Dar­ing to be dif­fer­ent

While its ri­vals stuck with the near-ubiq­ui­tous in-line DOHC four cylin­der en­gine, Honda had a long-term in­vest­ment in the V-4 lay­out, and re­fused to sub­mit. But it came at a cost – a big cost.

Old Bike Australasia - - 1994 HONDA RC45 - Story and pho­tos Jim Scaysbrook Ride im­pres­sions Ren­nie Scaysbrook

The mo­tor­cy­cle

that was cre­ated to win the World Su­per­bike Cham­pi­onship – and suc­ceeded in 1988 and 1989 – the Honda RC30, was, af­ter six years, get­ting a bit long in the tooth. By 1994, some­thing was needed to stay with the likes of the Du­cati 916, the Kawasaki ZX7-R and soon, the Suzuki GSXR-750. That some­thing was the RC45, or the evo­lu­tion of the RVF750 if you pre­fer.

Honda built just enough of these – 200 – in the 1994 (only) pro­duc­tion year, to qual­ify for the cham­pi­onship, and over the next five years a hand­ful more trick­led out to keep the var­i­ous teams around the world supplied. It took un­til 1997 for John Kocin­ski to achieve the Honda fac­tory’s aim of wrestling the World Su­per­bike Cham­pi­onship from Du­cati, but the RC45 made a win­ning de­but three years ear­lier at the 1994 Isle of Man TT when Steve His­lop, Phillip McCallen and Joey Dun­lop gave the works-supplied UK Cas­trol Honda team a re­sound­ing clean sweep of the podium in the For­mula One TT, fol­lowed later in the week by an iden­ti­cal re­sult in the Se­nior TT. In­deed, with the only works squad in the event, Honda UK and the Cas­trol RC45s would dom­i­nate the TT for the next five years. Out in the colonies, An­thony Gobert gave the RC45 a dream de­but at the wet Phillip Is­land round of the Aus­tralian Su­per­bike Cham­pi­onship, and con­tin­ued his form to be­come (at 19) the youngest-ever win­ner of the ti­tle af­ter a sea­son-long bat­tle with the Kawasakis of Martin Crag­gill and Matthew Mladin. The fol­low­ing year, Kirk McCarthy took over the Win­field RC45 and won the ti­tle from Mladin. In the UK, the RC45 car­ried a price tag of £18,300, or about the same price as the Du­cati 916SPS and Bi­mota SB7. That be­came $35,000 in Aus­tralia, but the promise of a works racer that was avail­able to the pub­lic was very tempt­ing for those suf­fi­ciently well-heeled to con­sider plac­ing an or­der. The re­al­ity was some­what dif­fer­ent. While the race bikes were be­decked with ex­otic sus­pen­sion, wheels and other fit­ments per­mit­ted un­der the for­mu­lae, the RC45 sold to the pub­lic was more pro­saic. The front forks, for ex­am­ple, were sim­i­lar to the CBR600 with 41mm tubes, which were on the puny side by the stan­dards of the day. The front hoop was a 16 incher – specif­i­cally a 130/70ZR16 – that by 1994, was also some­what passé, with the op­po­si­tion all run­ning a 17 inch front, and a cu­ri­ous choice given the rear tyre was a 190/50ZR17. Switchgear was sourced from the Honda CBR900. In­deed, the ex­is­tence of the CBR900 Fire­blade was some­what of an em­bar­rass­ment to Honda, as this rel­a­tively sim­ple (and af­ford­able) in-line four could give the RC45 a se­ri­ous run for its money. The RC45 is in­evitably com­pared to its fore­bear, the com­pact and nim­ble RC30, but in ap­pear­ance at least, seems big­ger all round. Whereas the RC30 perched its rider over the front, the rid­ing po­si­tion on the RC45 is more re­laxed and con­tem­po­rary. The seat height is 50mm lower, as is the cen­tre of grav­ity, which was cen­tral to Honda’s aim to get the new ma­chine to turn into cor­ners with more pre­ci­sion and less rider ef­fort. From the be­gin­ning of Honda’s V-4 series – the VF750S of 1972 – bore and stroke had been con­sis­tent at 70mm x 48.6 mm, but the RC45 broke with tra­di­tion with a bore of 72mm and a stroke of 46mm. As on the RC30, ti­ta­nium con­nect­ing rods were

“With the only works squad in the event, Honda UK and the Cas­trol RC45s would dom­i­nate the TT for the next five years.

