Reader's Ride: Beau's Honda RC51

Readers' Rides
by Readers' Rides

The Honda RC-51 - Thunderpig, Ducati Killer, Legend

Beau Horton is a self-confessed Honda RC51 lover, as are many folks out there. Here he regales us with his personal love affair with Honda’s direct challenge to Ducati – the RC51.

“Where n = the number of motorcycles you currently own, the correct number of motorcycles to have is n+1.”

For those of us who live by this philosophy but don’t have the capability to finance a garage full of the baddest bikes in history, we cycle through them, buying and selling used bikes to experience it all.

Every so often you get one that is so wildly impractical, heavy, gas-guzzling, loud, and an obvious ticket magnet; but, let’s be honest, if you did have a garage full of bikes, this is the kind that you want to keep around. A motorcycle like this is not even a good weekend warrior – more of a secret and selective indulgence of carnage and hooliganry.

In my life, this is the Honda RVT 1000, aka the RC-51 SP1 and later the SP2. This is a monster of a bike with 1000cc of V-Twin POWER. A guttural grundle-rumbler. Some say “the bike that proved Honda had soul.” The Ducati killer. The Thunderpig.

I’ve owned not one, but two, of these over the years, and pretty soon I’ll be due a third.

They’re wildly expensive for their age, and the yearly insurance premium alone is usually worth more than the bike itself. It would be impossible to pass the “ride around in a cute circle” test (while driving at an outsider’s observation of a “responsible speed”) to get your license because the handlebars simply would not allow you to turn that tight. It’s nearly 500 lbs wet. There’s no gas gauge. The riding position is nothing short of “track-only.” It will overheat in the SoCal desert if you’re not moving with any purpose.

Why on Earth do I keep coming back to the RC-51? Because it’s awesome, dammit! The two-time world champion has history and heart to make up for its lack of… well, everything else.

And it’s a complete treat to command this beast from the helm.

The RC-51 an absolute scalpel on corners. In fact, it’s the only bike on which I’ve ever taken the “chicken strips” all the way to the edge of the wheel – this feat being accomplished on one of the most memorable rides of my life up, down, and around Mount Palomar.

Even with a stock exhaust, the engine is loud but never once has it been seen as obnoxious. It’s musical, perhaps whimsical, with the four valves per cylinder dancing in perfect unison. My latest model, with 55,000 miles on the odo, had never had a valve adjustment. When I took it in for one, they were still well within spec.

The front end looks like a bad-ass wasp noggin’. The sleek lines with the ’90’s “roundness” that plagued a lot of designs of the era are timeless on the RC.

Although the riding position is perhaps uncomfortable around town, in the twisties it is absolutely perfect. You’re able to throw your body around and command the beast to track the sharpest, switchbackinest “15 mph curves” well above what could be done on almost any road bike.

On the backroads of the California desert, I reached an indicated speed that, looking back, was downright foolish, but the 6-speed transmission of that beautiful v-twin just purred along.

So, yes, the RC-51 is expensive, heavy, uncomfortable, unforgiving, impractical, HOT, low-tech, and makes insurance companies salivate.

But, as Sun Tzu said, victory is reserved for those willing to pay its price. When I’m in command of the Ducati Killing Thunderpig – I am victorious.

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  • Imtoomuch Imtoomuch on Jun 26, 2020

    There's a local SP1 for sale with the Sato exhaust. Not many miles on it either. I didn't realize they were carbed though. That's a buzzkill for me.

    Great article. I think there's some embellishment in the story that comes from nostalgia blinding the author from the truth. Let's be honest, there are plenty of other street bikes what will hang with the RC51 in the corners these days. Other than that it's good stuff.
    And the RC51 is still a great looking bike. This era of Honda sport bikes is one of my favorite design schemes. The F4i is also still beautiful to me.

    • See 4 previous
    • Troy Siahaan Troy Siahaan on Jun 26, 2020

      Please buy it so I don't!

  • Therewego Therewego on Nov 29, 2022

    Do these need rearsets? Seems like the position is aggressive enough but my bf is considering Sato's.