2002 RC51 Development Story

The long-standing truism that racing improves the breed serves as the perfect watchword for Honda's RC51™. How so? In the year 2000, Honda unveiled the RC51 as a purpose-built racing platform designed to battle in Superbike competition the world over.

And what a magnificent racing platform the RC51 turned out to be. Honda's remarkable V-twin took the 2000 race season by storm. In the able hands of Texan Colin Edwards, the RC51 captured the World Superbike Championship in its first season, while on the homefront 19-year-old Nicky Hayden finished the 2000 season a paltry six points short of the AMA Superbike Championship. These race track successes carried on into the 2001 season, where the RC51 continued its winning ways. The highlight of the year belonged to Nicky Hayden, who closed out the AMA Superbike season by winning four consecutive races in devastating fashion.

Now, a mere two years later, the wealth of experience gleaned from the top ranks of racing has been incorporated into the next-generation 2002 Honda RC51. Because the original RC51 already had a performance-heavy focus, it's no surprise to find the main thrust has been aimed at tying this already-potent racer replica even closer to its racing origins, with a completely new HRC®-developed chassis, plus more power than before.

The 2002 999cc V-twin powerplant now features huge, racing-style 62mm fuel-injection throttle bodies (up from 54mm) that work in concert with the latest-generation fuel injectors, two for each cylinder. All four injectors feature 12 laser-drilled jet holes in place of the previous four-hole injectors for finer fuel atomization and more power. New fuel injection and ignition mapping further enhance throttle response and power production, and work together with newly reshaped cylinder head and exhaust ports to improve high-rpm breathing. These changes bring peak horsepower up to 128 bhp at 10,000 rpm. This new engine now hits harder than ever past 5000 rpm, and it keeps making power on the overrev after reaching its peak.

Though changes are subtle in appearance, the 2002 rolling chassis is where the lion's share of significant changes reside. Honda's engineers massaged virtually every element in the chassis to improve handling and shave weight from the new RC51. The redesigned aluminum frame features a steeper, 23.5° steering head angle--the steepest ever used on any Honda--for ultra-responsive handling. The new frame also incorporates press-forged engine-hangers that are both stronger and lighter than the previous gravity die cast components. The brand-new HRC-developed press-forged aluminum swingarm is 16mm longer than before to improve the power delivery through the rear end, while also being substantially lighter (1.9 pounds) and more rigid than the previous unit to enhance race track-level use.

A new HRC-type rear shock--adjustable for spring preload and rebound and compression damping--is lighter in weight, and the integrated reservoir has been relocated to enhance oil flow and simplify fitment of competition-style exhaust systems. In addition, three-quarters of a pound has also been shaved from the fully adjustable front fork, a full pound or more from each of the new five-spoke front and rear wheels, plus important ounces from the front and rear brake calipers. These reductions in weight are especially significant because they represent either unsprung weight, or items located far from the bike's center of mass.

Other modifications include a new, 1.2-inch-taller windscreen derived from Colin Edward's championship WSB mount for improved aerodynamics on the track, and a new lightweight aluminum upper fairing stay that saves 7 ounces over the previous steel item. All told, the 2002 RC51 shaves 11 pounds from the 2001 RC51. The redesigned rear subframe can also be easily detached to lighten the frame another 1.2 pounds for racing purposes.

Less weight. Better handling. More power. Honda's ongoing quest to put performance first continues to produce impressive advances throughout its 2002 product line. But when you take the RC51, a motorcycle that is already sharply focused toward racing, and infuse it with the latest track-proven upgrades from HRC, you end up with a sport bike that is simply without peer.

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