Honda VTR1000 SP-1 A V-twin slice of HRC ho­molo­ga­tion de­light

Motorcycle News (UK) - - Buying & Selling - By Jon Urry MCN GUEST TESTER

What we said then

“The Honda SP-1 was built to prove a point; that the world’s num­ber one bike maker could beat Du­cati on the track, us­ing a V-twin. Sadly, that makes the Honda SP-1 less sat­is­fy­ing, be­cause it has an on/off fu­elling set-up, too much power for the chas­sis and a cramped rid­ing po­si­tion. On the up­side, the SP-1 is beau­ti­fully made, sounds awe­some and makes 90% of rid­ers look faster than they re­ally are.” MCN, 2000

But what is it like now?

As an owner of a Du­cati 916 and an Aprilia Tuono, I have a soft spot for fast V-twins. But the one twin that I’ve never re­ally lusted af­ter is the SP-1. I’m not sure why this is, maybe all the bad re­views I’ve read, maybe sim­ply be­cause it beat my beloved Du­cati in WSB. Would this one change my mind?

For starters, the look isn’t drop-dead gor­geous like a 916. The SP-1 is more func­tional than el­e­gant, which is what you ex­pect from HRC. They looked at what they needed to make a faster V-twin than Du­cati and that’s what they built, hence the huge air scoop forc­ing air to­wards the mas­sive pis­tons and the slim line body­work for max­i­mum aero­dy­namic ad­van­tage.

Fire up the SP-1 and while it has a V-twin rum­ble, that’s all it has. There is no agri­cul­tural rat­tle and clat­ter like you get on a dry-clutched Duke, in­stead ev­ery­thing is silky smooth. It’s re­fined, ticks over per­fectly and starts on the but­ton ev­ery time with no hes­i­ta­tion. To some this lack of me­chan­i­cal noise equates to a lack of soul, but I’ll let the ride de­fine the SP-1’S true spirit.

The first thing you no­tice about the SP-1 when you sit on it is just how nar­row it is and how high the pegs are. Ac­cord­ing to gos­sip, the pro­to­type used Doohan’s NSR500’S chas­sis, and it feels ev­ery bit the GP racer. Where Honda have al­ways en­sured their Blade mod­els are suited to re­laxed road rid­ing, you get the feel­ing HRC ve­toed this and in­stead built a proper racer for the road. Which is ex­actly what the SP-1 feels like when you get it go­ing.

It may be me­chan­i­cally quiet, but Honda’s V-twin is one hell of a mo­tor. At low speed it re­quires lots of clutch slip to stop it jud­der­ing, some­thing that non-v-twin rid­ers weren’t used to and moaned about, but once up and run­ning it’s an ab­so­lute gem. The power is typ­i­cal V-twin with lots of drive but where a Du­cati feels lazy to ac­cel­er­ate, the SP-1 is quicker-revving and feels more alive. Yes the fuel in­jec­tion is a touch abrupt, but again this is more about it be­ing a V-twin than a de­sign er­ror and it didn’t bother me at all.

So am I now won over? To be hon­est, the SP-1 is a faster han­dling, more re­fined, smoother, more re­li­able and cheaper to buy and run V-twin sports­bike than the 916/996. Would I have one over a Duke? No, be­cause as good as the SP-1 is, at the end of the day it’s not a Du­cati. But I’d love to have one along­side my Duke in my garage.

Any ob­vi­ous faults?

This bike has cov­ered just over 19,000 miles but it looks as fresh as a daisy. Ac­cord­ing to its owner it has just been on a dyno and made a solid 124bhp at the rear wheel, mean­ing it’s a good one! There are small signs of wear and tear, but noth­ing more than you would ex­pect on a bike of this vin­tage. The hero blobs have a few scrapes, hint­ing at a bit of track use, but this is no track hack.

Ver­dict

The SP-1 is a very spe­cial bike and while it lacks the in­stant char­ac­ter that you get with a 916, the Honda is still packed full of spirit. It’s just re­fined, smooth and po­lite in a typ­i­cal Ja­panese fash­ion rather than out­wardly flam­boy­ant like an Ital­ian. Does it jus­tify its £6k price? Peo­ple are pay­ing even more for the 916, why shouldn’t a Honda model be as ex­clu­sive as a Du­cati?

How to an­noy a Du­cati fan… buy an SP-1

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