2000/01 Honda SP-1
Honda’s V-twin world-beater
What we said then “Built to beat Ducati on the track, beautifully made and it sounds awesome.” What happened next Developed with the sole purpose of beating Ducati in WSB at their own game, the SP-1 was essentially a Japanese 916 designed by HRC. And that was its problem. It may have won the WSB title first time out, but it didn’t exude the exotic feel of a Ducati, had a reputation for terrible fuel injection, a peanut for a petrol tank and the new Blade was cheaper and faster. What’s happening now Now, the SP-1 is being appreciated for what it is, a wonderful piece of engineering that is actually stacked full of character – just Japanese character and not Italian. The ride is sublime, the fuelinjection easily sorted and it holds such a unique place in Honda’s history that good examples are seen as true modern classics. Honda’s VTR1000 SP-1 has steadily grown in reputation – and price! How does it ride? Compared to a 916 the SP-1 is sheer refinement and you never get that will-it-or-won’t-it feeling that surrounds an early Ducati. With the Honda it starts on the button, ticks over perfectly and feels and sounds mechanically perfect rather than rattle and clank like a Duke. In that way it is a typical Honda, but in other ways it is far removed.
Back in the day, riders moaned about the SP-1’S fuel injection, but while it isn’t that great, it’s far from bad and the criticisms are as much to do with the people riding the SP-1 as the bike itself. Riders tested the V-twin expecting it to react with the smoothness of an inline four, which it will never do and rather than adapt their riding style to suit the bike (you do need to slip the clutch quite a lot at low speed) they simply moaned and bought a Blade. And because of that, many missed out on the joys of riding what remains a very special slice of Honda’s sportsbike history.
The SP-1 is a proper racer with lights, in fact the prototype mule was actually Doohan’s NSR500 chassis with the V-twin in it! It’s narrow, has an aggressive riding position and once taken by the scruff of the neck rewards the rider with early 2000s Wsb-level feedback and handling. And all this is backed up by a wonderfully smooth and refined V-twin motor that thumps out a genuine 124bhp with total reliability and minimal maintenance. It’s an exquisite jewel of a bike and one that is deservedly now gaining the respect it should have commanded from the very start. What to look out for The build quality on the SP-1 is absolutely top-draw, so treat any tatty bikes with suspicion and always check for crash damage as quite a few are used as trackday hacks. The V-twin engine is very robust, but the clutch is a known weak point and can become grabby while a few owners also report gearbox failures, especially after track use. There are also cases of SP-1S having a thirst for oil. Most used SP-1S come with race cans fitted, which makes the bike sound fantastic, but always try to get the OE ones from the seller, replacements from Honda cost a fortune. A Power Commander and a bit of dyno time will make the initial throttle response much smoother.