NC30 expert Rick Oliver takes us inside the world of ’90s pocket rockets
An NC30 lover’s Aladdin’s Cave...
It’s not a full-time job or business, it’s just a hobby that has grown a bit larger than I anticipated.” If you are into Honda’s glorious mini-RC30 pocket rocket, the NC30, you will almost certainly know the name Rick Oliver. Or at the very least, will have a few of the components he has designed on your bike.
“I first got into the NC30 in the mid-1990s. Like everyone else I found it hard to resist the beautiful engineering and allure of the V4 motor, and in 1992 I bought my first one, which I still own. Obviously I secretly wanted an RC30, but there was no way I could afford one at that time so I bought the NC instead,” Rick explains. “The problem I have is that when I buy a bike I can’t resist taking it apart...”
Rick’s inquisitive mind soon led to him developing his own range of NC30 and NC35 modifications, the cost of which he offset by selling the parts to fellow enthusiasts.
“I work on the principle that if I make five examples of a component, then sell the other four for a small profit then I can get my part for free,” he explains. “That’s the basis for everything I do, this isn’t a
With the grey import market exploding throughout the 1990s, Rick was kept very busy indeed as he managed to sort a few of the NC30’s irritations. Blessed with a sound chassis but hampered by budget suspension, Rick first worked on brake and suspension upgrades before a 17-inch rear wheel conversion from the stock 18-inch item. He then developed a few performance upgrades which included tracking down HRC carb kits and ignition upgrades that even allow a quickshifter to be fitted. But times change and the resurgence of the supersport market in the early 2000s saw interest in the NC dip. A trend that has now being reversed as a growing number of riders attempt to relive their youth.
“NC30 and NC35s are now right back in fashion,” Rick says. “I ship stuff all over the world these days, and the owners fall into three camps – modifiers, restorers and racers. There is something about the NC30 that people still love and I can totally understand why. I’ve been lucky enough to own an RC30, which is a fabulous motorcycle, but for childish fun the NC30 is still a fantastic choice...”
‘This was built by Beaver Machine Tools in Norwich, just around the corner from where I live. I got it secondhand for not much money but I only use it to make simple stuff. I have professional engineers who can do the precision jobs and they’re far better than me.’
‘I keep an eye out for frames and these are future builds as I have the logbooks. NC30 frames were cheap and I have more than enough spares to build a few complete bikes in a few year’s time. I learnt a lesson with the RC30 when I missed out on snapping up cheap parts when the bikes were plentiful.’
‘This is a stock NC30 18-inch rear wheel, which is a common part on eBay and basically worthless. You can still buy BT-090 tyres in 18-inch, but converting to a 17-inch wheel through either an NC35 or a VFR wheel is a better option if you plan on using the bike regularly, as it gives you a wider tyre choice. The cheaper option is buying a used VFR wheel and a £130 conversion kit as NC35 wheels are so costly.’
‘I used this to check valve clearances on my RC30 project bike’s 800cc engine (it had non-standard pistons and cams). Take heads off, spread plasticine on piston, rebuild engine, turn over, take apart... To gauge the clearance, cut the plasticine in half and measure the impression the valves made.’
Honda-specific nuts and bolts
‘Honda are very annoying in the way that they often use specific and unique bolts to hold things in their bikes, so you need to keep any old ones. A lot of the engine mount and suspension bolts are a very odd size and you simply can’t buy replacements. Never throw any old bolts away – especially Honda ones!’
‘There are two types: early and late versions. Early bikes have a damper rod, later ones have a cartridge kit. You can tell them apart by the fork tops; later ones have a raised brass screw adjuster where the early ones have a single flat-head adjuster. I sell a lot of fork kits; the OE units are poor.’ NC30 swingarm
‘These are plentiful, and to be honest aren’t worth that much money. However, if you can find one with an undamaged eccentric swingarm adjuster you are quids in. You can’t buy a new hub any more but I am working on getting them remade. It will be costly, though.’
‘It’s the usual story: in the 1990s everyone hacked their undertray to bits and nowadays a complete one (which you need for a restoration) is worth its weight in gold...’
Honda RC30 centre exhaust section NC30 factory manual
‘I have taken this apart and laminated it in a folder as I use it so much. A factory manual is so much better than a Haynes manual as it shows things such as wiring routing, which is essential when you are rebuilding a bike. They are easily available from many internet download sites for free and are worth printing out if you are rebuilding or working on an NC30.’
‘This makes me laugh as owners always think the pipe is dented, but that crease was actually put in there by Honda to allow it to clear the chain... Not a very Honda solution.’
