Once upon a time, two-stroke racebikes were The Hot Ticket, particularly in GP racing, where the class rules were all structured around two-stroke engines. That all changed in the 2000s, but through the 1980s and 1990s, you could buy hot two-smokers for the track, even after streetbikes had all gone to four-stroke engines.
The Honda RS250R was a long-lasting specimen from those days. Not “long-lasting” in the mechanical sense, but Honda kept it in the lineup for a very long time, from the early 1980s through 2009. Unlike other Honda racebikes, this was a machine that anyone, at least any qualified racer, could go buy.
This one, an ’88 model, didn’t belong to just any old racer, though. It was Bubba Shobert’s bike. He ran it at Daytona in 1988, and took fifth (not in the Pro Superbike class). It’s still in as-raced condition.
The original RS250R from the ’80s used a 90-degree liquid-cooled V-twin engine. Honda’s little production racer wasn’t as advanced and highly-tuned as the RS250RW factory MotoGP machine, but satellite teams did race the lower-specced RS250R in GP events. At the national level, Honda teams and privateers bought the RS250R for races like the Daytona support events, the Isle of Man TT, and so on. Joey Dunlop won his first Junior TT aboard an RS250R, and other Euro racing stars of the era used it successfully as well.
Honda gave the engine a major overhaul in 1993, updating it to a 75-degree V-twin, but even through the 1980s, the two-stroke saw incremental updates year-over-year. The ’88 model for sale here should make around 71 horsepower in stock tune, and weighed 226 pounds dry, when it left the factory. As it’s been raced, no doubt the team mechanics have had some fun with it.
This version of the engine came with crankcase-reed induction and a cassette gearbox. Many of the changes were lifted off the factory 250 that Freddie Spencer used to win the world championship in 1985.
Earlier versions of the RS came with Honda’s TRAC anti-dive forks. Those were discontinued in 1988, so this machine shouldn’t have them. Again, the race tuners could have changed this from factory spec.
Overall, the RS250R was a much greater than its predecessor, the Honda CR72. Unfortunately, it came on the scene right at the end of the two-stroke era. MotoGP stuck with two-strokes for a while, but many other racing series saw more of a focus on production-based four-strokes as the 1990s rolled in. When MotoGP canned its two-stroke 250 class in 2009 and moved to the 600 cc four-stroke Moto2 series, Honda said goodbye to the RS250R for good.
Still, it had a production run of roughly 15 years (prototypes raced the All Japan Road Race Championship in 1984), and inspired the NSR250R series of street bikes as well (which were two-stroke V-twins, styled to look like the RS series, but mechanically much different).
This particular machine, for sale at the April 28-May 1 Mecum auction in Las Vegas, has interesting history. Bubba Shobert, one of the greatest racers in the US through the 1980s, raced this bike at Daytona. According to the end, Shobert used it as a backup later that year at the 1988 Laguna Seca World Championship 250GP race—he had a factory bike lined up for that weekend, which would have been faster. The ad also notes this RS250R tested at Willow Springs, and comes with “excellent documentation.” That’s good, because in the world of vintage motorcycles, there’s always someone in a corner somewhere, trying to scam unwary buyers. This can be especially true in the world of racebikes, where twisted wrecks are combined to pose as original machines.
Sadly. this bike does serve as a reminder of what could have been with Shobert’s career. Shobert won the AMA flat track scene in the early 1980s, taking the Grand National championship on a Honda RS750 in 1985, 1986, and 1987. Then, the AMA rules went hinky, so Shobert moved to roadracing, and won the 1988 AMA Superbike Championship.
Shobert looked like he could have been the Next Big Thing from the US, following the flat-track-to-roadracing-hero formula that Kenny Roberts established. Unfortunately, he was involved in a horrifying crash at the 1989 US GP, running into Kevin Magee as the Australian racer did a post-race burnout. It ended Shobert’s career as a rider (he worked in team management afterwards), and was one of the blackest days in the history of American Grand Prix racing. Superbike Planet’s write-up on the sad event is here.
With all that backstory, American racing fans will likely be especially interested in this RS250R, as the ’88 season was arguably the height of Shobert’s career. The Mecum advert says the bike is part of a private collection in Las Vegas, but doesn’t say much else about its whereabouts in the past 30+ years.
For more photos and details, check out Mecum’s site. There’s no indication what the bike will fetch at auction, but don’t be surprised if it’s pricey.