360° GARAGE

NC30 expert Rick Oliver takes us in­side the world of ’90s pocket rock­ets

Performance Bikes (UK) - - CONTENTS - Words Jon Urry / Pho­tog­ra­phy Paul Bryant

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

money-mak­ing oper­a­tion.”

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...”

Beaver lathe

‘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.’

NC30 frames

‘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.’

Wheel

‘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.’

Plas­ticine

‘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!’

NC30 forks

‘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.’

NC30 un­der­tray

‘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

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