I was lucky enough to be the first journalist in Australia to ride the SP1, way back in April 2000 when there was only one in the country.
No doubt you would have read some of the endless hype and technical data that has been sprouted so far in the magazines, so we will try to avoid doing that here. Instead, we aim to give you an idea what the SP1 is really like, which is very good indeed.
We jumped aboard a cold bike and had a look around for the choke, which is to be found on a push/pull system located down near the left side of the engine. The exposed wiring behind the gauges is not very Honda-like at all, and is meant to make it look like a stripped down racer, warts and all.
The top yoke is finished quite nicely and the dash is more effective than I thought it would be. The paint on the tank is nicely finished and the black treatments to the tail unit are of a matte finish as seen on the RC45. Some people will love that, some will not. The red paint looks a little pastel in some lights, but when in the right light conditions it looks fantastic. I don’t think I have ever seen a bike whose colour seems to change hue quite so much in differing light conditions. The screen is low and you will have to be back on the seat with chin firmly on the tank to make a slippery profile like a race-bike, which is just what Honda intended. The ram-air intake is positioned directly between the headlights and its effects can be heard quite clearly by way of quite a nice induction roar.
The swingarm looks lovely, as do the front brakes, forks, rear brake etc. There has been some thought put in to how all these components look and it has paid off. You look at some bikes and think ‘Wow! That looks horny.’ only to be disappointed when looking at the detail touches. You will not have that problem with the SP1, the closer you look the more bits you find to like.
She fired up from cold with no choke and settled down to a slightly lumpy idle. No fuss here. Everything works nicely enough. Adjusted mirrors and off we went.
Not too much weight placed on the wrists but the seat is very thinly padded indeed. I would say the riding position is quite comfortable for someone of my 178cm length and long hours in the saddle would not leave you at the chiropractor the next morning. You will have a sore arse, but that would be about the extent of any pain.
The brakes feel a lot like those on the Fireblade but the extra weight of the twin does make itself felt when hard under brakes. That is not to say the brakes on this Honda are not excellent because they are, in fact. It is just that the Fireblade stops so bloody well that the slight difference can be felt when jumping from one bike to the other.
The clutch is light and the gearbox absolutely creamy. If you have read some of my rantings on bikes before you will know I love a great gearbox, and the SP1 definitely has one of the best. Front wheel up, or front wheel down, shifts are smooth and effortless. When taking off slowly or undertaking some low speed manoeuvring, it does pay to have a fair few revs onboard and slip the clutch. Those two heavy slugs banging against a decent compression ratio make the SP1 a little prone to stalling in this situation. It presents no problems once you know this as you compensate for it by slipping the clutch a little more, but I think it may pay to remember this point when taking delivery of your new Honda.
The engine has a fantastic mid range and a strong bottom, but the long gearing makes the bottom end a little too rough to use. The bottom is obviously strong but the big pistons make themselves felt at these low revs, and for this reason I think I would avoid lugging the bike around at such low revs. This is much the same on any large twin that is tuned for power, so don’t take this as too much of a criticism. From the seat of the pants I would say the RSV has a much better bottom end, but as soon as the Honda hits around 5,000 RPM the Aprilia would be passed quite easily. The mid range just builds and builds with a little kick around 7,500rpm that lets you know you are entering the top end. For outright dyno numbers I don’t think the Honda will beat the TLR by much at all. But, where it does have it all over the TLR is that it hits its stride around 3,000 rpm earlier and also holds it longer. Whereas the TLR maxes out then immediately smacks the limiter the Honda never suffers this problem. Plenty of revs are left over after the power has peaked which is a very nice thing to have as it can save a gear change between corners in a lot of instances. In my book, this puts the Honda engine slightly ahead of the Suzuki, even though the outright numbers will not make it look as though there is such a difference.
The handling is precise, very quick and slanted towards those with a more experienced hand. It is a little like a Ducati in this respect. It has to be ridden a little differently from most sportsbikes to get the best out of it. The front feels very good and the rear even better. I reckon the Fireblade is more finely balanced however. The blade is incredibly easy to ride fast. I feel that the SP1 will have to be grabbed by the scruff and really told what to do in order to get the best out of it. Its chassis is equipped to cope with having the absolute best wrung out of it, and most owners will find this a challenge. On the road the suspension is firm and hard hits can cause you to surge as your throttle hand moves on the sensitive injection system. The geometry makes the bike quite twitchy and rough roads will demand a little restraint.
How does it mono? Very well indeed. The broad spread of power makes it an absolute doddle to control with the throttle, and the great gearbox makes it simple to click up the gears while up there. It does not rise up quite as easy as you might think, but given a little provocation and technique the front can be made to stand on command. From there it is easy to maintain.
So how does it fair against the V-Twin opposition? The Aprilia or TLR may still take the cake for someone who uses their bike for everyday transport/commuting, but if you like things a little more serious then the Honda takes the slice you crave. The 996 would still be the best racer out of the crate (and the best looker), but it is because of the things that make it so fast on the track that makes it a little impractical for the road. So if you are after a twin with the best power, close to best handling and bearable comfort levels then the Honda may be the choice for you. Especially if you tend to do a few track days at a reasonable pace. However, if you only ride on the street I think you should also try the Mille and TLR before putting your money down. Just to make sure that you make the right choice for YOU.