Start Collecting V-Twin Race Replicas Of The ’00s

Beginning your motorcycle collection with a bang

v-twin bikes comparison
So you’ve just come into a little cash and want to start a motorcycle collection. Where to begin? Before you can go all George Barber, decide on a theme to start with. Not every motorcycle will turn into a collectible, but limited-edition homologation-spec bikes aren’t the only thing worth collecting either. If you can find a unique niche of machines, you’ll have some assurance that your collection will appreciate over time. Take, for instance, the V-twin race replica of the early ’00s.Dean Groover

When OEMs wanted to take advantage of production racing rules (don’t say “beat Ducati”), there was a short-lived V-twin takeover that turned up the bass in the superbike racing soundtrack. The moment represents a sort of U-turn in development for the manufacturers. At least for those not based in Borgo Panigale. It’s an interesting blip that gave sportbike fans alternatives to screaming fours. If Ducati’s superbike success was to be attributed to a rule book that favored larger-capacity twins, other manufacturers weren’t about to let them exploit it uncontested. Ducati’s rampant on-track success forced the other manufacturers’ hand. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. Biased rule book or not, the impetus for other manufacturers to build V-twins was clear: beat Ducati in World Superbike (oops, I said it). In other words, it was a grudge match that made the likes of four-cylinder stalwarts Suzuki and Honda do something very un-Suzuki-y and very un-Honda-y: concede. They built motorcycles that they didn’t necessarily think were the best solution to going the fastest around a track. Think of it as Rolex building a watch with a quartz movement in response to a culture of Swatch wearers. Or Guinness brewing an IPA for bearded hipsters with man buns. “Fine, you want a beer that tastes like mildewed pine cones and feral cat piss, then here!” Both Rolex and Guinness, by the way, made these very concessions. Related Video:

The V-twin race reps of the ’00s may be an aberrant sidetrack in sportbike development, but the motorcycles themselves are damn good. It’d make for a unique collection and one that could start with relatively inexpensive models before building to time-to-mortgage-the-house levels of spending. The following motorcycles will likely appreciate over the years. Sportbikes tend to be run hard and put away dirty, so examples in good nick are almost guaranteed to be worth something.

Honda RC51
Honda RC51
Honda’s bulldog superbike: an RC for the masses.Motorcyclist Archives

When the RC51 was unveiled in 2000, it followed in the footsteps of Honda’s road-focused VTR1000F SuperHawk (or Firestorm as it was known outside the US). If the SuperHawk was testing the V-twin waters, the RC51 was diving right in. It shared a 90-degree engine layout and 55.5-inch wheelbase with the Ducati 996, but in every major way the RC was its own beast.

Ducati versus Honda is peak V-twin superbike battle. On track, Troy Bayliss and Colin Edwards were evenly matched on comparable machinery—cc for cc, cylinder for cylinder. The championship was decided at the final round of race 2 at Imola in 2002, with Edwards and Honda coming out on top. The V-twin experiment made for great racing.

The RC51 didn’t captivate with Italian beauty, but it was charismatic in a way not typically associated with a Honda. Its bulldog stance and function-over-form design conveyed Honda’s reluctance to play by Ducati’s rules. It would do it its own way. The RC51 didn’t have the characteristic low-down grunt of most twins but had a top-heavy powerband that, well, just worked.

For a lot of RC fans, the SP2 variant is the one to have. Changes include larger throttle bodies, revised cylinder head porting, remapped ECU, and lighter mufflers. Honda also gave the second-gen RC a longer and stiffer swingarm and a steeper rake.

Surely, the most coveted of the standard RC51s is the Nicky Hayden replica. While it's only cosmetically different from the standard model (it features a brushed aluminum frame/swingarm and white number plates), race fans can't help but be moved. The RC51 will always be remembered as Colin's and Nicky's bike.

Suzuki TL1000R
Suzuki TL1000R
Portly but nice: the Suzuki TL1000R.Gold & Goose

Suzuki released the TL1000R in ’98, just a year after the TL1000S, a more pedestrian model intended for the road-going sport enthusiast. As the VTR1000F was to the RC51, the TL-S was to the TL-R, only the TL-R was based more heavily on its roadgoing sibling—if only in the engine department.

Still, the TL had a more powerful motor with hotter cams and lighter forged pistons, good for 120 hp at the rear wheel, close to 20 more than the 916. The TL's super-stiff twin-spar aluminum frame was somewhat at odds with the softly sprung rear spring (which featured a unique rotary damper) but handling was a bit let down when its significant heft became obvious in side-to-side transitions. The TL was physically portly for a twin and weighed around 33 pounds more than the 916. It was also $7,000 cheaper, which if you're curious, is less than the difference between a 2018 GSX-R1000 and a Panigale V4 S accounting for inflation.

