Soichiro Honda reportedly thought that the V4 engine layout was the optimum solution to putting maximum power to a back tyre. To prove it, Honda built great bikes like the VFR750 and RC30 back in the 1980s.
Chris Pearson takes a look back at one of the most successful race machines in the modern era, which is also a highly collectable road bike.
On the face of it is quite difficult to see what all the fuss is about with the RC30.
There are lots of very good machines in the marketplace that supposedly outperform this all but obsolete design. Every manufacturer would have you believe that nothing is as good as their latest model and anything more than a year old is probably rubbish, so what could the all of the fuss be about this fourteen year old machine – what gives it the right to almost mythical status in the biking fraternity?
By today´s standards, mechanically, it is nothing out of the ordinary, lacking as it does the all important wide tyres and upside down forks. It still does look good though, the overall design features classic, clean lines and a very uncluttered, business-like demeanour. A look only blighted by the mirrors and indicators that stick out like warts on a supermodels face.
First impressions when sitting on the RC30 are of a small and compact machine, no bigger than a 250 or 400. In fact, were it not for the discreet logos announcing the model, one could easily mistake the RC30 for its more commonly found little brother the VFR400 NC30. It is quite disconcerting to be sat on a real 750 that is no wider than the average small twin. The bike is in fact so compact that within a short space of time the heat from the engine begins to feel uncomfortable especially at low speeds.
Once on the move, the 185kgs bike is light and easy to position, again feeling every bit a fraction of its actual size made all the more apparent from the cramped riding position. Your bottom is as high as your hands and your knees tuck neatly under the chin when in a racing crouch.
The Nissin four pot caliper brakes up front are excellent, even by today´s high standards, providing lots of feel as well as superb stopping power as they grab the two 320mm discs. However, when braking and entering a corner hard, there does seem to be a lack of communication from the front end. Whether it is a tyre problem, weight bias, or fork damping would be hard to say, but there is something just not quite right.
Even with the aftermarket race can fitted, the engine, with its flat and tuneless exhaust note, sounds nothing too spectacular from a riders point of view, although lots of onlookers present said it sounded glorious as they stood by.
This has the effect of fooling the rider into thinking nothing is happening until you glance down at the speedo and see what sort of velocity the RC is achieving. Perhaps that is part of the trouble with the front end, the RC30 is capable of carrying far more speed and braking into corners than most other designs. Of all the modern bikes I have recently ridden I can only say the latest R6 and 996 Duke compare on corner speed.
The plus points are found once into the corner, when the continuous stream of engine power produced can be applied. There is the genuine feeling of a direct connection between twist grip and the rear wheel. Without experiencing that feeling for yourself, it is difficult to explain but it really does feel like every little nuance applied to the twist grip, triggers an immediate response at the back wheel.
Whenever you accelerate, there is precious little impression of a power band as such, just that droning V four unassumingly pumping out its 114 horses in a very linear fashion. This is due to the 360 degree crank configuration, producing large gaps within the firing order. This in turn, gives the tyre more time between the combustion strokes in which to grip.
This soon breeds awesome confidence when cornering, allowing full throttle at maximum lean and inevitably bumping up the mid corner speed in the process. With such a ‘soft’ power delivery the RC30 is highly unlikely to throw you over the high side should the old right hand get too enthusiastic.
It is easy to see why this machine has been responsible for so many race wins in the hands of both factory riders and privateers. Even in its standard road configuration, it handles like a 250 GP machine, while at the same time accelerating like a Superbike.
With just a little engine work to boost top end power and with the forks re-damped the RC30 becomes a very serious race tool indeed. Back in ‘87 the RC30 was the most efficient machine available, only really challenged by the very best of the specialist frame manufacturers like Bimota and Ducati with their one off race specials. Certainly the other Japanese factories had no answer for the RC30 in their 1987/88 product line up, having to resort to pretty trick one-off specials based on their existing Superbikes.
Riding a road going version quickly revealed what I thought to be a shortcoming especially around lefthanders where the side stand, albeit quickly detachable if required, grounded out at the slightest provocation. Likewise with right-handers, the hero blobs affixed to the end of the footrest seemed to be on the track all of the time and I put it down to severe lack of ground clearance.
That was until I saw the photographs from the session and I could appreciate fully the amount of lean attained. This bike doesn´t suffer from a lack of ground clearance at all, it just handles too well and goes too quick without the rider realising!
Top gear is very tall and good for 90mph without undue stress, making the RC30 more than a little tricky in a road situation, requiring a deft use of the clutch to keep on the move at traffic jam pace.
Luckily Honda saw fit to make the clutch hydraulically operated, giving a very light and positive feel. Likewise the cooling system is only really effective above 60mph, even with the two fans mounted in front of the top radiators. It is unreasonable and unfair to mention these criticisms because low speed is not why the RC was put on this Earth.
Everything about the RC lends itself to getting on with the job, it simply has to be ridden on the open roads, or a racetrack. From the outset of my ride it felt completely at home on the sweeping Donington GP circuit.
The RC30 responds well to rider input, literally begging you to ride harder and harder, rewarding you for doing so by not highlighting your own shortcomings and placing an enormous grin upon your face.
The more you put into the RC30 the better it gets and if any machine should be nominated as the modern day Manx Norton, then Honda´s VFR750R (to use its official model name) simply has to be well up in the running.
These days soft rubber is getting hard to find, mainly due to its narrow seventeen-inch front wheel and eighteen-inch rear. Many owners have fitted modern sized wheels enabling the use of the very latest rubber and unlocking even more of the superb chassis potential.
All I can say is, even fourteen years after its launch, the RC30 is probably still as good all round sports machine as anything around. Get going down a twisty back road and there would be simply no competition.
Clean, low mileage examples of the type can still be found within the classifieds but be prepared to pay as much, or slightly more than a brand new Superbike, to get one. Do not let this sway your mind about which way to go however, as the RC30 will be a far better companion along your favourite piece of road and be a better talking point when you pull up outside a pub for a rest.
Also do not fight shy if certain components are wire locked as this does not automatically indicate race track use, Honda were so sure of the bikes intended use that it came with many important fasteners drilled and wired at the factory. If you look at the rear sprocket you can clearly see the nuts all neatly wired up as standard. In reality the RC30 is perhaps the only real chance the average 1990s biker had of owning, and regularly riding, a usable, pukka race bike. A true classic.
Get Honda motorbike insurance for the honda rc30.
Engine……….V4 layout, four stroke, water cooled, cc 749
Claimed power (bhp)……….Peak power; 114bhp
Bore and stroke……….70 X 48.6mm
Carbs……….X4 Keihin 38mm
Frame……….twin spar aluminium alloy
Forks……….43mm Showa, multi adjustable
Rear Shock……….Showa monoshock, multi adjustable
Swingarm……….Single-sided one piece casting, QD rear wheel
Wheels……….17 inch front, 18 inch rear
Current price……….Prices start around £5,000