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Honda VTR1000 SP-1/SP-2 (2000-2005) - Review & Buying Guide

Bike journo for a quarter of a century









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If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. That was Honda’s late ’90s realisation regarding its ongoing battle with Ducati for WSB supremacy. Up until the end of 1999 Honda had stuck steadfastly to using a 750cc V4 for superbike racing (first the RC30 then, from ’94, the RC45), whereas Ducati enjoyed a 250cc advantage with its thumping V-twin. Having taken only one WSB title between 1994 and 1999, with American John Kocinski in 1997, compared to Ducati’s haul of five, Honda finally swallowed its pride and decided to build its own big V-twin.

But Honda rarely follows convention, particularly when it comes to racing – remember the oval-pistoned NR500 GP bike, or the ‘upside-down’ NSR500 of ’84? – so its new machine, the VTR1000 SP-1, was far from a Ducati clone. Indeed, the Japanese marque’s main motivation behind creating a twin was to show Honda could do it better than their Italian rivals.

The SP-1 achieved Honda’s goal straight out of the blocks, taking Texan Colin Edwards to the 2000 WSB title ahead of Yamaha’s Nori Haga and Aprilia’s Troy Corser. Australian Troy Bayliss took the 2001 crown for Ducati before Edwards snatched it back for Honda the following year after a ferocious season-long scrap between the pair that came to a nail-biting end at the final round at Imola.

On track the VTR1000 beat Ducati at its own game, twice in quick succession, but away from the high-profile World Superbikes Championship Honda’s V-twin didn’t fare quite so well. In racing, only the HRC prepared factory machines could run with the Ducatis. Honda’s customer ‘kit’ package lacked top end power, so SPs were rarely competitive in privateer hands.

Despite being built for racing and wearing HRC stickers from the factory, both the SP-1 and SP-2 lacked the exotica of the previous RC30 or 45, as well as the glamour of both Italian rivals – the 996/998 Ducati and Aprilia’s RSV Mille. Niggles with the SP-1, such as snatchy on/off fuelling, on-track understeer, and a compromised damping set-up from standard, hurt the bike’s reputation early on. A rush to market forced Honda to cut corners, ultimately delivering an unfinished bike to the public.

The much-improved 2002 SP-2 was the bike the SP-1should have been all along – fast, competent, a blast to ride, and a serious rival to Ducati’s own superbike V-twin. Today, connoisseurs, collectors, and those in the know view the VTR1000 SP, and especially the SP-2, as the last proper homologation Honda, with a lineage stretching back to 1981 CB1100R. If you fancy a grunty, reliable, beautifully built early 2000s classic superbike with real pedigree the SP-1 or SP-2 really should be on your list.

  • Trick homologation specials with genuine race-winning pedigree

  • Thumping V-twin engine is a joy, especially in SP-2

  • Mouth-watering build quality

  • Suspect fuelling on SP-1

  • Lacks the character of a Ducati

  • Hopelessly uncomfortable over distance

Honda VTR1000 SP-1/SP-2 (2000-2005) Price

Only two models of the VTR-SP were produced. The SP-1 first appeared in late ’99 as year 2000 models. 2001 bikes got graphics updates and gold coloured fork stanchions.

In some markets, like North America, both SP-1 and 2 are – confusingly – referred to as the RVT1000 RC51. The SP-2 was heavily revised and, according to Honda, is the bike the SP-1 always should have been.

2000-2001 VTR1000 SP-1 values: Rough £3000-£4000*; Tidy £4500-£7500; Mint £8500-£12,000
All-new 90° V-twin, built to take on Ducati in WSB. Aluminium beam frame, braced swingarm, 190-section rear tyre. Updates for 2001 include new colours and gold rather than bronze coloured fork stanchions. 136bhp, 198kg. Colours: red/black, silver

2002-2005 VTR1000 SP-2 values: Rough £4000-£5000*; Tidy £7000-£10,500; Mint £12,000-£15,000
Heavily revised. New swingarm, updated front spindle, revised fuelling and ECU, redesigned subframe, longer wheelbase, and all new graphics. 140bhp, 194kg. Colours: white/black/red, black/graphite/red, limited Castrol edition

*Rough SP-1s and SP-2s are rare to non-existent. For this description you’ll more likely be looking at a bike that’s been crashed or standing, is a non-runner, and needs a thorough recommission rather than something that’s been abused.

