A Motorcycle to Stir My Soul

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August 29, 2011 | By: Jeff Liller

Chances are that if you’re reading this blog post, you’re deep into bikes. And as a person who is into bikes, you know as well as I that motorcycles move the body, but stir the soul. Each of us has a bike or bikes that do that for us.

There’s just something about the way it feels, looks, sounds or smells that gets the pulse racing and the synapses firing. Maybe it’s the bike you’re now riding that offers you the freedom you could never get from the family truckster. It could have been the bike you took you first ride on, hanging on for dear life. In the case of this particular installment, it was a bike that allowed me to witness a ride that challenged the absolute limits of traction and power against the best opponents in the world. A bike that was designed by one manufacturer for the sole purpose of beating another manufacturer at their own game. My soul stirring bike in this segment is the Honda RC51.

I had just joined the motorcycling community back in 2002, and I don’t think I even fully understood the purpose behind the design of the sportbike that I cut my teeth on. In fact, I knew almost nothing about motorcycle racing. What I did know is that these guys in their spacesuits were lunatics. One Tuesday evening, I turned on the TV and caught the final round of the World Superbike Championship from Imola, Italy. From that point on, my opinions of motorcycle racing and motorcycling in general would never be the same.

I didn’t know the riders, the track, the rules, or the bikes all that well. But as I watched Colin Edwards and Troy Bayliss pass each other in pursuit of first place on their respective Honda and Ducati, I couldn’t help but scoot to the edge of my seat. When the commentator explained that whoever crossed the finish line first would be the best Superbike rider in the world, I found myself cheering on fellow countryman Colin Edwards. When Edwards crossed the finish line on his Honda RC51, I felt like I had just won the race with him. That bike — the 2002 Castrol Honda RVT1000R RC51 was the most beautifully functional motorcycle I had ever seen.

Released in America in 2000, it was known as the RC51 RVT1000R SP-1. In Europe, it was the VTR1000 SP-1. Honda built the bike to de-throne Ducati with a variation of the sport V-Twin engine configuration that Ducati itself solely used. The displacement rules in the Superbike Championships allowed a 250cc displacement advantage for V-Twins over their inline- or V-four competitors. Ducati, with the release of the 916/996/998 series bikes, had been dominant in these championships with that displacement advantage and a string of extremely talented riders and tuners. Honda had been running a 750cc V-Four with some of its own exceptional riders. But even though Honda had taken a championship with the VFR750, it found itself struggling to keep up. The SP-1 won the World Superbike Championship its first year out. In 2001, the championship went back in Ducati’s hands, so Honda came back in 2002 with the SP-2 version of the RC51.

The white and black color scheme with silver wings that Colin ran was dressed in Castrol Oils Green and Red colors. In superbike trim, the bike had a trick-looking, aluminum swingarm, dual high-mount Akrapovic carbon fiber mufflers with titanium head- and mid-pipes. The massive Showa front forks, with Nissin 6-pot calipers clamping on 320mm rotors, gave it the  appearance of “all business.” It looked dead sexy — a machine made for battle, with every component functionally placed. The war song that those Akrapovic mufflers played when the throttle was wide open wasn’t heard with the ears but felt in the chest.

The specs sheets in stock form run down like this:

  • Engine: Liquid-cooled, four-stroke, 90-degree V-Twin cylinder, DOHC, four valves per cylinder
  • Capacity: 996cc
  • Bore x Stroke: 100 x 63.6 mm Compression Ratio 10.8:1
  • Induction: Electronic fuel injection
  • Ignition / Starting: Computer-controlled digital transistorized / electric
  • Max Power: 136 hp 100 KW @ 9500 rpm
  • Max Torque: 77.4 ft/lbs or 105 Nm @ 8000 rpm
  • Transmission / Drive: Six Speed / chain
  • Front Suspension: 43mm inverted cartridge-type fork with adjustable spring preload, and compression and rebound damping, 130mm axle travel
  • Rear Suspension: Pro-Link with gas-charged integrated remote reservoir damper offering adjustable preload, and compression and rebound damping, 120mm axle travel
  • Front Brakes: 2x 320mm discs four piston calipers
  • Rear Brakes: Single 220mm disc one piston caliper
  • Front Tire: 120/70 ZR17
  • Rear Tire: 190/50 ZR17
  • Seat Height: 32 inches
  • Dry Weight: 428 lbs
  • Fuel Capacity: 4.8 gallons (.6 gallon reserve)
  • Consumption average: 19.5 km/lit
  • Top Speed: 170 mph

