The Honda NSR250R and Suzuki RGV250 changed the sportbike landscape all over the world – except in the USA where they sadly weren’t available due to emissions regulations. Hugely popular in Australia, Asia, Europe and the UK, these powerful two-strokes were the last of the original racer-replica era. While the rest of the world spent Sunday mornings screaming up and down local hills in two-stroke bliss, American guys and girls enjoyed four-stroke sensibility. What a shame.

It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of two-strokes. Twenty years on, I’m an older and fatter 2-stroke fan, but a recent test aboard these bikes sure made me young (but not skinny) for a day!

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The owner of the RGV250 bought it years ago in original condition at the bargain price of $3,600. They demand over $10,000 AUD now.

Sure, I own a few four-strokes and most of my racebikes have had valves and cams, but my roots are firmly planted in two-stroke territory. My first dozen or so bikes were oilers, and I went from D to A grade racing RGV250s in the mid-1990s. Believe it or not, I’d not ridden an RGV since 1996, so when this opportunity to ride the RG against Honda’s NSR, I was absolutely stoked. I decided to lock in a day at The Farm (a private 2.5-mile, 22-corner test facility near Sydney) to really make it special. Two riders and two of the coolest bikes ever on the world’s most exclusive private testing facility – pure boy racer nirvana. Now there’s a band that comes to mind when I think back to my RGV days. I was acting like a kid three days before Christmas in the lead up to the test, anticipating that powerband rush, inhaling the luscious two-stroke fumes…

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The NSR250 tested here is a 1990 model which boasted a new frame and Gull-Arm swingarm.

Rocking up to The Farm on a perfect sunny day to find an immaculate RGV250 and an equally stunning NSR is a mindblowing experience. Close to six kilometres of tarmac perfection, brand new tires, fresh knee sliders and full fuel tanks meant the day was going to be serious fun – not to mention an absolute blast from the past. If only I could have found my Pearl Jam 1992 tour shirts to wear.

Hover your mouse over the images to learn more about the bikes’ model histories.

The Ride

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The RGV has the better engine of the two, with more drive off turns and a better gearbox as well. The NSR has the top end but by the time it gets going the RGV is gone.

Memories of riding my RGV are still fresh, and the past 17 years vanish as I fire up the red and white screamer. This could easily be 1994 when I first jumped on my M model RGV to ride home. Or 1993, when I was a first-year apprentice, and the bike shop I worked in had a secondhand red L-model RGV in the showroom that I used to lust over every morning tea break. It’s a real thrill for me. Hell, in 1989 I remember having an RGV brochure as the cover of my school folder.

The familiar rasp of the RGV pipes overlayed by that unmistakeable blender-full-of-nuts-and-bolts sound an RGV engine makes at idle turns to a crisp, deep braaaaap as I open up the 34mm Mikuni slides, and launch off towards the esses. I instantly feel at home on the RGV (even though I was 143 pounds last time I rode one, far from the 205-pound old man I am now) so I don’t feel quite as compact. In fact, a picture of a Gorilla humping an orange springs to mind.

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The RGV has that unmistakable braaaaap! as you open the throttle and those 34mm Mikuni’s get sucking! It is addictive.

At 282 pounds dry, the RGV is incredibly light, nimble and gives a true sportbike experience. In fact, after a lap, I’m already satisfied that it’s the best bike I’ve ridden around The Farm after the TZ250 I previously rode here once. However, I’ve yet to jump on the NSR.
Keeping the Suzuki’s sweet 90-degree Twin between 8,000 and 11,000 rpm is a buzz, and really, the bike screams. I forgot just how fast these things are, and I’m also impressed with the pull from mid-range that the single-stage power valve L model has off the slower turns. The brakes are stunning and the chassis is a dream. Even the 24-year-old shock is coping well.

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The RGV logo (with the Greek gamma letter than looks like a lower-case R) was the same as on Kevin Schwantz’s RGV500, making boy racers dream even more!

I decided to ride both bikes in quick succession then swap back again for a longer test. I’m impressed with the RGV and I’m buzzing as I jump on the NSR.

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The NSR is quick to change direction and is more compliant than the RGV when it comes to settling.

The MC21 NSR is one sexy machine, and I’m really looking forward to riding it. I’ve heard so many stories about the sublime geometry and top-end kick. Just looking at the bike I feel like a factory Honda 250 GP rider!

