Honda NSR 125R-R
FRIDAY: I HAD a Nissan Bluebird this morning. Perfect run up, nice body shape and tuck. Then the bugger floored it. Next mountain-to-climb: an Eddie Stobart lorry, a towering aircraft carrier to my plucky 12bhp Greenpeace dinghy. I had reached 'Stob' when it pulled out to overtake a crawling Mini Metro.
It goes on, it gets worse. The wind shifted, the road climbed and my speed sagged to 57. Eddie Stobart, Mini Metro and Nissan Bluebird grew inexorably in the NSR's mirrors, then took me back, their withering glances prickling my thickening skin. There was exasperation -why doesn't the silly git change up? There were useful tips on roadcraft - Aye mate! Learn to ride.
And this could be any morning for any learner. I had conveniently forgotten that L-plate life is one brilliant overtake followed by 20 acute embarrassments. That each outing is a shall-I-shan't-I; yes, go, stop, now go — geddoutdafakkinway-willya! — ditherFest. That each ride begins with an empty promise to commit 100 per cent or go to sleep for the duration. Thousands of learners know no other way.
Ask me about the new Celica tail-light cluster or the timeless back end of the Scirocco. I know this stuff, and so do learners. They live with the humdrum and the dangerous, with cars and 60mph tailgating. 12bhp 125s have their moments of freedom but, due to wind and hills and fast roads, can never escape for long.
We could be talking any 12bhp 125, but not quite. With a spindly, moped lookalike AR125, there is no doubt about the learner bike's status: L-plate oik, motoring untouchable, but at least car drivers don't expect too much. Not so the NSR. It looks 160mph and makes its hapless rider look especially crap as a result. And it costs ￡3870. You could buy a nice little Peugeot for that.
IT DOES an indicated 85mph. Needs a keen south-westerly up its chuff and a ski slope beneath its wheels to get there, but 85 is 85 on anyone's speedo. It's easy, too, to write off the NSR as neither so delicious nor grand prix cred' as the Cagiva Mito EV or Aprilia Extrema. Fact is, though, it is Honda and not the Italians that makes the ultimate two-stroke (Mick Doohan, 500 World Champion, rides it) so if the restricted NSR is a poor motorcycle, it is hardly the fault of Honda.
After all, the NSR125R-R has most everything except speed. Built in Atessa, southern Italy, and first shipped here last May, it oozes Latin-Jap sex: gorgeous NSR500 wheels, capacity defying styling, poised racer-rep loveliness, and a smattering of Italian eccentricity to boot.
The frame is plain weird. Alcast Zeta is the name, a cast ally twin-spar similar in cross-section to the Aprilia Extrema's. Its beams are V-shaped, which can't be right, and their tatty grey paint seriously lacks class. A steel, bolt-on, box-section subframe and box-section swing-arm complete a chassis, which for 12bhp at least is a total stiffy. Steering geometry is midway between the RGV250 and rapier KR-1S, ie fast. 127 kilos dry, 1345mm wheelbase, no power to tame: the NSR is bound to handle.
Find a bend slow enough and it turns off the slightest nudge on the bar, launches into its apex, the only discernible limit a rock hard front Arrowmax. The trick to NSR corner speed is to steer low-resistance arcs because a sporty flick only scrubs off precious speed. And if the corner falls between the gearbox's horrendously wide ratios (geared for 28bhp) that's another lOmph down the plug hole. The bike is swamped by slowness; consumed again by the 60mph tailgaters. The NSR has great mirrors, which is lucky.
