Sunday, February 3, 2008

Honda RC-51Review

The RC51 (SP-1 in Europe) and I nearly didn’t get off to a start at all. After filling in all the forms, and signing my life away at the Honda Press garage in LA, I got on, fired up the big V-twin and moved off (ever so slowly). It was a good job I did, as the floor of the facility is gray non-stick paint (that allows the bike to be easily wheeled around) but has the same effect on fresh tires (which is what I was on) as a mild oil slick. The bike weaved and waved all over the place and I very nearly ended up in the front door post. Ouch! That would have been the most uncomfortable 2.5 mph fall ever. Fortunately the Honda and I made it out of the garage and off we went to the nearest empty car park so that I could light up the rear tire and burn off some of that mildew.

I’ll be honest- I had approached the bike with some trepidation. The last Honda V-Twin I had rode was the Firestorm - VTR in London. I expected much and was sorely disappointed by the package. The new race/road machine promised much and had already received praise in the press and at the pub. The engine was over 90% new with aluminum/ceramic cylinders, a redesigned crankshaft with a central oil galley feeding the big ends, allowing a more efficient lower pressure oil pump and weight reduction. The PGM-F1 injection system has large 54mm throttle bodies with two injectors each with a four-jet nozzle. An electronically operated flap closes off the ram-air at low revs for better low and mid-range urge - a system that in LA traffic worked beautifully. In fact compared to the 929, the RC51 proved a much more willing and enjoyable companion when off the racetrack and on the “real world” highway. The inverted forks and responsive steering combined with the torquey V-twin allowing easy slow speed maneuvers. Once I was clear of the traffic, the open roads gave me chance to open up the throttle bodies, activate the ram -air, and let the red devil work in hills. With racing in mind Honda clearly spent a large amount of time stripping down the competition, IE the Ducati 996 SPS and Aprilia RSV-R. The resulting chassis development has been an incredible success both on the racetracks of the world and on the streets.

The aluminum frame features a hollow headstock to allow straight access for the ram-air inlet in the nose. You won’t find a pivot-less frame here either; Honda reckoned it wasn’t up to the pressures of racing. Instead you get a conventional, triple box-section, twin-spar job with a swingarm spindle. For the rear shock, the engineers have fitted a beefed up cast ally cross member under the swing arm pivot to reinforce the frame. With all this you get fully adjustable front and rear shocks with 130mm and 120mm of travel respectively.