Memorable Motorcycle Honda RC30

November 7, 2003
Frank Melling
Frank Melling
Contributing Editor| Articles|RSS

Our Memorable Motorcycles expert, Frank Melling also is the organizer of the British vintage motorcycle extravaganza known as Thundersprint. Melling began riding five decades ago and remains as much in love with motorcycles as when he drove his first bike into a cow shed wall aged ten. In the last 50 years, Melling has competed in every form of motorcycle sport and now declares himself to be too old to grow up and be sensible.

The RC30 won back-to-back World Sueprbike titles in 1988-89 with Fred Merkel at the controls.
The RC30 won back-to-back World Sueprbike titles in 1988-89 with Fred Merkel at the controls.

Pride manifested by a motorcycle factory can be a dangerous quality. It can lead to selfish, egocentric decisions by management or arrogance on the part of the workforce. But it can also produce truly outstanding motorcycles – and one of the greatest of all is the Honda RC30.

Popular legend has it that Soichiro Honda wanted to show the world what his factory could build if it had a no-holds-barred attack on making a super-sports bike. There was to be no compromise, no corners cut, and no bowing to the bean counters. In short, the bike was to be the best.

This lovely folk tale probably has more than a grain of truth in it but, like many Honda decisions, there was also a sound business reasons for the RC30. World Superbike had recently been born and proved to be increasingly popular. Honda realized from the outset that this new series was going to be a powerful marketing tool if the right bike was homologated for competition: the RC30 was that bike.

Honda had been racing V-4s and producing some the Interceptor series of sportbikes with this engine configuration since 1983, a long time before the 1987 arrival of the RC30. Thus, the single-sided swingarm and elegantly exposed rear wheel was lifted straight from Honda France’s RVF750 endurance racer.

The RC30 would be a success just on looks alone  but it still provides an exciting ride.Honda RC30
Honda RC30

The RC30 also came with full set of GP tantrums, which somehow added to the exotic nature of owning a serious piece of race-winning hardware. Piston tolerances could be so tight that cold seizures weren’t uncommon, and valves could stretch if the bike was worked especially hard. The lightweight brake rotors also had a tendency to warp.

But the RC30 was built to win – and win it most certainly did. In addition to Fred Merkel’s consecutive WSB titles in 1988 and 1989, Carl Fogarty took an RC30 to the F1 Championship, and in 1989 Steve Hislop hammered the RC30 round the TT course to achieve the first 120-mph lap. A year later, fifteen of the 25 finishers in the F1 class were RC30s.

By now, 16 years since its introduction, the RC30 ought to look and sound dated, but its tiny size – more like a big 250cc 2-stroke than a full 750cc 4-stroke – and oozingly elegant lines produce a stunning reaction even today. The word masterpiece is often over-used when describing exotic bikes, but in the case of the RC30 it is completely justified.

The RC30 would be a success just on looks alone, but it still provides an exciting ride. The power is linear and easy to control but there is a heady rush as the four cylinders chime in – it’s easy to imagine you are peeling off into Hillberry’s 120-mph right-hander on the way to another TT win.

Initially, the RC30 cost a breathtaking $14,000, with the final versions selling for over $21,000. Today there is no shortage of buyers willing to pay at least that amount for mint examples. Sixteen years after it was last made, the RC30 still has an exotic allure which makes one of motorcycling’s true icons.


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