The Honda Racing Corporation’s (HRC) Repsol Honda team has won multiple world championship titles in MotoGP. Competing in the premiere class of the most demanding racing series in the world requires a motorcycle that’s up to the task of delivering consistently and at the highest level possible. The 2016 RC213V factory racing machine is proving to be a serious contender for the world title in the hands of Marc Marquez.
As a MotoGP machine the Honda RC213V is one of the most technologically advanced motorcycles on the face of this planet. But it owes its current form to the extensive testing, development and racing experience that Honda has garnered over the years.
50 years ago, Honda stepped into the Premier Class World Grand Prix Racing and to commemorate this feat Honda got the old and the new together. The bike you see on this page is the RC181 alongside the 2016 RC213V, flanked by Repsol Honda riders Marc Marquez and Dani Pedrosa. The team got the two bikes together before the start of the 2016 Japanese Grand Prix for a photo op and its quite interesting to see the evolution of a GP machine, 50 years down the line.
Now, the RC181 is not an ‘also ran’ GP bike. It is, in fact a legend. Honda went racing with the bike in the 1966 season of the FIM Road Racing World Championship. Competing in the 500cc class, the RC181 won five of the nine races, a commendable feat indeed. Mike Hailwood took three victories that year, while Jim Redman won the other two. Honda won the constructor’s championship that year, however, Hailwood finished second in the champioship.
In the 1967 season, Hailwood finished second in the world championship aboard the Honda. In the two years it competed, the RC181 won ten out of the 19 GPs it participated in. That’s quite an achievement by any standard.The RC213V bears of the most advanced electronics in the world (some of which are absolutely crucial to ensure the bike is rideable) along with a power packed 1000cc V4 engine, developing a mind-blowing 245PS. The suspension and tyres too are top notch, as is expected on a MotoGP machine.
The RC181, on the other hand may appear as pretty basic. The frame is a tubular-steel, twin-loop chassis. Honda developed a four-stroke, four-cylinder, carb fed, DOHC engine for the RC181. The six-speed gearbox was placed behind the crank while the carburetors were placed above that. There were no electronic aids at that time. It was just the rider and the machine. And the RC181 was quite an able machine. It’s 84 PS was pretty high for its time. Think of it, current day production bikes like the KTM RC 390 produce about 44PS.And the low 152kg kerb weight meant a power to weight ratio of 552PS/ tonne. The RC181 raced to a top speed of over 250kmph, which is only about 80-90kmph slower than today’s RC213V.
Imagine holding on to the bike at those speeds at that time! And we are not even considering the suspension, tyres and drum brakes in those days. What was Hailwood or other racers in those days thinking? We know for sure that they probably knew no fear.
The Honda RC181 then, is a legendary motorcycle. Fast, race winning, championship securing and an inspiration to the current Honda RC213V MotoGP machine.