10) Honda RC30
The Honda RC30 hit American soil in 1990 after much anticipation (it debuted in 1987 overseas). It was a race homologation special, and only 750 were made for the international market making it extremely rare to ever spot one in the general public.
OK, so the meager 110 HP produced from its V-4 motor wasn't yanking any arms from their sockets, but it's was how it made that power that made it so special. An early form of the "big bang" style crank was incorporated, making power smooth and controllable throughout the rev range. The RC30 also utilized a slipper clutch-another groundbreaking feature for the time.
At just over 400 pounds the RC30 was considered one of the best handling bikes of the era. It came race-ready with quick release wheels and fully adjustable suspension, and it was all bundled inside gorgeous bodywork. It didn't come cheap though, and you paid for the exclusivity to the tune of $15,000 (that was a lot of green in 1990). If you're lucky enough to find one today still in one piece plan to shell out about $20K.
9) Honda NR
The Honda NR is proof that the most exotic bikes aren't always the most powerful or fastest. Honda built the 750cc NR about the same time as it produced the first CBR900RR (1992). And while the $100,000 NR had stacks more technology and exotic materials than the CBR, it was a damn sight heavier and made equivalent power.
To find the point of the NR, you have to look back in history. Yamaha and Suzuki won eight championships between 1975 and 1983 with two-strokers, but there was a problem for Honda. Its boss, Soichiro Honda, hated two-strokes. He was a four-stroke man, and searched high and low for a way to beat the smoky stinkwheels with a "proper" engine.
Honda tried to compete by making the most extreme four-stroke engine ever made. Ideally, the firm would have made a V-8 500. But racing rules said no V-8; four cylinders were the limit. So Honda did the next best thing and made its V-8 into a V-4 by simply joining the neighbouring pistons together into an oval shape. These running-track-shaped 'cylinders' held spam-tin pistons, which then ran on twin con-rods. There was enough room in the combustion chambers for eight valves (four inlet, four exhaust) and two spark plugs.
The resulting bike, the NR500 (NR stood for New Racing) was a disaster, barely completing any races at all. Honda quietly shelved the racebike, gave in, and made a three-cylinder two-stroke that gave Freddie Spencer the GP crown in 1983.
In 1992, the NR roadbike was released. 300 were made and it was an engineering tour de force. The most interesting part was the engine: a 750cc oval-piston V-4 with 32 valves, quad-cams, eight con-rods and eight tiny spark plugs. Honda also fitted fuel injection-a real novelty in 1992-and made an incredible eight-into-four-into-two-into-one-into-two titanium exhaust system. The rest of the bike was similarly extreme: carbon fiber bodywork, magnesium wheels, USD forks (rare in 1992), titanium-coated windscreen and even a carbon fiber and silver-nickel ignition key.
The big H had shown everyone who was the tech boss, but that was the NR750's only claim to fame.
8) Yamaha R7
The R7 appeared in 2000, a year after the R6 and two years after the R1. But it was a very different beast from them: while the 600 and 1000 were sportbikes for the people, the 750cc R7 was not. It was a $32,000 homologation special: a limited edition bike built to compete in superbike racing worldwide. So it was a fuel-injected 749cc inline-four, in a conventional aluminum frame, laden with top-spec Öhlins race suspension and running gear. It looked utterly amazing: genuine two-wheeled sex. But sadly, it went nothing like it looked. Bureaucracy and muddled thinking meant the stock bike only made just over 100 HP and you needed to fit thousands of dollars worth of race kit parts to start making decent power.
Small-scale teams couldn't afford to tune it properly, and when you unlocked big power out of it, the crankshafts failed.
It's ironic that the sexiest, most exotic "R-series" bike ever actually turned out to be a bit of a lemon in the end.
7) Morbidelli V8
Never heard of Morbidelli? Don't feel bad - it's an obscure Italian outfit set up in 1968 by woodworking magnate and racer, Giancarlo Morbidelli.
In 1994 Morbidelli wowed the press with a prototype V-8 roadbike. It was an 850cc, 90-degree transverse unit with shaft drive, fuel injection, 32 valves and a large fairing. The spec was amazing, the design terrifyingly ugly, and the few people who did ride one found an uninspiring, rather sedate sport tourer. It made just 120 HP-not a great output even back then. The biggest flaw was the price though: an unholy $60,000. You can see two in the US-one at the Barber Motorsports museum, and one has also been on show at the Guggenheim museum in New York and Las Vegas.
