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