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Brief encounter: 2006 Yamaha YZF-R1 SP

YZF-R1 SP on road

Way back in 2006, Yamaha released the first ever SP model of its flagship sportsbike, the YZF-R1. Yep, almost a decade before the 2015 YZF-R1 SP arrived on the scene with its semi-active Öhlins suspension, the SP designation had already been used on an R1. However it is one of those bikes that no one really remembers, even fewer have ever seen and virtually none have ridden. So, what’s the story behind the 2006 YZF-R1 SP and why did Yamaha make it? As with all things SP, the reasons behind its existence are centred around the race track...

In 2004 the litre sports bike scene really exploded into action, with not only the Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R but also the Honda CBR1000RR Fireblade and the latest generation Yamaha YZF-R1 arriving to take on the established, and dominant, Suzuki GSX-R1000. As is always the way with sports bikes, performance sold and so did track results. Suzuki, in particular, held the upper hand on the racetrack, so Yamaha tried to nudge the dial with this higher-specced SP version.

The ‘underseat pipe’ generations of R1 were never that track focused, certainly not to the extent of the Ninja or GSX-R, however that didn’t stop Yamaha wanting a slice of superstock glory. They won the European Superstock Championship in 2004 and 2005 and, to try and stay ahead of the game, they came up with a plan. In much the same way Ducati release R or SP models to homologate a limited-run of more expensive and track-focused bikes, Yamaha did the same with the R1 and the result was the 2006 YZF-R1 SP – an interim model designed to keep the R1 in the spotlight ahead of an all-new 2007 weapon.

Costing a fairly salty £14,000, which was more than 50% more than the standard R1, the SP boasted some eye-catching details. Thanks to their link-up with Öhlins (Yamaha owned a slice of the Swedish company), the SP gained fully-adjustable 43mm Öhlins forks with an Öhlins shock (featuring a remote preload adjuster and adjustable ride height linkage) while Marchesini forged wheels added to its kerb-appeal and reduced unsprung weight. A slipper clutch (still something of a big deal two decades ago) helped mask over the fact the rest of the engine was left untouched. The final touches? A stunning ‘gun smoke grey’ paint job with gold logos and a promise only 500 were destined for Europe with another 500 being shipped to America. It says something about the sheer appetite for superbikes at the time when a manufacturer would build ‘only’ 1000 examples of a limited edition 1000cc sports bike. What most would give to sell as many of even a ‘standard’ litre bike in 2024…

 

YZF-R1 SP detail

 

And to prove the ‘exclusive’ point, there was even a numbered plaque on the top yoke and a special R1 SP tool kit that arrived in a neat box. For £5000 more than a stock bike, it didn’t seem like you were getting a lot for your money, and the racing world didn’t really take to it either.

Out on track the R1 SP may have come with uprated suspension, a slipper clutch and lightweight wheels but that didn’t make much difference to lap times. Superstock rules already allowed you to change suspension and add a slipper clutch, and while the SP’s lightweight wheels saved about 400g each over standard, race teams had to have multiple sets for wets and spare tyres and that’s when it started to get costly. Very few sold to racers as most stuck with the tried-and-tested GSX-R1000 instead. By the end of 2006, those dealers who did order an SP found themselves stuck with it. News the R1 was going to be updated in 2007, with the new ‘four-valve’ model, made the SP obsolete overnight. Predictably, prices tumbled and it was possible to get an SP for as little as £8000 as dealers tried to get shot of unsold stock. Short-lived, unsuccessful and costly, the R1 SP was quickly forgotten about, however in recent years this has changed as those who have an eye for quirky models, and especially sportsbikes, are starting to search them out...

 

YZF-R1 SP studio

 

It is believed only 50 R1 SP models made it to the UK and they don’t pop up for sale very often. While you would assume they would command quite a premium, in reality this isn’t the case with a box-fresh example showing only 577 miles on its clocks going for £12,650 in an auction in late 2021, which seems about right for one. A few dealers are chancing it and asking for upwards of £15,000 but when you look at what you are getting (basically an R1 with a cool paint scheme, bolt-on aftermarket suspension and lightweight wheels), that’s a bit optimistic. Which leads us to a surprising final thought that closes the circle around the R1 SP.

While the R1 SP is undeniably a fairly exclusive motorcycle, by the same token it isn’t that exotic or indeed expensive to run and own. As it has the same motor as the stock R1 you are talking a homologation special that will start on the button, combining 175bhp/180mph performance with 24,000-mile valve-clearance servicing intervals, a high level of build quality and which requires no specialist knowledge to maintain. Viewed like this, the R1 SP seems more tempting as it is a rare and very exclusive motorcycle that turns heads, yet can be ridden and enjoyed rather than cherished and saved for sunny days only. Maybe that’s how Yamaha should have marketed it back in 2006...

Specs:

Engine: 998cc, liquid-cooled, 20v, DOHC, inline four

Power: 175bhp @ 12,500rpm

Torque: 106.6Nm @ 10,500rpm

Seat height: 835mm

Weight: 174kg (dry)

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