6) Ducati Supermono
Unlike most of the bikes here, Ducati's Supermono was built as a racebike in 1993, and was never designed to run on the road at all. The engine was simple: Ducati simply removed the vertical cylinder from one of its 916 engines, leaving the front cylinder to make the power. But how to balance this single cylinder? The genius stroke of designer Massimo Bordi was to leave the second con-rod in place and attach it to a pivoting, weighted bar. So as the engine spun, the "phantom" con-rod still moved up and down, balancing out the forces of the other piston, and giving perfect balance. The top end of the engine was a desmodromic four-valve design, and the later 572cc versions made nearly 65 HP: great power for a sub-600cc single.
5) Bimota V Due
Bimota's tried and tested strategy was to put high-powered, super-reliable Japanese sportbike engines into handmade, super-spec chassis, then sell them for triple the price of the Japanese machinery. This worked well in the early years because the Japanese made great engines, but hadn't cracked handling yet. When the Japanese firms nailed handling in the early 1990s, Bimota's days seemed numbered.
So the firm went for broke in 1997. It decided to make the ultimate exotic sportbike with its own engine, and planned a radical 500cc, fuel-injected, V-twin two-stroke. The engine was a brave but foolish move. The millions of dollars needed to develop such a beast just weren't there, and the firm simply couldn't get the engine right. Fundamental design flaws, together with manufacturing defects meant the bikes had horrid, narrow power bands with zero mid-range and unpredictable power delivery.
The rest of the bike was gorgeous: the chassis was swathed in carbon fiber, featured Brembo brakes, an Öhlins shock and Paioli forks. But the handling was ruined by the poor power delivery-it was virtually impossible to ride the V Due.
Later attempts to make them run with carburetors rather than fuel injection helped somewhat, but the V Due never worked properly, no matter how nice it looked...
4) Suzuki RG500
Released in 1985, the RG500 was a genuine GP replica, with the same architecture as the firm's 500 GP racers. That meant a square-four two-stroke engine with disc valve induction, underseat expansion chambers, aluminum frame and ten-piston braking system. With its full fairing, 95 HP output and 350-pound dry weight, it was a real headbanger's bike, and made competing sportbikes look pretty tame in comparison.
Nowadays, the RG's marginal chassis and peaky power output wouldn't cut it-a decent GSX-R600 would knock its block off on track and on the street. But just imagine if Suzuki had spent the last 25 years developing and updating the RG500.
3) MTT Turbine Bike
Tired of turbos? Bored by big-bore kits? Sick of superchargers? Then why not dump the dull old four-stroke internal combustion engine altogether?
The MTT Y2K bike uses a gas turbine turboshaft engine. The Rolls-Royce Allison Model 250 powerplant is an actual helicopter engine used to power small Bell and Sikorsky choppers, and when the engines get too old to keep flying, MTT buys them and puts them into bikes.
The motor makes around 320 HP and drives through a two-speed gearbox. The nature of a turboshaft engine means massive throttle lag, but once the MT gets up to speed it's stunningly fast-reputedly over 230 mph. Obviously, it's far too long and heavy to handle very well, but we suspect you'll be able to keep up with your Hayabusa-mounted homies whenever a straight bit of road opens up.
2) Ducati Desmosedici
No sooner had MotoGP switched to four-stroke machinery in 2002 than the whole moto-world was dreaming of a road-going version. Tightening emissions rules meant the two-stroke 500 class could never produce another true GP replica after the Suzuki RG500 and Yamaha RD500LC of the 1980s. But the new rules -a 990cc four-stroke machine-surely opened the door for that to change. The prospects were truly mouth-watering...
Sadly, dreams of a Japanese MotoGP replica are all we have. Lame press release BS about "MotoGP DNA" entering the CBR1000RR or R1 aside, the Japanese crapped out.
That left the field clear for those long-standing dealers of dreams-Ducati. The Bologna firm had stunned everyone with its return to MotoGP, where its Desmosedici V-4 MotoGP entry was amazingly competitive from the start.
With a typical Italian disregard for the rules (MotoGP is supposed to be for "prototypes," not production machines), Ducati simply turned out a road-legal version of the 990cc MotoGP bike. The conversion was a little more complex than just fitting lights and a licence plate, although you wouldn't know it from the outside.
