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Old 27th August 2011, 15:27   #1
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Default Special Bikes of the past: Part 2

Special Bikes: Part 2: Remembering the RC51 – a harbinger of success

This is almost an extension to the homologation specials of Part 1. The reason I focus on racing is the very premise that these bikes were built for – win today and sell tomorrow.

I must confess that I am not a fan of the RVT/VTR1000 (RC51.) But it was a key development from HRC to battle the Works Ducatis on a so-called level playing field. Before we get carried away with “the twins had an unfair advantage” rhetoric, let us not forget that the “exotic” RC45 did win the WSBK championship with John Kocinski well before they introduced this hot-rod. HRC took a decisive step to stop development on the RC45 and not experiment with their fire blade [then 929RR.]

The RC51 was a special machine in that it won the WSBK championship with Colin Edwards in its debut year in 2000.

Year 2000 world superbike season itself was very unusual. The season saw Gobert win on a Suzuki TL1000 powered Bimota SB8R at a wet Philip Island circuit. Suzuki did not even toy with the idea of unleashing a Superbike based on the TL-1000 and have always maintained their racing DNA in their GSXR 750 & 1000 line-up. Y2K was an ill-fated year for King Carl Fogarty who had his career ending crash at Philip Island. Ducati brought in Bayliss as a replacement mid-season and the rest is history. To top it off, Haga on the R7 could have had an impact had he not failed the dope test.

Edwards backed his success with a second title in 2002 on the RC51. It was an epic season long battle with Troy Bayliss on the Ducati 998R F02. I watched the Laguna Seca double-header, the second of which started the string of 9 wins for Edwards culminating in the WSBK title. I witnessed the best racing ever in WSBK history if not motorcycling history – I dare you challenge me after watching the 2002 WSBK finale at Imola – “Edwards-Bayliss Thriller.” I was shocked by HRC’s choice in Nicky Hayden in favor of Edwards as a team-mate to Rossi for their MotoGP squad – that is of course another discussion.

In the same year, Nicky Hayden had wrapped up the AMA superbike title aboard an RC51, beating the king of AMA, Matt Mladin. I watched the race at Sears Point when Nicky and his veteran team-mate Miguel Duhamel just ran away from the field. This is somewhat of an enigma to me since the RC51 was almost like a hot-rod motor squeezed into a racing chassis. Sears point being a highly technical circuit would favor the razor sharp handling R7, GSXR750 and the ZX7RR. Seated in the grandstand close to turn-1, it was amazing to hear the pair of hot-rods exit the carousel bend almost half a mile away while the pursuers had barely crossed the start finish.

Now, had Honda built a bike that was better than the factory Ducatis? I don’t believe so. Riders and fate had a lot to do with it. Edwards was riding like a man possessed. Bayliss just took too many risks when he had the championship on hand in 2002. In AMA however it was a different story. After Doug Polen era, twins had not won a superbike title. Lack of a championship caliber rider and limited support from Ducati in fielding a full-on factory team had a strong bearing on the outcome. Scott Russell was hired in 2001 by the HMC squad but his career ended with the horrific crash in the season opener at Daytona [It was the 200 miler event that Ducati never won] Subsequently, Anthony Gobert was hired with Vic Fasola as the crew chief but they just did not deliver. Former AMA champ Chandler tried his hand as well but he was way past his prime.

Now back to the RC. Building a twin was not new to Honda. They had the Hawk VTR1000F in their repertoire that featured a 90 degree twin. But morphing the hawk into a superbike would be too much to handle even for the engineering prowess of HRC. And hence they decided to build their Duck Killer from the ground up. With a price tag of around 10k USD for the road-going version, it was an attractive alternative for riders who preferred Honda reliability. In contrast, MSRP of the RC45 was 27k USD. Today, a good RC45 can still fetch 25k. A good RC51 can be had for 6k.

The RC51 simply lacked the beauty, exclusivity and the engineering feat of an RC30 or a 45. Aprilia had launched the RSV-Mille during this period. The mille employed a narrow-angle 60 degree V versus the 90 for the RC. The Mille had its share of success with Haga. Honda’s first model was launched as the SP1 in 2000 and subsequently they released the SP2 in 2002. The SP2 looked identical to the SP1 but had a lot of small changes across the chassis to make it lighter. Increase in power was not significant enough to emphasize. What stood out in my mind was the RC retained the positioning of the radiators on the side fairings like the Hawk. It looked very elegant. If my memory serves me right, the 750 Paso had the oil coolers positioned in the side fairings. The single air in-take was positioned between the headlights. It also featured a very unusual integrated LCD dash that a lot of owners complained about. The wide fuel tank looked disproportionate to the rest of its compact geometry. Its swing arm bore a vague semblance to the mighty NSR500 GP machine. The RC did retain the gear driven CAMs from its precursor. It was of course a mono-posto and had up-swept twin exhausts.

One of my friends, a founder of a track-club that runs track days in the West Coast owns a special RC51. This particular bike had tons of upgrades including full Ohlins, lighter wheels (may be PVM) and full exhaust system [Sato or Moriwaki]. He was the official video-grapher and his job required that he keep-up with the fast riders of the A-group. He blew past me on his thundering RC at Thunderhill!

