From ’95: Smokin’ by Mike Ross

Editor note: this was published in late 1995 in American Roadracing magazine while I was Editor. It was written by Mike Ross (Hey Mike!). Rossi is a motorcycle mechanic instructor and has a keen eye and ability to ask the right questions. I seem to remember Gary Mathers got in some hot water because of his candor here.



At the end of their championship season the Honda race team took time out of their busy schedule to hold an impromptu seminar at the Motorcycle Mechanics Institute. In attendance were head honcho Gary Mathers, Merlyn Plumlee, Al Ludington, Joey Lombardo, and Ray Plumb. The team also brought Duhamel’s RC45. Mathers announced that he would answer any questions the audience had except how much money he makes.

One of the first questions fielded by Mathers was how much Duhamel’s bike cost. He answered that the team leases two bikes from HRC at a cost of $300,000. The fork Showa fork assembly which he said was a copy of an Ohlins fork goes for an eye-popping $25,000 and the shock costs $15,000. When the question was asked why they cost so much, Mathers opined that HRC finances, in part, their GP program through the sale of these components.

Mathers also said the RC45 makes 143-147 horsepower on the team’s Superflo dyno. Interestingly, the horsepower output is the same as it was last year but the vast improvement in the team’s ability to win races came from an in-house development program to improve acceleration not peak power. Traditionally politics dictate which components go into the team’s bikes but one of the reasons that the team has enjoyed so much success is because they were given free reign as to which components they were allowed to use. He also said that they were not allowed to do development work on the engine in the past but now they can do engine work on their own,

Ludington continued by explaining that other improvements in the area of handling had also contributed to the team’s success. He pointed out that an additional pinch bolt at the rear of the single sided swing arm a which pinches the rear wheel carrier made the whole assembly much stiffer and fixed many of the handling problems that plagued the bike during its nascent years. In that same vein, Ludington was asked about Honda’s philosophy to build flex into the frame and swingarm. Ludington said that he didn’t hold with that particular philosophy. He said that in his opinion the frame and swingarm should be as stiff as possible to give the suspension components a rigid platform from which to work. He added that each incremental improvement in overall handling came with stiffening the chassis and that he believes flex is built into a bike to compensate for a weakness elsewhere.

Al pointed out that each rider on the team has a fuel tank built to suit his physical dimensions and riding style. :Ergos are super important ,” added Mathers. He mentioned that when Tom Kipp was riding the Commonwealth Honda RC30, he found that Tom went faster every time they made a new, longer seat. “Finally,” Ludington joked, “We stopped working on setup and just kept making him longer seats.”

Mathers was asked about the Computrack system that checks frame alignment. Mathers deferred to Plumlee and Ludington who agreed that the effectiveness of the Computrack depended on who you talked to. They also agreed that is was a useful tool but it was only as good as the guy using it. Ludington said, “If you don’t have one you will always wonder what it would be like to have it.” Mathers mentioned that it was very useful for checking swingarm and steering head alignment after a race. He said that Duhamel and Hale both bent forks during a race on the CBR600F# and that the wheelbase can change as much as 3mm. Mathers said that the Computrack allows you to put the same bike back on the track week after week. Ludington added that production line tolerances can account for a deviation of up to 10mm in steering head alignment.

Getting back to the subject of the RC45, Mathers was asked about the sprag clutch that Hondas uses on many of their street bikes to control wheel hop under deceleration. He praised the system saying that they tried an RC30 without it and every rider demanded that it be reinstalled.

Questions about the reliability were answered by saying that the RC45 has a bullet proof lower end there have not been any rod or crank failures during the history of the RC45.

Mathers was also asked about building race bikes with oval pistons. To which he replied that the FIM banned oval pistons and that the AMA follows closely the FIM. “Besides, Mathers added, “ It would ruin racing. The best season is when everyone wins a race, and the oval pistons pistons technology is so advanced that the factory could build a 750 with 200 horsepower if they wanted to.”

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