Japan’s most expensive motorcycle has “only” 100 hp

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Loïc Kernen

Motorcycles enjoy more lenient legislation than automobiles do, and thus wild motorcycles slip from the factory into customer hands more often than crazy cars do. One such example is the Honda RC213V, but you have to be in the know to understand why. Judging from the horsepower rating on its spec sheet, the latest “RC” bike to be available to the public is unremarkable—but there is a reason for that, and you shouldn’t believe everything you read. 

First, let’s talk about what the RC213V is. The name itself tells you a lot: RC is the prefix designating Honda four-stroke racing machines, 213 marks this is as third iteration of a factory race machine in the 21st century, and the V indicates the engine layout. The RC213V was the bike that great names rode in during each MotoGP season from 2012 to now and thus possessed all the crazy technology to which machines at that level are privy: pneumatic valve timing, carbon-ceramic brakes, a seamless-shift gearbox, assist and slipper clutch, and all the titanium hardware and adjustability a mechanic could dream of to boot. It’s stuff a privateer or street rider can only dream of—and Honda gave it to the common man. 

Well, sort of.

On June 11, 2015, Honda announced the RC213V-S would be available for purchase. This would be a race replica of the RC213V on which Marc Marquez took the 2014 world championship, and according to Honda the “street” version would share 80 percent of its parts with MotoGP bike. That is as close as you could get with any expectation of street manners. The only components retained by the race bike and withheld from its street-spec sibling were the seamless transmission and pneumatic valves. Lucky buyers got traditional valve springs along with a standard cassette transmission, which helped up the engine service interval to an advertised 4000-mile check-in. There is also the ECU programming that keeps things tame. Very tame, in fact.

Due to noise restrictions and laws, U.S. buyers got the short stick when it came to the RC213V-S. The factory-fit exhaust is restrictive but still very loud, and thus the ECU installed in all customer bikes neutered the 999cc V-4 engine’s output considerably. European and Australian buyers had it best with a factory-rated 159 horsepower, while U.S. buyers got just 100. Adding insult to injury, the Honda had the lowest output in its home country, making just 70 horses in Japan delivery trim. Considering this engine was dominating MotoGP, it is a sad thought to think of the relatively paltry power numbers.

An even deeper dig for stateside buyers was that the HRC track kit could be ordered by Euro customers, and that rolling crate featured everything needed to unlock the full 215-hp potential of the RC213V-S.

The chassis was not downgraded at all, though. Titanium hardware can be spotted throughout, and the Öhlins TTX25 forks and TTX 36 shock are race-track ready. Brembo calipers and stainless-steel discs are identical to the MotoGP rain-spec hardware. A team of artisans assembled one RC213V-S every 2 to 3 days, and just 150 made it out the door before assembly stopped. 

 All this came at a hefty $184,000 price tag, with some fortunate European buyers shelling out $12,000 more for the HRC track kit. That sounds like wild money, and it was. According to Hagerty valuation analyst James Hewitt, the RC213V-S was 2.5 times the price of a Ducati D16RR Desmosedici, which led to slow sales of the hand-built Hondas. It took years to see how that big initial investment might benefit market-conscious buyers.

“The Desmosedici has only depreciated to around $50K in the 15 years since new, while the RC213V-S has gained value. The most desired models of the RC213V-S are European-spec examples with the optional race kit,” says Hewitt. “We didn’t see any RC213V-S come to auction until 2021, and many owners were likely unsure if their $180K investment would stand the open market.”

Now the floodgates seem to have opened. No fewer than three examples have come up for sale recently. The first two set and reset the record for most expensive Japanese motorcycle to sell at auction. The third to come up for sale is the one pictured in this story, which will cross the block at Artcurial’s Retromobile sale on March 18. All signs point to another broken record, as this bike packs the perfect storm of options and condition. This bike is the crown jewel of a racing Honda collection, and it’s finally appreciating at that level.

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