Roughly four years ago, I wrote a story called “The Chrysanthemum and the Sword” that implored the Japanese motorcycle manufacturers to build elements into their brand that went beyond the tangible and into the intangible — I was basically asking these brands to create what motorcyclists call soul.
From that story, I got a number of insightful emails from employees at these Japanese brands, who shared my frustration with the soulless machines their employers were creating. Despite those emails, when the Honda RC213V-S debuted, I was struck by how extensively that message had fallen on deaf ears.
The day of the RC213V-S’s launch, I asked my Facebook followers if the Japanese brand had “just pulled a Honda” on its release Honda RC213V-S – debuting a machine that ticked all the right objective boxes, but failed the most subjective of all tests: my lustful desire to own it.
You know you are a jaded motorcycle journalist when a $184,000 motorcycle, literally a MotoGP race bike with headlights and a license plate, fails to impress you when you stand in its presence.
Make no mistake, the Honda RC213V-S is a remarkable machine. Not that I will likely ever be able to back that statement up with first-hand knowledge; but given its pedigree, it is a safe assertion to make.
You just have to look at the results being posted by Marquez and Pedrosa (Marquez later that day at Indy would prove the point with his race win), and understand that the RC213V-S is just three small steps below the factory HRC machines.
I can tell you, that standing a nose-breath’s away from the Honda RC213V-S, the machine is impeccable. If Honda built this bike to showcase how skilled it is as a company at actually making motorcycles, then consider this mission accomplished. Every weld, every part, every line is perfect.
This is a two-wheeled testament to engineering and craftsmanship. So why do I feel empty when I look at the RC213V-S?
I think at the most basic level it comes down to expectations, and the fact that we have been waiting for this motorcycle, in some form or another, for roughly a decade. After all that waiting, we got exactly what we wanted…and that’s the problem.
After a decade of waiting, I expected more from Honda, the most skilled and dominant motorcycle company on this planet. I expected them to account for that lost time with something truly worth the wait
I expected Honda to take the RC213V as inspiration, and then create a motorcycle that wasn’t constrained by the rules of Grand Prix racing, because let’s be honest, the rules of MotoGP are downright stifling to the progress of motorcycle technology.
On a deeper level though, I think my disappointment comes with the expectation that Honda would back-up the statement that it has emblazoned behind the Honda RC213V-S at Indy: “The Power of Dreams”.
Dreams are powered by the fanciful, and they are limited only by one’s imagination. I expect the dreams that come from a company as talented as Honda to be some of the most lavish and daring, not the most generic and predictable.
I expect the dreams of Honda to be on the same level as the boundary-less curiosity of a child – someone who is exploring the world for the first time, without the disservice of knowing words like no, can’t, won’t, and shouldn’t.
Oddly enough, the $184,000 price tag, which in the United States also means the lack of the “Sport Kit” that brings the machine from 101hp to 210hp, doesn’t bother me in the slightest. Big dreams should have big costs.
Though, the more and more I talk to Honda about the RC213V-S, the more and more I get the impression that sourcing such a kit from abroad is going to be a very difficult, if not impossible, affair. The dream is starting to fall apart here.
That’s a lot of money to spend on a sub-200hp machine, and in today’s market, 210hp isn’t as impressive as it once was. Neither is its 190kg wet weight. This dream is starting to fade into something more resembling the current reality.
Talking to fans as I took these photos, my sentiment seemed to be shared by many…though we all agreed, we wouldn’t mind an RC213V-S showing up in our garage.
Both compete on the spec-sheet quite well against the Honda; but more importantly, both take what the consumer expectation is, and then push it to the extreme.
Perhaps my real issue with the RC213V-S is what it says about Honda as a company.
The RC213V-S is the byproduct of taking the safe way to making a halo bike. It highlights Honda’s engineering prowess, its domination in MotoGP, its status as the big swinging appendage of the motorcycle industry when it comes to the ability to bring any bike to market.
What it fails to show though is the company’s imagination, its willingness to take risks, its desire to move the ball forward on design and technology. If the idea was to show-off that Honda is the best at churning out soulless but reliable machines, then consider this mission accomplished.
But, if the goal was to invoke something much deeper, to create a bond between man and machine, to bring the poorly defined, yet easily recognizable, satisfaction that one has when riding a motorcycle, then consider this a disappointing failure.