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Honda’s VTR SP-1 on Test


By Andy Ibbott, UK Director of the California Superbike School

Story provided courtesy of To find out more about the courses offered by the school, visit:

You may find this hard to believe but I have found a Honda that has power, handling and above all else – CHARACTER! When I first clapped my eyes on the SP-1, I didn’t like the look of it. The big headlights, the bigger air intake and the twin pipes on either side, it just all looked like a lash up.

My oh my, how things change once you have ridden one.

When you first hit the button and the engine fires up you’d be hard pressed on noise alone to tell it apart from a FireStorm. Thank Goodness that the similarities end right there. The FireStorm is nothing more than a twin cylindered VFR800, whereas the SP-1 is the out and out sports bike the Storm should have been.

So the only real test of such a machine is on the track where the limits can be reached, the adrenaline can flow and the smiles can be bigger.

Down at the tight and twisty race track of Lydden, it was time to see if Honda had got it right and finally made a sports V twin that could compete with the likes of Ducati and Aprilia. In the time it takes to warm the tyres it’s soon clear that Honda has done its homework and the SP-1 is a bike to be reckoned with.

Lydden is a short, twisty place and the SP-1 only needed third and fourth to go around very quickly indeed. The best fun is to be had from 6,000 to the 10,000 redline. Now that’s not a lot of revs in real terms, but the punch in between those two points is enough to drive you hard from one corner to the next.

For the first time on a road bike, you will be using the seat hump to stop yourself from being pushed off the back. Dial the revs in from mid-corner and the rear tyre starts to squirm in protest as it leaves a dark driveline of rubber on the exit of the turn. As you pick the bike up and nail the throttle, the tyre grips harder and the front of the bike goes light and wheelies under the power.

Now this is what riding is all about! There is no other V twin four stroke short of maybe Foggy’s race bike that has this sort of top end rush and it’s all the better for it too. Head tucked behind the screen and the LED rev counter climbs very sharply to the end of its range. Click. Another gear and the pushing-back-in-the-seat process starts all over again. Wonderful!

A bugbear that showed up on the road but not so much on track comes from the fuel injection system. Like the RC45 before it, the SP-1 has not so much a throttle but a switch if the revs are a little low. Dialling in the power smoothly can be difficult thanks to the all or nothing nature of the fuel delivery.

On the track, when the revs are higher, the problem isn’t so pronounced. Only at the hairpin did the throttle snatch a little. Otherwise the engine fuelled perfectly all the way to 10,000 rpm. It seems that Honda have noted the problem as well, because the amount of twist available on the throttle body is a little more than most street bikes. The longer twist has a less pronounced effect on the throttle butterflies, making it more progressive and therefore reducing the snatch as the fuel injectors kick in.

As you hurl rapidly towards the next bend it’s time to use the brakes. A slight stroke of the sliver lever with your right middle figure and the front of the bike dips and forces the tyre into the track and your eye balls on to the inside of your visor. The stoppers on the SP-1 need real care to get the best from them without compromising grip and losing the front end on the way into the corner. You can adjust the span on the lever, which does help a little. Finesse is the only real solution though. Top marks again Mr Honda.

The suspension is a little quirky though and doesn’t seem to follow all the right rules. At a standstill the bike feels too soft, but once on the track it seems too hard, particularly at the front. On stock settings, braking hard has the back end skipping all over the shop and the bike feels unstable.

After a half-day of playing with the sag and damping, these are the settings that worked the best for a 160lb (72kgs) rider. In fact, these settings are a little too hard for a rider of that weight and the main reason for the God-like (h’em) drivelines coming off the corners.

Set the front static sag to 40mm and the rear to 5mm. Rebound: 5 from max at the front, one turn from max at the rear. Compression is best set to 11 clicks at the front and 10 at the rear. These are guideline figures and not a million miles from the standard settings so the bike isn’t too far out as it comes out of the box. Your riding style might need a different approach too.

Another aspect of the SP-1 which is useful to track work is the shape of the tank. It’s perfect for hooking your outside leg into and resting your outside arm on the top. This gives you a really strong position to ride from in the middle of the turn and allows you to relax all the way to the exit.

The only downer that the bike seems to have inherited from the FireStorm is the poor fuel consumption. When you thrash it, be prepared for as little as 80 miles before you need to fill up again. Gulp!

All in all, the SP-1 is a joy to ride on the track and while it does every thing well, it has all managed to lose that clinical Honda feel and the more you ride it the more you want to ride it. Now I haven’t felt like that about a bike since the first R1…




Liquid-cooled, DOHC, 90 degree twin-cylinder
Bore x stroke: 100 x 61.6mm
Displacement: 999cc
Fuel Delivery: Fuel injection
Max power: 126bhp @ 9,215 rpm Dyno RGS Motorsport 01933 441451
Max torque: 76.0ft-lb @ 7,500 rpm

Final Drive: O ring chain
Gear Box: 6 speed
Wheelbase: 1490mm
Seat height: n/a mm
Rake/Trail: 24.3¤/9.5cm
Frame: Twin spar alloy
Fuel capacity: 18 litres (4.0 gal UK)


Front – 120/70 ZR 17 Rear – 190/50 ZR 17


Front – 43mm inverted forks with adjustable preload, compression and rebound damping Rear – Monoshock with adjustable preload, compression and rebound damping


Front – twin 320mm discs, 4 piston Nissin calipers

Rear – Single 220mm disc, single piston caliper

Dry weight:

192kg (422lb)
Colours: Red.

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