Bikes

 

 

 

 

 

 

In recent years I have been lucky to have owned a few absolutely lovely machines. One of my favourites was the VTR1000 SP1. Decked out in a Colin Edwards replica paint job (the 2002 Laguna Seca colours) the bike was a real head-turner.

 

 

 

The Honda VTR1000 was the pure expression of Honda’s HRC racing department's desire to beat Ducati at their own game. From 1988 the World Superbike Series allowed V-Twins to have a displacement of 1,000ccs in comparison to the 750 cc four cylinder machines. For the first two years of the new championship, the four cylinder 750s were king, with Honda’s RC-30 continuing to be dominant. However, in 1990, Raymond Roche onboard the Ducati 851, secured the world championship for the Italian firm.

 

 

For the next eleven years, Ducati won eight titles.  Honda was unable to compete with their increasingly outclassed V-Fours. In 2000, the Empire struck back by releasing the RC-51. A 900 V-Twin displacing 998ccs the RC-51 won the title for Honda in its maiden year. Piloted by Colin Edwards, the machine lost the title in 2001, but HRC released the SP-2 in 2002. The revised machine featured a modified chassis and, in a thrilling years racing, Colin Edwards wrested the title back from Ducati.

 

 

The road-going version of the Honda V-Twin was the VTR1000 SP1 and SP2. Honda already had a V-Twin bike in its line-up with the Firestorm. However the SP1 was a completely different animal. Whereas the Firestorm was a soft sports tourer, the SP1 was an unqualified “race-bike for the road”. Stiffly sprung, the riding position put the rider over the front wheel a-la Colin Edwards. The chassis provided superb feedback and riding the bike gave the impression that you held the front wheel axle directly in your hands. A space-age digital dash had normal the rev-counter replaced with a LCD bar that ran into the redline with alarming ease.

 

 

Never a comfortable bike, the machine was uncompromising. Accessible power was available from 3000 RPM, and although the fuelling was snatchy at low revs, the engine was a joy when making progress. The quality front suspension allowed you to place the bike exactly where you wanted it. The chassis was taut and although the VTR was a heavy beast, the pounds dropped away when the machine was rolling. Blessed with an engine that loved to rev this was a seriously quick bike, and always seemed to be travelling slower than it actually was. A quick peek at the digital speedometer always caused a nervous gulp as you realised exactly the rate of knots that you were actually travelling at. Luckily the machine had some of the best brakes going. Even later radial calipered machines struggle to provide the power that the SP1 brakes offered.

 

 

This was not a machine for bimbling around town or in traffic. I have mentioned the snatchy low-down fuelling which made stop-start progress difficult (especially with masses of low-down torque ready to spin the rear wheel on greasy roads). The engine ran hot, and was easily capable of baking the rider. The stiff front suspension transmitted every road imperfection through to wrists already aching with the hunched riding position. The overly-hard rear shock seemed determined to try and insert the thinly padded seat exactly where most riders would not want a seat pad inserting. However, get the machine out into the open and it was transformed. Smoothly Tarmaced sweeping corners became a temple to the sublime chassis ability to pick and hold a line, and coupled to the rev-hungry V-Twin motor, corner exits goaded the rider into twisting the throttle harder and harder. A rabid smile was guaranteed every time.

 

 

I had my SP1 for just over a year. The machine made me smile every time I opened the garage door. Seeing HRC cast into the crankcases and noticing the quality of each and every component reaffirmed the oft-held opinion that Honda lost money on each and every VTR sold.

 

 

In February 2008 I changed to a Fireblade. I had thought of getting an in-line 4 cylinder bike before, though always found them to be a bit "soulless" after the SP1. However I seemed to click with the Fireblade, and I loved the MotoGP inspired looks. I traded the SP1 in for an 04 machine with 220 miles on the clock (yes, that's 220 miles covered in four years!). This machine is a million times better than I am and was a totally different animal to the big V-Twin. Whereas the VTR ran out of steam at 10,000RPM (outputting a genuine 130 BHP at the rear wheel) the CBR revs on for another couple of thousand RPMs  and outputs 160BHP through the rear tyre.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Stephen Jennette