The late-1980s Honda VFR750R RC30 and the current Aprilia RSV4 are both iconic machines, from different generations. But how do the two compare against each other?
What can we say about the Honda RC30 that hasn’t already been said before. Yes, we’re among the vast number of fans which the 750cc V4-engined VFR750R still has more than two decades after it was launched. A mere 3,000 units of this bike were produced between 1987-1990 and even back then, it cost a massive US$15,000. The RC30’s claimed dry weight was 185 kilos and according to some magazine road tests of the era, the bike weighed as much as 215kg with all fluids and a full tank of fuel. And by modern standards, the 750cc V4’s power output was rather ordinary – 112bhp at 12,000rpm, which went up to a more respectable 133bhp with the HRC race kit that was available from Honda.
If the RC30 wasn’t all that powerful and was a bit heavy, what’s the fuss all about? More than 20 years on, why is the world still so taken with the VFR750R? Perhaps there is no logical answer to this question. Maybe it’s the image we have in our minds, of watching men like Joey Dunlop and Steve Hislop and Carl Fogarty racing the RC30 around the Isle of Man. Maybe it’s the bike’s sheer beauty, its racy stance, its single-minded racing focus and the fact that it was designed by HRC that makes it so attractive. Or perhaps it’s the bits inside that Honda V4 – titanium conrods, 360-degree one-piece crank, gear driven camshafts – that make the bike exotic and desirable.
Based on Honda’s RVF750 world endurance and TTF1 racebikes, the VFR750R RC30 was essentially a ‘homologation special,’ built to satisfy the requirements of the World Superbikes series which started in 1988. The first batch of 1,000 bikes was released in Japan in 1987 and sold out quickly, despite a price tag of 1.5 million Yen. The RC30 came to Europe in 1988 and to the US in 1990, by which time it had already won the first two WSBK titles – Fred Merkel won the 1988 and 1989 World Superbikes championships aboard the VFR750R. Apart from WSBK, the RC30 was also very successful at the Isle of Man TT races in the hands of riders like Steve Hislop, Joey Dunlop and Carl Fogarty.
Moving the story two decades forward, things are a bit more bleak for Honda today. After Fred Merkel’s two championship wins in WSBK with the RC30, Honda have only won four titles in World Superbikes – 1997 (John Kocinski, with the RC45), 2000 and 2002 (Colin Edwards, with the RVT1000R RC51), and 2007 (James Toseland, with the CBR1000RR Fireblade). Technological innovations seems to have taken a backseat at Honda, even as European manufacturers like Aprilia, BMW and Ducati have surged forward with some truly stupendous machines. And in 2012, Honda’s top-of-the-line V4-engined motorcycle is a porky sports-tourer rather a lean, mean, cutting-edge sportsbike. Sure, the current Fireblade is a thoroughly competent machine, but it’s nowhere near as exciting as, say, a BMW S1000RR, Kawasaki ZX-10R Ninja, Ducati 1199S Panigale or Aprilia RSV4 Factory APRC.
Speaking of the Aprilia, their V4-engined RSV4 Factory APRC – which won the 2011 WSBK championship in the hands of Max Biaggi – today occupies the spot which the RC30 held almost 25 years ago. It’s sharp, edgy, exciting, high-tech and properly exotic, all of which the RC30 was back then. So, the next thing you’d think about is, how would the two bikes – iconic machines belonging to two different generations – stack up against each other? Surely, in terms of outright performance and handling, the 25-year-old RC30 can’t possibly stand a chance against the RSV4, which has a bigger, vastly more powerful engine and a full complement of modern-day electronics, including traction control?
A while ago, Dutch magazine MotoPlus actually managed to do this shootout where they compared the RC30 with the RSV4. Here are some excerpts from what they had to say about the two bikes:
While V4 pioneers, Honda, have left their fans – who are looking for a sporty V4 – out in the cold for many years, Aprilia welcome those V4 fans with open arms. All right, so there is not much wrong with the inline-four – current engines have reached a high level of perfection, running smoothly and oozing power. However, a V4 still somehow sounds more exciting, makes the heart beat faster, boosts adrenaline levels up higher and sounds racier and more exotic.
