The truth is that the Honda will annihilate the Yamaha in a straight line, through the corners and on the brakes, but it’s far friendlier to ride too. Expect power crazed wheelies in each of the six gears and the threat of being ejected out of each corner.
MCUSA is going global. About the time we published Neale Bayly’s ride report on the YZR-M1 MotoGP bike, we received a request from England’sMotor Cycle News (MCN) to publish a few of our articles in its print mag. In exchange, we have access to some of their articles. So, after providing a test on Valentino Rossi’s title-winning GP bike, we can now follow it up with a ride report on American Nicky Hayden’s awesome Honda RC211V.
Whatever heroics Valentino Rossi may perform, there’s no disguising the generally accepted fact that Honda’s RC211V is the most successful motorcycle in modern MotoGP racing. In 2002 when the premier class switched from screaming 500cc two-strokes to open-piped, ear-splitting 990cc four-strokes, the RC211V began its domination by winning the very first MotoGP race at Suzuka. Of the 65 MotoGP races there have been since, the Honda has won a staggering 40 of them.
But what’s it like to ride all 250-plus-horsepower of arguably the best racing motorcycle ever built?
To put it into perspective we decided to compare the RCV we sampled in Sepang to Honda’s humble but just as successful road-going CBR1000RR. The FireBlade looks almost identical to its race-bred brother, they’ve both got powerful, litre-sized four-stroke engines and they’ve both got…erm, two wheels. But is that where the similarities really end? We found out.
The FireBlade has all the ingredients to get the juices going; it’ll hit the ton in five seconds and crack 180 mph. With 148 horsepower scorching through its rear Bridgestone, it has an incredible amount of power for a road bike, but is still as easy to get on with as a commuter; just hop aboard, get comfortable, thumb the starter and you’re off, no fuss.
The RC211V is a little different. Some say that modern MotoGP bikes have become cuddly, harmless creatures, particularly the Honda. Even the TV commentators go on about how easy they are to ride nowadays. Well, excuse me, but that’s bollocks. The RC211V is one noisy, evil mother f**cker. It’s intimidating just to stand next to and, don’t forget, it not only makes 100 horsepower more than a Blade but it’s around 60 kg (130 lbs) lighter, too. All in all, enough to spit you off in a second if you’re not careful; respect is due.
Stand near it while it’s up on its bench with its clothes off and it even smells special. From the eye-watering stench of race fuel and hot race rubber, to the various exotic oils and lubricants dispensed from trick looking HRC-stickered containers.
Before the off
Right now Nicky Hayden’s number 69’s V-5 engine is being carefully warmed by one of the HRC technicians (all in good spirits incidentally, HRC aren’t the evil empire some would have you believe). A brutal, ear-piercing bark blasts from its beautifully-made open titanium exhausts and bounces off Sepang’s empty pit buildings. I’m about to hop on board and it strikes fear into my boots.
In the saddle
Although the Blade and RC211V look similar, the MotoGP bike is much smaller and lighter. With your bum on the thinly padded seat and hands on low-set clip-ons, it feels more the size of a 400cc NC30 than a superbike. Rock the bike between your legs and there’s absolutely no impression of bulk like there is on a Blade, which at 179kg is the heaviest of all the litre sportsbikes by a mile.
On the gas
Surprisingly it’s not so much in the lower gears that RC211V really impresses. Obviously with “over 250 bhp” (HRC engineers won’t tell the actual figure), tapping down on the race-pattern gear lever and scorching through first, second and third, things happen pretty damn quickly. The blurred scenery and stomach churning g-forces it induces are breathtaking, and you need to rely on the seat hump to keep you from being ejected off the back as arms struggle to hold on. On the RC211V you struggle to get its power to send you forwards instead of skywards.
It’s when you hit the higher gears the MotoGP bike is at its most impressive – and where the Blade seems comparatively flat. Exiting one of Sepang’s fast fourth-gear corners, the RC211V tries to wheelie and spin its 16.5-inch rear Michelin all at the same time. It accelerates as hard out of this fourth-gear corner as the Blade does out of first-gear hairpins.
Down Sepang’s two long straights and it’s the same story. Pinging through gears, changing up at 16,500rpm (strangely the engine doesn’t seem as loud when you’re going this fast – you’re probably leaving the sound in your wake), it’s still pulling like a mad thing through fifth and sixth; it just never lets up. The Blade at the same point through the gears is fast but feels pedestrian in comparison.
It’s this kind of brutal acceleration at high speed that’s what biking dreams are made of; but a daily reality for that lucky sod Hayden.
Every lightweight nut bolt and part on the bike is there for a reason – if it’s not vital to making it go, stop and handle, it doesn’t go on. It’s all built to be mechanic-friendly too, HRC mechanics say it’s a piece of cake to work on, not like the old V-4 Superbikes or the upside-down V-4 raced by Spencer in the ’80s.
