2016 Honda RC213V-S Test
Honda’s MotoGP V4 racebike is the culmination of a Grand Prix racing pedigree that reaches back to the 1959 Isle of Man TT and, in its most recent iterations, has proven to be spectacularly successful.Two-time MotoGP World Champion Marc Márquez, in particular, was immediately fast upon his graduation to the premier class in 2013. He seemed to need little to no learning curve with the bike and astoundingly, won the World Championship in his first year in the class. As defending Champion in his second year, he won the first 10 races of the season in a row, and ultimately 13 of the year’s 18 races—an amazing tribute to both his skill and the RC213V’s capability.Every race watcher was awestruck by how Márquez was able to throw the bike around with total abandon, as if it were a toy. There was no situation that he seemingly could not recover from. Indeed, in one particular incident, he saved himself from a certain crash by using his elbow to lever the bike upright again.When we try to equate that incredible level of riding with our own motorcycles and experience, it naturally leaves us scratching our heads somewhat—clearly the elite Honda MotoGP racers must be superhuman and indeed, the term “alien” has been coined to describe them. However, and without taking anything away from their breathtaking talent, I now understand how it is possible—they are doing it with a machine that encourages such otherworldly gymnastics. The RC213V is a bike so light, so taut, so reactive, and so confidence inspiring, that everything seems achievable.Seeing the capability of the racebike gave Honda COO of Motorcycle Sports Tetsuo Suzuki an idea. He went to Hiroshi Unuki (who became Large Project Leader for the RC213V-S) and asked if he could turn the RC into a street-capable motorcycle. Unuki, in turn, collaborated with Shogo Kanaumi (Acting Development Team Leader), who emphatically answered affirmatively. A couple of years later, here we are with the 2016 Honda RC213V-S.
The concept of the consumer version is for the public—or at least, those affluent enough to afford the $184,000 asking price— to be able to experience the full weight of Honda’s expertise in the form of the “most maneuverable motorcycle in the world.” This bike is as good as it gets; Honda has left almost nothing on the table.I say “almost” nothing because the MotoGP bike’s exclusive seamless gearbox, carbon brakes, and pneumatic valves are practical only for a race environment, so they have been omitted. However, the essence of the RC213V is undiluted, and all the MotoGP racers who have ridden the bike—including Casey Stoner, Dani Pedrosa, and Márquez—agree that the RC213V-S feels exactly like their racebikes.Stoner, a two-time MotoGP Champion in his own right, told the Honda staff that, with this machine as-is, he would have been able to qualify it on the front row of a race in the 800cc era. That’s a heck of a claim. Shinichi Itoh, former MotoGP competitor and current Honda test rider, apparently got off the bike after his first ride and asked incredulously, “You’re going to sell this to the public?”
What makes this bike so different and spectacular is “a thorough focus on the concentration of mass,” according to Honda. Every single item on the bike, down to the tiniest detail, is analyzed and moved as close to the center of gravity as possible. Although that’s a little difficult to comprehend, having ridden it on a bona fide MotoGP track—Circuit de la Comunitat Valenciana Ricardo Tormo (aka Circuit Valencia)—I now understand and can sum it up in one word: feel.The RC213V-S is not a supersport-weight motorcycle with superbike power; it is way farther ahead than that. Honda’s attention to detail and ability to centralize the mass to the ultimate degree has produced a machine that turns and handles better than any two-wheeler I have ever experienced.It has a racebike’s taut feel and precise connection to the rider, without any hint of rawness or nervousness. Honda hasn’t simply raised the bar, it has taken it to the stratosphere. This isn’t just the best bike I’ve ever ridden—it is definitively the best bike I have ever ridden, and by a margin that I had no idea existed.Essentially, Honda has gone to extraordinary lengths to make the RC213V-S incredibly light and perfectly balanced. Everything on the bike seems smooth, effortless, and even elegant. This is the easiest machine in the world to ride very, very fast. It is smoothly forgiving and, as clichéd as it may be to say it, the bike felt like an extension of me.Every key action, from the power delivery, to turning the bike into corners, to transitioning rapidly to maximum lean angle, to braking as hard and as late as possible, every input I made resulted in the motorcycle doing everything exactly as I intended.The revelation was astonishing. I expected the RC213V-S to be good, but I did anticipate it would feel a little raw, like all racebikes. It absolutely did not. It is refined and smooth, and I was shocked by how completely at home I was on it on a track I have never ridden before.I was instantly able to focus on my lines through the corners, rather than spend time getting used to the motorcycle. Now I understand why Márquez rides the way he does. The level of confidence the Honda gives to the rider is extraordinary, and Márquez has the talent to extract the most from it.My first sessions on the RC213V-S (Honda refers to it as the twenty-one, three-vee—meaning the 21st century, third version, apparently) were on the European street version of the bike; that is, the one with lights and a relatively sane exhaust note.Weighing a claimed 378 pounds, the bike felt considerably lighter than anything in this displacement class I’ve ridden before. Overall, it also feels relatively compact, yet it is not tiny as one might assume. The bike felt tight to me, but not cramped, and the stretch to the ground is similar to most liter-class superbikes.The riding position is committed, of course. It puts quite a lot of weight over the front, and it’s to that I attribute some of my insane confidence in corner entry. Likewise, the fully adjustable, beautifully crafted footrests are set high. I wouldn’t call the bike uncomfortable, but if I were an owner (if only!), I would certainly have the controls positioned to fit me.The ergonomics are naturally the same as on the stock RC213V racebike, and that was based on Itoh’s 5′ 11″ height. Overall, the riding position is quite normal.
