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Honda NSR500

Submitted by on August 16, 2009

Following on from the great feedback to the Honda RC166 story, here are wonderful photographs of Freddie Spencer’s World Championship winning 1985 NSR 500.

Why did Honda create the V4 NSR500 when Spencer had won Honda’s first 500cc crown in 1983 on the NS500 triple, beating Kenny Roberts‘ fiery Yamaha OW70 V4 in GP racings greatest confrontation? The NS wasn’t as awesomely powerful as King Kenny’s unwieldy V4 but it was way more rideable, the perfect racetrack package. At least it seemed that way, but Spencer and mentor Erv Kanemoto told Honda they needed more horsepower, so it had to be a four cylinder.

So the NSR500 was born and Spencer debuted the bike in March 1984 at Kayalami, South Africa.  However things didn’t start well, the bike’s carbon-fiber rear wheel collapsed, injuring Spencer and putting him out of the race.  It was an ignominious beginning that caused much sniggering from Honda’s rivals, but the wheel issue wasn’t the only problem.

The ’84 NSR’s problem wasn’t lack of speed either, the bike packed 140 horespower and spun to 11 500 rpm making it a wheel spinning rocket ship. No, its downfall was the  innovative ‘upside-down’ chassis design. The fuel tank was mounted below the engine with expansion chambers sweeping back above the motor, for a low center of gravity. However, motorcycle dynamics aren’t that simple. The NSR’s center of gravity was in fact too low, so the bike wouldn’t transfer weight into and out of corners to aid front and rear traction. The low slung tank also sloshed fuel forward under brakes, causing major understeer. And the NSR was a mechanics nightmare, imagine trying to change plugs or jets beneath those burning hot pipes. So much for superior engineering.

Anyone who knows Honda, however, realises that they never rest, and HRC undertook a complete redesign for 1985, getting rid of the upside down chassis and tuning the 90 degree V4 engine to make it more rideable. The rest, as they say, is history.

Arguably the ’85 bike was still no match for the sweet steering Yamaha of Eddie Lawson but, amazingly Fast Freddie regained the crown, producing one of the most remarkable displays in racing history to win 14 GPs (250cc 7 wins, 500cc 7 wins) to take a unique 250cc/500cc title double. However the superhuman effort burned him out and Spencer never won another Grand Prix.

Honda kept developing the bike and starting in 1985 and ending with the 2001 season, the Honda NSR500 won no less than ten 500cc motorcycle road racing world championships.

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