Although the big Suzuki failed to light up the racetrack in international competition or in the capable hands of Steve Crevier in the AMA, it was designed during a particularly successful time for the Hamamatsu manufacturer. The ’96 GSX-R (the much-loved SRAD model) was a little hot rod and the 2000 GSX-R was a refined and potent weapon, which journalists of the day dubbed the perfect sportbike. The TL wasn’t half-hearted, but compared to the more perfect GSX-R and the single-minded RC51, the TL remained a bit of an outsider. It’s a bike worthing having. After all, it’s a Suzuki superbike that isn’t a GSX-R.

Ducati 998
Ducati 998
The last of the 916s.Motorcyclist Archives

The 998 was the last Ducati superbike to wear Massimo Tamburini’s iconic bodywork. So, for many, it represents the pinnacle of the breed—at least in terms of performance. Ducati saw fit to give the “last-generation 916” an updated motor. What better parting gift could there be? The Desmoquattro engine was introduced on the 851 in 1987, and Ducati had been subtly refining the powerplant ever since. For 2002, Ducati updated the desmoquattro enough to warrant a new name: the Testastretta (“narrow head” in Italian), in reference to the cylinder head’s narrower included valve angle. Changes also included a new ECU, revised desmo system, and different cam timing belts.

Pierre Terblanche’s ahead-of-its-time 999 was a major styling departure. Some would call it a misstep. But look at one now, and it looks fresh and innovative. Still, the 998, as the last of the 916s, was always going to be an instant classic.

Aprilia RSV Mille
Aprilia RSV Mille
Remember when Aprilias had attractive graphics without hashtags emblazoned on the fairing?Motorcyclist Archives

The '99 Aprilia RSV Mille was the Noale factory's first foray into the big-bike realm. Known for its junior category grand prix racers, in 1999 Aprilia seemed exotic, serious, and hell-bent on being the next big thing. It only took Aprilia 25 years to grow from a bicycle manufacturer employing 18 people to the second-largest Italian motorcycle manufacturer behind Piaggio (Aprilia's parent company since 2004).

Aprilia gave the Mille a compact 60-degree V-twin that used an Anti-Vibration Double Countershaft to quell vibes. Twin-spar aluminum frame, fighter-jet styling, and spot-on fueling meant the Mille was sorted right out of the gate. No need to bring out euphemisms of “character” for this Italian beast.

The second-gen Mille, introduced in 2001, was subtly refined and featured new bodywork with graphics that looked for all the world like those on Troy Corser’s and Noriyuki Haga’s World Superbike racers. Yes, Aprilia used to know how to not ruin a beautiful design with heinous graphics. Look for the Mille R version with Öhlins suspension, carbon-fiber goodies, forged wheels, and higher-spec Brembo brakes.

The third-generation RSV 1000 R (the Mille moniker was dropped) changed the design language but kept up the good work. History will probably favor the first- and second-gen models, however.

Mondial Piega
Mondial Piega
This 2003 Mondial Piega is Kyle Kozak’s pièce de résistance.Jeff Allen

The Mondial Piega would be the pièce de résistance of any collection. Built in small numbers, exquisitely crafted, high price tag, interesting backstory: the Piega has it all.

The Piega features top-spec components like a carbon-fiber-wrapped swingarm and Paioli fork and Öhlins shock, but its most rarefied feature is also its most mundane: a run-of-the-mill Honda RC51 engine. Honda never sells its motors to other manufacturers, so why Mondial?

The story goes that in 1957, Soichiro Honda traveled through Europe to visit legendary racing companies as a research trip for his own burgeoning racing program. Mondial’s owner Count Giuseppe Boselli welcomed Honda with open arms. When Mr. Honda asked to take a look at Mondial’s brilliant 250 GP racer, Boselli went one step further, crating one up to send to Japan. Boselli shut down Mondial’s racing effort that year, while Honda was about to take the world by storm. Apparently, Honda never forgot Boselli’s generosity, and made good on an old alliance decades later.

Honda RC51 Complete Racer
Honda RC51 Complete Racer
The V-twin holy grail.Honda

The white whale of the '00 V-twin era is the Honda RC51 Complete Racer. Wrought in the hallowed halls of HRC, the complete racer is basically a superbike-spec SP-1. The similarity between it and the standard production machine is as little as Honda could get away with while still being race legal. To buy one new in 2001 meant dropping a cool $108,000. Makes the RC213V-S seem downright affordable and damn near plebeian, doesn't it? If you know anyone who has this machine ferreted away in their collection, contact Seth Richards c/o Motorcyclist Magazine, and I'd be honored to set up a lawn chair in front of it and stare for a while.