In the early 1990s, 400cc race reps were all the rage. But that was nearly two decades ago. Are these pocket rockets still a viable buy in the secondhand market or simply relics from the past?
A baby RC30 with a V4 engine and assortment of lurid paint schemes. Always pricey, but the best looking of the bunch
Click to read: 1991 Honda VFR400R NC30 owners reviews
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 ridiculously tall first gear, mimicking the RC30’s racing gearbox. Launching the Honda (especially with a fatty like myself onboard) requires a hefty dose of clutch slip and sometimes even a little paddle of the feet to give it a hand. But on the go the V4 engine is a charmer.
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.
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.
In its day the NC30 was the king, and a decent one would still deliver a great deal today. It’s a great handling bike, looks fantastic with 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 its few faults. It’s a very special bike with everything that made 400s so cool.
Suzuki's GSX-R400 follows
From £1,195 (1990, 19,500 miles) to £3,000 (1989, 25,000 miles)
For a bike only manufactured between 1989 and 1992, and sold in limited numbers as official UK spec machines, the NC30 has gained something of a cult following among British riders, probably due to its exceptional handling and soulful V4 exhaust note.
As a new machine however it wasn’t as well received as its list price of nearly £6000 was higher than that of its big brother, the VFR750, but as a used bike they’re popular with newer and shorter riders due to the sweet-natured 60bhp engine and modest dimensions.
Prices even for tatty examples are on the up due to their rarity and usefulness when it comes to embarrassing big sports bikes, while a well looked after 20-year-old machine can go for the same as a five-year-old sports 600.
Left hand fairing panel: £146.81Clutch lever: £12.39Screen: £164.11
Minor service: £130Major service: £400
The watch-like V-4 internals of the bike are so tightly packed inside the frame it makes it tough and expensive to work on. This can lead to owners scrimping on maintenance vital to a rev-hungry engine. If some parts on the bike are still original they’ll more than likely need replacing by now; brake lines and seals dry out and perish, and bearings will be well past their best by now. Don’t expect plastics to be pristine either, stone chips and cracks should be expected if the bike has seen any kind of use.
Posted: 03/08/2011 at 18:15
Posted: 24/09/2013 at 21:03
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