Used Bike

Classic superbikes - 2

The mid 1990s was the era of the racebike on the road. World Superbikes became massive, so the manufacturers produced exotic superbikes for the fight. And none were more special than Ducati’s bellowing 916SP or Honda’s mighty RC45

Our RC45 had been re-painted in the Castrol Honda colours of a TT marshal’s bike, which was a shame. The ‘Groundwork Southeast’ logo under the seat looked especially uninviting. The ’45 was never a pretty bike but has always had a squat, purposeful stance to it. Like the 916 the Honda has a single-sided swingarm (at least Honda’s had genuine heritage from endurance racing Championships), but unlike the Ducati the RC45 is no work of art.

Mild-steel bolts keep the various sections of the exhaust together, the footrest hangars are clunky after-thoughts, there’s no Öhlins to be seen anywhere and the bodywork is made of the usual plastic instead of the 916SP’s carbon seat unit. It’s hard to see how Honda justified that £18k price tag, but that was always the thing with the RC45. On paper it did indeed look like a waste of money, but then you rode it flat-out and all of that changed in an instant.

We head out into the fast, open A-roads around Cambridgeshire, the flat bark of the Honda a stark contrast to the Ducati’s exhaust boom and clutch rattle. These are proper sportsbikes, raw and difficult to master. The RC45 is stupifyingly uncomfortable, I remember it being bad but this is ridiculous. The Showa forks are nigh on solid (great for front-end feedback but lousy for anything else) while the rear is low and the distance from seat to pegs is about four inches. Add in the fat fuel tank and you’re squatting like a toad. Then factor in the 85mph first gear and through traffic it’s hard to imagine anything more ungainly.

By comparison, the 916SP has Pan European levels of comfort, the tall ride height, skinny tank and long stretch from the seat to the pegs making it surprisingly comfy. You’re pivoted onto your hands and your wrists take a battering and fingers go numb from engine vibes after 30 minutes, but riding racebikes was never meant to be pain-free.

Today’s sportsbikes are rounded, refined and very easy to ride fast. Not so these two. Get them into the open, give them full rein and learn how to ride a motorbike again. The RC45’s flat torque curve is like nothing else on two wheels. The redline is set at 12,500rpm and from six thou’ to this point there’s a surging wall of torque – not power, but torque.

It feels like you’re being pulled from in front instead of shoved from behind, the sound of the gear-driven cams and exhaust note (some bastard had decided to fit the cheapest ART can available to this two-wheeled work of art) mesh together to form a marvellous mechanical din that has you reaching for the throttle just to hear more.

It’s not what you’d call traditionally fast – it never was – but the limitless torque curve means you’re never out of power and 150mph comes up very, very quickly on the analogue speedo.  The close-ratio gearbox isn’t butter smooth but is very positive in its action, and you just whip the tacho round the dial, feeding in gears as you go. For just 105bhp at the back wheel (10bhp less than a modern 600!) the RC45 feels like it’s got 40bhp more than that, the V4 motor is exquisite and addictive and feels like nothing else today.

Which can’t be said for the 916SP. Unlike the Honda it hasn’t aged and it’s still a very contemporary ride. For the week previous to this ride I’d been lucky enough to have a 1098R as my personal transport, and while the 916SP is nowhere near as ferocious as that the heritage and feel are there for all to see and feel.

What is the verdict from this match-up, go to the final page to see

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