Repsol HRC Honda test ride? Yes please!

It’s not often you get offered the chance to ride a HRC Repsol Honda, so when the phone call came, we asked no questions

HRC – three letters that send an excited shiver down the spine of every bike racing fan on Earth. The Honda Racing Corporation of Japan has produced some of the finest, most successful and most exotic racing machines of the last fifty years. The mighty Honda NSR500 that Mick Doohan muscled to five world titles? That was them. The incredibly successful Honda RC30 racers, like the one Carl Fogarty tore up the Isle of Man with? HRC too. The SP-2 on which Colin Edwards beat Ducati at its own V-Twin World Superbike game? Them again. The V5-engined MotoGP bike that dominated the early years of the four-stroke era, the RS250 that won the last 250GP world title and the RC213V that Marc Marquez used to win the world championship as a rookie; all from the hands of HRC.

So when Honda gave us the opportunity to ride a HRC Repsol competition bike, on a racetrack, my brain skipped off into a dizzy world of MotoGP fantasies. The fact that they were being coy about which HRC Repsol Honda just made it more exciting. Would it be one of the NSF250 Moto3 customer race bikes or maybe one of the old RC30 superbikes. Or maybe an actual RCV MotoGP bike, one of the early V5s, could you imagine? Strange that they would hold the test at Brands Hatch though, surely a V5 RCV would blow the noise test meters through the back windows of the grumpy local residents’ houses? Maybe it’s one of Valentino’s bikes with the Jerry Burgess-spec quiet exhaust systems then, that figures. Full of excitement, I rolled up to the back of garage three at Brands Hatch, helmet in hand and heart in mouth.

Wrong address

Weird, no Repsol-liveried trucks, no branded pit box and nobody in Repsol race shirts; hmm, must be a low key job, y’know to avoid drawing unwanted East-Kent attention to the half-million pound bike in the garage. Open the door and there’s a worryingly empty double-garage to greet me, great. Oh, wait, there is a bike in here, propped up against the far wall of the garage, strange way to treat a GP bike… I flick the lights on inside the pit box, ah, have a day off, you must be kidding me… HRC sticker – check. Honda badge – check. Repsol livery, check. But this ain’t no 240bhp grand prix bike, oh no. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the HRC Honda Montesa Cota 4RT Repsol edition. Next to the bike was a pair of bike boots that looked like they’d been modeled on a set of wellies, with a note from the absent Honda mechanics that I should wear them instead of my normal kicks.

Excellent wet weather grip, bars are a little high though

Excellent wet weather grip, bars are a little high though

The 4RT is a very different type of race bike to what I was expecting, but determined not to show my disappointment at the lack of a 990cc V5, I chucked my lid on, clomped over to the bike in my new boots and headed off down pit lane. Riding someone else’s race bike often feels like putting on clothes that don’t quite fit and this one is no exception. In place of the low, clip-on handlebars I’m used to are a set of high, wide bars. The seat is so low that even Dani Pedrosa could get both feet on the floor, which raises my suspicions that this might be one of his practice bikes. The gear lever rules out that possibility, it’s so far forward I have to take a running kick at it just to swap cogs, lil’ Dani would never reach that. The riding position really takes some getting used to and changing gear when tucked in on the straight is easier with my hand than my foot. I don’t know what shape of person this bike was designed for, but I’d hate to meet them in a dark pit garage.

The right-way up forks look old hat, there’s no radial brake caliper, no slipper clutch, no ride-by-wire throttle, no ABS, no traction control, hell there aren’t even any instruments. And, in place of the roller-starter or electric start I was hoping for, is a strange aluminium stick on one side of the engine that you have to push with your foot to get the engine running. Like a manual starter motor. Once the 260cc, single-cam motor is fired up, you have to put your hand over the exhaust to tell if it’s running, it’s so quiet. A quick tweak of the throttle and it barks like an excited generator – it’s not an exhaust note that sends shivers down anyone’s spine, that’s for sure. Pull in the impossibly light clutch, kick it into gear and ride off down pit lane, wobbling along battling the odd geometry and hunting for the gear lever. I’m not quite sure what track Honda had set the gearing up for, but it was a long way out for Brands Hatch indy – a fact hammered home when I revved out in top gear before I’d got from the end of pit lane to Paddock Hill bend.

Squeezed into the low seat, I shift my bodyweight to set up for Druids hairpin and the 4RT goes nuts, weaving about on its soft tyres. That stuff they say about top-level bikes needing expert riders with lots of finesse is true as I’m struggling just to keep this one going in a straight line. The low weight of the Montesa (73kg) means that  the tiny 185mm disc and diddly four-piston caliper are more than enough to scrub off speed. Turn in is particularly fast, no doubt helped by the wide handlebars, but mid-corner the stability problems rise up again. As soon as I tried to carry any lean angle, I found the tyres would start to deform and wander, making it almost impossibly to hold a line. I’m at a loss to know how the top riders race these things, they must have incredible bike control.

After two and a half laps, the ‘Tesa runs out of fuel and I find myself sat on the tyre wall at Graham Hill bend, wondering what I’m missing. I grab my phone for a quick YouTube check of the 4RT. Oh… I see… er, that’s pretty misleading isn’t it?

Front end feel is good.

Front end feel is good.

Come clean

Yes we did just do a test on a trials bike in SuperBike magazine. Yes we did sucker everyone with a HRC Repsol headline. Yes that was childish. No, there are no real world implications to be gleaned from this juvenile waste of paper. Sorry. But the Montesa 4RT is a thing of absolute beauty in the detail and we can all appreciate that, whatever flavour of bikes gets us going. In the world of trials, where weight and size are everything, the attention to detail and minimalist approach to bike design is stunning. The back of the tiny fuel tank is swept across to one side and held on with only one bolt, because that’s all that’s needed. The sump guard is drilled out to save weight, the engine is impossibly compact for a four-banger and the frame squeezes tightly around it. Of course it was terrible round Brands, but in the woods it feels like nothing could stand in its way. With the slightest sniff of throttle, it popped up and over anything I stuck in front of it. From a standstill, with third gear engaged and a chunk of commitment it’ll fire itself up a 4ft over-vert wall with a shrug. At the hands of multiple world indoor trials champion Toni Bou, this thing will bend physics into submission. Don’t believe us? Type ‘Toni Bou indoor trial 2014’ into YouTube and then try and tell us trials is boring. Or, watch our video below.

OK, I want one. Now.

The fact of the matter is that, for £6,799 you can buy yourself this Repsol racing edition Montesa/Honda Cota 4RT. That makes it the cheapest HRC-developed bike money can buy and, even if you don’t hop over any logs, it’ll look stunning in your garage. Better still, when you roll up the shutters for a Sunday ride and it’s pissing with rain, switch your Sidis for a set of wellies and go hone your bike control skills at 4mph. You’ll have heaps of fun, use a thimble of petrol and, best of all, you can squint a bit and pretend you’re Dani Pedrosa. We wouldn’t recommend one on a trackday though.

We win... nothing. Meh.

We win… nothing. Meh.

Pics: Phil Steinhardt