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What Could Be – 1986 Honda NS400R

With most riders expecting the best part of 200 hp per liter, later two-strokes of middling displacement are often treated like caged animals. This Honda V-3 doesn’t appear to have been babied, but does boast current California registration.

1986 Honda NS400R for sale on eBay

Honda acknowledged that the 500cc GP formula was not going to be won with the four stroke NR500, and returned to the podium with the NS500.  Wishing to capitalize on their success within Japanese regulations, they presented a 387cc race lookalike, which was brought stateside in a plain gray wrapper.  The surprisingly symmetrical triple had two forward cylinders and the third more vertical.  The bank of three 26mm Keihin carburetors are plumbed directly in from the top, with the outside exhausts riding underneath and the center taking a scenic underseat route to the license plate.  Even with Honda’s ATAC power valve, acceleration below 7,000 rpm is gradual, then a controlled explosion to the 9,500 rpm peak of 72 hp.

Thirty-plus years on, almost every bike will have some unknowable history.  This example has evidently received more attention on the mechanical side than to the out-front details that grab eyeballs.  Seems like doing about 10% of the required beautification would make a 90% improvement.  From the eBay auction:

Just serviced and ready to ride.  Has some cosmetic issues as can be seen in the pictures, but the previous owner installed a brand new engine which has less than 1,000 km or less than 600 miles on it, even though the odometer reads 26,296 km which is about 16,400 miles.  Odometer may change slightly as it is ridden occasionally to keep it in great running condition.  Starts easily and runs great, but needs new kill switch assembly.
Previous owner had installed a new engine, and we rode this bike a few times over the years, but with 60 bikes in the collection it did not get ridden very often. I had it completely serviced in August 2019 and new CDI units were installed (this bike uses two).  Just had the carbs cleaned last week so it is running fine.  The bike has a CA title and registration and I have it in hand.

The livery on this NS400R is similar to Honda’s GP works livery in the early 1980’s, when Freddie Spencer was quickly drafted from Honda’s AMA Superbike effort.  Spencer hit pay dirt in 1985, winning at Daytona as well as the 500cc and 250cc GP championships.  This NS400R has a lot of question marks – high mileage, engine change, and pictures that serve only to start a conversation.  But if some of those could be resolved, it might justify the owner’s reference to a high-dollar Mecum auction winner.



  • This is at or near the high water mark for “Best Finish on a Japanese Sportbike”! It is even nicer than the VFR series, or the RC series. The wheels, frame, swingarm, etc. etc.. Even the kick stand has it’s own piece of bodywork. It’s also a scalpel on the race track. I could tell when one of these was about to come by, or was started up. Very distinctive motorcycle. A jewel. When these came out, for one year, they were priced close to the then new VFR750. As a new(er) sportbike Owner I didn’t understand the significance of this motorcycle.

    • That little bit of kickstand bodywork is one of my favorite details! Just typical of Honda in the 80s and 90s.

  • First one I’ve seen with aftermarket chambers…

  • Unfortunately one of the most disappointing 2-stroke bikes available compared to the hype. Although typically mentioned in the same sentence as RZ500 and Gamma, Honda refined out the fun factor and much of the power band. Cool, rare, just don’t expect much fun.

  • “Unfortunately one of the most disappointing 2-stroke bikes available compared to the hype. Although typically mentioned in the same sentence as RZ500 and Gamma, Honda refined out the fun factor and much of the power band. Cool, rare, just don’t expect much fun.”

    I disagree,My NS400R was fun, shifted better than a RG and had a better fit and finish.

  • I have one in my collection and love it. It isn’t as fast as some would like, while others compare it to the RZ500 and RG500, but the reality is there is no comparison to those bikes. RZ350 displacement is 347 cc. NS400R displacement is only 387 cc. Knowing that it is easy to see why the bike is not really in the same class as the RZ500 and RG500. I own those bikes as well, but the NS400R is still my favourite to ride, and it is absolutely gorgeous. You need to keep it above 7500 RPM where the ATAC valves are closed and the riding experience is joyful. 3rd gear above 7500 is where the fun is. You’ll enjoy thrills to 160 KPH in 3rd gear and there isn’t much reason to use 4th on the street.