With a lot more technology than the RGV, including an ECU similar to that on the RC30, and geometry borrowed from the RS250 and NSR250 GP bikes, I knew the NSR would be good. The bike uses a PGMIII ECU that is coupled to a throttle-position sensor and gear-position sensor. With those inputs plus rpm, the ECU monitors and controls the power valves and ignition timing to give optimum performance. Very trick stuff for 1990!

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The NSR has a more compact ride position that feels more like a true GP machine. In fact, it feels a little like the Honda RS250 racebike.

Hopping on the NSR reveals a more compact ride that feels more like a true GP bike. Mechanically, the Honda is quieter and the throttle crisper than the RGV. The rattle of the dry clutch really gets me grinning – seriously, no modern bike can replicate this kind of buzz.
The NSR chassis is simply sublime. The front end is so planted I feel as though I’m holding the front axle. Feel and feedback from the front tire is more confidence inspiring, the chassis reacts just as fast as the RGV to steering inputs but does so in a more refined and stable way, and the brakes are stunning. In every level of handling and chassis performance, the NSR is 15% better than the RGV. The engine has better peak power than the Suzuki but surprisingly doesn’t quite have the same pull off the slower corners, which means overall, on a tight circuit, the RGV would probably make a faster, although messier, lap time than the high-tech NSR.

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The NSR front-end is so planted that you feel as though you are holding the front axle into turns. It is amazing.

Back on the RGV and I’m really getting stuck in now. Both are sensational and running perfectly. We’ve done dozens and dozens of laps and neither bike has missed a beat.
Pushing the RGV hard comes naturally to me. I’m scraping my entire leg – toes, ankle, calf, shin, knee – through the turns as I lean the bike over to impossible angles, carrying great corner speed as the bike gently two-wheel drifts about a foot to the outside between the apex and the exit of each turn. It’s a graceful ‘crab’ walk I remember from my proddie days – the absolute limit of an RGV. It felt good to get there, and feel so in control and comfortable – even at 40 years old. Just shows how good these little bikes are.

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Chassis-wise, the NSR has it all over the RGV, but both bikes are much easier to handle than most modern machines. Interestingly here in Australia, the NSR never won a 250 production race or set any records, while the RGV dominated on track.

Back on the NSR, it’s slightly different. A faster, sweeping line through the corners with equally insane lean angle. But the Honda geometry means the NSR makes more use of the sticky tires, with more mechanical grip and no sliding aside from the odd front-end tuck into the slow esses, easily caught by digging the knee in. That’s the beauty of these old lightweight two-strokes. Try that on a modern heavy four-stroke and you’re on your arse.

The NSR is more compliant in quick changes of direction, and the suspension settles faster than the RGV set-up when flicking from full lean to full lean. Both bikes are stable on the brakes, but the NSR is slightly more composed and has more brake feel, so you can brake harder and a little deeper.

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From any angle, the NSR looks like a real factory GP 250 motorcycle. Although it is ultimately drool material, the RGV lacks the GP style and finesse of the NSR.

Engine-wise, I prefer the RGV. Despite the NSR’s technology and strong top-end power, its gearbox is a difficult shift and the lack of response at 8,000-9 000 rpm gives the nod to the RGV.

Chassis-wise the NSR has it all over the Suzuki, but both bikes are better than most modern machines due to their light and easy-to-manage weight. They really are from an era where us punters truly did benefit from grand prix racing. Long live the race replicas.

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Both bikes are stable on the brakes, but the NSR is more composed and has better brake feel.

