‘Big things come in small packages’ applies to plenty of vehicles, but classic Hondas often embody the adage particularly well. The most popular motor vehicle ever is a sub-100cc Honda motorcycle, after all. But while these small-capacity steeds seem humble, some can keep up with and even humble their modern counterparts. And in the Honda CBR250RR MC22’s case, it does something that puts today’s Formula 1 cars to shame.
There’s a street-legal 1990 250cc sportbike that revs higher than a modern F1 car: the MC22 Honda CBR250RR
|1990-1994 Honda CBR250RR ‘MC22’|
|Engine||249cc liquid-cooled ‘MC14E’ inline-four with four Keihin VP20 carburetors|
|Front suspension||Telescopic fork|
|Rear suspension||Preload-adjustable mono-shock|
|Curb weight||346 lbs|
At first glance, the Honda ‘MC22’ CBR250RR doesn’t seem particularly potent, especially for something that’s supposed to shame an F1 car. But that’s because the above table doesn’t include a significant spec: redline.
Even before the streets echoed with VTEC, Honda had a reputation for stellar high-revving engines, particularly in its motorcycles. And the 1990 ‘MC22’ Honda CBR250RR continued that legacy in stellar fashion. It redlines at 19,000 RPM, with a rev limiter at 20,000 RPM.
Once upon a time, F1 engines revved that high. But in today’s turbocharged era, most stop at 15K. So, although it can’t overpower a modern F1 car, the 1990 CBR250RR can out-scream it. It even sounds like those old “shrieking V10 F1 engines,” Cycle World says.
Also, the engineering required to get even a small-capacity engine to howl that high is fascinating. No, the Honda CBR250RR doesn’t have desmodromic valves like Ducati’s machines. But it does have a gear-driven camshaft because chains and belts stretch and throw things off. And while ram-air intakes, like on the Suzuki Hayabusa, were still a few years away, the MC22’s straight intake runners are the next best thing.
The ‘Babyblade’ Honda CBR250RR looks, sounds, and handles like a 250cc superbike
Those intake runners are so straight thanks to the Honda CBR250RR MC22’s aluminum twin-spar frame. While such a frame is commonplace today, it wasn’t in 1990, especially in the small-capacity world. That rigid frame helped the CBR900RR Fireblade become the icon it is today. And because it looked like a small-scale Fireblade, the MC22 quickly earned the nickname ‘Babyblade.’
However, the 1990 Honda CBR250RR doesn’t just look like a mini Fireblade. This shrieking small-capacity sportbike has its own “heart and character,” RideApart explains. And both are still crystal-clear today.
True, the 249cc engine doesn’t come alive until about 14,000 RPM, Cycle World notes. But the beauty of this bike is you can appreciate its screaming symphony at road-legal speeds. Furthermore, although the MC22’s suspension is somewhat dated, it’s just as adjustable as the new CB300R’s setup. And yet the Honda CBR250RR still has “responsive steering and loads of feedback,” Cycle World says.
Also, with its rigid frame and low curb weight, the Honda CBR250RR handles far better than most bikes its age. That ‘kinked’ gullwing swingarm? It increases cornering clearance so you can lean into corners more. Those Nissin disc brakes might be relatively small, but then, the MC22 is a light motorcycle. So, these strong and easy-to-modulate units let you brake “far deeper” into corners than you might expect, Cycle World reports. And all these features mean the 1990 Honda CBR250RR feels far more modern than it is.
This ‘90s sportbike isn’t just a motorcycle that sounds like an F1 car. It’s a small-scale classic superbike.
This piece of JDM forbidden fruit is still an affordable import
Incredibly, the Honda CBR250RR MC22 wasn’t some random one-off.
Before 1994, Japanese laws restricted new and learning riders to sub-250cc machines, RideApart explains. In addition, these motorcycles were exempt from safety and emissions tests, making them sort of like two-wheeled kei cars. That made them popular with speed-obsessed street riders, which in turn incentivized Japanese companies to keep refining them. As a result, the MC22 was just one of several contemporary small-capacity super sportbikes.
Just like kei cars, though, these bikes were designed around Japanese regulations. So, apart from some surplus bikes that ended up in Australia, Honda never sold the MC22 CBR250RR outside of Japan.
However, thanks to the 25-year rule, these motorcycles are slowly trickling into the US. And for now, they remain fairly affordable. Mecum sold one in 2020 for $8800 and has several more coming up for auction in 2022. But even pristine examples typically top out at $10,000-$15,000.
That’s considerably less than the millions a genuine F1 car commands. And unlike an F1 car, you can enjoy the CBR250RR’s shriek on the street.
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