It's a battle of the ages as the Honda RC45 goes head to head against the Aprilia RSV4. It's 1990s Japanese racebike engineering against modern-day Italian exotica...
We have to admit, we have a freakish obsession with 1980s/1990s Honda V4s – we think the VFR750R RC30 and RVF750R RC45 are simply two of the coolest bikes ever made on the planet. And if ever had to choose between the two, it would have to be the RC45.
Launched in 1994, the RC45 wasn’t massively powerful – in stock form, its 750cc liquid-cooled fuel-injected DOHC V4 only produced about 118bhp. But it’s the bike’s sheer raciness, its single-minded performance intent, the resolutely purposeful 1990s styling that has us lusting after the Honda even now, almost two decades after it was launched.
Despite having a great heritage of high-performance V4-engined sportsbikes, Honda don’t seem to be interested in building a successor to the RC45. The current V4s in the Honda line-up – the VFR1200F and the Crossdresser Crossrunner – may be undeniably refined, capable and competent etc., but they are just so… dull!
The best modern-day V4-engined superbike is, of course, the Aprilia RSV4 Factory APRC. It is, perhaps, the bike that Honda could have, should have, built. But they did not. And Aprilia seem to have taken up things from where Honda left off when they stopped producing the RC45 in 1999. The RSV4 is fabulous bike – in terms of styling, handling and engine performance, it’s second to none. So you have to wonder, how would an RSV4 stack up against an RC45? The UK-based Performance Bikes magazine did a story some time ago, where they compared a race-kitted RC45 with a new RSV4. The bikes were ridden by PB’s Matt Wildee and Kar Lee, and here are some excerpts from what they had to say about the match-up:
Can a 20-year-old homologation special really take on a high-tech, loaded-with-electronics superbike from the modern era? According to PB, the answer is YES!
Framed by the rough black fiberglass of race-kit ram-air scoops, the granite and green of Dartmoor blurs like the fuzzy VHS of an ancient TT video. The shocks of vibration, buffeting and noise are ruling my world. The RC45 is gulping in the air, pulling hard and chasing an invisible redline and a 14,500rpm limiter. The blare from the exhaust is bouncing off the dry stone walls, reverberating through my plug-less ears. This bike has almost every HRC go-faster bit you can get bolted on. It’s almost too much.
As standard, the RC45 is special, but this one has a full HRC endurance race kit, kicks out 145bhp and weighs 162kg. You could have won Suzuka on it in the mid-90s. Pared down and undiluted by the compromises that made a showroom spec RC45 tardy, this 15-year-old bike covers ground faster than almost anything I’ve ridden.
Out of the slow corners it pulls first gear forever, growling with an intensity and aggression that makes the Aprilia RSV4 seem soft. The bottom cog lasts until 110mph [176km/h!] before the next five ratios shotgun into place with pump-action accuracy, engine note hardly wavering, rear Pirelli digging in and driving. A knife in my back is being driven deeper every time the track-stiff suspension clatters over the frost marked tarmac, but I don’t care, this bike is giving me an insight into a different world.
Built by obsessive RC nutter Stephen A’Lee, there’s hardly a part on the bike that doesn’t bear the magic mark of HRC. Pistons, cams, gearbox, pipes, electronics, loom, swinger, wheels and a £18,000 front end. 145bhp, 162kg. A race-kitted RC45 just gets on with the job of going fast like few other bikes. Nigh-on perfect fuelling that’s much more predictable than the RSV4’s, composed suspension and an engine that lets you get on the gas as hard as you like make the RC45 still genuinely effective.
The tall gearing and 250cc capacity deficit to the Aprilia mean it loses out in terms of roll-on power and the motor only really gets going above 8,000rpm, but then it pulls hard enough to surprise an RSV4 rider. In comparison, the RC45 is nimbler, lets you turn harder and has brakes with even more feel.
Every power pulse from the RC45’s 90° V4 captivates you. The HRC silencers pop and bang on the overrun before barking out the kind of offbeat, deep, moaning wail that makes a standard inline-four sound as refined as the Chuckle Brothers. The RSV4, with its Euro-pleasing standard system, sounds good but hasn’t the drama, let alone the volume. The RC manages to make an amazing motor seem ordinary.
Then there’s the front end. The delicious Showa SPL forks (Special Parts List for racers, with high and low speed compression damping adjustment, in 1994!) have so much feel that they give you the confidence to charge into corners even faster than you can on the RSV, the low seat meaning you grind knee from entry to exit like you do on a 400. So natural, so accurate, so easy that you forget you are on someone else’s £38,000 bike.
The RSV4 is delicious, its tiny sculpted tailpiece makes a mockery of the RC45’s boxy back end. The Aprilia is tall and slim, a study in industrial minimalism, and it is dripping in top-end parts. Bits of carbon, Ohlins forks, Brembo monoblocs and forged wheels have graced every top-drawer European superbike for the last few years. They’re effective, look nice and I’d love them on my bike, but they just don’t stop you dead like the old race kit parts on the RC45.
We swap bikes and I get on the Aprilia. Suddenly, the RSV4, which was fickle, harsh and ultra-focused on the ride down, now feels like roomy sports-tourer. That’s insane, of course, but when your immediate point of reference is an HRC RC45, everything else seems soft, even a bike as hardcore as the RSV4.
There’s no getting away from the fact that a tweaked RC45 has a glamour that the standard RSV4 just can’t match. The Aprilia might feel like a race bike for the road, but it really isn’t. The RC45 is.
These are excerpts from a story that Matt Wildee did for Performance Bikes magazine
Also see, Honda VFR750R RC30 vs Aprilia RSV4