The claimed factory Honda RC51 horsepower is said to be around 185 with significant weight reductions from stock. It’s also worth noting that the same year that Colin Edwards took the SP-2 to the World Superbike Championship, Nicky Hayden (2006 MotoGP World Champion) broke up a long run of championships for Suzuki Factory rider Mat Mladin in the AMA Superbike Championship. The RC51 was in production until 2006.

Watching Edwards take the Honda to victory made me want to understand the physics of riding a bike so that I could become a better, safer rider. The more I learned about how to be a better rider, the more I realized I needed to understand the mechanics behind the bike. With that knowledge, I knew exactly what limitations came with each motor layout, frame material or suspension adjustment. Understanding the mechanics meant education, which lead me to the beginning of my career path.

Not everybody can share my passion for this particular motorcycle, but it’s just one of those bikes for me. I’ve never owned one, but there are plenty of used examples in decent shape available for sale so, who knows? There may be some room made in the garage if somebody makes me an offer I can’t refuse. That’s my story and now it’s your turn. Which bikes move your soul?

Comments (7)

I learned to ride on a ducati ss, but was hooked on motorcycling when I rode the RC51. I have a number of bikes now, but always find myself saddling the RC. It’s just bonkers enough to be interesting. That being said I need to thin the heard to fund my RC51 powered sandrail. You say “make an offer you can’t refuse” eh?

Most definitely the 1974 Honda CB550 Four. Brilliant bike, it’s a bike my dad has owned for who knows how long and I grew up with, stock orange, has all of the qualities that make Hondas one of the top three motorcycle brands (this is opinion of course) and its the bike that here in a few weeks I’ll get my motorcycle endorsement on at 17. Also the biggest reason I’ve fallen in love with vintage everything.

the cc displacement you put down for the engine is wrong. it’s 999cc stock

This article really caught my attention. Primarily, for the same reason…and bike. I have been lucky enough to own two RC-51′s, the first year version in 2000, and a 2003. I put the first one on the racetrack for some club races and track days. The second one was strictly street-borne. I’ve owned a 2005 GSXR-1000, a 2007 Yamaha R1, an Aprilia RS250 (for my brief racing “career”) and a 2008 Ducati 1098S. With the exception of the Ducati, riding the RC-51 made every moment feel like I was at Monza or Laguna Seca riding by the “seat of my pants.’ It was a special feeling that the other bikes couild not even come close to replicating. It may have not been the fastest, when compared to the GSXR or the R!, but it was more about the fun than the straight-line speed. After two years I sold the GSXR, with only 800 miles on it, and the R1 after putting 3,000 miles on it. The RC-51 made me a virtual connoisseur of motorcycles that very few have been able to match in terms of soulful connection and emotion. Great article and to a great bike.

My first love was a Honda CBR; the first bike I learned to ride at the ripe age of 24 (I was a late bloomer).
Now 20 years later I have owned 3 CBRs (still have my 2003 CBR954RR – the only bike I have ever left stock) but have fallen in love all over again with my newest bike – a 2009 HD Softtail Rocker C.
I can’t say a particular bike moves my soul… it is the vehicle to that movement though – nothing beats riding… (well, almost nothing ;) .

It is my 06 Sportster. I love the way that bike moves & handles. I admire the honda’s & the riders but the Sportster is the one that moves me. Even the shortest of rides on that bike changes my entire day & attitude.

The Harley Sportster is my heart and soal moving machine. I to love watching AMA superbikes but am just a little to scared of road rash to mount one of those monsters and ride it with the talent that they deserve.

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