Nicky Hayden, the Kentucky Kid, burst onto the world scene in 2003 when he was awarded a ride with Repsol Honda, diving directly into one of the premiere teams in the incredibly competitive MotoGP series. Racing lightweight, prototype bikes made of exotic materials wrapped around incredibly powerful motors, MotoGP is the ultimate destination for professional motorcycle circuit racers, and the MotoGP championship their ultimate goal.
In 2006, Hayden captured that championship, and in 2016 he's headed off in pursuit of another: World Superbike. Here, the world's best riders of production-based machines gather to not only determine the fastest rider, but also the fastest bike available for purchase by mere mortals like you or I.
As Hayden takes the next step forward in his career, let's take a look back at some of his most important rides.
The RC45 is a 750cc V-4, successor to the epic RC30. Produced in the early '90s, it was built for racing. In fact, Honda only ever sold 200 of the things, just enough to satisfy the homologation requirements, regulations in place back then for a bike to be able to race on the world superbike stage. This would be Hayden's first taste of racing on a superbike, and he would compete on a machine like this back when he was in high school.
In the domestic American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) Roadracing Championship (now known as MotoAmerica), it's not unusual for riders to race in both the Superbike and the slightly slower Supersport series, meaning multiple races on multiple bikes per weekend. On a Supersport-spec CBR600F4, Hayden won his first AMA championship in 1999. This is the bike he rode in 2000, which still bears his #1 champion's plate.
Hayden would continue racing in AMA through the new millennium, riding the 999cc V-twin RC51, which replaced the RC45. Switching to a V-twin meant Honda could add more displacement to keep up with the then-dominant Ducatis. What you see pictured here is the road-going version of the bike Hayden would ride to win the 2002 AMA Superbike championship, his launchpad onto the international scene.
For most of Hayden's MotoGP career he'd ride some variation of this bike, a Honda RC211V. Its 990cc engine is the maximum size allowed by MotoGP regulations, and it uses Honda's preferred V-5 layout to deliver somewhere around 250 horsepower. Thanks to extensive use of carbon fiber and other exotic materials, the bike weighs just 326 pounds. That's about 100 less than a roadgoing sportbike of the same displacement.
For 2016 Hayden's riding a production-based World Superbike, with a 999cc inline-four engine. The bike is substantially the same as the production version that you or I could buy, but has had some significant upgrades giving it more power, better suspension and, perhaps most importantly, more advanced electronics that add features such as traction control.