Remember the phrase, “Looks like a million bucks”? That describes the new Honda RCV1000R MotoGP production racer, which I was able to see after the MotoGP race in Valencia, Spain. Current price is 1.2 million euros, equivalent to $1.6 million.
I went at the appointed hour to meet Honda press-relations man Rhys Edwards and see the new RCV-R, but he had been put to the task of preparing some proposal. After strategic waiting, we came together and strode off to the Aspar Team box (saying “garage” is so passé now). There it was, under a cover.
First impression is of truly exceptional fit and finish, making me remember engineer Kudo in the ’90s, whose job it was to add the details that made Honda racers look as if built by supermen. Lots of carbon fiber: unpainted but glassy-surfaced fairing, seatback, right-hand exhaust pipe’s heat shield. This fairing has “nostril-style” air intakes located at the chin position rather than the large single chin intake of the 2014 factory bikes. There is the usual large LCD dash, carrying the Marelli name, to present information to the rider.
To be eligible to carry more than the 2014 prototype fuel volume of 20 liters, this bike must carry both the spec Marelli electronics and its spec software (the RCV-R’s tank is said to hold 23 liters).
Aluminum chassis beams shone, as did the rear half of the “tank,” which projects in modern Z-shaped fashion, back and down under the front of the rider’s seat. Like the factory engines, this is a V-4, presumably with the same self-balancing 90-degree vee angle. The two pipes of the rear cylinder bank rise diagonally on the right, each with its own oxygen sensor, while the fuel tank’s “foot” occupies the left-hand two-thirds of the space between the chassis uprights. These pipes join at the top, where the collector makes the usual Honda “snail” loop before taking the form of a foot-long screened megaphone with three-inch outlet.
Why separate oxygen sensors for each cylinder? Today, each cylinder is treated as if it is a separate engine, having its own ignition and fuel maps. If there were just one sensor in each collector, one cylinder could be lean and the other rich, both giving less than full power, but the sensor could report nothing wrong.
The front pipes pass down and under the engine, join and form a megaphone, also screened, under the rider’s right heel. Ducati began this practice of screening the outlets, said to keep pipe waves from accidentally transporting tire-thrown pebbles into a pipe.
The eight-plate, six-spring dry clutch is on the right and quite low. This is because the overhanging rear-cylinder bank prevents the practice, now universal on inlines, of vertically stacking the gearbox shafts, resulting in a very high placement of both the clutch and shift drum (on many inlines, the operating rod from the shift pedal points upward not forward).
Shift drum? Hasn’t the world moved on? No, the 700,000-euro annual lease cost of a seamless-shift gearbox is not for the privateer. There is a conventional shifter switch on the shift link rod on the left. Its mechanism disappears under the engine into a mass of nice-looking machined supports and other parts. The engine itself appears sand-cast.
Two things about sand casting: First, sand castings can be heat-treated to high strength, unlike traditional production die castings, which blister into leafy structures when very hot. Second, yes, Yamaha machines YZR-M1 crankcases from billet, but modern casting methods produce parts so free of crack-emulating oxide inclusions that they are said to have near-forged properties.
The pressed-and-welded aluminum sheet swingarm has its bracing on the bottom to make room for the downward extension of the fuel tank just above it. Its very tall side beams are like so many others of this era in being about 35mm thick. This notionally allows lateral flexure of the swingarm when at high lean angle to provide grip-enhancing compliance. The suspension unit “lives” in a vertical hole through the arm, between tire and swingarm pivot, actuated by a rocker and linkage below. As delivered, the swingarm’s droop angle looked rather flat, but this bike was not yet set up for a rider.
As on factory bikes, a large-diameter steering head makes room for alternative positions and angles for the steering pivot axis. Presumably the same is true of the swingarm pivot, whose position determines rear squat/anti-squat behavior.
This bike has Öhlins suspension and Nissin brakes and controls. As with the factory bikes, clutch lift is hydraulic. Seven-spoke magnesium wheels continue the theme of unapproachable quality. Yum! All these parts look good enough to eat.
The supposed big difference between this bike and a factory prototype is that factory bikes all have pneumatic valve springs in place of RCV-R’s metal springs. In general, with the extra moving, vibrating mass of metal springs, somewhat longer valve timings and reduced valve lift must be used to enable the valve train to follow the cam profile. The result is somewhat less engine power (the lower valve lift acts as a partial throttle) and usually, a less-usable powerband (the longer the valve timing, the more top-loaded the power curve becomes).
In early Valencia testing, Nicky Hayden’s RCV1000R topped at 191 mph while factory Hondas reached 203. As setup matures, Hayden will become better able to launch the thing off T14, and those numbers may converge. But we are told, semi-officially, that a factory bike makes 245 horsepower and the production job “only” 235. That implies a top speed difference of more like three mph. Remember, factory engines have to complete race distance next year on 20 liters of fuel; this is an economy run as much as it is a race series.
Now, the question: Is this the future of GP racing, as so many urge that it must be? Will Honda, Yamaha, and Ducati stand down their supremely expensive factory bikes one day and trust their precious reputations to detuned factory lookalikes, such as this, in the hand of private teams?
There have been production racers before now—Velocette’s KTT, AJS 7R, Manx Norton, and many hundreds of Yamaha TZs. Yet when each of those makers seriously sought world championships, they did so with factory specials, either in factory hands or in teams closely tied to the factory. There’s too much at stake for it to be any other way. And remember this principle: The more rules there are, the more cheating. It’s human nature.