1987 Honda RC250M
1987 250 World Champion
Honda's first world championship 250. All original and unrestored, just as it left the track. A very historical motorcycle.
In 1987, Honda made its first official attempt at winning the 250 world championship. Prior to this, Honda’s only presence in the 250 GP class was a semi factory effort from Honda’s German distributor. This was carried out on hand-me-down prior years works bikes purchased from American Honda and was not backed by Japan. Local German riders such as Rolf Diffenbach were sponsored by the German distributor and had decent results but lacked the full factory backing from Japan. Up until 1987 Honda’s works effort in Europe was primarily in the 500 class with a presence that began in 1976 with Pierre Karsmakers and the RC500M Type 2. At this time the majority of Honda’s dirt bike sales were in the US and Honda wisely chose to focus its factory race team effort there where they became the most dominant team in the eighties that led to being number one in sales.
For 1987, Honda hired former 125 World Champion Eric Geboers as their sole rider for the 250 class. The twenty-five year old Belgian rider had a year to go on his contract to ride the 500 bikes but Honda had other ideas. 1987 would be his and Honda’s first official attempt at the 250-world championship. Due to the increase in popularity and demand for 250 bikes, other manufacturers were stepping up and putting works equipment in the 250 class. This also attracted more talent and a lot of the riders felt they had a chance at the title. The competition would no doubt be stiff for 1987.
The 12 round series would not only include the typical western European countries but events would also be held in the eastern block countries as well as all the way to Argentina. Many unforeseen events took place that had the championship taking many twists and turns. Anybody that thought Honda was a lock received an early surprise as the team struggled with reliability problems in the first few races. Another surprise was the factory Cagiva’s. Honda had always assumed the king of horsepower and with the success in the states with Ricky Johnson dominating the 250 supercross series as well as the 250 outdoor nationals; one would assume the 1987 European season might just be an extension of that success. The horsepower of the factory Cagiva gave the works Honda team an early wakeup call and had them on their heels early. This made for some interesting racing in a very dramatic and unpredictable series.
The production bike rule made its debut in the US for 1986 and Honda amazingly maintained its dominance in all three classes with their production based works bikes. The 1986 Honda works bikes actually had better success in the states than the super exotic mega-dollar 1985 works bikes. Even though full works bikes were still legal in Europe, the success of the 1986 RC250 in the US and Japan made it a great starting point for the up coming 1987 GP season. Before the 1987 works Honda’s were delivered to Europe, American Honda had sent over Ricky Johnson’s 1986 Championship bike for Eric to test and race in a few pre-season events. With the production rule only confined to the US, the grand-prix’s would be a bonus for Honda’s 250 development program because the frame swingarm could now be altered. By the end of the season, that’s exactly what happened and the “Delta Link” rear suspension was born.
At the end of the season the former 125-world champion Eric Geboers would add a 250-world championship to his resume and be put in a very interesting spot. He was now allowed to return to the 500 class for 1988 and have a chance at becoming the first rider to be crowned world champion in all 3 classes.
Below Eric gives us some of the highlights of that incredible and historical 1987 season.
The 1987 CR250 was one of Honda's best ever motocross bikes. The 1987 works bike was light years ahead of the production version.
Stripped down you begin to see how different the bike is compared to a production CR. Even the frame has different geometry and would not pass AMA rules.
Eric Geboers Comments:
After the 1986 season Honda came to me and asked me to ride the 250 grand prix’s for 1987. Their long term strategy was to get into the 250 class because they thought the 250’s would be their best selling bikes and even at that time they were selling 250’s over 500’s by a 4 to 1 margin.
I told them I could do it and was the right person mentally and physically, but I did not want to give up the contract I already had with them which was to do one more year on the 500 bikes. I told them I would do it under the condition that they would give me one more year on the 500’s no matter what. Honda agreed and for 1987 we were going to try to win the 250-world championship.
American Honda sent over one of Ricky Johnson’s 1986 250’s for me to try and do a few races with while we were waiting for our 1987 race bikes. It was a very good bike but we didn’t have many parts for it and it was only intended for limited use anyways. I only raced it a few times in pre-season races.
When we got the 87 bikes I was a little disappointed when we uncrated them. We were used to full works equipment from A to Z and the 250 we were going to be competing with was production based. You can imagine as a young guy, coming from a high tech factory bike and going to a look-a-like production bike. Even though it was factory inside it still had the production based frame and plastic gas tank. I wasn’t bummed out but I wasn’t too proud of that.
It was a pretty good bike to start with but after the first few GP’s we had to do a lot of work to try and get the bike running better. We had big competition from Cagiva and Pekka Vehkonen; their bike was really fast. Cagiva hired a very famous Dutch tuner named Jan Witteveen. Jan was very good at making a 2-stroke engine very fast. He had been imported to Italy years before to tune for Gilera and now he was tuning the works Cagiva’s for Pekka Vehkonen. He really had the Cagiva running strong and we were really suffering because of it in the beginning. The Japanese were not ready to be confronted with strong opposition like that from Cagiva.
After the first 3 or 4 GP’s there was a lot of Japanese engineers working on my bike to get it faster. My mechanic Jukka Pentilla also did a tremendous job working very late on the bike. At one time he took matters into his own hands and made a modification to the reed valve that really smoothed out the power and made the power band linear. I always wanted a linear power band in my bikes whether they are 125’s or 500’s. When the Japanese engineers found out they weren’t too happy with his unauthorized work and scolded him for that.
I remember at the Belgian GP in Wuustwezel, my ignition started to go bad and it would start to cut out and pop at top end. Knowing how important each moto is, I tried to keep the ignition from cutting out by keeping it just below top RPM’s. It would be fine accelerating at full throttle but I would have to change to a higher gear earlier than normal to keep the engine below peak RPM’s. We also had problems in England where the crankshaft broke in the first moto.
During the second half of the season we got the bike running very good. We had a lot more power than we started with but much more important, the power band was greatly improved. This took a lot of testing to accomplish but when we got the results I was looking for, I was able to gain points on Vehkonen. It was still close and I could not afford another DNF.
We were always testing and improving the bike throughout the season. Plus, as a factory rider we have to test new ideas and new parts that come in from Japan and not all of the ideas or parts that we test are necessarily better. In the second half of the season we tested a new rear suspension system called the “Delta Link.” This system required a new works frame and swingarm and worked very good. The system became standard on our 1988 works bikes as well as the production bikes from then on.
After a very tough season and a lot of hard work I clinched the 250-world championship at the 11th round in Argentina. My initial opinion of the bike at that time changed too. There was a very big contrast in my feeling toward it from the beginning toward the end. When I was riding the RC500 works bikes they would come to us already developed and set up. They would be maybe 98% from being perfect but the 250 was nowhere near like that. Right from the beginning we had to work very hard and nearly all year to develop the bike. At the end of the season I had a lot of respect for that motorcycle, it was a very good motorcycle and I had a lot of fun riding it. It was a fantastic bike.
After the GP season we took the bike to Unadilla New York for the Motocross des Nations. There were some Japanese factory Honda riders there and we let them test my bike. They were very surprised about the engine setting we had and said they never tested anything like that at any of the test sessions in Japan. They were very impressed with the amount of power our bike had and how linear the power band was. It was very easy to ride and the engine did a very good job at putting the power to the ground. - Eric Geboers
1987 Honda RC250M Photos