2005 Honda RC51 ReviewWhat rider doesn’t love a look back at the motorcycles that preceded today’s tech-savvy creations? Welcome to the Ultimate MotorCycling archives; we’re revisiting some of our favorite reviews from year’s past, highlighting the machines that laid the rubber for what’s on the today’s showroom floors. Enjoy. – Ron Lieback, ed.
Championships are hard to argue with. They have a way of quieting the competition. And prior to the release of the amazing CBR1000RR—Honda’s primary liter sport machine—the company did a lot of silencing by amassing a shelf of trophies with the CBR’s predecessor, the V-twin powered RC51.These include two World Superbike titles, an AMA Championship, and multiple wins on the high banks at Daytona. When Honda introduced the 1000RR two years ago, with its all-new in-line 4-cylinder engine, many fretted the possible phasing out of the mighty V-twin. Thankfully, for RC51 lovers, Honda has respectfully kept the bike in their 2005 lineup.The RC51 enjoys a devoted, almost fanatical following. Riding one, it’s easy to understand why. The heart of the RC51 is a brooding 999cc liquid-cooled 90-degree V-twin powerplant. And although few motorcycles can claim a signature aural symphony of sound like the RC, there’s more to it than the sumptuous, ominous exhaust note exiting the big dual pipes that sweep up on either side of the machine.V-twins, by virtue of their configuration, produce healthy low-end torque with a solid, yet manageable, delivery of horsepower to the rear wheel. The larger mass of two pistons displacing 500cc each in a 1000cc V-twin—as opposed to four lighter pistons displacing just 250cc each in a typical liter in-line 4-cylinder engine—results in a slower-revving engine that builds comparable horsepower output more gradually. The result is smooth, predictable power without any sudden, unexpected snaps or jolts.This translates into confidence that the motor isn’t going to bite back when rolling the throttle on mid-corner. Add to this Honda’s newly re-programmed fuel injection having virtually eliminated the awkward jerkiness that plagues many V-twins at extremely low speeds, and you have a very rideable big bore sport motorcycle.Handling is the RC51’s strong suit, although at 430 pounds the bike carries a little more heft than the 1000RR (34 pounds to be exact). The added weight contributes to an overall stable feel and plush ride, and at speed, whether in corners or straights, the bike feels solidly planted. On the race track under heavy braking, high speed turn-in, accelerating hard on exit, or even cresting fast rises (notorious for getting a motorcycle unsettled), there was never a sense of jitters from the front end, nor any squirrelly, wandering tendencies with the rear.The RC turns in precisely and predictably, staying on the chosen line, going exactly where the rider points it. These race-bred handling characteristics translate to a smooth, controlled ride on the street and in the canyons.Cockpit layout is surprisingly comfortable for a serious sportbike. The placement of the footpegs in relation to the handlebars and seat settle the body naturally into a slanted-forward position over the gas tank and put the rider’s weight on the front end, contributing to the RC51’s responsive, exacting cornering ability (again, there’s that championship breeding).Surprisingly, the handlebar/seat/peg configuration is somewhat spread out and even a 6-foot-plus rider won’t feel cramped on the RC. The transitioning of body position from side to side in aggressive cornering is an effortless affair, whether the corners give the rider ample or limited time to get from one side to the other. With the RC’s stable manners and planted feel, the rider needs not worry about the shifting of weight upsetting the motorcycle. In long sweepers, the Honda’s wide gas tank provides an anchor to grab onto with the outside thigh so you can relax your grip on the bars.Suspension duties are handled with a Showa 43mm inverted cartridge fork up front and Honda’s Pro-Link single shock system in back. Both ends have a wide range of spring-preload, rebound and compression-damping adjustability to get the machine suited to an individual rider’s weight and personal riding preferences.Dual full-floating 320mm discs on the front end are mated to four-piston calipers that are capable of pulling the big steed down from speed with an even, controlled application initiated by a light, two-finger pull on the adjustable brake lever.Honda wraps all of these championship-winning elements in a distinctive fairing, fuel tank, and tail section design that were born in the wind tunnel, and are available this year in a striking silver-accented black finish for a mean, clean look, as well as the traditional metallic gray.The real pleasure of riding an RC51 is that drone of throaty muscle issuing from the V-twin motor synchronized with the rush of adrenaline accompanying the rapidly advancing speedometer. It is really quite extraordinary to feel that rumble and instinctively increase your grip on the handlebars in response to the thrust propelling you forward.A Yamaha R1 is faster; a Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R is lighter; and a Ducati 999R stops quicker. But you owe it to yourself to discover the reason why there are so many RC51 lovers out there. Only after you’ve ridden one will you understand.Photography by Kevin Wing