How Honda Botched Its $184,000 Motorcycle

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Rumors of an honest-to-god MotoGP bike for the street have been swirling for years. Imagine Red Bull making a Formula One car for the road and you can understand the level of anticipation. And, you can also imagine the level of embarrassment that would result in that vehicle flopping. Which Honda just did with the $184,000 RC213V-S.

To establish some context, let’s talk about the purpose of batshit insane, madly expensive bikes like these. Manufacturers occasionally knock out something high dollar like this for two reasons: 1) Brand marketing to people like you and me and 2) Brand marketing to rich dudes.

The level of sheer technical wizardry and general holy-shit-we-live-in-the-future-ness that goes into putting a bike like the CBR1000RR on the market, making that bike by the tens of thousands, making it reliable and making it not kill its riders is mind boggling.

But, put it in a Superbike Shootout and that’s not the story. The story is that it’s more than a few horsepower behind its rivals and it doesn’t come with now de rigueur technology like traction control.

To sell it, and other bikes in competitive categories, be they the best or not, Honda wants people to pay money for its bike because it’s a Honda. That means it’ll be reliable, sure, and that it’ll be a little better put together than other bikes sold at a similar price.

But what about desire? Reliability and build quality and price are good, practical arguments, but on a luxury toy like a motorcycle, they’re often outweighed by sex appeal.

So, Honda goes racing. You might have heard of a Spanish kid named Marc Marquez, they pay him $10 million a year to be chief spokesmodel for CBRs, CBs and all fun little bikes they sell by the millions in Southeast Asia.

Whether or not there’s an adequate return on that investment is increasingly up for debate, but “Win on Sunday, sell on Monday,” is as close to a proven recipe for sales success as the motorcycle world has.

And Honda dominates worldwide motorcycle racing, applying a budget no one else can. They don’t always win, but by and large, they consistently compete more competitively in more series than anyone else.

So the idea with a bike like the RC213V-S is to drive that point home. In a world of $75,000 Ducatis, 200bhp Yamahas and supercharged Kawasakis, it’s Honda trying to remind everyone that they’re the top dog.

They set out to make a near-as-dammit exact replica of Marquez’s bike, then jump all the incredible hurdles it would take to make what basically is a MotoGP bike road legal, across the world. Do not underestimate the challenge or cost of doing that, especially for a bike with a production run of just 200 units, total.

A flagship motorcycle shouldn’t need a Powerpoint presentation to make sense.

Honda brags about the RC213V-S’s “agility” and the quality of its welds and the wizardry of its electronics. And man, all that stuff is neat. But it’s not the story.

“Honda is asking the Japanese public to spend ¥21.9 million (or $184,000) for a motorcycle that makes two horsepower more than a Triumph Bonneville,” wrote Sean MacDonald on RevZilla’s Common Tread. That’s the story. The one being told by the press and talked about on message boards; the one that matters.

In order to make a MotoGP bike road legal, it has to meet noise regulations. A MotoGP bike makes 130dB; to be road legal in California, for instance, a motorcycle can’t make more than 80dB. That’s the difference between a phone’s dial tone and a jet engine. And to take the bike down from 130 to 80 would require the most gigantic of gigantic mufflers to end all gigantic mufflers. Which the RC213V-S does not wear.

Instead, Honda just programmed the ECU to artificially limit revs to whatever level will pass local noise regs. In Japan, that’s just 6,000 of its maximum potential 14,000rpm. That means it makes just 70bhp. And that’s just embarrassing.

Everyone who buys one will buy the sport kit (even if Honda says it’s illegal in America) and get the full 215bhp. But they’re still selling a stock $184,000 motorcycle that makes 2bhp more than a Bonneville.

You and I will never get to ride an RC213V-S. It’s supposed to capture our imaginations, live on our bedroom wall posters and make us think Honda represents the ultimate in motorcycle performance. Instead, the Internet collectively laughed it off.

But you and I are also not the lucky 200 people who will be offered a chance to buy one. So, I talked to someone who did have such a chance, but turned it down.

“I am not a rich guy, I am just motorcycle crazy!” Kaming Ko tells us. The LA-area enthusiast is famous in local bike circles for showing up at tracks and riding the wheels off his small collection of historic race bikes. Other guys keep them in their living rooms and polish them occasionally, Kaming takes them to the track and uses them like their makers intended.

“I had one on order three years ago,” Kaming says. He actually turned down the opportunity to buy one of Nicky Hayden’s 2014 race bikes to leave room for the S. A choice he now regrets.

“I was excited until I saw the price last month. My initial expectation was $85,000 to $100,000 and I was prepared to go up to $120,000, if that’s what it took. But, at $185,000, plus $15,000 to get it to 215bhp, I cannot justify the expense at my level of income.”

It’s not that Kaming can’t afford the bike. It’s that he doesn’t think it’s worth it. This is a guy that was seriously considering buying one of Nicky’s GP bikes, plus a spare, for $200,000.

The trouble is that the RC213V-S will be produced in 200 units and that it will never have any racing pedigree. In the world of high-dollar motorcycles, that relatively large number hampers its future value, outright desirability and skews the opportunity cost.

“There are only six to ten satellite Honda race bikes built annually,” explains Kaming. Why buy a copy for $185,000 when you can own the real deal for $200,000? Hell, you can buy a ex-GP bike with an Aprilia motor for just $150,000 and that’s a bike that’s actually been raced.

This $184,000 motorcycle has the same levers and switchgear as the CBR600RR. Plus the world’s ugliest mirrors.

Kaming also questions the Honda’s authenticity. “The RC213V-S does not have the same valve train as the factory bike! The suspension and brake components are not the same either. My Ducati has full carbon brakes.” Kaming owns an ex-Rossi Ducati GP racer.

Just for some perspective, we asked Kaming why he bothers with such rarities, when a motorcycle like the new Yamaha R1 M makes over 200bhp and has nearly as sophisticated electronics. “There’s no comparison,” he tells us. “A street bike that weighs over 400lbs and has 200bhp is not a prototype race bike that weighs 315 to 320lbs and has 240 to 260bhp at the crank!”

So Honda’s lost the hearts and minds not only of the masses, but of the motorcycle enthusiasts who can afford the bike, too. They’ll sell all 200, but the RC213V-S won’t end up occupying the same place in motorcycle lore as the RC30 or maybe even the World Superbike-based RC51. What attention it has garnered for the brand has been negative and that’s not going to help sell CBRs, CBs or even scooters. They’d better hope Marquez starts winning again.

One may presume that the millions of dollars and countless man hours invested in the RC213V-S project would have been better spent returning Honda to the top of the road-going superbike market. The current model CBR1000RR has been around mostly unchanged since 2008 and now falls far behind rivals on both power and technology.

Want to put MotoGP tech on the street? Sell it for a reasonable amount of money, give it a ton of horsepower and hire Valentino Rossi to tell people to buy it.

Compare its 170bhp and outdated, street-biased design to the 200bhp and MotoGP-influenced engineering of the new Yamaha R1, add the fact that Valentino Rossi is winning races for Yamaha and the clear connection between his electronics package and that of the R1 M and you can see that Honda has a real problem.

What it needs to fix that is a competitive bike in showrooms, not a $184,000 farce that’s become the laughing stock of the Internet.

Wes Siler is a reformed motorcycle journalist who now writes about going camping with his dog for IndefinitelyWild. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram.