The Fastest R&D Lab On the Planet

The tech behind the 200mph MotoGP superbikes is taking to the streets. Get a taste of the action with our heart-pounding, high-speed video lap around the Laguna Seca racetrack

by Courtesy Gold & Goose and American Honda Motor

Honda's competition racer and its flagship street bike [inset] illustrate the rapid march of technology from Grand Prix circuit to neighborhood showroomCourtesy Gold & Goose and American Honda Motor

For a video lap around Laguna Seca, scroll to the bottom of the page (and turn up your volume).

A 747 takes off at 200 mph–the top speed of a Ferrari. MotoGPbikes break two bills with power to spare. MotoGP is the ultimate motorcycle racing series, a pure combination of advanced technology and athletes psychotic enough to pilot these overpowered machines at speeds most wouldn't dare with four tires on the ground. Riders lean so severely into turns that they scrape their elbows and knees on the asphalt; brake so hard they have to force their weight over the back end of the bike to keep it from flipping; and accelerate so violently that their front wheels often leave the ground. The only reason the riders make it out alive is because they drive the most precisely engineered motorcycles ever made. Fortunately for the pro racer in all of us, that technology goes from pit lane to dealership nearly as fast as it gets around the track.

Take, for example, Honda's RC211V-the bike Nicky Hayden rode to victory in the Red Bull U.S. Grand Prix last July. The most advanced machine on the MotoGP circuit, it weighs less than 330 pounds yet packs more than 240 horsepower (around 150 hp more than an average street bike). It rockets to 100 mph in less than five seconds and can hit 215 mph. Oh, and it costs about $3 million. But much of the engineering that makes it all possible found its way to the Honda showroom on a 2006 model that anyone can pick up for around $11,000.

The CBR1000RR was designed concurrently with its MotoGP sibling, and it also benefited from lessons learned on the track. "The street-bike R&D teams worked side by side with the racing-development team," says Honda vice president Ray Blank. "Typically you see technology transfer several years down the road, but in this case they were developed almost simultaneously. It's real-time technology transfer."

The CBR, which came out not three months after the 2005 season ended, incorporates virtually the same fuel injection, rear suspension and body-panel design as the RC211V, among other mutations of the track monster's mojo. The CBR isn't nearly as powerful-and it's street-legal (spitting flames out your tailpipe is frowned upon in California)-but put it next to Hayden's, and it's hard to tell them apart.

This is, of course, much to the delight of superbike enthusiasts, who can buy a stock ride that packs a huge percentage of the MotoGP thrill. It´s also far, far more performance than any rider actually needs. But when it comes to buying a race-bred street bike, who said anything about need?

by Courtesy Gold & Goose and American Honda Motor

Honda's competition racer and its flagship street bike [inset] illustrate the rapid march of technology from Grand Prix circuit to neighborhood showroomCourtesy Gold & Goose and American Honda Motor

Trickle-Down Tech

  • Chassis
    When you're leaning the bike so far over that you're almost parallel to the ground, suspension doesn't do much; the frame itself has to soak up some of the bumps to keep the rider from losing control. Honda alternated the frame-wall thickness on the RC211V and CBR so that key areas can flex.
  • Engine
    The MotoGP league mandates that every bike have a 990cc engine, but that´s about it. Honda chose five cylinders versus three or four because five smaller pistons can get up to their 15,000rpm redline faster. The CBR sports a four-cylinder with a marginally sane 11,650rpm redline.
  • Suspension
    Instead of attaching the rear shock to the frame, as is conventional, Honda hid the suspension on both bikes inside the arm that connects the wheel to the frame. This freed up space for engineers to move the engine and fuel tank to tweak weight distribution.
  • Fuel Injection
    MotoGP bikes need to accelerate fast and still have power at high rpms. To achieve this balance, Honda inserted a second bank of fuel injectors that kick in north of 5,500 rpm, doubling the amount of fuel in the cylinders. The CBR has a dual-stage system as well, but it's tuned for lower top speeds (only 176 mph).
  • Tires
    The middle section of a MotoGP slick is smooth, hard rubber that can handle speeds up to 215 mph. The edges are more porous and soft for grip on sharp corners. The stock bike gets treaded Bridgestones or Pirellis rated to withstand a measly 149 mph.
  • Radial-mounted Brakes
    To fit the massive 320-millimeter front-wheel rotors necessary to stop the RC211V, Honda had to offset the calipers from the forks. The CBR has the same size discs, but they´re made of steel, whereas the RC211V´s are made from lightweight carbon fiber.

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Video courtesy Chet Burks Productions