Despite two very different engine configurations, the 998cc in-line-four cylinder Blade and the 990cc V5 RCV both have beautifully wide, smooth and usable powerbands to play with. It makes each bike remarkably easy to ride; as impressive for a 180-mph road bike as it is for a 200-plus-mph MotoGP weapon.
In fact the RC211V’s throttle response is even smoother and more refined than the Blade’s (which is actually a bit jerky on the gas from a closed throttle) and immediately noticeable the second you ride down Sepang’s pitlane. Given the RCV’s power, it’s a surprise that it’s not some peaky, fire-breathing monster like an old 500, it’s confidence inspiring enough to try a little celebration wheelie as we join the track.
Beneath 10,000-rpm mark, the point where the power really starts to hit hard and make the world go backwards, the 320-lb RC211V is still amazingly tractable, mostly because it’s just so damn light. Even when short-shifting through the gears the hard charging RCV still tries to pull your arms off.
So, yes, the RC211V is easy to ride thanks to its linear power delivery and impeccable throttle control, an incredible feat on a bike with such an excessive amount of power.
But that’s when you ride for a few laps under the watchful eye of HRC. If you were to ride it in anger on your own and away from prying eyes, you’d need the skill and throttle control of a GP god; otherwise with 250 bhp at your right wrist you’d be tasting hospital food before you could say, ‘oh f..’
On the brakes
The RC211V’s front discs are carbon compared to the Blade’s steel items. They’re lighter than steel, so there’s less effort to get the MotoGP to flick into turns. They’ll also stop a speeding train on a sixpence, all with the effort of just two fingers; this is one of the most impressive bits of the RCV riding experience.
Braking hard from over 190 mph into the final first-gear hairpin, it’s all you can do to hang on and not leap frog over the screen. Knees have to dig hard into the tank while arms and chest all get a thorough workout corner after corner, lap after lap – this is why MotoGP riders need to have serious upper body strength.
Although the binders take a good few corners to really come up to temperature, you’ve still got brakes; they just feel a bit wooden that’s all.
The Blade’s brakes offer superb feel and loads of stopping power, and just like the RC211V the Blade remains super stable when the anchors are jammed on. But compared to the RCV’s, they don’t come close.
A pair of 320mm carbon front discs with four-piston radially mounted Brembo calipers and carbon pads provide eye-popping stopping power.
In the corners
Our standard FireBlade isn’t actually far off the RC211V when it comes to the electrifying business of flying through a corner. It’s actually closer in this department to the MotoGP bike than it is anywhere else (like brakes, power and general blinging-ness).
The Blade’s aluminum chassis actually looks the spitting image of the RCV’s and both bikes even have that same trademark stable feeling at maximum lean, mid-corner. Fit the Blade with some slicks and race suspension to sharpen the steering and give more grip, and you’d end up with something that’s not far off an RC211V. Honestly.
With the RCV’s settings exactly as they were for Hayden at the final round at Valencia (where he finished second behind Honda-mounted Melandri), the biggest surprise is how much feeling there is through the suspension. It’s not set up as hard as a plank like some race bikes out there, which translates lots of feel for both factory and numpty riders alike.
Despite this plush feeling the RCV is of course still rock-solid stable going in, through and out of the corners. And the steering? Oh my god, just aim for the exact grain of tarmac you desire and the RCV will hit it time after time with zero effort, making the sweet -handling Blade feel like a barge by comparison.
Just like the Blade, the RC211V runs an electronic steering damper. Both bikes are exceedingly stable as a result, and they both lock-up the steering when doing third-gear wheelies.
When it’s all over
When you’ve got over the relief of not crashing millions of dollars worth of bike, the biggest surprise when you get off the RC211V is that you’re not a gibbering wreck.
Like the FireBlade the MotoGP bike has a knack of being very, very fast without really feeling it. It’s only when you’ve had a chance to reflect on the ride that it really hits home just how quick you’ve demolished that back straight at Sepang.
Where you really appreciate just how devastatingly good both the Blade and the RC211V are, is when someone’s trying to keep up with you. They
The RCV is on a different planet to the Blade when it comes to outright performance, speed and sheer specialness, but you can tell they’re from the same gene pool; they look the same and both display similar handling traits.. Ride a FireBlade and you really do get a bit of RC211V thrown in for free.
Honda RC211V Specifications:
Engine: 250+hp, liquid-cooled, 990cc, 75.5-degree V-5 four-stroke
Chassis: Hand-built aluminium twin spar chassis and swingarm
Suspension: Showa 45mm fully adjustable fork and fully adjustable Unit Pro Link rear shock
Brakes: 2 x 320mm carbon front discs with four-piston radially mounted Brembo calipers and carbon pads. 220mm rear disc with two-piston caliper
Again, thanks to www.motorcyclenews.com and Michael Neeves for providing this kick-ass report. Lucky dog.
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