1 ‘I believe in quality for price so I don’t have many Snap-On tools; I tend to favour Laser or Wurth. I don’t actually have that many tools, I have trimmed it down and only keep what I actually use.’ 1 ‘We all hacked NC30 speedos apart to remove the restrictor, but all you need to do is fit a resistor into the wiring loom. The speedo has a proximity switch that cuts when the speedo reads 180kph, making the bike run on two cylinders. I sell a plug-and-play unit that bypasses the sensor for £6.’ 2 ‘This is the dream job. A friend asked me to do the valve clearances on his restoration project and in the end just gave me all the boxes of bits and asked me to finish the whole thing for him. It’s like a lovely jigsaw and everything is there and perfectly repainted and plated. I’m thoroughly enjoying rebuilding this bike – I just need to get around to finishing it.’ 9 ‘The NC30 has tiny valves and I have had to modify this valve spring compressor to stop them slipping through the middle of the compressor!’ 10‘This is an RC30 chassis and swingarm with ZXR400 yokes, ZX- 6R forks, radial brakes and Marchesini magnesium wheels. The tank is genuine RC30 but the bodywork is replica and the motor is from a VFR750 FM. I fitted an 800cc high-compression kit, got Chris Mayhew to rework the heads, had RC30-profile cams made then slipped an RC30 gearbox into its cases. It’s a poor man’s RC30 but makes more low-end torque and should match it at the top end. It’s chalk and cheese to ride compared to the real thing... it has a different firing order!’ 3 Honda RC30 replica 2 Honda NC30 Tools 9 NC30 speedo 10 Valve spring compressor
3 11 4 ‘I got this on eBay years ago and it is fantastic. I think it is Japanese-built, but I’m not sure and I’ve never seen another for sale. The benefits of this design over a fixed stand are that it’s foot-operated so you don’t need to lift the bike backwards to get it in the air, meaning you need less space.’ 5 6 12 ‘It’s just a set of empty crankcases, but it is a UK-spec NC30, not an import. You can spot a UK-spec NC by looking at the front of the motor to see if it has fittings for an external oil-cooler, which the Japanese ones lacked. There is a myth that UK-spec NCs had better suspension, but this is crap.’ 7 8 13 14 ‘This is what you can do with a few hours and some old pallets. It’s a perfect engine bench and I don’t understand why you would want to buy a specific engine bench when you can make one yourself for less than £10.’‘I grew up on two-strokes and bought this on a nostalgia whim as the KR1-S was far cheaper than RGVs and NSRs. It’s a fun bike that I ride occasionally but it is for sale as I need a new kitchen and I have a project KR1-S that will deliver my two-stroke kicks once it is finished.’‘This is a spare NC30 tank and, unusually for NC30 tanks, it isn’t dented! Getting good tanks is very hard nowadays as they are all bent in some way. They tend not to rust badly, unlike the KR1-S, but in a crash the clip-ons ding the tank. Always check this area if you are buying one.’‘This is a standard VFR750 engine that cost me very little and I’m just keeping it around until I work up the bravery to fit it into an NC30’s chassis. I know a chap in Australia is trying this conversion and it is a real bastard, so I’ll let him do the hard work then find out what to do afterwards!’‘These are taken from the RC30 project bike and are VFR carbs with RC30 carb tops. The RC30 has removable screw carb tops which allow you to easily swap the needles without the need to remove the carbs, which is a beautiful bit of race engineering.’‘This very special engine has a major mechanical issue. It was built by TTS as a 490cc engine for a one-off race project. It makes about 80bhp but the head gasket went. It has JE pistons and new liners. TTS said it was such a nightmare they won’t even think of repeating it, so I need to strip and rebuild it.’‘Owning manuals is always helpful for rebuilding bikes and the Haynes ones are very good for some stuff, but not for others. You can’t get an RC30 Haynes manual but the Honda owner’s manual is brilliant, very detailed, as you’d expect of a bike designed to be sold to race teams.’ 4 Kawasaki KR1-S 5 Tank 6 VFR750 engine 7 Carbs 8 VFR750 manuals 11 Single-sided swingarm paddock stand 12 NC30 motor No1 13 NC30 motor No2 13 Engine bench
Honda NC30 special ‘This is the first NC30 I ever bought, and I have owned it since 1992. I use it as a rolling test bed/showcase for the parts I make. The front end has Street Triple forks and brakes in my own design of yokes; the rear has a 17in conversion using a 1994-1997 VFR750 wheel, which is 5in wide and can run a 160/60 tyre. If you run a 5.5in rim the 170-section tyre is too wide and has clearance issues with the swingarm. The motor is 440cc with a bit of head work, lightweight alternator, HRC carb kit, uprated clutch and modified ignition and airbox. It has a Tyga fairing and a Japanese-built single seat unit that was on the bike when I bought it.’
A closer look at what’s hiding in the corners of Rick’s NC30 factory