With only 3,000 ever made, and with more than a few having died over the years since, you don’t see many around. Should you encounter one the first impression would be that you are looking at the baby of the family, the VFR400 “NC30”, such is the small stature of the 750cc machine. Once on the move the size shrinks yet again to feel more like a 250 two stroke albeit it a very well set up, extremely rapid and sharp handling one.
Words are simply not enough when it comes to describing the satisfaction of riding an RC30, even a bog standard version is a superbly balanced and very rapid machine that instantly conjures up images of Joey Dunlop flying over the TT mountain course with every ride. The experience is that of a finely tuned and fettled race bike simply because that is what it is, Honda created a pure race bike, hung lights off it and let us normal people buy one if we were lucky enough to get near the front of the queue. Priced around the £8,500 mark, although quite steep for the times, acquiring one wasn’t a money issue, more a waiting list one with the first batch being sold by lottery to keep things fair.
What Honda achieved was the very best of the Italian ethos demonstrated by small bespoke builders like Bimota where every part of a motorcycle is there to do a job, simply take the best engine available and wrap a tailor made chassis around it with all the top bouncy stuff hanging off either end. Honda went several stages further than that however and finished every bike off as if it were a show example.
The RC30 equipped with a single seat and with no other options this is selfish motorcycling at it’s best, an experience not for sharing, and once you have gotten used to the extreme bum up, head down pose the rest is easy. Droning monotonously out of its single end can, nothing about the RC30 sounds or feels like it is in any hurry to get a move on, hardly world level race winning stuff but you can’t always trust your senses. In the absence of a “kick in the pants” power band there appears to be very little happening but in reality you have in your right hand one of the most linear throttle responses ever created.
There aren’t many machines that, seventeen years on from their inception, can still cut the mustard with any modern machine and yet the RC30 certainly does. Even looks wise the RC30 has an unmistakable stance and unbeatable attractiveness. Handling wise the chassis has few rivals as an out of the crate bike and the way it combines the usability of the engine within this package hasn’t been equalled before or since with a road machine. It is difficult to get the RC30 out of shape even under intense braking the frame holds it own well, sitting squat as the tyres are literally forced onto the tarmac by the rear torque arm action. So tall is the first gear that a standing start is going see you hammering the clutch just to stay with other machines but don’t worry, you will catch them up at the first bend. First gear apart, the V four is so easy to use that it is almost bland and unimpressive, but do not be fooled into those thoughts. Sharing much of its general geometry and overall size with the NSR500 grand prix racers of the time the chassis is both sharp and sweet beyond belief.
As if superb handling isn’t enough the V four engine excels in the ability to get the horses down on to the tarmac just that little bit earlier than the inline fours, still not as grunty as the Ducati’s of the period but without the aggressive and thumpy power delivery, just a deceptively smooth and laid back approach to developing some serious horse’s and then laying every single one of them down upon the tarmac without fuss or commotion.
Internally the RC30 is a lesson in both space and weight saving all in the name of competition. Titanium conrods, the first time such an alloy had been used in a production machine, do a merry dance around the 360 degree one piece crank, a design that provides a power stroke with every revolution, while the gear driven cam shafts spin up on roller bearings driving the narrowly angled valves directly via individual shim buckets. Conscious of the heat dissipation problems found in such a compact, high power, design the water not only cools the cylinders water jacket but also wends its way around the base of the oil filter to help the lubricating life blood keep its cool in the most extreme of environments. Even so the RC30 will quickly over heat if left pottering around for too long with the water temperature soon rocketing above the 90 degree mark especially when stuck in traffic, the cooling fan does cut in but with little effect until on the move again. The race kit radiator is a much larger affair than the roadster version but, as it requires the removal of the two electric fans, is of no advantage to road riders.
The all up weight was some 35 kgs lighter than the VFR sports tourer despite using the single sided swing arm that is far heavier than a conventional two armed design. The single sider had its roots in world endurance racing and was developed initially by the Honda France team to halve the amount of time, from around 30 to 15 seconds, taken for wheel changes as the super fast bikes ate tyres during their 24 hour stints. It was later found that the mass, although greater, was actually more central within the frame so very much in keeping with the overall design philosophy of the RVF and later RC30 projects.
