The hottest Honda imports have only two wheels

With a younger generation of enthusiasts on the prowl for something special, there’s been an increased awareness of the U.S.’s 25-year import law. A flush of overseas vehicles are arriving stateside when eligible, including hot Hondas with half as many wheels as their shipmates.

Enter the Honda NSR250, one of the most desirable motorcycles built while George H.W. Bush was still in the White House. Featuring a cutting-edge Honda design that was never enjoyed outside Japan, it was a motorcycle engineered for one market yet lusted after by many others. This has led to an influx of examples sold through auctions in Japan and shipped around the world.

1989 Honda NSR250
A clean example of a 1989 NSR250 SP, the first year for the SP model, featuring race-oriented options and Terra Racing colors. Mecum

Production began in the mid-1980s, and the NSR250 featured a twin spar aluminum frame and swing arm with geometry inspired by its racing GP250 bike. The 249cc water-cooled, two-stroke, twin-cylinder engine was restricted to 45 horsepower from the factory, but that ceiling could be easily lifted to unleash additional power. Combined with its svelte 288-pound dry weight, a very potent and capable machine was born.

Honda stuffed advanced technology into this small package with the inclusion of its variable “RC Valve” system. The “Revolutionary Controlled” valve was designed to increase exhaust port timing to boost high RPM output of the engine, and the advanced engine was paired to an equally high-tech transmission. A new cassette-type six-speed included an oil pump that allowed it to carry less oil, therefore lowering overall weight. The transmission could also be changed without removing the engine from the chassis.

While early production NSR250s are popular, the most in demand is the NSR250R SP. This special edition featured adjustable suspension, dry clutch, and gold-colored Magtek wheels. All 1990 NSRs featured a redesigned swing arm, allowing the expansion chambers and exhaust to be tucked higher for additional cornering clearance.

1992 Honda NSR250 SP
This 1992 NSR250 SP features the revised “Gull Arm” swing arm design and the desirable Rothmans Livery.

The late-model NSRs, from 1994 to production end in ’96, featured a unique Smart Card that controlled the ignition characteristics. To tune the motorcycle, all the owner needed was the proper card for the weather and track conditions. These cards—specifically the higher-output HRC (Honda Racing Corporation) cards—are getting very difficult to locate and acquire. There was no simple bypass to de-restrict these Smart Card-equipped machines, leading to a slight drop in demand for these today.

While an imported Japanese-spec bike can present hurdles, the NSR community is growing quickly in the U.S. Parts can be shipped from Japan with relative ease, and there is a thriving network of enthusiasts detailing how to keep these machines on the road. Importers dedicated to bringing solid examples to the U.S. take care of all the paperwork to properly register these motorcycles for street use.

If you’ve been searching for ’90s nostalgia performance and appearance but don’t have much room in the garage, look no further than the Honda NSR250.

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