Last Updated on 08/04/2021
Honda’s racing evolution during the 1980s and 90s spawned a multitude of incredible machines: the NR500, NS250, NS500, NSR500, RC45, NR750 and of course, the VFR750R RC30. Each of these pushed the boundaries of the time and brought something brand new to motorcycle technology.
The Honda VFR750R, also more commonly known by its model code, RC30, was perhaps the most successful of these pioneering bikes. Its mission was simple: To win on the track. It’s racing legacy is something that is still talked about today, and the Honda VFR750R RC30 has become one of the most desirable bikes to own for racers and collectors alike.
Honda VFR750R RC30 Specs
- Engine: 748 cc liquid-cooled V4
- Power: 118 bhp @ 11,000 rpm
- Seat height: 785 mm / 31 inches
- Fuel tank: 18 litres / 4.75 Gal
- Dry Weight: 185 kg / 408 lbs
- Top speed: 155 mph / 250 kph
When the World Superbikes replaced the TTF1 in 1988, track-only bikes, such as Honda’s RVF, were no longer eligible. For homologation, Honda designed the RC30 as a limited edition road bike selling just enough to satisfy the rules for World Superbikes.
The first 1,000 of the new bike launched later that year in Japan. Despite the high price tag of 1.5 million Yen ($15,000 or £8,000 in 1987) the VFR750R RC30 sold out rapidly. To comply with Japanese regulations, Honda restricted the bikes sold in Japan to 77 bhp.
1988 saw the Honda VFR750R RC30 released in Europe, followed by America in 1990, this time with the full 112 bhp. By 1990 Honda had already won the first two World Superbike titles and claimed several wins at the Isle of Man TT.
The World Superbike ruling (that track only bikes were ineligible to enter the championship), gave a technological boost to production bikes. Forcing manufacturers to sell their competition bikes, albeit with a few permissible changes, meant that in order to be competitive on the track, the corresponding road bike would naturally be built to a high specification.
Honda engineers used this opportunity to create the ultimate V4 sports bike with a host of advanced racing technology. It’s 90° 748cc V4 engine housed 16 valve, titanium connecting rods and gear driven double overhead cams producing 112 bhp at 11,000 rpm.
The main frame, subframe and swingarm were made from aluminium. A preload adjuster for the rear shock and adjustable front forks were also included. For what was essentially a race bike the riding position was relatively relaxed, which certainly favoured long distance riders.
The iconic single sided swingarm (sourced from the Elf-Honda endurance racer) had both the disc brake and sprocket mounted on the left side. This negated the need to remove the chain allowing for quick release rear wheel changes; perfect for the track.
Preload adjustment was fitted to the front forks and the wheels and brake pads were given quick release mountings to further accelerate pit stops. As before, Honda developed the RC30 for the track first and road second.
Further changes were made to the RC30 in 1992, with Honda tweaking the engine to improve the output to 118 bhp. Several colour options were offered over the years with a few limited editions produced along the way. The RC30 was replaced by the VFR800F in 1998 losing its racing pedigree and becoming a touring machine.
Honda VFR750R Performance
When Honda first announced the release of the RC30 in summer 1987, the interest was so high that there was a draw for eligibility to buy one in Japan. When it finally arrived the media praised it endlessly and despite the high price tag, twice that of the Suzuki GSX-R, did not diminish its appeal. Unsurprisingly, every dealer immediately sold out.
The RC30 immediately achieved success on the track. Fred Merkel won the first World Superbike Championship title in 1988 and 1989 (both the rider’s and manufacturer’s titles).
The Isle of Man TT races also proved no match for the Honda RC30. In the hands of riders such as Joey Dunlop, Phillip McCallen, Carl Fogarty, Freddie Spencer and Steve Hislop, Honda claimed several victories over the years. Steve Hislop even has the honour of achieving the first ever 120mph lap of the TT course.
The Honda RC30 also took riders Robert Dunlop and Steve Hislop to the top step of the podium of the Macau GP in 1989 and 1990 respectively.
Buying an original VFR750R
With the RC30 created to fulfil the World Superbikes rules, Honda only produced 3,000 over its lifespan. Many of these ended up where they were designed to be, on the track. It’s estimated that only 25% have survived as road legal machines. With about 750 road bikes in existence they are incredibly rare and when they do occasionally come up for sale, the price is high: £25,000 – £40,000 depending on condition.
In 2018, the 1990 RC30 featured at the top of the page sold at auction for a staggering $92.000 (£66,000). Check out the full details on the Bonhams website.
During the last two years alone the RC30 has doubled in value, this trend looks set to continue. If you somehow find one for sale and you have a mind to restore it, the RC30 could prove a sound investment.
If you are contemplating purchasing one of these wonderful machines for road use, it is worth remembering it was designed as a high end track machine. It will be vitally important to check the service history of the engine as well as ascertaining if it has been derestricted, due to being a Japanese import, or tuned for track. You may also wish to investigate whether the majority of the bike’s miles were done on the track or on the road.
Understanding the Honda VFR750R and asking the right questions will ensure you purchase a quality machine you can be proud of.
Restoring an Honda VFR750R RC30
New and used parts are surprisingly simple to come across and are even reasonably priced. Several standard Honda dealers are still able to source certain parts in store or can be purchased online. For more specialised parts, dealers can also put in a request with Honda directly as part of their “Motorcycle Refresh” plan.
The refresh plan is available to owners of specific Honda’s classic machines. Genuine parts are re-manufactured based on the requests from customers and dealers in addition to parts that are expected to deteriorate over 30 years or regular replacement parts.
Honda also offers customers a complete restoration of their bike by a skilled Honda mechanic at their “Motorcycle Refresh Centre”. If restoration isn’t your thing, this may be the option for you.
A couple of reputable part suppliers in the UK:
In my previous article on the Honda NR750, I referenced the Honda RC30 as being one of the main contributors of technology to that pioneering machine. I always view the NR as a no-holds-barred version of the RC30, but it was expensive, immensely complicated, and hence never reached the same level of success as the RC30.
Writing this article on the Honda RC30 gives me a sense of a deja vu, reminding me very much of the NR750. The late 80’s were a time when Honda really hit their stride with introducing new motorcycle designs and technology. Ignoring the accountants, they spent enormous amounts of money on research and development which, as history now shows, paid off on the track and in the showrooms.
The Honda RC30 is a bike that came out as one of Honda’s best from this era and it is certainly one I would love to purchase. Given the rising cost, this seems increasingly like a pipe dream. I would however happily settle for its 400cc younger sibling, the NC30. At least until my numbers come up…