The $72,500 machine was announced at the Mugello GP in 2006, and Ducati took orders right away. The 1500 production run was apparently sold out in no time, and the lucky owners got their bikes in 2008.
The specs were pretty sobering: just about 180 HP from a tiny V-four engine, with special one-off 16-inch rear wheel, custom Bridgestone tires and carbon fiber bodywork. The engine was like a nuclear submarine reactor: tiny, complex, and containing incredible power within.
Riding the beast was initially intimidating, especially with the race exhaust in place when the noise was truly daunting. And although the rear wheel power figure didn't always seem to come up to the claims (BMW's S1000RR is making more power at a quarter of the price, it seems), there's no denying how special the Desmosedici RR is.
1) MV Agusta F4 CC
There's a school of thought that says every damn MV Agusta is exotic, and we're tempted to go along with that. The Italian firm almost single-handedly invented the "megabucks exotic superbike" with its 750cc F4 Serie Oro (Gold Series) superbike that appeared in 1998. Dripping in magnesium and carbon fiber, the original F4 stunned at fifty paces with its styling and handling. But to be honest, the motor was a little breathless down low and compared badly with Ducati's superb big-bore V-twins and the Japanese liter bikes of the time. Agusta did the right thing though, and boosted the F4 up to 998cc in 2005. Finally the F4 had the power to match its hardcore chassis and luxurious design.
But that wasn't enough for the firm's boss, Claudio Castiglioni. He's an old-school Italian businessman who cares more about the soul and heritage of his firm than mere nickels and dimes. So there was no clever business plan behind his ultimate superbike-just the desire for the ultimate. The result, named after the boss himself, was the $120,000 MV Agusta F4 CC in 2006. The engine was punched out to 1,078cc, and made a stunning 200 HP at the crank thanks to titanium valves and rods, while the chassis had all the best componentry available. The swingarm and frame pivot plates are magnesium, wheels are forged magnesium, and the brakes are four-piston radial Brembo monobloc calipers.
Agusta claimed the bike was much more than a list of specs though. The firm reckoned no part was produced in a normal "industrial" way; rather each component was sculpted on a one-off basis by artisan engineers. And while the engine, frame and bodywork all look similar to the "standard" MV Agusta, they are in fact all hand-made and subtly different.
Finally, you don't just get a bike for your $120,000. Old Claudio knows his way around the luxury brands of olde Europe, so he's managed to get a deal on some Swiss watches and Italian fashion goods. A $15,000 Girard-Perregaux watch and stylish Trussardi leather jacket are thrown in on the deal-which makes it a clincher in our books!
Exotics in the Modern World
The latest in a great line, the 1198R is the pinnacle of V-twin supersport motorcycles. The mighty engine pumps out a stunning 170 HP, with 89 LB-FT of torque. The power is controlled by a WSB-level engine management system with user-adjustable Ducati Traction Control and on-board datalogging to a removable USB stick. This terrifying powerplant lives in a steel tube trellis frame with unrivalled adjustability and stiffness, suspended on top-drawer Öhlins suspension units and the finest Brembo brakes money can buy. You also get a full Termignoni race exhaust system, so you can get the very best from your investment on the track.
Proof that not all $100,000 exotica has to be a sportbike, the Confederate Wraith also shows that America can build awesome, unique bikes. Okay, the powerplant is a bit of a snore: yet another huge air-cooled V-twin. Yawn. But it does put out 125 HP and 130 LB-FT of torque, so maybe it's not so bad.
There's nothing dull about the chassis though. The front end is crazy. A pair of huge, over engineered carbon-fiber blades hanging on double wishbones operate a titanium-sprung Penske shock. The middle is pretty wild too. A single, enormous carbon fiber tube arches over the top of the giant engine, and airplane-type bulkheads bolted around the front of the motor.
And it's no surprise that the rear end is not at all conventional. A single-sided aluminum swingarm holds a wide carbon fiber wheel and another titanium-sprung Penske shock.
Everything else is kinda unusual too-the oil is in the frame, lights are LED units, brakes are Brembo race calipers and the tires are proper 17-inch Pirelli sport rubber.
We've not ridden one of these beasts, but to be honest we're not that bothered. The best thing is probably just looking at it: and wondering how amazing it would be with, say, a Ducati 1098R engine instead of that lame "American Iron" lump...