”Chas­sis-wise, the RC45’s twin-spar alu­minium frame used thin­ner wall frame mem­bers than the RC30, sup­pos­edly to en­gi­neer more flex into the unit, although the ex­ter­nal di­men­sions were larger.”

used, but the cylin­der bores were now of what Honda called ‘metal com­pos­ite’ – a ce­ramic-blended alu­minium that could be re­bored if re­quired. The process saved an im­pres­sive 1.4kg. In the cylin­der head, valve an­gles were re­duced by a to­tal of eight de­grees. The sig­na­ture gear-driven camshafts were re­tained in the RC45, but moved from the cen­tre to the right side of the en­gine, which per­mit­ted a shorter crank­shaft – and more weight saving – plus a straighter pas­sage for the in­let tracts. The most vis­i­ble change be­tween the 30 and the 45 was in the use of a rad­i­cal fuel in­jec­tion sys­tem that had been de­vel­oped on the ex­otic oval pis­ton NR750. This used 46mm throt­tle bod­ies in­stead of the 38mm Kei­hin carbs with a to­tal of seven sen­sors to deal with mix­ture con­trol. Chas­sis-wise, the RC45’s twin-spar alu­minium frame used thin­ner wall frame mem­bers than the RC30, sup­pos­edly to en­gi­neer more flex into the unit, although the ex­ter­nal di­men­sions were larger. The frame it­self was built around a large di­am­e­ter castal­loy steer­ing head. Although the new ma­chine looked larger, the wheel­base was only 5mm longer, cour­tesy of a longer swing­ing arm. The swing­ing arm it­self was once again the Elf-patent sin­gle-sided unit, con­trolled by a fully-ad­justable gas-charged shock ab­sorber that owed much to the com­pany’s suc­cess­ful mo­tocrossers. At the steer­ing end, the forks pro­vided 24.5 mm trail and 92mm rake. While the RC30 used hand-laid fi­bre­glass for the fair­ing, the RC45’s body­work was in plas­tic. More weight saving. With 120 hp at 12,000 rpm on tap, the stan­dard RC45 was hardly a slouch, but an ex­tra 30 hp was avail­able to those who wanted to go se­ri­ous rac­ing, and could af­ford it. And make no mis­take, some se­ri­ous coin was re­quired to make the RC45 com­pet­i­tive. For this rea­son, few pri­va­teer teams opted for the Honda, when there were sev­eral choices avail­able from ri­val manufactur­ers at a sub­stan­tially lower cost. The gen­uine HRC kit parts in­cluded body­work, wheels, front forks, rear shock and link­age, clutch, com­plete swing­ing arm, en­gine cov­ers in mag­ne­sium, and sundry smaller items. Price? Best not to ask.

Early tests of the RC45 gave jour­nal­ists plenty to think about, with the in­evitable com­par­i­son to the RC30. Most agreed that the most en­dear­ing char­ac­ter­is­tic was the glo­ri­ous sound – For­mula One on two wheels. The snarl em­anates from be­neath the tank with vast amounts of air rush­ing in, although the tun­nels run­ning from the front of the fair­ing to the fuel tank top are largely cos­metic. The close ra­tio gear­box made it a chore around town; the tall first gear re­quir­ing a hand­ful of revs in or­der to pull away cleanly, and ju­di­cious use of the gear­box in traf­fic. But the RC45 was hardly de­signed with traf­fic in mind, ex­cept per­haps, lapped traf­fic. Low, steeply an­gled han­dle­bars bars were also un­com­fort­able around town but per­fect for the open road. The en­gine was also some­what cold blooded and needed warm­ing up so the temp gauge showed at least 70 de­grees be­fore rid­ing off. The choke knob mounted on the left fair­ing in­ner is ac­tu­ally noth­ing more than a fast idle lever, as the ex­tra rich­ness a cold mo­tor de­mands is catered for by the Pro­grammed Fuel In­jec­tion sys­tem (PGM-FI) lifted from Honda’s tech­nol­ogy show­case, the NR750. This is fed in­for­ma­tion from seven sen­sors mea­sur­ing crit­i­cal pa­ram­e­ters such as in­take air tem­per­a­ture, baro­met­ric pres­sures, and en­gine rpm, and then sup­plies the right quan­tity of fuel ig­nited by a spark at the op­ti­mum mo­ment.

Cock­pit view.

BE­LOW Carl Fog­a­rty brought the #1 plate from Du­cati for 1996 WSBK sea­son, but failed to re­tain it.

Kiwi Aaron Slight came close to win­ning the World ti­tle on the RC45, fin­ish­ing 3rd in 1994, 1995, and 1997, and sec­ond in 1996 and 1998.

Only 53 RC45s made it to Amer­ica. This one is still owned by Honda USA.

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