If you can’t beat them join them, or so the old saying goes, so Honda did just that. Arguably the best Ducati ever made outside of Italy, the SP was Honda’s answer to the Latin twins dominance in Superbike racing.
Now getting harder to find sine Honda removed it from the UK sales line for 2008, the SP is clearly in big demand. Built as a direct attack on the Latin’s V-twin machines, the SP1, or rather its race version the RC51, replaced the aging V-Four RC45 series and, with Colin Edwards on board, went on to win the title in 2000 and then again is 2002. The roadster didn’t get off to such a great start however; many disliked its front heavy feel and generally lethargic way of getting about. This was addressed when an all new chassis was implemented for the SP2 version of 2002 when the swing arm and alloy beam frame became much more like the racer, the engine came in for major revisions too, a shorter stroke crank gave a higher rev limit and overall the up dated bike felt livelier and more boisterous. The original model is still a worthy machine however that benefits greatly from a few chassis tweaks and lessons learned in creating the later machine.
The SP is a well-put together machine, typically Honda in its build quality, but with an added does of an indefinable something. The end result is a stunning looking bike that seems to be growing old gracefully. On the move the V-Twin isn’t the thumping power plant found in the pure roadster the VTR1000, despite sharing much architecture the delivery is completely different between the two. The race replica has a stronger mid range too, as well as a stonking upper rev range punch, thanks to the 133 horses contained beneath the fairings.
Being a racer on the road means the ride can often prove to be on the stiff side, this is especially so if the bike isn’t wound on and made to have it, the bouncy bit do get more helpful at speed but of course this is always the case and in the reality few bikes can be safely ridden this way. Far better to opt for a more relaxed set up for day to day road use, backing off the spring pre-load at the rear end so the bike stops lifting the rider out of the seat every time it passes over a bump.
The SP1 is fuelled by a pair of conventional, albeit huge diameter, carburettors and they do a great job, arguably better than the later fuel injected SP2 with its snatchy throttle in the lower registers. The real star of the SP show however has to be the brakes, everything is good but the stoppers excel above and beyond the call of duty. The twin dinner plate sized stoppers are among the best in the business if not the best, power by the bag full and feel and feedback that create the impression of you brain being linked into the bikes hydraulics system, superb stuff.
If you want a piece of race history that performs as good as anything on the “real world” roads today then the SP is well worth hunting down, but be warned they are few and far between. Those that have them are hanging on with a vice like grip and the ones remaining in dealers showrooms are attracting a premium over the book price as demand far outstrips supply. Honda never made many, demand wasn’t great before the type was discontinued, just enough to keep the race bike homologated and within the rules, so expect a real treasure hunt when it comes to getting your hands on a decent SP.
Specifications Honda SP1
- Engine – 999cc liquid-cooled 90deg V-twin
- Bore & stroke – 98mm x 66mm
- Power – 133bhp @ 10000rpm
- Torque – 73ft-lb @ 8000rpm
- Transmission – 6-speed chain final drive
- Frame – alloy beam
- Brakes – 2 x 320mm discs 4-piston caliper, 240mm disc single piston floating caliper
- Wheels – 120/70 x 17 190/50 x 17
- Fuel capacity – 18litres
- Dry weight – 194kgs