This is the first ever post on IconicBikes, and as such it will be a bit longer and a little more meandering than most other posts here, so feel free to skip the first few paragraphs if you just want to read about the NSR250 specifically. Oh, and why is it that I chose the Honda NSR250 rather than, say, a Ducati 916, Royal Enfield Bullet, Suzuki GSXR750, Triumph Bonneville, Honda CB750, or some other blatantly iconic bike for this cherry-popper of a post? Easy – it’s my favorite motorcycle. Why is this weird bike, which is nowhere near as well-known as the aforementioned models my favorite? Well, you know the music you loved as a teenager often stays pretty much your favorite music for most of your life – it’s kinda like that. Don’t you worry though, if you’re after a good read on any of the motorcycles listed above, because big fat juicy posts dripping with unadulterated awesomeness are currently brewing for all of those and many more.
And now … <drum roll> … for the very first post on IconicBikes.net: the Honda NSR250. Picture, if you will, the following scene with as much vivid clarity as your imagination will allow. It’s 1991. Operation Desert Storm has come and gone, and live war has been broadcast into millions of homes across the world. The Berlin Wall came down two years ago, and the Cold War has just officially ended. C + C Music Factory’s annoyingly infectious Everybody Dance Now seems to be playing whenever you turn on the radio, no matter what station you’re tuned into. A new animated sitcom called The Simpsons is making waves in TV-land, while The Fresh Prince of Bel Air’s rising star Will Smith is releasing his own rap tracks, and those kids who aren’t getting their kicks playing with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles action figures are glued to TV screens, obsessively hammering the control pads of their Sega Genesis or Super Nintendo systems. Blinding, eyeball-searing hues of neon pink, orange, yellow and green abound and are slashed across, well, everything in sight. In the midst of this cultural chaos, you’re hanging out with some riding buddies in the parking lot of a local biker bar, enjoying the crisp, refreshing kiss of an ice-cold beer on a particularly balmy summer evening, having a heated debated on how the hell Arnold Schwarzenegger (or, rather, the stunt guy riding in his place) managed to jump a Harley Davidson Fat Boy over forty feet off an LA overpass into a drainage canal in the iconic scene from the jaw-droppingly awesome summer blockbuster Terminator 2 (which you all just saw in theaters for the third time a week ago).
The parking lot of the biker bar is populated with the usual rides – an assortment of Harleys, and some Japanese sportsbikes in garishly-colored plastic livery – mostly Suzuki GSXR750s and 1100s, along with some Yamaha FZR1000s and perhaps a Honda VFR750, with maybe a lime-green Kawasaki ZXR750 in the background too. Some guy in a Pontiac Firebird (a tired, late 70s model with the iconic ‘bird image on the hood) is blasting butt rock from his car – Def Leppard, Whitesnake, Ratt or Bon Jovi, or some other poodle-haired, spandex-clad band who wear more makeup than their barely-legal groupies. But in the same way that a completely different band, playing a completely different kind of rock – Nirvana, with their crunchingly heavy yet catchily melodic punk-rock-proto-metal-pop (otherwise known as grunge) – is about to yank the rug out from under these bloated, cocaine-addled fops and snatch away the oh-so-fickle attention of the youth, eager for their own musical revolution in this revolution-heavy era … another breed of motorcycle, completely different from the lardy, rough-handling big bore four strokes is about to snatch your attention and revolutionize how you see motorcycles.
The evening has worn on and more beers have been consumed, and perhaps a few shots have been downed too. It’s the dawn of the 90s, remember? Drunk driving was, of course, a crime (and as downright selfish, stupid and borderline suicidal as it ever was), but it wasn’t persecuted with such virulent vehemence as it is these days, so most guys (foolishly) don’t take it that seriously. A few dudes are revving their rides; there’s the booming thunder and baritone crackling and popping of the V-twin cruisers as their throttles are snapped open then shut, undercut by the brazen roars and sharp-cut revs of the big in-line Japanese fours. But then, from the distance, comes an altogether different sound – a high-pitched wail, a metallic scream of thrashing agony … or is that ecstasy?
You’ve heard that sound before – albeit in a slightly different key, perhaps a few tones deeper – but you know it, without a doubt. After all, you’re a rabid MotoGP fan. Michael Doohan is your motorcycle racing hero … or maybe Wayne Rainey, or Kevin Schwantz – champions of latter-day legend who earned their spurs by taming the wildest, most vicious motorcycles ever built: four cylinder, 500cc two-stroke racers built for brutal acceleration, breakneck speed and razor-edge handling. Either way, you know the sound that’s rapidly approaching, cutting through the night and slicing like a high-pitched scythe of sound waves through the rumble and boom of the four stroke motors: it’s a two-stroke, a powerful one, in a high state of tune.
Spellbound, you walk out to the edge of the parking lot to get a better view of the street, and the bike that’s approaching. Is it a Yamaha RD350 YPVS, the two-stroke legend of the previous decade, the giant-killer that defined a young motorcycling generation? No, no, that bike redlined at 9000rpm, or was it 10k? Either way, whatever is rapidly coming this way is screaming at a way higher rate of rpm than that. 12K … 13K, even?
A single headlight beam stabs a passage through the darkness and the thrilling howl grows louder. Your heart starts to beat faster in your chest. The ‘hog riders turn their noses up; “sounds like a damn weed-whacker,” grunts one heavily-bearded tattoo freak in a leather vest and chaps – but you can see that there’s fascination and excitement sparkling in his eyes, despite his deadpan delivery. Then, finally, you see it – or, rather, at least, you catch a blurred frame of motion as the bike hurtles past. And in that split-second, you catch sight of a machine that, for all intents and purposes, could have come straight off a MotoGP track. The aggressive angles of its styling are almost exact copies of the full-blooded racers’ lines, and they make the GSXRS and FZRs look like bloated pigs who have spent far too long at the feeding trough. Everything about this bike says speed, aggression, focus, pared-down with every last ounce of fat shaved off with a surgeon’s scalpel, like some bulimic runway model … and the sweet scent of burned-up two-stroke oil lingering in the air after it has sped past and vanished into the night is now the only thing that remains of its presence. But … what was it?