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The SPecial One

Published: 14 September 2014

Updated: 20 November 2014

Honda’s SP-1, or the VTR1000 SP-1 RC51 to give it its proper name, will always hold a very special place in motorcycle history. This is a bike born out of necessity – not to mention a considerable degree of frustration…

Despite having HRC’s full weight behind it, the exotic RC45 was a flop both on the track and in showrooms and instead it was the blood red Ducati 916 that was dominating proceedings. A one-off WSB title in 1997 thanks to American oddball John Kocinski wasn’t enough and, aggrieved because it felt the WSB rules favoured the Italian teams’ V-twin configuration, in 2000 Honda decided to prove a point.

Like so many first generation machines the SP-1 was blighted by a few niggles. The fuel injection is horribly snatchy and the clutch grabby, making low speed riding a real struggle. Is it any trickier than a 916 with its heavy clutch and awkward riding position? Not really, a few quid on a Power Commander and some new clutch plates and the SP-1 is transformed, something that owners are more than aware of and most used bikes come fitted with race cans and updated fuelling. But you have to remember the SP-1 is a homologation special race bike, get it out of town and onto a fast, sweeping road and you will fall in love.

Annoyingly for potential owners, where a few years ago you could source a lovely SP-1 for under £4000, nowadays prices are on the up as the market has cottoned on. Examples still change hands for under £4000, but while mileage isn’t an issue, pay this figure and you can expect it to have a few rough edges. Up your budget to £5000 and you should be able to secure a far nicer bike. While this may seem a lot for a 14-year-old Japanese litre bike, it is comparable to a similar age Ducati 998, however with the Honda you get all the charm and exclusivity of an Italian V-twin, just without the horrific running costs…

The build quality on the SP-1 is superb, however crash damage is a big issue. Due to their unpopularity, prices of used SP-1s plummeted and many found their way onto race tracks as trackday hacks. Always check the swingarm for dents as the stock cans are pushed into this in an accident and have a good look at the fork legs for signs of scrapes. The V-twin engine is very robust, however the clutch is a known weak point and can become grabby while a few owners also report gearbox failures, especially after track use. Most used SP-1s come with race cans fitted, which makes the bike sound fantastic, but always try and get the OE ones from the seller, replacements from Honda cost a fortune.

To pick up a SP-1 bargain now, head over to to see what's on offer!


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