World’s first test on Honda SP-2

Published: 21 January 2002

If you believe the hype then the £9999 SP-2 is more than just another new Honda. This one has been developed by the equivalent of the motorsport division: HRC.

It feels like no time at all since the SP-1 went on sale, but two years later that bike’s served its time. And although the SP-2 shares the same look with the SP-1 (except for slimmer indicators, a higher screen and a paintjob), underneath there’s relatively few things that stay the same.

For a start there’s a new frame and swingarm, new fuel-injection system, lightweight aluminium wheels, Dunlop D208 tyres in place of the D207s, new lighter exhaust system (the old one was ridiculously heavy), and a new styling thanks to the paint scheme. And for now it’s only available in this one colour scheme for 2002.

The SP-2 road bike is a heavily-revised version of the SP-1 with some major HRC influence.

It’s up a little under 4bhp and has lost 5kg.

But Honda was well aware of the other issues raised by SP-1 owners – like the snatchy fuel-injection, the fact that almost every owner fits a higher screen and wanted a bike that was faster and easier to use.

Most of the time these bikes are going to be used on the streets, and even though the chassis might be race-ready, you still need it to be composed down the bumpy B660.

These bikes are pre-production models, and mine has the frame number 00000006X, and is bike number one. But what it doesn’t have as these are early versions is the steering damper boss on the left-hand side of the frame. Production versions will.

SP-1 World Endurance rider William Costes leads the first group in the world to ride the SP-2 round Almeria to get an initial feel for the track and the bike.

Like the SP-1 it sits flat. Unlike a lot of sports bikes where your bum is high in the air, on the SP-2 the seat feels completely flat even though the frame is totally new, the dimensions are the same but it’s a lot stiffer.

The riding position is nearly the same as the other HRC homologation bikes before it, the SP-1, RC45 and RC30. There’s a long reach across the tank to the bars. The tank itself (still the same 18 litres) is flat on top and kicks out square at the sides.

The screen is 30mm higher than the SP-1 and shares the same shape and dimensions with last year’s Castrol Honda SP-2s. Footrests are high with those silly long hero blobs making sure you don’t grind the exhaust cans, and the tiny digital readout speedo is topped off by the trademark digital LED rev-counter on a sliding bar up to 10,500rpm. But because of the higher screen you can see the digital read-out much easier than on the SP-1.

The switchgear is the same and at tickover at least so is the exhaust note. The silencers share the same shape as the SP-1.

Ajdusting the new span-adjust brake lever and winding in the span-adjust clutch lever to my preference I head out following the leader for my first 15 minute session.

After a couple of laps I can feel the tyres getting more heat in them. My first impressions centre around the fuel-injection as in my opinion that was the biggest problem with the SP-1. In town the bikes would often cut-out and they were so jerky with the slightest throttle movement. Ride slowly on an SP-1 and you have the clutch in or end up riding on a space hopper.

There’s also straighter exhaust ports which get the gases out faster, which helps to add power and improve the fuel injection system.

The original’s problem has been banished to the hundreds of SP-1s littering UK showrooms.

The throttle bodies have gone up by 8mmand are now a massive 62mm and use 12-jet injectors rather than the old 4-jet units to give faster but also smoother response. And the units are meant to be the same as the ones used on the Castrol Honda WSB bikes last year.

As I carry on learning the circuit the big and smooth powerband continues to impress. You can roll it on then shut the throttle using the engine braking and stay in the same gear all the way round the track. In fact as I’m learning the track, there’s only two places where you need to use the brakes at all, in a tricky chicane and at the end of the back straight..

The tyre pressures have been dropped from 2.5bar front to 2.3bar, and the whole bike has been stiffened up from standard settings for this test.

After filling up for my next session (and it certainly seems to drink fuel at the same quick rate as the SP-1) I’m out for another session.

By the first-left-hander I can feel the chassis doing what it wants to do and although it’s a long way over there’s no danger of scraping the footrest yet. The suspension is not yet working particularly hard, but even at this speed it’s still an effort to squirt the power on and flick it right for the next nasty off-camber corner.

There’s no getting around the fact that this bike weighs 194kg, that’s a good 22kg more than say a GSX-R1000. And while Ducati’s 998 seem to be so well balanced you don’t notice the weight, this does feel like a heavy bike.

The bike picks up revs quickly and makes power smoothly from anywhere above 3500rpm up to 10,000rpm where the power tails off around 500rpm before the rev-limiter.

The brakes are the same apart from a new master cylinder, but they feel better than the old ones with a lot more feedback from the lever.

The Dunlop D208s dig in hard and you can get the rear just on the edge of letting go with real direct feedback between your throttle and the swingarm. You wouldn’t be so sure of that with the SP-1 as the fuel-injection wouldn’t allow you to be so confident with the throttle while leant over.

The motor has a massive spread of power but just where you think it’ going to chime in, instead it goes off the boil. But it is fast. By the end of the straight the Kmh speedo is showing 245kmh. Obviously in real money that’s 152mph, no slouch on a fairly short straight.

And though I wouldn’t recommend it, I repeatedly pushed the handlebars from side-to-side, whacked them on one side and pulled them around. And all I could get was a gentle wiggle.

The SP-1 ran incredibly hot with the cooling fans coming on a lot during summer riding. The bike now has one fan fitted to each side of the radiator rather than one single one which definitely seemed to help cooling.

There’s still a ridiculous pillion seat which slopes backward. But it’s a pay off for having the single-seat looking cowl, which incidentally now features aluminium locking mechanism instead of steel and now weighs 200g less. There’s even bungee hooks.

But the best thing you could do with the SP-2, like the SP-1 before it, is stop pretending you’re going to take a pillion on that ridiculous seat and get a proper set of high-level cans and junk the rear pillion pegs. Then it really would look like the bike HRC built.

THERE’S MUCH MORE ON THIS IN MCN, ON SALE JANUARY 23, 2002