    I don’t think there was a lot of hype about the bike, just unrealistic expectations from Honda fans hoping to see it released as a 500. As a 400 with only 387 CCs and a claimed 72HP it does very well. It should be compared against the 1986-1990 RZ350, if anything.

    It might look like Freddie’s race bike, but beyond the looks it is very different, including the V-3 layout, which on the NS400R has 2 cylinders down and 1 up. The opposite of Freddie’s bike.

    To use aftermarket pipes, typically you must remove the ATAC, which is only on the 2 lower cylinders. I prefer the look of stock pipes and the cover that goes over the upper silencer.

    Fit and finish is the best you’ll find. Braking is outstanding and if ridden properly the bike does not disappoint. Anyone claiming the bike is underwhelming has not properly ridden one. If you have never ridden one, you really are missing something special.

    I’m not surprised there are no bids yet. Collectors want the best example and this bike clearly isn’t in that class.

  • Very surprised to hear This is your favorite of all the bikes.

    I would definitely agree fit and finish was very good albeit quite tight. Much better than the Yamahas.

    That being said, I found it downright boring even compared to a stock RZ350. Wasn’t just the specific bike either as we had 3 of them and this was in the recent past. Boring at all RPM not just down low.

  • JR makes some good points about the bike. All of the mid eighties 2-strokes took a different direction but riding them, well there is just nothing like it. I bought my RZ new in ’84, my RG well used in ’96, and finally my NS two months ago. It too is well used so I have only ridden it on my driveway. There have been a lot of hands on it over the years so I need to do some additional inspection before a good run.

    It appears that there were not near as many NS400Rs produced, or at least brought into the US, but yet they don’t seem to bring the price of either the RZ or RG. I looked for a long time before I found one for my right price in my half of the country. I really don’t care so much about the collector / original status of most of my bikes, so this one would have at least deserved a look if it were a little closer to me. For me the tank dent is the worst “feature”, but I don’t need to worry now.

    They are not making any more, someone might be pretty happy owning this one.

    Oh ya, slight correction from JR’s post. The JL pipes that I have seen retain the ATAC chambers on the lower two cylinders. I too have heard that not all aftermarket pipes do.

    Frank S.

  • I’ve ridden one of these and have to agree with EZ- it’s a huge disappointment, and it has nothing to do with condescendingly “riding it properly”. First, there’s zero low end power. OK, nobody expects anything there. Mid range is totally flat, nothing there either. Hmmm, let’s rev it out and wait for the payoff and fun, right? Nope, just a meager little top end zing and it’s quickly all over. That’s it? Certainly not any explosion of power. Riding position, controls, brakes, all remind me exactly of a 500 Interceptor- dated, but fitting of the 1980’s period. Sure looks good, though.

  • Sold, One happy bidder.

  • I’m not a typical Honda lover in the least but the NS was a high water mark for them. I’ve RZ 350 and RG500s. Worst feature of the NS- the ball bearings in a soup can idle exhaust note. The other sore point is that it is a pain to work on compared to the RZ 350 or the RG500. Good luck finding parts.

    On the plus side it has a comfortable riding position, sweet handling and a fun motor with a smooth powerband that is easier to ride than the Rg500 with its’ lightswitch power output. I prefer the RGs power hit but the NS is still a giggle despite being slower. The NS is more like a RZ in nature but with refined unique styling. Compare the clean graphics of the eighties to modern trends and styling.

    If you live near seriously twisty roads where you can access the NS in it’s natural environment it’s a great choice. Rare, interesting, handsome and back road capable- it checks a lot of boxes.

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