The order book is now closed, and a dedicated team will build the RC213V-S at the rate of one per day. The bike isn’t just hand-assembled; almost every component is handmade to some degree. The crankcases are sand-cast and a large proportion of the components are hand machined. Almost all the TIG welding is done by hand, and the titanium bolts have to be individually torqued down by hand.Service intervals are reasonable—just 6200 miles. However, the dry clutch has to be serviced, and possibly replaced, at less than 2000 miles. The 520 final drive chain has to be inspected every 300 miles.
The attention to detail and fit and finish is pure Honda, and as amazing as expected. The carbon fiber bodywork is available in a tricolor red/white/blue heritage paint scheme, or in unfinished polished carbon, ready for paint.To maintain the authentic racebike look of the hand- machined top triple clamp, there is no traditional ignition key on the RC213V-S. Instead, the bike uses a fob that has to be close to the machine for it to run. Pressing the fob’s button allows the electronics to wake up, and thumbing the starter fires her up. It likes 98 octane fuel, but will run happily on our 91 octane pump gas, so I’m told.With my first laps on the bike, I was impressed by the smooth delivery and linear power of the 999c V-4 powerplant. The throttle connection is smooth and immediate, with no hint of being jerky. Coming back on the power on corner exits is seamless—and it’s all powerband.There has been some controversy concerning the power available, as Honda has limited the rev ceiling via the ECU software in order to comply with the noise limits in each country where it will be sold. For the United States, that means limiting the revs to 9400—and that translates to a meager 101 horsepower. I initially rode the 167 horsepower European-spec version that is limited to 12,000 rpm; it has a healthy power output coupled to an incredible light weight, so it was fast, and by no means unmanageable.The ease of use is partly down to the simple, yet spectacularly effective, MotoGP level electronics that consist of three functions: three power mode levels, two of which produce full power with varying levels of aggressiveness; Honda Torque Control (aka traction control—10 levels, with 10 being the most intrusive); and Engine Braking (4 levels, with 4 being the highest amount of engine braking). There is no wheelie control, though the traction control acts like it—as the front wheel slows, the power is mitigated, which ultimately brings the front wheel down—and it works beautifully.Coming out of Valencia’s final hairpin on to the front straight, I could nicely float the front wheel a few inches off the tarmac. In fact, whenever the front wheel came up, I never had to back out of the throttle. There is no ABS, and the complex slipper clutch allows for aggressive downshifting with minimal upset to the chassis while the engine revs catch up to the speed of the back wheel. This is Honda’s race experience coming to the fore—everything on this bike is perfect, including the electronics.
There are five electronic presets available, much like on a car radio. The individual values of the three functions within each preset can be customized to suit, though not on the fly, with 5 being the least, through to 1 for the most aggressive riding. I started my first session in preset 3 (power mode 2, TC level 6, and EB level 2).The active preset can be changed while underway, using the button on the left handlebar to cycle through, and closing the throttle then activates the selection. After two laps I was a little more familiar with the track and switched to preset 1 (power mode 1, TC 2, EB 4). The RC213V-S was reacting exactly as I wanted and I was stunned by how much I loved the bike.The engine power is fluid, yet strong, but it was the handling that really shocked me. The bike felt so very light and neutral that it turned into corners precisely and easily, going absolutely exactly where I intended. As my speed increased, I was able to change my lines and get more aggressive.Interestingly, my knee was touching down in almost every corner, and that’s a fairly rare occurrence for my riding style. I was immediately aware that I was going much faster and leaning harder than I would do normally, having had such a short time on the bike and track. The new Bridgestone Battlax Racing Street RS10 tires were sticky and felt good, and the Torque Control light was starting to flicker a little on the dash as my confidence grew.
