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                                1986 Honda RC250   Ricky Johnson

                                  1986 250 National and SX Champion        

   Before the production rule went into effect. The gap between Hondaís works bikes and Hondaís production bikes was far greater than any of the other manufacturers. Towards the mid-eighties, the cost for each works Honda was over $200,000.00 per bike. The cost of racing professional AMA motocross in the U.S. was getting out of control and Honda was on a runaway freight train. Although some of the works technology was passed down to the production bikes, most of the secrets on the Honda works bikes remained secrets. In 1986 when the production rule went into effect, most observers thought the playing field would be even. In reality Honda became even more dominant and up and coming Ricky Johnson went from being a star to a superstar. At the start of the season, each rider received two bikes for the entire season, plus an endless supply of parts. The bike featured here, is the second 250 that Ricky used in 1986. The first bike was destroyed. At the end of 1986 Honda decided to expand their success to Europe and teamed up with Honda factory rider Eric Geboers from Belgium. They were going to make their first attempt at the 250 World Championship. While the 1987 bikes were being made, Rickyís number two bike was sent to Belgium and given to Eric to test. Other than Ericís super hard Tecnosel seat, the bike is in the same configuration as was last used by Ricky. It is also believed that it is the same bike that Ricky used at the historic Motocross Des Nations race in Italy. Below are Rickyís own comments and a great overview by then team manager, Dave Arnold. Plus there are three pages of photos and technical info on this historic bike.                  

   Ricky Johnson's comments: At the end of the 1985 season I was invited to a Honda test session to try out one of their bikes. It was one of those bait and switch deals that ended up being very effective. The bike I rode was Ron Lechienís 1985 full works RC250. That bike was just so phenomenal. I could not believe how smooth it was and how fast I could go on it. I didnít believe that there could be something that was so much better than what I was already riding. It really showed me the commitment that Honda had at the time to make the best bike for their racers.

   After that test session I signed a contract with Honda and rode an initial test session with a pre production CR250. Because I rode on the ball of my foot a lot, my ankle would get caught in the ďYĒ section where the sub-frame meets the main frame. To cure this, Honda was going to make an aluminum frame guard and mount it at the spot where my ankle was getting caught. At a later test session where we were supposed to get our brand new works bikes, they wheeled out two bikes, one for Johnny OíMara and one for David Bailey. Both bikes had all the HRC stuff on them. I was a little bummed at first thinking that they werenít done with mine because of little things I needed like the frame guard. Then they wheeled mine out. It was brand-new, full HRC everything, it even had the frame guard for my ankle. I was like a kid in a candy store. The bikes came over from Japan already developed and initially when we first got them, they were exactly the same. Each rider would change his bike to suit his own personal taste, such as suspension settings, handlebars, foot pegs, seats and so on. The bikes were really good but the best part about the whole bike was the works crankshaft. It made the bike so smooth and it virtually eliminated all the vibration from the motor. The bikes were real fast and hit real hard in the powerband. At first I couldnít ride it very smooth at all. I was over jumping everything and I wanted it to be a little smoother for certain types of tracks, especially supercross tracks where you need roll on and are not at full throttle that much of the time.

   Mitch Payton came out to some of our test sessions and he brought along some pipes and a gas welder. We developed a pipe that made the power delivery much smoother than the high performance HRC pipe. I used the Payton pipes mainly for supercross where I wanted the roll on power delivery and for the outdoor tracks and tracks like Daytona I used the high power HRC pipe. The bike was really well balanced compared to the other brand factory bikes. The Honda was also lighter in the front and this really helped out on the sand tracks. One of the modifications we made to my bike was to lower the sub-frame a little so I could hang off the back on the straights, plus I didnít like my bikes high in the corners. For supercross we shortened the shock a bit and for outdoors, we lengthened it so I had about 10mm more rear wheel travel.

   We went back and forth between the conventional forks that are on it now and the upside-down forks which were just coming out. I liked the upside-down forks because of how rigid they were and I could run into bumps really hard. But the action of the upside-down fork didnít work to well at first. In 1986 at Anaheim, I ran the upside-down fork because I thought I could gain more by crashing into everything. The rebound was to fast and it just wasnít as good. After Anaheim, I switched back to the conventional set-up for most of the season because I was more consistent and faster with the conventional fork.

   We spent a lot of time setting the bike up for each individual track that we would be racing on. The supercross setting was pretty much the same across the board except for Daytona where we spent a week at Gainesville setting the bike up there. For the outdoor tracks, the bike changed from week to week. We would try to test and set the bike up on a track that would be similar the one at the upcoming race.

   The bike was a great bike and it not only dominated here in the US but it also won the Japanese National Championship as well.

                Dave Arnold on the transition from works bikes to the production rule

   Dave Arnold's Comments: Itís a little easier to understand and appreciate Hondaís 1986 production based race bikes, if given just a bit of background of the manufacturing motocross race scene leading up to that period.

