Honda RS500R Track Test

By Mike Franklin, Road Test Editor , Jul. 09, 1996
 
 

Hang on as we ride a Honda RS500R around Willow Springs Raceway. Yes, dearest drooling reader, a three cylinder two-stroke 500cc GP bike like the one that Fast Freddie Spencer screamed into the 1983 500cc World Championship's history books. And if Freddie's signature on the gas tank is any indication, it just may be the bike. And the good news is that, sometime in the near future, you can race against the RS500R.

Let us explain: The chance to throw a leg over what was then the best bike in GP history came when Bernie Fried, the owner of Simultronix Co. of Beverly Hills, California, invited Road Test Editor Mike Franklin to Willow Springs International Raceway to participate in a video shoot -- Simultronix is in the business of developing a virtual reality simulator thrill ride
based on, you guessed it, motorcycle racing.

The ride is a completely interactive machine with pitch and yaw motion simulators electronically connected to the throttle, brakes and handle bars. Twist the throttle and the front end of what started out as a real TZ250 comes up and the rider is thrown back into the saddle. A full-screen, full-motion digital video screen that wraps around the front half of the bike shows the race track rushing towards you.

Flick it into a corner and it leans over giving all the feedback through the seat and bars of a real bike at speed. Give it too much gas and the back end will step out. Throw it away, and a big grumpy mechanic beats you up over the head with a wrench. Just like the real thing!

"We gave the truck about a minute head start, and blew by it heading into the tight left-hand Turn Three."

Bernie's own RS500R (I could tell you how he acquired it, but then he'd h ave to kill me) was to be filmed at the track to provide a bike for the simulator pilot (that'd be you) to actually race against (that's the machine) in real time. This is going to be a hot simulator when it goes on the market later this year.

Out at Willow, we had the track to ourselves, and a specially-equipped camera truck would try to follow the GP bike around the track. Yeah, right. What actually happened was that we gave the truck about a minute head start, and blew by it heading into the tight left-hand Turn Three. The video camera was able to capture the bike for about the next two turns, and it was gone.

Eventually, the doldrums of filming were out of the way, and the bike stood riderless at the track entrance. I weighed my options: First, I could bribe Bernie into letting me ride it, but I only had a couple bucks on me. So that was out. I could make a dash for the bike, ride around the track really fast and play dumb when they pulled me in "ummm, I thought you wanted me to ride around for, ummm, more footage."

Luckily, we were spared such an ugly scene.

Bernie walked over my way, opened his mouth to speak, and before he could blurt out: "Wanna ride it?" I had my leathers on and was pushing him out of the way. Just as I was having visions of sliding both ends and a knee puck through Willow's flat-out Turn Eight, he said that, as a provision for getting the track without a medical crew and corner workers, I wouldn't be allowed to get it out of first gear. WHAT? That's like getting a date with Cindy Crawford, and being told you can only hold her hand! Yeah, but it's still a date.

"Cresting Turn Six with a powerband wheelie for good measure, I cruise the missile back into the pits. I had ridden the beast and lived to tell about it."

As it turned out, first was all I really needed as it had very tall gearing -- just getting it onto the track without stalling the motor required some awful clutch abuse. By the time it came into the power, first gear had it going plenty fast. Feeling brave through Turn One, with the motor well into the powerband, I gave it some gas and just about threw it away right there. Someone once said that you'd better have these things pointe d in the right direction when you gas it up, and now I understand why. At just over 250 pounds, with well over 100 hp at the rear wheel, it goes like a raped ape.

Re-composed and cruising into Turn Two, a light touch on the bars had the thing almost off the inside of the track and into the dirt. I shouldn't have told it where I wanted to go and it would have been fine. The RS500R gets around a track all by itself just fine, and anything I tried to make it do just made it worse. Think too hard about turning it and it's already done it for you. The fashionable-for-the-time 16-inch front wheel and racy chassis attitude makes easy work out of changing direction. I imagine it would be a different story at full speed where the gyroscopic precession would add some stability.

The next few corners are where Willow tightens up and flicking the willing RS through the twisty stuff was far too easy. It's a bike that was made to be either straight up and down full on the gas, or on it's side, so there is no real mid-corner transition. It seems to fall into the corners telling me that I'm no match for the bike's awesome capabilities. It's laughing at me.

Cresting Turn Six with a powerband wheelie for good measure, I cruise the missile back into the pits and into the loving arms of its owner. I had ridden the beast and lived to tell about it. A short ride, but it was oh so sweet!

So, is it Freddie's bike? No one knows for sure, but the speculation is that this RS500R (the factory RS500Rs were called NS500s) was one of the backup bikes for Freddie Spencer and Mike Baldwin. So it wasn't one of their "A" bikes, but Bernie believes it was raced at least once.

Oh yeah, it's for sale. Really. Close your mouth and read this again: A 1983 Honda RS500R is for sale. If you want a bike that not even Honda has in its collection, and have some serious disposable income, it's yours. Bernie is taking bids right here, so if you gotta have it and have cash somewhere in mid five-figure range, make him an offer.