250cc Two-Stroke Shootout Specifications
1990 Honda NSR 250 R 1990 Suzuki RGV 250
Claimed power 34kW[45hp] @ 9500rpm 43.3kW[58hp] @ 11000rpm
Claimed torque 33Nm@8500rpm 37Nm@10800rpm
Dry weight 132kg 128kg
Fuel capacity 16L 17L
Engine Liquid-cooled 90° V-twin two-stroke Liquid-cooled 90° V-twin two-stroke
Bore and stroke 54 x 54.5mm 56 x 50.6mm
Displacement 249cc 249cc
Compression ratio 7.4:1 7.5:1
Fuel delivery Crankcase reed valve induction Mikuni VM34SS carbs
Ignition CDI PGM-II Suzuki Pointless Electric Ignition
Exhaust Dual HM KV3H SANKEI 2284 mufflers Dual mufflers
Ratios 2.846, 2, 1.578, 1.333, 1.190, 1.083 2.454, 1.625, 1.235, 1.045, 0.916, 0.840
Final ratio 2.667 (40/15) 3.066 (46/15)
Clutch Wet multi-plate, with coil springs Wet multi-plate
Final drive Chain Chain
Frame type Twin-spar aluminium frame Deltabox frame
Swingarm Alloy Gull-Arm swingarm Box-section alloy
Wheelbase 1340mm 1375mm
Rake 23° 25.75°
Trail 87mm 98mm
Front suspension Telescopic oil filled damper with spring preload adjustment. Telescopic oil damped five-way adjustable forks, 120mm travel
Rear suspension Gull-Arm with external coil and damper, variable spring preload with Albach spring. Full floating oil damped seven-way adjustable shock with Albach spring, 140mm travel
Front brake Dual floating 276mm rotors with cast aluminium four-piston calipers. Dual 300mm rotors with four-piston calipers
Rear brake Single 220mm rotor with cast aluminium single-piston sliding caliper. Single 210mm rotor with two-piston caliper
Front wheel Six-spoke aluminum Enkei, 110/70, 17in Three-spoke alloy wheel, 110/70, 17in
Rear wheel Six-spoke aluminum Enkei, 150/60, 17in Three-spoke alloy wheel, 140/60, 18in
Front tyre Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa Bridgestone Battlax BT003F
Rear tyre Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa Bridgestone Battlax BT003R
Seat height 770mm 755mm
Overall height 1060mm 1065mm
Overall length 1975mm 2015mm
Overall width 655mm 695mm
Ground clearance 135mm 120mm
Instruments Analog dash Analog dash
Extras TIGA rearsets, carbon-fiber rear hugger and heel guards, Hel braided lines.

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  • Mahatma

    Nice article.Love the smell of two-stroke in the morning;)

  • SRMark

    Smoke ’em if you got ’em!

  • paganmachine

    Is the NSR MC21in this article unrestricted?

  • Allison Sullivan

    I grew up in New Zealand, and got my licence and my first bike at 19. Given that I was restricted to a 250cc machine for my first six months riding, what could fit the bill better than an ex-race RG250? I LOVED that bike, and I would give my right arm to have it in my garage now.

    Those are two immaculate little bikes – there’s not many good ones left now.

    • Mahatma

      I would opt for the honda now.Suzukis from that age has horrible reputation build quality wise.

    • http://twitter.com/lokhor Nick Monrad

      New laws in NZ mean you can’t ride an RGV250 or NSR250 with a Learner licence anymore either – they are both too powerful and break LAMS restrictions

  • spiff

    Aprilia should take their 250 and replace it with the SXV550 power plant. Once those engines are sorted out they are pretty solid. If Aprilia were to come out with a well thought out second generation of that engine they could do this, supermoto, and their version of a Duke 690. I small dig high performance bikes.

    • Jay Dee

      Great idea! That frame was a ripper!

    • KYspeaks

      I still miss my RS250 which I had for a few years until maintenance starting to cost more and more. Upgraded to a Shiver and while it’s probably faster & absolutely more reliable and practical, the fun factor just isn’t the same.

  • Jay Dee

    I own a fully restored RGV vj22 series M. I had a RG250 back in the 80s but could not afford the new RGV when it arrived from 1988 onward. Yes, they mimic GP bikes. Yes, so easy to flick it around. Yes, great brakes. Yes, the surge of a two stroke is great fun. It took a year to restore it and I would do it again!

    • ColoradoS14

      Just another “Yes” man…

      Sweet bike.

  • azi

    I had a brand new RGV250T in 1996 – the full AU unrestricted version. It would easily keep up with (or overtake) 600 supersports during its era around the back of Eastern Creek Raceway in Sydney. A true pocket rocket.

    It’s one of three bikes that I regret ever selling. A recent search for roadworthy RGV250s and Aprilia RS250s for less than $7000 on the Australian marketplace was fruitless. I ended up getting a 1998 GSXR750 SRAD for peanuts – not quite the same experience as the RGV, but exciting nonetheless and has potential as another historic Suzuki model.

  • http://www.pantheonrotf.com Brad McQuaid

    Very cool article! By the specs you listed, it sounds like both bikes were restricted/stock? Would be great to see how you think they compare de-restricted, with both at ~60-65hp!

  • Jay Dee

    Yes, man!

  • http://www.pantheonrotf.com Brad McQuaid

    My de-restricted vj23. My 2nd favorite 2-stroke (MC28 being my favorite)

    • http://www.pantheonrotf.com Brad McQuaid

      My favorite (de-restricted MC28)

  • Sentinel

    Sexy bikes! They look way better than most of the bikes out now!

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