Introduction | Machines | Riders | Races


 

 

Honda’s five-cylinder 125 GP bike was one of the most impressive products of the technological war that raged between two-stroke and four-stroke manufacturers throughout much of the 1960s. Honda knew that it had to employ giddily high-revving engines to beat the two-strokes, so it built an across-the-frame 125 five, with tiny 25cc pistons that revved to 21,500rpm. Around the same time Honda had a 50cc twin which also scored World Championship success with its espresso cup-sized pistons. The RC149 was a jewel of a motorcycle and took Swiss rider Luigi Taveri to the 1966 125 world championship.


 

 

Arguably the most exotic motorcycle of GP racing’s most glamorous era, the 250 six was a potent symbol of the go-ahead 1960s. Honda stunned the racing world when they unleashed this 18,000rpm weapon at the end of the 1964 250 world championship but the six required refinements before Mike Hailwood could use its full performance to wrest the 250 title from the two-strokes in 1966 and ’67, after which Honda withdrew from GP racing for more than a decade. The six was possibly the best-sounding race bike ever and won so many hearts that a British company recently began manufacturing fully operational replicas.


 

 

Honda had already won every other World Championship going – 50cc, 125cc, 250cc and 350cc – when it unleashed its first 500 GP bike in 1966. The RC181 helped to announce Honda’s arrival as a heavyweight in the world of motorcycle manufacturing but while it was a mighty performer, the air-cooled, inline four was cursed by ill luck and never won the 500 title. Jim Redman and the 181 would’ve won the crown at their first attempt in 1966, if Redman hadn’t crashed out of a rain-lashed Spa GP, and Mike Hailwood was on his way to winning the ’66 crown when a broken exhaust valve stopped him at the final race.


 

 

The NR never won a GP, but it vastly expanded Honda’s fund of four-stroke know-how. Conceived in the late 70s, when two-strokes had come to dominate GP racing and before Honda had built its own two-stroke GP racers, the four-stroke NR was designed to beat the two-strokes with its shrieking 22,000rpm performance. One of the most exotic bikes ever raced, the NR featured oval pistons, eight valves per cylinder, two conrods per piston, monocoque chassis and carbon wheels. In many ways, the NR500 was a motorcycle before its time but it taught Honda plenty about carbon fibre, cam gear trains, ultra-high rpm motors and back-torque limiters.


 

 

The apogee of two-stroke performance, the NSR500 won no less than 23 rider and constructor World Championships in its decade and half on the racetracks. The NSR was always a tower of power, rocketing Freddie Spencer round the Daytona banking at 305kmh in its race debut way back in 1984. By 2001, the 500s’ last hurrah, the NSR V4 was pumping out almost 200 horsepower but with superb throttle linearity. It was this remarkable usability that made it the bike every GP racer aspired to. The NSR broke plenty of records, including the greatest number of back-to-back wins (22 victories, through 1997 and ’98) and the greatest number of wins in a season (15 victories in 1997, a feat matched by the RCV in 2003).


 

 

Generally regarded as the most rider-friendly of the current generation of 250 horsepower MotoGP bikes, the RC211V is the embodiment of Honda’s five decades of motorcycle racing know-how. The hi-tech V5 four-stroke won the very first MotoGP race at Suzuka in April 2002 and has achieved no less than five World Championship successes – two riders’ crowns and an unbeaten run of three constructors’ titles. Squat, lean and muscular, the RCV was created to be a totally balanced motorcycle, so its engine, chassis and aerodynamics enhance each other for maximum all-round performance.
 
 

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