   After completely dominating racing in the late 70ís, the Yamaha works effort seemed to be struggling in the early 80ís while Hondaís effort and bikes were becoming a real powerhouse. Ricky Johnson (then a Yamaha support rider) almost won the 250 National Championship in 1982 on a nearly stock YZ while some of the factory works riders of the same period were complaining about their bikes. Along with the other teams, Yamaha team manager Kenny Clark was really beating the production rule drum. He said, ďIf you took the works bikes away from Honda, Yamaha would win.Ē His argument was, it would be good for the sport and it would save the privateer. A lobby was made and shortly thereafter, the AMA board of trustees voted in the production rule.

   At that time Hondaís motocross works and production development was handled by two almost completely separate groups. (HRC for the works bikes and HGA for production) Historically there was very little communication between these two groups but for the 1985 season they were forced to work together in preparation for the upcoming production based regulations coming into effect in 1986.

   The big change for 1985 was development of HPP (Honda Power Port) an exhaust port power valve needed for 1986 production bikes. Before this system, Honda had used the ATAC system that was a plenum chamber in the exhaust pipe

   The 1985 works bikes were the most exotic and expensive works bikes that Honda ever built. The electronically controlled power valve was infinitely adjustable, every aspect of its opening timing, closing timing and speed was monitored and altered as needed by the engineers scurrying around and plugging in after every practice and race session with their laptopís which Iím sure seemed at the time, just a bit too F1 compared to the typical down and dirty motocross bike preparation. The 1985 works bikes were rocket ship fast and had a ton of horsepower. Our works riders were more than impressed during preseason testing (more than any other year) and didnít want to take the bikes to the preseason ďGolden StateĒ warm up series, thinking the other teams would see our new hardware giving them time and a chance to re-arm. The riders had so much confidence that they wanted to show up at the season opener as their first race with their new bikes.

   In reality the bikes had too much power, were too responsive and borderline uncontrollable which would become more clear and evident over the course of the season. For example, the electronic power valve, as good as it was, was too sensitive. Riders need a certain amount of forgiveness and this bike didnít provide that. The bikes would sometimes loop-out un-expectantly because the power came on so hard. I can clearly remember David Bailey one of the smoothest riders in the history of the sport, looping out coming out of a tight right hand inside rutted turn before the finish line straight in the Atlanta Supercross while leading the race. It happened so fast he didnít have time to even think about shutting off the throttle. It happened again at the end of the season to Ron Lechien, with the Supercross championship on the line. In the Pasadena Supercross, going through the whoop section Lechien un-expectantly looped out giving the title to Kawasaki and Jeff Ward. In the end, the 1985 season was somewhat of a disappointment, if considering how exotic the equipment was and how much talent we had on the team rider wise. For the money spent we fell far short of expectations of a team that was slated to dominate.

   This all turned around when we received the 1986 production based bikes the following year. It was absolutely one of the best years in racing that Honda ever had and it happened in a year when Yamaha had touted that Hondaís dynasty would collapse. The 1986 race bikes hit the mark in every way and in every class. All three (125,250,500) bikes had a phenomenal balance of big but controllable engine power and a chassis that had great geometry, ride position and suspension capabilities. They were from a dynamic standpoint all exceptional race bikes and way ahead of their time in everyway. The 250 used a square power valve that had holes in the side of the cylinder for it. We were worried that the holes in the cylinder would create too much turbulence and the fuel mixture wouldnít be as effective as with a smooth port. When the valve was closed, it made excellent torque. When the valve opened, it opened very quickly and the extra turbulence caused by the power valve holes actually created two powerbands. This turbulence actually caused a dip in the power delivery so the two powerbands werenít connected. Once the valve opened, the power just ramped up to peak power. So the bike had great torque and fantastic peak power with tons of over rev. It was an unbelievable motocross motor. The engineers were also concerned that a mechanical power valve system would have too many moving parts, too much friction and too much drag to be as effective as the electronic system on the 1985 works bike. In reality it was much better.  

   I remember how apprehensive I was going into the first race at Anaheim in 1986. Before, we always had the high dollar full blown works bikes, so this was new territory for us and we didnít know what to expect. Though testing went well, it was still an unknown. Kenny Clark was never shy with words. He came up to me and said ďYour party is over. Now that you donít have your money and your works bikes, youíre going down.Ē Well, when it was all over, we got the top 4 out of 5 places. I was completely blown away. Even our rookie rider Mickey Dymond got 5th and he was basically an unknown rider that we hired from Husqvarna. Our bike was so much better than anything out there. It was like that the entire season in every class. We just dominated everything. The whole production rule thing actually worked to our advantage.

   At the end of the day, with works bikes, new theories are tested, new parts are made and everything is changing all the time. Not every idea works. Some of the most beautifully handcrafted parts ever made just didnít work but you are always pushing the envelope. With the 1986 bike, the stars just got aligned and everything came together as a package. That bike was way ahead of its time and helped give us our most successful season ever. 








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