Race replica motorcycles are produced by manufacturers for a number of reasons.
The main one is of course as a homage to the brands’ success or involvement in motorsports. There are also race replicas built as homologation models so that it’s eligible for production racing. Some were claimed by customers as being built to milk the buying public.
Some had more performance than the “regular” production models, some were just paint jobs, some were beautiful while some were forgettable.
Let’s look at the most beautiful ones.
1. Yamaha “Speed Blocks”
The Speed Blocks became eternally associated with Yamaha after “King” Kenny Roberts AMA Grand National Championships in 1973 and 1974, and additionally the 1978, 1979 and 1980 World 500cc Grand Prix titles. The manufacturer has since used the scheme on almost every model, from mopeds all the way to the YZF-R1 and the YZF-M1 MotoGP racer. In that case, which race replica do we choose? We’ll stick with the bike which started it all – King Kenny’s YZR500.
Do note that there’s also the red Speed Blocks on white scheme, but the yellow and black styling is the more famous.
Yamaha YZR500 - courtesy of Yamaha
2. BMW R90S
BMW may have been involved in motorsports for a long time, but they’re regarded as bikes that appeal only to those of dreary disposition in the 1970s. BMW, in seeking to change the perception that their bikes are dreary machines, employed Hans Muth (he who later designed the Suzuki Katana) to redesign their bikes.
Muth came up with the R90S in 1973, which BMW promptly entered into superbike racing. The bike came into its own in the 1976 Daytona AMA Superbike race, finishing first and second. The second-placed rider at Daytona, Reg Pridmore then won the 1976 AMA Superbike Championship with the bike.
BMW commemorated the Daytona win with a special color, called Daytona Orange. The R90S was a sales success until the end of its production run.
BMW R90S - Photo credit MCN
3. Ducati 900 Mike Hailwood Replica (MHR)
Almost every “special edition” modern Italian sportbike is festooned with the Tricolor Italian flag color scheme, which arguably started with Mike “The Bike” Hailwood’s 1979 Ducati 900 racer, on which he won the Isle of Man TT.
Ducati 900 MHR - Photo credit Pinterest.com
4. Kawasaki KZ1000R ELR (Eddie Lawson Replica)
The newly-launched Kawasaki Z900RS may be touted as the sole successor to the 1972 Kawasaki Z1 but the true race replica was the 1982 KZ1000R ELR, which was a direct homage to Eddie Lawson’s AMA Superbike Championship title in 1981.
Kawasaki’s signature lime-green paint is there but those blue and white stripes hailed from Kawasaki’s GP racers of yore. The deeply dished seat and 4-into-1 megaphone exhaust looked just right. Good idea on how to customize the Z900RS Café Racer.
Kawasaki KZ1000R ELR
5. Honda VFR750R RC30
The 1987 Honda VFR750R – better known as the RC30 – was hand-built by the Honda Racing Corporation (HRC) as their weapon to assault superbike championships around the world. Fred Merkel steered it to the inaugural World Superbike Championship in 1989.
The RC30 was as beautiful as its speed and technology. The combination of large bands of white, blue, red and white wheels have stood the test of 31 years.
Honda RC30 - Photo credit half-mag.com
6. Lucky Strike Suzuki RGV250 Lucky Strike had started their foray into 500cc World GP by sponsoring the Kenny Roberts Yamaha team in which Wayne Rainey and Kevin McGee were riders.
But when the team became a full factory Yamaha outfit, they switched over to Marlboro’s sponsorship. Lucky Strike then took over from Pepsi as the title sponsor of the Suzuki team, with the Texan Kevin Schwantz on their bike. Although Schwantz won only one championship to Rainey’s three, the former provided the best entertainment to millions of spectators all over the world.
Suzuki produced the RGV250 Gamma with the Lucky Strike colors in 1992. But just as Yamaha owners would paint their bikes with Speed Blocks, many painted their Suzukis to mimic Schwantz’s bike.
Suzuki RGV250 Lucky Strike - Photo credit motorcyclespecs.co.za
7. Rothmans Honda NSR250
It could be said that the most beautiful GP bikes were during the era of tobacco sponsorship and Honda’s racing dominance started on bikes painted in Rothmans colors. Rothmans’ money also flowed into other racing championships including the Porsches in Le Mans and Paris-Dakar Rally (on the Honda Africa Twin, no less), as well.
The theme trickled down to road bikes as well including that famous and final NSR250 MC28 in 1999.
Honda NSR250 MC28 - courtesy of moto.zombdrive.com
8. Honda RVT1000 a.k.a. VTR1000 SP1/SP2 a.k.a. RC51
To take the fight to Ducati’s V-Twin dominance in the World Superbike Championship in the 1990’s, Honda produced their own 999cc V-Twin in 2000, nicknamed the “Firestorm” around the world, but sold as the RVT1000R in America, and VTR1000 everywhere else. But Honda also made the SP1 (2000 to 2001) and SP2 (2002 to 2006) homologation models codenamed “RC51.”
The SP1 was painted in Honda’s Racing Red Wings theme but it was the SP2 that caught our hearts, with that silver wing over a Honda White background.
Honda VTR1000 SP2 - courtesy of motorcyclespecs.co.za
9. Ducati 916 SP
Could there be anything else than the Ducati 916 lineage? The 916 and its 955, 995, 996, 998 evolutions were the Ducatis’ that dominated World Superbike racing and cemented the marque’s name in the world of modern sportbikes. The homologation SP and SPS models had simple paint schemes – just red with a white tail section and that was enough. Pictured is the 1994 916 SP.
Ducati 916 SP - courtesy of pinterest.com
10. Aprilia RSV Mille
Aprilia had dominated the 125cc and 250cc GP racing and turn their sights to World Superbikes by launching their first four-stroke V-Twin called the RSV Mille (“Mille” means 1000 in Italian) in 1998. Despite not capturing a title, it did win a few races along the way. The RSV Mille shows how Aprilia is always thinking out of the box in terms of technology and design. Pictured is the 2005 RSV Mille R.
Aprilia RSV Mille R - courtesy of motorcyclespecs.co.uk