In 2002 I decided that I wanted to buy a “proper” sportsbike. I had been riding my CBR1100XX Super Blackbird throughout Europe since 1999, mostly two up with my wife, and enjoying epic tours together, but missing the thrill a trackday or knee down riding can bring.
I’d had a brief foray into “sports” riding, with the purchase of a Laverda 750S which I bought new and with several thousand off the list price after Laverda went bankrupt. This was the Zane version parallel twin with Piaoli forks and Marchesini wheels, a great handling bike, but ultimately one with the worst engine fitted to a bike I have ever had the pleasure to ride or own. Lumpy and prone to stalling, I sold it after only 3 months and started to look in earnest for its replacement.
I had ridden an MV Agusta 750 F4 and had pretty much decided to buy one when Karel Van Loon suggested I try one again BEFORE I put down the 30,000chf cost of a new one. His logic was that my opinion may now have changed after several test rides on twins such as the Aprilia Mille, and Ducati 996 and 998 models. It wasn’t possible to get a test ride locally, so I had to drive 3 hours to Lugano to find an available demonstrator. This model turned out to be the fabulous silver and blue model with the special Arrow race exhaust fitted, itself a 4000chf option. The fuel pump of the VW VR6 I owned gave up the ghost just outside Lugano resulting in a hire car journey home, but that’s another story, the real story however was the test ride.
Overjoyed at riding an MV again, I saddled up and rode gently out of Lugano centre, but unlike the very first test I ever took on my CBR1100XX, where within 20 yards I had decided I was going to buy it, this ride wasn’t going how I imagined. The first problem was the traffic, and a sports bike in traffic isn’t the ideal mix. Frustrated by the slow inner city speed, heat and tight steering lock, the outskirts couldn’t come soon enough and a chance to let it rip a bit, but that’s where the next problem came, the power was all at the top, by the time you’re at 10,000rpm you’re doing 140kph and already in licence losing territory, and no matter how I tried to convince myself the sound and thrill of the ride was all I needed, the more it became unrealistic to consider owning such a focussed machine. Returning the bike to the shop I left deflated and needing to reassess what exactly I wanted from a bike, as this hadn’t been it!
Back home I came across some old UK bike magazines and started to thumb through them. My eye fell upon a review of a Ducati 916, Kawasaki 750, and Hondas RC45. Reading on it was clear that the RC45 was the winner of this review, excellent on track, and a bike that the testers noted could be ridden indecently fast on the road without ever feeling stressed, and a machine which you could take liberties on in total confidence, knowing the reserves of handling the chassis held, after all, it was a homologated race bike with lights for the road, built only to satisfy WSBK rules that there must be a road bike equivalent of the superbike race machines.
I started to look for used models and soon found two relatively close by. One turned out to be an outright track bike with the genuine Honda equivalent of a power commander fitted and adjustable from the side panel. This bike handled like a dream but looked a little jaded, showing plenty of signs of the hard life it had had thrashing round race tracks. The second bike however was much more promising. It had clearly been on a track at some time, as there were numerous parts lock wired and the number 45 in large numbers on the rear number board, BUT, it was in good condition, sounded great, and ticked all the boxes, the best thing being the price. I agreed to buy immediately, and so began the start of a relationship which is still running today.
Where do you start to describe such a bike? Well, first there is the sound. The V4 engine has a totally unique sound, a bit like a WW2 bomber, especially when fitted with a Micron open pipe. At track days it always draws attention as people don’t always know what it is, and ask lots of questions. What is it? How old is it? What engine is in it? How fast? Etc.etc. I never mind answering as it’s a piece of HRC history, and I’m an extremely proud owner.
Handling- The bike has a very low seat height, which makes knee downs very easy. When on its side at speed it feels rock solid and inspires confidence. At the track it always has more in reserve than I’ll ever exceed, whilst on the road you will never get close to its limits. A journalist once wrote that you have to be riding at 100mph on the road to even start to feel as if you’re going quickly, it’s that composed. The bike also features a 16 inch front wheel which was in vogue back in the mid nineties (Fireblade) and a single side swing arm.
Riding position- is quite forward, and remember this is an old school race bike. Corners require some muscling it round, and weighting the front in bends works well. This is a bike that almost demands you move off the saddle and get your knee down to make it work as HRC intended. Work with it, and it rewards you in spades. The suspension is plush and on track settings can be trail braked right to the apex, its best trick being the ability to dive under others in bends.
Engine- As standard the bike didn’t make a huge amount of power, but I found a garage who used to race RC45’s in the WSBK series, and they were able to find another 10bhp after some fiddling with the ECU and fitment of the open Micron pipe mentioned earlier. Power is now 122bhp at the rear wheel, and acceleration improved, at the expense of outright top end speed, by the fitment of a 16tooth front sprocket.
Speed- on track the bike is equally as frustrating as it is magnificent. A 14 year old 750 is now pretty slow against almost any modern 600, and I find myself being overtaken far more than I am ever able to overtake anyone myself. Forget 1000cc superbikes on the straights, they’re gone, but I sure as hell can make it difficult for them to pass in the corners, which is where this bike excels. I guess max speed would have been around 240kph before I changed the front sprocket, and each gearchange only drops the revs by 500rpm. Whilst it pulls well from low, 7000rpm upwards is where you need to be, changing at 10000 rpm and dropping just 500rpm with each change to keep it in the power band. Also frustrating is the ultra tall first gear, 120kph being available in first means I often find myself in bottom gear in slow speed bends.
Reliability- It’s a Honda so is built extremely well with slipper clutch and titanium internals. I once had it stolen and the dented tank cost 2500chf to replace, and we were lucky to even find one as they are hand formed aluminium! Batteries, regulators and stators are the Achilles heel of this bike, not helped by the alarm which constantly drains the battery, requiring it to be permanently hooked up to an Optimate. Other than electrics which are costly to replace and to find the actual faults, the only things I have changed are tyres and brake pads, and I upgraded the hoses this year as the brakes were starting to feel a little spongy.
Tyres- These don’t seem to last long as I always seem to mix road with track days. I have ridden on Pirelli Diablos almost exclusively as they are one of the few brands and models where the 16 inch front wheel size is available. Fronts seem to last around 5000 kms whilst rears can be destroyed in as little as 3500kms. Worthy of note though is the traction available in the wet. Like the VFR800 I owned, the V4 engine puts its power to the road in such a way that grip seems there even when the road or track is under water. Several times at track days, I have been amongst the first out in atrocious conditions because of the feedback the tyres and suspension are able to give.
Condition- The rear seat unit split, as so many do, but I have had this repaired and then repainted, along with the wheels which I had stove repainted in gloss black. I also fitted some new decals as some of the original (unlacquered) ones were starting to peel. It now looks in top condition again.
I’ve allowed very few others to ride this bike, but those who have, always express their enjoyment of the ride and understand why I’ll never sell it. In truth I don’t ride it anywhere near enough, and countless times after track days where I’ve been passed a thousand times I threaten to stop taking it to the track, but I always go back, it was made for the track and deserves to be there, it’s better than me and the pleasure I get each time I ride it far exceeds that I get from my more modern machines. If you ever get the chance to ride one, grab the opportunity with both hands. I paid less than a third of the price of a new MV Agusta, and reckon I got a better bike!