The old adage is true: Don’t bring a knife to a gun fight.
So when Honda engineers designed this RC500 for David Bailey to ride in the AMA’s 1984 500cc Motocross Championship, they built a gun.
At the time, AMA rules allowed manufacturers to race factory-special MX machines, unrelated to the production bikes they offered for sale. And Honda took full advantage of that rule in building this machine.
Special parts include a handmade chassis, an aluminum rear subframe, a fiberglass airbox, a tapered radiator for the liquid-cooled 500cc engine, and titanium and aluminum fasteners all around.
The most innovative bit of design, though, is the fuel tank, which was dropped down into the frame to give the bike a lower center of gravity. The move required a fuel pump to supply gas to the carburetor.
Bailey, the man who would ride this machine, had proven his ability by winning the 250cc motocross and Supercross championships for Big Red the previous year. He would face Yamaha’s defending 500cc champion, Broc Glover.
Glover had the credentials, with two championships in the 500cc class and three in the 125cc class. But his Yamaha, based more closely on the company’s production machine, turned out to be the knife in this particular gun fight.
“I was pretty much struggling to stay near Bailey,” Glover said at the time. “It’s tough having to ride a production bike against a works bike.”
Bailey went out and won the first eight races of the 10-race season. Glover fought hard all the way, winning the final two races of the year, but he couldn’t keep Bailey from taking the title. The next season, the AMA adopted a modified-production rule for motocross racing that took effect in 1986.
But the question remains: How much of that remarkable year was due to Bailey’s very special Honda, and how much was due to his enormous talent?
“I know there were places where my Honda works bike had advantages,” Bailey said after the last race. “And most likely, it did put out more power. But you weren’t always able to use it on a tight track.”