Hot Wheels: 1990 Honda VFR750R/RC30

Honda engineers started with a race bike and developed it into the street-legal RC30, the closest something can get to a production racer for the street.

  • Honda’s entry into WSBK was with the VFR750R, otherwise known by its factory designation, RC30.
    Photo by Jeff Barger
  • The RC30 was produced in just enough numbers to satisfy FIM rules for the minimum number of street-legal units offered for sale, and no more than 3,000 were built.
    Photo by Jeff Barger
  • The RC30 proved to be particularly suitable for World Superbike racing, and won the championship in its first two years, 1988 and 1989, with Fred Merkel riding.
    Photo by Jeff Berger
  • The RC30 featured a heat exchanger to dissipate heat from engine oil to the coolant radiator rather than a separate oil cooler. Many other ancillaries, like the oil pump, water pump, starter and aluminum gas tank were also unique to the RC.
    Photo by Jeff Berger
  • Talk about a race bike with lights: The RC30 is about as close as it gets to a production racer for the street.
    Photo by Jeff Berger
  • Triple Nissin disc brakes provided impressive stopping, while the bike rolled on 120/70 x 17-inch bias-ply front and 170/60 x 18-inch radial rear tires.
    Photo by Jeff Berger
  • The single-sided swingarm and front fork with quick-release axle clamps were both intended to facilitate quick wheel changes in endurance racing, as was the 4-into-2-into-1 exhaust mounted on the left side, leaving the rear wheel clear for easy removal and replacement.
    Photo by Jeff Berger

Engine: 748cc liquid-cooled DOHC 16-valve 90-degree V4, 70mm x 48.6mm bore and stroke, 11:1 compression ratio, 86hp @ 11,500rpm at rear wheel (period test)
Top speed: 153mph (period test)
Carburetion: Four 38mm CV Keihin
Transmission: 6-speed, chain final drive
Electrics: 12v, electronic ignition
Frame/wheelbase: Twin-spar aluminum frame/55.4in (1,407mm)
Suspension: 43mm Showa telescopic fork w/adjustable compression and rebound front, single-sided “Pro-Arm” swingarm w/single Showa shock w/adjustable preload, compression and rebound rear
Brakes: Dual 12.2in (310mm) discs w/4-piston calipers front, single 8.7in (221mm) disc w/2-piston caliper rear
Tires: 120/70V x 17in front, 170/60VR x 18in rear
Weight (wet): 475lb (216kg)
Seat height: 30in (762mm)
Fuel capacity/MPG: 3.6gal (13.6ltr)/37mpg (period test)
Price then/now: $14,998 (1990)/$25,000-$50,000 (ridden examples)

It’s a well-worn cliché, but “race on Sunday, sell on Monday” has been a solid philosophy in motorcycling for over a century. Racing has been a showcase for the technology likely to be seen in future street bikes. Features like disc brakes, monoshock suspension systems and multi-valve cylinder heads all debuted on Grand Prix race bikes before finding their way to the street.

But in the 1980s, Grand Prix racing, which was then dominated by 2-strokes, ran into an identity crisis. The major makers were pouring money into 2-stroke engine development to stay ahead of their racing competition, but with the phasing out of 2-stroke street bikes, the expertise gained would no longer translate to production machines. In the U.S., Formula 750, also dominated by 2-strokes, was facing a similar issue. And as race bikes became less and less like the sport bikes in dealer showrooms, race fans lost interest, leading to a deeper disconnect between the sport and the street. A resolution would emerge, and it helps to review some of motorcycle racing’s history to put the outcome in context.

One of the most popular – and dangerous – races on the Grand Prix circuit was the Isle of Man TT. Riders generally accepted the extreme hazards as part of racing, but when his friend Gilberto Parlotti was killed in the 1972 TT, then World Champion Giacomo Agostini vowed he would never again race on the Island. Other top riders joined Agostini’s boycott, leading to the TT being dropped from the World GP calendar in 1976.

Britain’s motorcycle sport organizing body, the Auto Cycle Union, proposed an alternative formula to include the Manx TT, a new racing series for modified street bikes pitting 1,000cc 4-strokes against 2-strokes up to 500cc. The first Formula TT race was run under the FIM stewardship in 1977, and the formula quickly proved popular, especially after Mike Hailwood’s comeback win on the Isle of Man in 1978 and Joey Dunlop’s run of five championships from 1982-1986. By that year, there were eight Formula TT rounds on tracks all across the globe. In the U.S., the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) initiated a new race series in 1976 also based on production machines: AMA Superbike.

Formula TT and AMA Superbike were so successful that they invited competition. This arrived in 1988 in the form of a startup rival, World Superbike racing. Also based on street bikes, World Superbike, or WSBK, pitted 1,000cc 4-stroke twins against 750cc fours. By 1990 it had eclipsed Formula TT, which held its last race that year.

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