. The rain beaded up on our face shield when the wind speed became too great for the water droplets to hold on. Hard on the throttle with the front wheel barely in touch with the wet track, the gear-driven V-twin howled just beneath us; cresting a blind rise as the tarmac disappeared into the clouds before turning sharply left while dropping away, leaving the bike and rider weightless in a cloud of sensory overload …Could it get any more beautiful? The location: Monterey, California. The track: Laguna Seca. We were riding Honda’s new RC51, coming up the hill out of turn six, heading towards the infamous Corkscrew.
2000 Honda RC51 action
Laguna was ground-zero for the press launch of the bike that Honda designed to be the platform for its race bikes in both AMA Superbike races as well as the World Superbike series. No amount of rain or cold ocean winds would stop us from riding such a significant motorcycle on such a significant track.
“This new RC51, although it is a twin, has nothing to do with the old VTR 996 Superhawk.” While talking about the obvious comparisons between the RC51 and the VTR 996, Doug Toland, Honda’s development rider and media liason, warned us not to broach this topic. “Don’t even go there.”
Like most well-bred things, the RC51 looks even better naked. Even so, Toland couldn’t get past a single part of the RC51 without making reference to a similar part on the Superhawk. Only the countershaft sprocket, valve tappet shims and valve seals are the same; everything else is new. While that’s something with which to be proud, the RC51 is 18 pounds heavier than the VTR and 60 pounds heavier than a 929. Honda expects us to believe this is a good thing?
Well, yes. It is when the entire chassis weighs 53 pounds more than the VTR because of the amount of rigidity needed to handle the 126 horsepower and 75 foot-pounds of torque that the new 90-degree, 999cc V-twin motor produces. A major contributor to the increased weight is the new frame that weighs 8.5 pounds more than VTR’s. The swingarm is also 3.6 pounds heavier because it is wider and has been strengthened to cope with the additional stress that higher cornering loads place on the chassis.
2000 Honda RC51 engine
There’s something special about a 90-degree V-twin with “HRC” stamped on the cases. While the chassis may weigh more than the VTR’s, the RC51’s motor weighs nine pounds less. And because of the narrow-crank design, the RC51 is one of the most aerodynamic bikes Honda has ever produced, second only to the NC30, a 400cc, V-four. Because of superior aerodynamics, the RC51 is able to achieve the same 170 mph top-speed as the CBR929RR, despite a 24 horsepower deficit.
A lot of “show” material is used on this bike, but so is a lot of “go” material. There are six sensors connected to the engine management system: Ram-air pressure, intake manifold pressure, atmospheric temperature, water temperature, throttle position and engine RPM. Muffler capacity on the RC51 has been increased from 4.5 liters to 5.3 liters to make sure that the high-revving V-twin breathes properly.
So you just took delivery of your brand new RC51 and it’s already pretty exclusive, but the stares you receive from various onlookers just aren’t enough for you still? Or maybe you’re not into posing and, instead find yourself at a racetrack every other weekend needing a sharper edge with which to chase the competition around? There’s only one answer, then: HRC’s Racing Parts Kit.
There have been rumors circulating as to the contents and price of this kit, but Honda assures us that no kit has been finalized as of yet. HGA (Honda Japan) has provided HRC with a list of components available for the kit. It’s now up to HRC to decide which parts they are going to offer. Criterion for a part to make it into the official kit? It has to make a real-world difference in performance and not raise the cost so much that it puts the kit out of reach for the general consumer. Honda wants it bikes to win (on the tracks and salesroom floors) and doesn’t want to price itself out of contention. Stay posted. We’ll provide an official parts kit list, with prices and specs, as soon as HRC is done with the picking and choosing.
Like the engine management system, Honda transferred a significant amount of racetrack tricks over to the new RC51. The linkage ratio on the rear suspension is similar to that of an RC45 works bike. The seat-center-to-steering-stem-distance is almost equal to that of an NSR500 in order to keep the rider’s weight up front to aid in improving front tire traction as well as for better rider feedback. The seat height is also up 5mm from the VTR to help put more weight on the rider’s wrists and the front tire.
Honda put a great deal of thought into the RC51’s image for the enthusiast who wants a bike that is not only capable of rapid travel but one that looks racy as well. The rear shock is anodized just like the factory racebikes and “HRC” is lettered on both left and right side engine case covers. In addition to the external compression adjusters on the forks and the piggy-back rear shock, a few Showa stickers have been placed on the bike for that fresh-from-the-paddock feel. HRC-style six spoke rims go a long way towards making its racing image come together.
The RC51 Experience
2000 Honda RC51 project director
RC51 Large Project Leader, Naoyuki Saito, standing beside his creation.
As we suited up in our leathers we wondered just how much dry track time we would actually see. We feared that the intro would be less of an evaluation and more of a well-organized chit-chat session with nothing more than, “boy, don’t she look pretty” comments instead of questions to Honda’s engineers regarding various handling traits.
For the start of the first track session, we decided to learn the layout of the still-wet track on one of the VTRs that Honda brought for comparison. This would allow us a better basis from which to judge the new RC51.
As we burned a few laps and the track began to dry, the speeds increased and it became clear that the new RC51 was far better suited to track duty than the Superhawk. Where the Superhawk felt a bit vague and moved around on its haunches, the RC51 looked planted and unfazed by any sort of mid-corner correction made to avoid damp spots on the track. After only a few laps, the VTR’s foot pegs started gnawing into the track surface while we tried to keep pace with the New Twin. Not only did the VTR drag parts mid-corner, but while going up the hill after turn five and hitting the rev-limiter before grabbing fourth gear, we discovered there was simply no way we could keep pace with the RC51. The new twin made faster progress up the power-robbing incline, putting it a solid ten bike lengths ahead at the next corner.
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