The RC213V-S also has a Sport Kit available strictly for track use only, likely to be priced around €12,000. It won’t be sold in the US, so an American RC213V-S owner will have to source one from Europe. That won’t be easy, as the Sport Kits are matched to each machine’s VIN number. One can assume that anyone with the financial muscle to afford one of these machines will likewise have access to a European address and the means to obtain a Sport Kit, if desired.The package contains lots of track-only goodies, including an ECU that allows the full 14,000 rpm rev ceiling, which gives you access to the motor’s maximum 214 horsepower. The other half of that equation is a titanium MotoGP race exhaust that sheds around 11 pounds from the street version and unleashes the MotoGP sound. Although there wasn’t a racebike handy, it sounded indistinguishable from a genuine RC213V to me—earplugs are definitely needed!The gearbox ratios remain unchanged, but the street quick-shifter module is replaced with a pressure-sensitive version that changes to a track shift pattern (1 up, 5 down). The lights that peek from the fairing air intakes are replaced with carbon fiber ram-air inlets, several engine covers are replaced so the dry clutch is now open, and the brake pads are changed from a Brembo street compound to the Brembo Z04 race compound. The Öhlins TTX25 gas-charged front fork and TTX36 MotoGP shock remain the same and, interestingly, Honda does not recommend any suspension settings changes. The handling was flawless, so I concur.
I couldn’t possibly have imagined the impact the Sport Kit would make on the RC213V-S. It was already the best bike I had ever ridden, so I was feeling that it was probably unnecessary. Of course, I do admit I was curious what 214 horsepower would feel like in such a light machine.The electronics were already on preset 1, so this was the fully ready-to-race version. As I pulled away from the pits and tipped into turn one I found myself once again in a state of disbelief!The bike felt as though it had shed half its weight, and it had previously felt amazingly light. I have never experienced anything even close to this. Far from becoming nervous or twitchy, the RC213V-S simply felt even sharper and tauter than before—more than I could have conceived. It was the street version—taken to a whole new level.
This is no subtle change; it is a quantum leap in the motorcycle’s already extraordinary performance level. The Sport Kit drops the bike’s weight by 22 pounds, which doesn’t sound like a huge amount; in practice, it is an enormous difference.The engine power was just as manageable, but there was a whole lot more of it. The delivery is smooth and progressive, building very quickly, and the RC213V-S accelerates incredibly hard with the Sport Kit. The scary part is that at around the 150 mph mark, just about when I expect engine power to begin tailing off, the motor starts to really get into its stride and pulls even harder. It’s like having a turbocharger attached that is set to come in at three-figure speeds. The uncorked motor accelerates from 150 the way my personal road-going breathed-on superbike does from 70.The snag is that I was arriving at corners way faster than I’m used to. I was recalibrating habits, reflexes, and turn-in points that have taken me 30 years to learn. Thankfully, the RC213V- S heard my prayers, staying completely composed and absolutely unflappable. As I overcooked the corners a little, it simply came back on line when asked. I have never had a motorcycle react so spectacularly well to my input—I was glad the strap on my Arai Corsair-V was tight, because this was jaw-dropping stuff.Another dramatic change with the lighter bike is the braking. The lack of weight in the motorcycle translates into less mass during deceleration and I was able to brake much later and harder than I ever thought viable.As the laps continued and I got bolder, I extended my brake point at the end of Valencia’s main straight until, clearly over-confident, I finally bit off more than I could chew. Carrying a little over 180 mph, I realized I was braking a tad too late and was too hot coming into Aspar corner—the fast first turn. Amazingly, the combination of fabulous brakes and forgiving chassis rescued me.Those Brembos have the perfect combination of feel and bite and, as I applied more lever pressure, the front Bridgestone V04 slick simply bit down and slowed me enough to give me the confidence to turn in. Trail braking with the front, the chassis stayed perfectly composed—no twisting, no slewing at the rear, and no squirming or pushing at the front. The RC213V-S stayed on rails and simply cruised through the corner with zero drama. As I passed the apex, it dawned on me that I could have gone quite a lot faster. No, I didn’t try it.
Honda has taken its enormous depth of experience and created a machine that completely reset my expectations of how a motorcycle should behave. I had assumed that super-light weight and 200+ horsepower would translate to twitchy behavior or even nervousness; perhaps it would dive into corners too dramatically and just be a machine beyond my skill level. It was not.The RC213V-S behaved impeccably, and as precisely as I wanted it to. The more aggressively I rode and the more speed I carried, the better the Honda became.However, the Sport Kit takes this bike to another level of competence that is completely alien to me; I had never experienced anything like it before and had no idea it existed. The RC213V-S is simply the lightest, sweetest handling, smoothest deliverer of speed that I have ever ridden—and by a huge margin too.This machine is easier to ride, more forgiving, and more confidence inspiring than I thought possible, and certainly more than any other motorcycle I have been on. The astonishing amount of trust it instilled in me encouraged me to push my riding to a level I didn’t realize I had.The only downside is that few people will ever get to experience a motorcycle capable of this sort of performance, and I likely never will again. The 2016 Honda RC213V-S is a truly remarkable machine, and lives up to the corporate slogan— The Power of Dreams.Track Photography by Milagro