Twenty years after the Honda RC30 came out, Aprilia have picked up the V4 lineage with the RSV4. Sure, it might well be that V4s are more complicated, but they have their advantages – just look at MotoGP, where V4s have been dominant for years. According to Aprilia, the RSV4 is 40% narrower than a comparable inline-four, which makes for a narrower, more aerodynamic silhouette that makes inline-fours look bulky.
The RSV4’s engine is a 65-degree V4 where the Honda RC30’s engine was a 90-degree V4, making it primarily better balanced. Still, the Honda’s V4 is not perfectly smooth – with its 360-degree crank, HRC went for the ‘big bang’ power effect on the RC30, which purrs like a kitten up until 6,000rpm, but growls and vibrates noticeably above that. Not that that is bothersome, just as on the RSV4, which also rumbles and pulses impatiently, but which has a counterbalancer shaft to smoothen things out.
While the layout of the two V4s is different, there are similarities in the way they deliver their power. Of course, the RSV4, with 179bhp, is much more powerful than the 112bhp RC30, but both V4s accelerate cleanly and smoothly from low revs and have a fairly wide powerband.
The Aprilia comes with a whole arsenal of ride-by-wire electronics and high-tech bits like adjustable inlet stacks, two injectors per cylinder, a super-quick CPU that control the fuel injection system and a servo in the exhaust system, for variable back pressure. These are things that the old RC30 does not have – it has to simply make do with a race kit; ignition module, hotter cams and an army of needles, nozzles and springs. The RSV4’s engine also has a higher compression ratio than the RC30’s (13.0:1 compared to 11.0:1), but the VFR’s strengths lie elsewhere. To limit friction, the RC30’s pistons were coated with Teflon-molybdenum, only two piston springs are used and the hollow drilled camshafts turn on needle roller bearings. Valve stems are a mere 4.5mm, in steel and the drive shafts were already made of titanium. On the RSV4, it is the other way around.
Remarkable, too, are the combustion chambers. With a bore of 70mm, Honda engineers selected 28mm inlet valves, while the Aprilia has 32mm valves with a 78mm bore. The difference between the two is the so called inlet flow-through, which is determined by valve diameter and valve lift. And that is where the Aprilia clearly has the better cards, with a lift of 10.2mm. With a free inlet surface of approx 1,450mm sq., it sucks fresh air via 48mm stacks from an 8.2-litre airbox and two injectors squirt petrol into its combustion chamber with millisecond accuracy – if need be, up to 14,000 times per minute. With a 52mm stroke, the Aprilia’s pistons then reach an average speed of up to 24.41 meters per second.
The Honda has a 48.6mm stroke and at 12,500rpm, that equates to an average piston speed of 20.25m/s. Valve lift is 9mm, with a surface of 1,120mm sq square mm, the airbox is 3.2-litres and the 35.5mm carburetors – all look modest in comparison with the Aprilia. The RC30’s carbs did have a special feature though – an ‘inspection cover’ through which needles and nozzles can be switched, without the need to take the carbs apart completely.
In terms of throttle response, the Honda is head and shoulders above the Aprilia! The RC30 is silky smooth and responds to throttle inputs immediately, while the RSV4 actually comes across as less polished in comparison. And the Honda’s chassis is also brilliant – immaculate handling in fast sweepers and almost Ducati-esq straight line stability. But as you might expect, the RSV4 goes beyond that, with imposing precision, surprising flickability and thanks to its very firm suspension, excellent stability. The Aprilia’s extraordinary ‘balance’ is not just because of the way its engine is positioned in the chassis, but also because of the fuel tank that runs under the seat as well. In its day, the RC30 was the best in terms of handling, but today the RSV4 has gone one better – it feels like a 600cc machine with litre-class power.
One last difference between the two bikes is that back in its day, the Honda VFR750R RC30 was simply an unattainable dream for the vast majority of sportsbike buyers. Today, with advances in technology, the Aprilia RSV4 – with the same amount of exotic V4 high-tech – is more affordable and accessible.
Source: MotoPlus, via Perth Streetbikes
RC30 pics: LoudBike on Flickr
Also see, Honda RC45 vs Aprilia RSV4