Honda VTR1000 SP-1/SP-2 (2000-2005) Engine and Performance

Honda already had a 1000cc V-twin in its range when development of the SP-1 began. The VTR1000F was a more soft-edged sports tourer than superbike, but its 90° motor was used a starting point for the SP’s powerplant. Interestingly, however, only 10% of the F’s engine design remained in the finished SP-1.

Keen to extract considerably more power than the F’s modest 100bhp output, Honda’s engineers enlarged the bore size from 98mm to 100mm and reduced the stroke by 2.4mm to 63.6mm, allowing the engine to rev harder and higher, with a redline of 10,000rpm. Compression was up considerably compared to the 1000F, from 9.4:1 to 10.8:1. With a capacity of 999cc the SP-1’s pistons were the biggest Honda had ever produced. Efficiency was further increased by Teflon-coating the pistons and running them in ceramic composite bores.

Gear-driven cams did away with the F’s cam chain design. Honda reduced internal oil pressure too by doing away with conventional lubrication methods, instead feeding oil directly into the end of the crank and down its centre axis from where centrifugal force pumps the oil out to the bearings and big ends. This method allowed a smaller oil pump to be used, saving weight. Further kilos were shed by fitting magnesium cam, clutch and front sprocket covers. And in order to keep the bike’s profile down to a minimum, twin radiators were employed either side of the engine rather than in front.

Honda claimed an impressive 136bhp at 9500rpm for the SP-1 but that figure was marred by ultra-sensitive power delivery. An inadequately developed fuel-injection system was to blame. The PGM-F1 set-up, which utilised two ram-air fed 54mm throttle bodies, each with four jet nozzles, was reworked for the SP-2 – both mapping and throttle body size – to eradicate the light switch throttle response.

At tick-over SPs sound like a VFR750/800, but with more thump – the whirr from the gear-driven cams is unmistakable. In SP-2 form delivery is smooth, sophisticated and less visceral than a Ducati, but open the taps and the punch is there. Hold it through the gears and 167mph will be the prize. There are four extra horses to play with on the SP-2 as well. The standard exhaust note is far less animalistic than a Ducati too, but valve clearances don’t need checking until 16,000 miles and there are no timing belts to swap every two years. The SPs might be homologation specials, but they’re extremely robust and built to last.

Honda VTR1000 SP-1/SP-2 (2000-2005) Handling & Suspension

Honda was never going to follow Ducati’s tubular steel, trellis chassis tech, so a twin beam aluminium frame was perhaps inevitable. Unlike the VTR1000F, however, which bolts its swingarm straight to the back of the gearbox, the SP-1 frame features a conventional cast aluminium pivot section that butts up to the frame spars and anchors a bolt-on subframe. The engine connects directly to the frame spars, acting as a stressed member. A chunky over-braced swingarm takes up the rear, while 43mm usd Showa forks control the front.

Understeer was an issue from the off with the SP-1, especially on track, and Honda knew this. But, according to Honda Europe development tester Dave Hancock, the firm was committed to a non-changeable production slot, which cut development time short. The bike also kicked up its rear and shook its head over bumps – a trait more prevalent when road riding than on-track, so for the SP-2 Honda revised the rear suspension linkage to lift the rear and push more weight onto the front. The SP-2 also gained a wider hole in its front spindle and webbed spacers to introduce more flex into the overly stiff front.

That, Honda reasoned, wouldn’t be enough to convince SP-1 owners to trade up to the new SP-2, so the rear end got a completely new, factory style swingarm to show potential buyers that it was far more than a cosmetic update.

The brakes and wheels are typical early 2000s fare: twin 320mm discs up front gripped by conventionally mounted 4-pot Nissin calipers – radially mounted calipers were yet to make a significant impact on road bikes at that point. The massive 190/50 ZR17 tyre was a statement component at the time – the fattest sports tyre available. Some owners run a 190/55 to lift the rear a touch.

On the road the differences between the SP-1 and SP-2 are subtle, but you do notice the later bike’s upgrades when you push on. It’s more stable and less agitated by imperfections in the road. Jacking the rear end up a tad more improves the steering further.

Honda VTR1000 SP-1/SP-2 (2000-2005) - What to look for

Jerky throttle response: SP-1s are notorious for their overly sensitive, on/off throttle response, which can make engaging power a corner exit a rather hit and miss affair. Reflashing the ECU helps, but ultimately Honda cured the problem by equipping the SP-2 with larger, more sophisticated injectors and reworked mapping.

Intermittent stalling: Both SP-1 and 2 motors can stall when decelerating from speed – a potential problem at junctions, traffic lights, and race track hairpins. Honda claim the issue is down to the ignition not being able to retard quick enough to suit the change in engine speed.