History tells us that the big boss Soichiro Honda desired to show to the world what his company could produce if there were no constraints placed upon any area, be it financial, cosmetic or mechanical. Certainly the cost was ignored with many fancy bits spinning around inside of what looks from the outside at least little more than a VFR70 power plant. The result is the perfect interpretation of the newly formed world Superbike series rule book with a machine so ideal for the job it beggars’ belief.
The RC30 isn’t the fastest thing around then or now by a long chalk but it is the finest production motorcycle ever made? We happen to think so.
RC30 Model History
They didn’t get the RC 30 absolutely bang on first time out of the crate by accident, the bike was heavily based upon the RVF750 world endurance and TTF1 machines that had proven so devastatingly fast and reliable for the two seasons prior to the RC’s launch. As far back as 1977 the foundations for Hondas passionate affair with the V four concept where being laid when at the launch of the then radical CBX1000 the Honda bosses announced the return of the big H to world championship racing with a 500cc V4 four stroke. Of course that machine was the ill-fated and hopelessly outclassed NR500 complete with oval pistons and an ear shattering 24k redline. The launch of the NR saw a whole decade and a half of development with many millions being spent getting the V’s up to speed.
The announcement of the World Superbike series for 1988 exclusively for roadster-based machines led to the ultimate development of the V four to date. Once the rumour mill turned into fact, the initial batch sold out to the Japanese market literally overnight with the first 1,000 built being snapped up for the listed 1,480,000 yen catching Honda’s HRC department off guard and prompting another batch to be produced to satisfy demand in other countries. Officially called the VFR750R it didn’t take too long before this name disappeared from every where except the tail fairing and the production code RC30 became the generic term for the type. First seen in 1987 the RC30, surprisingly not officially backed by Honda, won the first of the new world Superbike series in the hands of Californian privateer, Fred Merkel. The flamboyant American stamped his authority on the fledgling championship by repeating the event the following year. By 1990 the RC30 had been surpassed and, although it still made the odd appearance on the leader board, never seriously threatened for the title again, although the type remained a favourite for the privateer rider for many seasons particularly in endurance events.
On the Isle of Man RC30 came into its own providing Honda with much success and credibility. On the types first outing in 1988 Steve Hislop smashed a whopping 15 seconds off the Production TT class record on the very first lap from a standing start, while in the F1 race Joey Dunlop took his kitted RC to an amazing average lap speed 118.54mph. The following year Hislop dominated the TT once again V four mounted setting the first sub-20 minute, 120mph-plus lap again on the opening lap. By 1990 the RC30 dominated the entries for the TT with two thirds of the big capacity grids being made up of the type. Hislop’s record 124.4mph lap of that year wasn’t beaten until 1999 when Jim Moodie hurtled around on a factory RC45, the successor to the RC30.
Although on the face of it a development of the RC30 in fact the new machine was a ground up redesign with few commonalities. The new machine wasn’t the instant hit that the RC30 was and it took Honda three years before the WSB title became theirs again when John Kocinski romped to the title.
Honda VFR750R RC30 Specifications
Engine: liquid cooled DOHC 16 valve 90 degree V4
Bore & stroke: 70 x 48.6 mm
Compression Ratio: 11-1
Carburetion: 4 x Keihin VDH0A 38mm
Max Power: 112bhp @ 11,000rpm
Torque: 54 lb-ft @ 9,800rpm
Transmission: wet multi plate clutch, six speed
Frame: aluminium twin spar
Suspension: 43mm telescopic forks, single rising rate shock, rear adjustable for compression and rebound damping
Wheels: 120/70 x 17 front 170/60 x 18 rear
Brakes: 310 mm floating disc Nissin four piston calipers, 220 mm disc twin piston caliper
Head angle/trail: 24.5°/91mm
Fuel capacity: 20 litres
Top speed: 155 mph
Honda RC30 Gallery