For years Honda persevered with their V4 RC45 WSB machine, despite being routinely beaten by various Ducati V-twins, before Colin Edwards grabbed the number one plate with the SP-1 in 2000.
But the roadgoing SP-1 wasn´t judged to be a significantly better bike than rivals like the Ducati 996, or Aprilia Mille 1000 in bike showrooms, which has sent Honda back to the drawing board. Whether or not this Honda V-twin outhandles the Italians remains to be seen.
But after track testing the all new SP-2, Chris Moss reckons anyone who buys it will feel like a winner.
The Almeria circuit in the south of Spain is a very tricky and technical track. And its sinuous series of twists and turns are very demanding on both bike and rider. It´s easy to make a mistake, and if you do you´re punished heavily.
But the SP-2 is a great ally to fast and safe lapping, because it´s so damned easy to ride hard. The engine and chassis combination makes for an almost perfect package, and after riding some of the world´s most potent superbikes at this track over the last couple of years, I´d be prepared to admit the Honda V-twin is probably the most user-friendly of the lot.
In fairness, it´s not so different from the SP-1 version it´s based on. But it´s clear that there have been some refinements made, which improve the overall performance and feel of the bike.
Let´s start with the engine which has lost none of its easy-going and flexible manner. A combination of 8mm bigger throttle bodies, up from 54mm to 62mm, a reworked fuel-injection system, new exhaust, and revised exhaust port shapes, increase peak power by three bhp, which doesn´t sound too much. But the throttle response is discernibly crisper, and gives the new motor a slightly sharper feel to it throughout the rev range.
The main virtue of the engine though is it’s beautifully spread of useable power. Allied to a widely spaced set of gearbox ratios there´s no need to use more than three of the six gears on offer to lap quickly. The less time you spend changing gear, the lower the figure on the stop watch.
There´s strong and typical V-twin stomp on offer right from the bottom of the rev range, which gets more urgent in the mid-range before it tails off just before 10,000 rpm. So whatever the gear you´ve chosen, and whatever the digital tacho says, the motor´s spinning at, a good old yank on the twistsgrip is all it takes to launch the Honda forward.
Sorted for trackday sport
It´s so simple to find decent power on this bike, you´d think it was on auto pilot. One hundred and thirty three horsepower has never been as straightforward to exploit.
Getting the best from the chassis is pretty easy too. But it has to be said that the Showa suspension does need to be twiddled with a bit before the SP-2 feels fully sorted. On the track at least.
Luckily I had the master of bike set up, in the shape of former GP ace, Ron Haslam, to arrive at the best settings as soon as possible. With his invaluable help we popped a bit more preload on the forks, took off a bit of compression and left the rebound settings as standard. The shock performed well enough not to be altered from standard settings. In this trim the SP-2 was an absolute joy to throw around a race track.
Even though it´s lost 4 kilos courtesy of some weight-paring from some of the chassis parts, the Honda is still quite heavy at 194kg dry. But once the newly designed five-spoke wheels are turning, the figure becomes purely academic. The fact is, the Honda is as flickable as the best sportsbikes on the market. That´s primarily because the weight is distributed so well, and the steering is so quick and light. Even racing through Almeria´s ultra tight chicane lap after lap never caused any sort of physical stress. And even though it was a quick and simple job to flop the Honda on to its hero blobs, provided the fork settings were right, there was never any flightiness to greet you in the same way it does on some sportsbikes.
Though just in case you want to race the bike, or spend most of your time whizzing down very bumpy backroads, Honda has taken the trouble to fit a steering damper fixing boss to the frame rails.
But overall the mods made to the chassis have made the bike feel more composed and improved the feedback through the excellent Dunlop D208 tyres and sorted suspension. The changes are quite subtle, and consist in the main of a bigger diameter steering head axle and top head bearing, and longer forged, rather than cast, engine mounting plates to increase stiffness. The same is true of the massive new swingarm, which is a replica of the one used on Edwards´ race bike. And it´s also slightly longer to increase the wheelbase and improve the bike´s composure.
The internals of the suspension have been revised, and after seeing just how much difference even a half a turn of adjustment of the damping screws makes, it´s obviously going to be very easy to tailor things to suit your exact needs.
No changes need to be made to the brakes, as they are some of the best on the market. And fitting in perfectly with the user-friendly nature of the bike, they have plenty of power which is never intimidating to use to the full thanks to their very progressive action and feel. They´re almost impossible to fault.
Not being able to ride the SP-2 on the road didn´t allow me to check out some faults which existed on the SP-1. But comfort is bound to be better thanks to a taller screen. And the upgraded fuel-injection system should cut out some of the jerkiness which plagued the previous model on small throttle openings.
The biggest worry though is whether those massive throttle bodies will make the SP-2 drink even more fuel than its predecessor. If that´s the case then the range of the bike could be even shorter than the 80-100 mile maximum the SP-1 gives when it´s being ridden hard. Only time will tell, but unless Honda build a bigger tank it´s always going to be a restriction. Though you could carry a fuel can on the pillion seat to improve matters. And let´s face it, the rear seat isn´t much use for a passenger due to its tiny size and the absence of a grabrail.
Honda clearly thinks you might want to rack up a few miles on the SP-2 though, and the fitment of bungee hooks and a decent amount of underseat storage will help out if you do fancy a longer spell in the saddle. I´d guess there’ll be quite a few riders who’ll want to spend plenty of time on the bike.
It´ll be in the showrooms in February, resplendent in its new white Edwards´ race bike white colour scheme. The bike comes free with a `customer package´ which includes a Castrol sticker kit, video, poster, and best of all a paddock pass to all of the WSB rounds. They normally cost £60, so taking in both British rounds and a couple in European ones too, will save a fair few quid.
The bike itself isn´t so cheap at £10,349 on the road. But though it´s around a grand more expensive than most of the big-bore four cylinder sportsbikes, it´s about the same amount cheaper than the more relevant V-twin rivals from Aprilia and Ducati. Given the usual Honda virtues of reliability, robust finish, and good dealer backup, I reckon it will get the nod over the Italian offerings by most buyers. And anyone who does choose the SP-2 won´t regret it.
The SP-2 is discernibly sharper all round, and whether Colin Edwards seals his second WSB championship on an SP-2, anyone who buys the road version will feel like a champ.
Get Honda motorbike insurance for the honda vtr1000 sp2.
Engine……….Liquid cooled 900 V-twin, 8 valve, four stroke, cc 999
Claimed power (bhp)……….133bhp @ 10,000rpm
Frame……….Alloy twin spar
Front suspension……….43mm Showa inverted telescopic forks, adjustable pre-load, compression and rebound damping
Steering head angle………. 24.3 degrees
Rear suspension……….Showa rising-rate monoshock, adjustable pre-load, compression and rebound damping
Front brakes……….Twin 320mm discs, four-piston calipers
Rear brake……….Single 220mm disc, single piston caliper
Top speed……….170mph (est)
Fuel capacity……….18 litres