Gain extra punch: Both SP-1s and 2s motors have plenty of grunt, but some owners claim a cheap and easy way to unlock even more off-turn punch is to drop a tooth on the front sprocket from 16 to 15. The tradeoff, as always with a reduction in gearing, is buzzier cruising and drop in fuel economy.

Poor range: Get greedy with an SP’s throttle and its big V-twin will gulp unleaded at an alarming rate. Low 30s is an average expectation from one of these Honda’s, unless you ride like a nun, dropping to as low as mid-20s if you really get a groove on. With an 18-litre tank that’s a potential range of less than 100 miles…

Suspension: Ride quality and handling can be dramatically improved, especially on the SP-1, with an investment in a quality aftermarket shock and a fork overhaul. Understeer was an issue with the SP-1, and both models benefit from raising the rear end and/or dropping the yokes through the forks a touch.

Extras: Originality affects SP values. Collectors want them in standard spec. If you’re thinking of buying an SP that’s wearing a plethora of aftermarket add-ons – pipes, brakes, footrests, clip-ons, screen, winkers, etc – make sure you get all the stock stuff within the sale. That’s what’ll add value to the bike when or if you come to sell.

Honda VTR1000 SP-1/SP-2 (2000-2005) - Rivals

Aprilia RSV 1000 Mille, 1998
A brilliant first attempt by Aprilia to beat Ducati at their own game. Strong engine, generous ergonomics (a Mille’s a much better fit for a larger rider than a 916) and decent handling are the package’s strong points, but the early bikes’ stock shock is poor. Second gen Milles (from 2001) are better still.

Ducati 996, 1998
The class yardstick. Achingly stylish with performance and handling to match. Riding position is a lot more extreme than Aprilia’s, so not a great choice for riders with bigger frames. Going up in value, so a sound investment to boot.

Suzuki TL1000R, 1998
Suzuki’s flawed attempt at a direct rival for Ducati and Aprilia. Rotary rear damper, as used in the TL1000S, spoilt an otherwise decent chassis. Motor has plenty of grunt and reacts well to tuning. Affordable and responds favourably to development.

Aprilia RSV 1000 Mille, 1998 | Approx Value: £2000-£5500

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128bhp / 76lb-ft


189kg (dry)

Ducati 996, 1998 | Approx Price: £6000-£9000

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112bhp / 67lb-ft



Suzuki TL1000R, 1998 | Approx Price: £3000-£5000

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135bhp / 78lb-ft



Honda VTR1000 SP-1/SP-2 (2000-2005) - Verdict

Although exotic in its own way, the SP-1 and SP-2 never achieved the glamour or appeal of Ducati’s 996/998. The VTR proved its point on track, but with WSB tyre preference being scrapped at the end of 2002 and Honda’s factory involvement in the series along with it, the SP’s development simply stopped.

Although not as trick or desirable as an RC30 or 45, SP values are rising rapidly as collectors realise the significance of these V-twins in Honda’s racing story and superbike history as a whole. VTRs are still immensely rewarding to ride, but they are small and stumpy, so if you’re 6ft-plus try before you buy. You may not fit…

For the moment at least, however, the VTR1000 SP-1/SP-2 is the best value race-ready Honda you can still buy.

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Honda VTR1000 SP-1/SP-2 (2000-2005) – Technical Specification

Original price£9795
Current price range£4500-£15,000
Bore x Stroke100 x 63.6mm
Engine layoutLiquid-cooled, DOHC, 8v, 90° V-twin
Power136bhp (100kW) @ 9500rpm
Torque77.4lb-ft (105Nm) @ 8500rpm
Top speed171mph
Transmission6-speed, wet, multiplate clutch, chain final drive
Average fuel consumption32mpg
Tank size18 litres
Max range to empty (theoretical)102 miles
Reserve capacityn/a
Rider aidsnone
FrameAluminium twin spar
Front suspension43mm usd telescopic forks
Front suspension adjustmentAdjustable for preload, compression and rebound damping
Rear suspensionPro-Link monoshock
Rear suspension adjustmentAdjustable for preload, compression and rebound damping
Front brake2 x 320mm discs, 4-pot calipers
Rear brake220mm disc, 2-pot caliper
Front tyre120/70 ZR17
Rear tyre190/50 ZR17
Rake/Trail24.3°/ 95mm
Dimensions (LxWxH)2025mm x 725mm x 1120mm
Ground clearancen/a
Seat height813mm
Dry weight198kg

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