Freddie Spencer, Eddie Lawson, Mick Doohan, Wayne Gardner. Four of the finest riders ever to have straddled a race bike. And they all grappled with the Honda NSR 500, at some point. I say ‘grappled with’, because the NSR was never the best-handling bike on the grid. Its one-of-a-kind V4 engine, though, more than made up for any deficiencies through the twisty bits. Numerous race wins – and indeed, world championships – are the strongest testament to that.
So, the NSR’s searing straight-line speed was never in doubt. Shinichi Itoh – aboard an NSR 500 – was the first rider to top 200mph. That was at Hockenheim, in ’93. Itoh had a neck-wrenching 185bhp at his disposal that day. The NSR’s performance stats were eclipsed only by its success rate. By the time Valentino Rossi signed off the GP 2-stroke era – on an NSR, in 2001 – it had won 10 ‘blue riband’ titles in 18 years. Mick Doohan took five of them – on the spin! Back in ’85, ‘Fast Freddie’ Spencer had won the 500 and 250cc World Championships … both on Honda NSRs!
Visually, too, the Rothmans Honda impressed. While tobacco sponsorship has fallen from favour, there is no denying it inspired some superb paint-jobs. The NSR’s was among the most lustrous. A satisfying blend of hues and graphics, so to speak! A true legend of the race-track, then, the NSR 500 has to be one of the most iconic bikes the Honda Racing Corporation has created!