Enough whinging. Stick to twisty B-roads and the emasculated NSR can be hilarious. In the damp, especially, I can't think of a bike that dances so elegantly, has so much natural corner speed, feels quite so balanced on a mini-roundabout - Extrema and Mito included. The front end is supremely sorted care of a pair of non-adjustable, non upside-down Showa forks stiff enough under all but the most severe of braking. The twin-piston Grimeca caliper looks agricultural but does enough for a 127 kilo lightweight. The lever's initially over sensitive then hard work at ten-tenths, but last gasp braking is essential to 125 technique, and the NSR can gasp later than most. The biggest surprise, though, is the quality of the suspension. The fork action is superbly controlled, progressively damped and easy on the wrists. The rear shock is a bit bouncy, the rear Dunlop skips off white lines, but for 12bhp it is, in fact, trick. All the NSR needs is some sticky rubber — and another 15bhp.
The next NSR plus is its tiny but accommodating nature. Anyone between 5ft and 6ft will fit no problem. The seat is low and long, the tank is narrow and short, the riding position reminiscent of the brilliant RC30. Sit up and your nose is over the bars, dialled in to the front end. Crouch down and your bum slides back on the generous seat as the tank comes up to meet your chin early. High pegs take weight and steering input (and never ground, on these Dunlops at least). Next stop: 72.8mph.
The NSR coaches body language; helps perfect a tight, wind-cheating crouch and teaches to steer with a twitch of a cheek. Even a medium-sized pillion was made welcome. Measured braking, timing and rapid power shifting are all on the NSR curriculum.
What it doesn't teach, of course, is powerbands and the art of burying a tacho needle therein. Restriction distorts the reed-valve single's true power curve, capping it at 8000rpm with 3000 still to come before the redline. The exhaust sounds like Trevor Brooking. Throttle response barely betters a KR-1S running on one.
There's a weak pulse at 7000rpm as the exhaust valve opens but I am unable to type p-o-w-e-r-b-a-n-d proper. 8500 in fifth is 69 chin-on-the-tank mph on the speedo; 7500rpm flat out in top (strictly a downwind gear) is also 69mph. Upshifts at 8500 drop the revs maddeningly to 6000. At 9000, when the engine should be bristling with stroker aggression, the legislator's noose tightens its grip.
The 28mm Dell'Orto (Italian connection) is jetted for 28bhp at about 10,000rpm. Hence a woolly throttle response throughout. The NSR is at its best with a following breeze and a part-throttle to keep it running crisp. The thing is as sensitive to a breeze as a becalmed yachtsman; two bikes in one: one beating upwind (55mph), one surfing downwind (80mph+). The 30bhp Mito 125 we ran through the timing lights was faster uphill into headwind than the NSR was downhill with a tail-wind. Still, its 0-10mph times are quite competitive.
Switchgear and fasteners are old hat for nearly four grand. Levers and suspension are non-adjustable. And debate rages about the wacky headlight design, but I didn't care because the puny 35W beams are crap, end of argument.
But I'm whinging again. In fairness, when the traffic cleared and the road unfurled across a tempting, flat out landscape, I nearly cried.
STOP PRESS. Monday: things have changed. The NSR is now a derestricted motorcycle. Claimed power 28bhp, real top speed 98mph. No more Nissan Bluebirds, thank God.
At 7000rpm the exhaust fizzes, the throttle goes live. At 8000 the NSR locates its long lost powerband and blats for the horizon, relatively speaking. It is as crisp at 11,000 as the benchmark Mito EV and only six mph slower through the lights. The carburation is spot on and the gears make sense.
Now I cruise at 85 hey if I want to. I feel safe and very happy, and so too would learners. Trevor Brooking is dead. New tyres needed urgendy.
Furthermore, test graduates can now derestrict their '94/'95 NSRs without invalidating their warranties. The work (removal of restrictors in carb and exhaust, Honda asked us to be vague) must be done by a franchised Honda dealer, who will also fit new Vehicle Identification Numbers (VIN) plates. Owners are obliged to sign a declaration that lists their responsibilities, and inform the DVLA and their insurance companies of the power change.
In other words it's a right chore but worth every inch of red tape. A 28bhp NSR is a whole new motorcycle, a snip at ￡3850. EE3
Source Bike Magazine 1995