Honda VFR400 NC30 (1988 -1994) review

Live out your RC30 fantasy on a budget

Ben Cope's picture
By Visordown on Thu, 29 Jul 2010 - 12:07

Classic Sportsbikes
£ 5899
Compared to the almost two-stroke power characteristics of the ZXR and GSX-R, the NC30’s welly is delivered in a relaxed and constant flow.
A great first sportsbike with a lovely chassis.
Parts are expensive, performance is poor compared to a 600.

Baby RC30 complete with ridiculously tall first gear

Back in 1995 I owned an NC30. In my teenage eyes it was a thing of great beauty, despite a hideous paint scheme  – a mess of black, grey and fuchsia (!). I loved that bike. It was the first bike I got my knee down on, it took me to watch Joey Dunlop race in the 1996 TT and it also got me two free screws (in my right hand) from the NHS after a Nissan Primera pulled out in front of me. Happy days.

So, it was with a great deal of recovered longing that I sat on this secondhand NC30. Despite being fairly rough around the edges this bike felt exactly the same as the one I owned for nearly six years. The clocks had the traditional mph sticker over the top (the cheapest way of converting the speedo from kph but rendering them completely illegible due to the jumble of numbers).

The square tank and ‘sat in’ riding position were strangely comforting, if a little compact. The high-pitched whine of the starter motor reminded me of teenage getaways before the frankly pathetic exhaust note coughed into life. That was always the problem with the NC30, it looked so good but sounded like an irate sewing machine. Happily this could be sorted with an aftermarket can, but it required cutting the original pipe and grafting the can on, something few owners braved. Then there was pulling away.

For some reason best known to itself, Honda gave the NC30 a stupidly tall first gear, mimicking the RC30’s racing gearbox. Launching the Honda (especially with a fatty like myself onboard) requires a hefty does of clutch slip and sometimes even a little paddle of the feet to give it a helping hand. When trying to impress anyone who might be watching this is more embarrassing than anything else. But once on the go none of this matters and the little V4 engine is still a charmer, if a little lacking.

As well as its super-trick looks the NC30 always commanded a premium due to its V4 engine. This intricate powerplant is a masterpiece of design, completely bulletproof, yet hideously complex to work on should the need arise. Something most owners simply prayed wouldn’t. Compared to the almost two-stroke power characteristics of the ZXR and GSX-R, the NC30’s welly is delivered in a relaxed and constant flow. Yet it isn’t very inspiring and it’s a little, well, dull. The CBR with its race can and sorted fuelling has the same amount of midrange while the ZXR and GSX-R have killer top ends, leaving the NC in a kind of lacklustre middle ground. The exhaust note (what you can hear of it) is evocative of great times, but the engine, especially with its tall first gear, isn’t as thrilling as it should be. Although ours could have been a bit sickly…

Unfortunately towards the end of the day our little NC30 had issues and refused to start, despite repeated coaxing and a great deal of pushing. If my memory serves me right the forward two cylinders of the V4 are prone to flooding if too much choke is used or the bike’s engine doesn’t catch quickly and the excess fuel on the tiny sparkplugs renders them useless. Not a gigantic issue and I’m sure that after a little rest it would have kicked into life again. But being rather unceremoniously shoved in the back of a van wasn’t the way I wanted to see a bike that meant so much to me end this test.

In its day the NC30 was the king, and a decent one would still deliver a great deal of pleasure today as it’s a great handling bike, it looks fantastic and has superb build quality. For a new rider the CBR offers far more useable performance, but there is something about the NC that makes you forgive a few of its faults. It’s a very special bike that sums up everything that made 400s so cool.

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