Bear in mind the race versions of the RC51 had massive header pipes. I saw Nicky’s bike close up in the garage with the header pipes wrapped with heat shield and it looked like it may have been in excess of 70mm diameter. Just a data point, the road going Ducati 996 had a 45 mm header pipe.

Honda discontinued the RC in 2006. Was it a successor to the RC-45? Your call...

Both the RC30 and 45 need a closer look.

Pics: Nicky heads down the corkscrew on the RC, my friend on the Bimota SB8R, the RC
Attached Thumbnails
Special Bikes of the past: Part 2-nickycorkscrew.jpg  

Special Bikes of the past: Part 2-sbr8.jpg  

Special Bikes of the past: Part 2-rc.jpg  


Last edited by ksanjee : 27th August 2011 at 15:30.
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Old 27th August 2011, 16:12   #2
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Thumbs up Re: Special Bikes of the past: Part 2

This thread that you have started is very special, those are some great bikes that you have mentioned, maynot be the fastest bikes anymore but surely some of the most charismatic motorcycles ever made.

I used to own a RC51 here in Bangalore which I gave away recently in exchange for a TL1000S and I miss my RC51 very badly, just loved that bike, the boom from the after market Two brothers titanium exhaust overlaid by the whine of the gear driven cams and the intake road which was surprisingly loud was sheer aural pleasure.

As you can imagine a RC51 is a rare bike here in India, my bike was the only one that I had seen in India, though I have heard that there is a SP2 in Mumbai. How I wish V-twins were more popular in our country, a v twin on full song is a sight to see and hear..
wish I could have kept the RC51 along with the TL.

anyway glad that some one has started this thread to remember these legends of motorcycling....please keep them coming.
Bless WSBK.
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Old 27th August 2011, 20:35   #3
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Default Re: Special Bikes of the past: Part 2

chezhian350 -
Yes indeed the RC would be super rare in India let alone BLR. What made you trade this for a TL?

I would say the rider makes all the difference and not so much the bike unless you are a proferssional racer. I sat behind Reg Pridmore who won the world superbike championship a very long time ago. He was on his VFR at Sears Point. The guy is 60+ and was passing A Group riders with ease. His son Jason Pridmore takes it to another level.

Retired racer Randy Mamola on the 2-seater Desmosedici was doing high 1:40s at Laguna Seca with a pillion rider with only one warm-up lap.

Krishna
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Old 28th August 2011, 04:53   #4
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Default Re: Special Bikes of the past: Part 2

[quote=ksanjee;2484230]chezhian350 -
Yes indeed the RC would be super rare in India let alone BLR. What made you trade this for a TL?


Lets just say someones greed resulted in the bike having no clear import papers, hence was forced to give the bike away when this issue has became huge in recent times.

Luckily I managed to find a TL1000S to replace the RC as an in line four would have never filled the void.

Some pics of my ex RC51
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Special Bikes of the past: Part 2-img_1084.jpg  

Special Bikes of the past: Part 2-vtr2.jpg  

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Old 30th August 2011, 10:58   #5
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Default Re: Special Bikes of the past: Part 2

Krishna,
Needless to say you have me hooked to your threads. Very good informative material, would you be able to shed us more technical details and its capabilities? Also if possible can you maintain a single thread so that i can bookmark them for easy reference and do not need to search around for your inscriptions?

Chezian,
Sorry to hear that you had to sell/dispose because of lack of proper papers, wasn't there any way you could have set it right?
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Old 31st August 2011, 11:15   #6
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Default Re: Special Bikes of the past: Part 2

Either CW or MC or both assessed superbike capabilities with head-to-head contests. Willow Springs race way in southern California is a great venue since you have the stupid-fast big track and the tight and twisty streets of Willow. The testers would then do city riding to give a well rounded perspective.

I don't recall anything spectacular about the RC - 120+ HP, 75+ foot pounds of torque (or there abouts) with a healthy torque curve. Fully adjustable Showa front and rear..I believe it was good for a top speed of 170 MPH. I don't believe it was the lightest of the category but was the most affordable. I personally like that era because of the multitude of twins that competed - ducati, aprilia, honda and HD [although for a short time] - in WSBK we even had 3-cyl machines like the Benelli Tornado and Foggy Petronas bikes.

Krishna

Last edited by ksanjee : 31st August 2011 at 11:16.
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Old 31st August 2011, 15:23   #7
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Default Re: Special Bikes of the past: Part 2

there is nothing really spectacular about the RC51, just that the fact that it won WSBK championship first time out, though the RC51 in race trim was a completely different animal to the street version.

but the RC represents an important milestone in honda history. having finally beaten the all conquering ducati race bikes, the final battle between colin edwards and troy bayliss was legendary. I grew up watching these races hence when i got a chance to buy a piece of motorcycling history i just grabbed it. enjoyed every minute of owning the bike.

Though dare I say it, the TL1000 which I have replaced the RC51 with is way more fun to ride, keeps the rider on his toes with its interesting handling.
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