Last November, a thread popped up on our local motorcycle message board Bay Area Rider’s Forum (BARF) that caught our eyes and then captured our souls. A forum member, Brandon Matthews (handle: “thenewwazoo”) shared a rebuild of a modern classic, the Honda NC35, aka the RVF400, aka “baby RC45,” a 400cc V4 screamer that is possibly the greatest small-displacement four-stroke sport bike ever built. Small, agile bikes hold a special place in our hearts at Alta, and there is something magical about them that has been lost in the last 20 years as bikes have developed to be more powerful, and consequently, heavier. In a write-up of his first ride, a trackday at Laguna Seca, Brandon describes this magic just about perfectly...
Fuck. I guess I'm doing this.
I don't always do shakedown rides, but when I do, it's at 6:15 AM and I’m on my way to the track.
Holy shit. I was ready for the track.
New track, new tires, new bike, rusty rider: The Fear. Yep, I had it. On my first session, I wondered every time I opened the throttle if the ass was going to step out (you can laugh now). I wondered if the brakes were going to sink to the bar and I was going to end up in the gravel. I wondered if the engine was going to spit a piston out the tailpipe. I wondered if, if, if.
And then in the middle of the second session, I started to let it go. And the bike thanked me. I didn't know what the RVF wanted, but I was relaxing enough to explore.
I let my friend ride it for the third session, and I rode his VFR750F. I'll skip over the part where I forgot that his VFR doesn't lean like the RVF does, and nearly Gibernau'd his bike right into the kitty litter. Oops. Once I got back on pavement and he had got in front of me, I couldn't match his braking or corner speed. And keep in mind that he was riding timidly and I was riding aggressively! Here's what he had to say later on:
“Don't tell Brandon this, but that bike is way over the top of magnificent fun. I expected ‘hey this is rare and cool’ but it's more like ‘why are there even bikes that aren't this.’”
The bike rides like nothing else I've been on. It's not razor-sharp. I don't have it set up that way, and probably won't ever do. But it turns in so nicely. And once it's leaned over, it might as well be straight up and down for as much correction as you can give. Mid-corner line changes are a dream. I also didn't find it rewarding to toss the bike around. Not like a big bike in that way. It's all about smooth. Brake late because you can (and you can brake so, so deep), trail brake as much as you want and it won't bite you. Roll the throttle on early - torque is flat like Kansas and predictable like sunrise. There's a rush of power at about 12,500 but it builds so gradually all the way up from about 6,000 that you can scream out of an exit or lug it and it won't care.
By the fifth session, I was really starting to get a feel for the bike. The bike is sublime. Life is good.
I am a golden god.
Why is there an S1000RR in my way? Why won't he fucking let me by? Quit shutting the door in the braking zone so I can get around you! Goddamnit,, another straightaway. I'll catch you again in two turns. Caught! Brake just a little bit deeper this time, and not as much. Throttle on sooner. Dance on the shifter and keep it on boil, and I'll pass this guy. Pass a modern monster supersport bike with more than twice as much engine, more than twice as much horsepower? Almost got him on the outside but can't pass him on the throttle. Damnit. Up the hill and he's pulling away again. See you into 7! Show him a wheel through the corkscrew. Oh, trying harder now? I can do that too.
Faster is effortless. Faster is rewarding. The bike will teach me, if I let it.
I had been worried that I would get it onto a track, having spent months restoring it, and it would be merely acceptable. Fun enough to enjoy, but not meeting the expectations I'd built over hundreds of hours of work and thousands of dollars. They say you should never meet your heroes, because they’ll only disappoint you. And yet…
…I saw God on Friday. He lives at the top of 4th gear over the crest into Turn 1. He says, "keep it pinned."