No stranger to rules-bending engine designs in motorcycle racing (see the NR500 and NR750 oval-piston engines) Honda has a rich history of marching to the beat of its own drummer, especially when it comes to two-wheel competition. When the MotoGP rules changed for the 2002 season, Honda took advantage by developing a 990cc five-cylinder four-stroke engine.
As Sam explains in the video, the four strokes didn’t make the same power as the two-stroke engines Honda dominated the circuit with, but the new rules allowed them to have twice the displacement. That spurred Honda to take R&D to the next level. More than just absolute output, things like reliability, powerband, weight, fitment, and balance were all factors that played into the V5’s eventual selection.
Using a 75.5-degree bank angle, the RC211V had two dual overhead cam cylinder heads – one with 12 valves (3x four-valve chambers) and one with eight valves (2x four-valve chambers), with each cylinder having two fuel injectors. Lasting through the 2006 season, it peaked at 260 horsepower at 16,500 rpm — that’s 4.3 horsepower-per-cubic-inch or, 262 hp/liter, naturally aspirated). Even it’s least powerful iteration still produced 210 horsepower at 14,000 rpm (which is still almost 3.5 hp/ci or 212 hp/liter).
One of the most beautiful bits of engineering in the engine is the fifth piston (the middle position of the three-piston bank) had a rod journal offset 104 degrees from the other journals, which created a perfect primary balance in operation, much like that of an inline-six. While the initial instinct is that the 3-2 piston relationship would lead to an incredibly rough operation, the exact opposite is true thanks to both the primary balance and well-engineered firing order.
Sam gets deep into the chassis, rideability, and rules considerations in the video above, and if you have any interest in learning more about the overall development process of the chassis and engine program, so we highly recommend you watch the video in its entirety.