Class of '93: Ducati 888 SP5 vs Yamaha OW01

Yamaha hadn’t achieved the racing success they wanted with their OW01, but Ducati enjoyed the opposite with the very pinnacle of 851 development in 1993

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By Simon Bowen on Fri, 14 Jan 2011 - 02:01


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That’s not to say that Yamaha hadn’t made a useful and widely publicised impact back in 1989. In order to eclipse Honda’s RC30 on track, they built 500 OW01 homologation specials that created a media frenzy thanks to an unprecedented level of specification and price. The street legal racer was more sophisticated, powerful and expensive than the Honda (by almost five grand), although the margin was significantly reduced with the respective race kits added. It was never as pretty as the dinky RC30 and with a price tag just shy of £13k, you were far less likely to come across one at a Sunday bike gathering. I don’t know if Yamaha ever sold their allocation of 140 units as brand new models seemed to be available for several years. Either way, the majority of what they did sell would have ended up on track.

Despite winning races in its first WSB season and finishing second in the British championship, its nose was bloodied by the RC30 once more. Yamaha would continue to impress in the UK, taking the Championship in 1990 while Ducati went a step further in WSB with the stunning new 851. The Italians had entered the fray and stamped their authority on a series that would become their own, using their series of SP-specials to homologate their bikes for racing. This is an SP5 - the best of the bunch. The Italian tradition of rule-bending began and the 851 grew to 888cc to ensure that Ducati wouldn’t have to try too hard to win, they took 17 out of possible 26 wins and walked away with it in 1992 too. Ducati forgot to increase their engine capacity in 1993 and lost to Kawasaki in WSB.

The racing was good and the fact that, finances permitting, you could stroll into your local dealer with a massive hangover and put £500 down on a World Superbike motorcycle with some extra wiring in it was unbearably exciting for so many of us. I was certainly daft enough, but had already spent the money on beer and never managed to get my 15 minutes on the OW01. Until today. Today is a big day. I’m outside the pub that was my local in 1993 and I have the keys to the two most desirable bikes of that time.

The Yamaha looks dated and unattractive, yet purposeful and menacing. It is adorned with the finest equipment money could then buy, and many trick features that are not possible for the eye to detect. The aluminium Deltabox frame is lightened internally. We have titanium conrods, 2-ring pistons, hand finished ports, magnesium brake calipers, multi-adjustable suspension with ride height adjusters. Nice touches adorn it – the span adjustable levers and electronic fuel reserve switch – all very trick back in ’93. Its price tag today is high enough to make you wince but 15 years back, it was absolutely through the roof and gave the pub bullshitters all the ammo they needed to threaten everyone within earshot about how they would be turning up at the pub the very next day on their shiny new race bike. The example before me is indeed a shiny new race bike – it’s hardly turned a wheel since 1993 and will be one of the most valuable bikes I get to ride this year.

The Ducati SP5 couldn’t be more different and provides enough of a talking point in the design department alone. It was always a bit of a stunner but dated during the 916 years and became less loved and less impressive. Yet now it has made a remarkable return to its former beauty. As the1098 has adopted a sharper set of angles, the 916 is looking a little frumpy and unfashionable yet this immaculate SP5 number 186 is tiny, pretty and oozes designer class and racing pedigree. No flashy stick-on graphics here. No longer fat and bulbous, its subtle curves, twin carbon Termignoni’s, squared off headlamp and high-stepped tail unit with extra thick bum stop adorned with the Number One are back in vogue. Like the OW01, this particular bike looks like it has just been un-crated and run in especially for me.

Don’t get me wrong. The OW01 still has a wow factor, but it’s not in the looks department. It feels special beneath me with the engine warming up though. The centrally mounted rev counter dominating the dash that sits between the twin air ducts protruding from the top of the fuel tank. The needle twitches as the throttle is blipped. This bike is all about revs, just look at the spec sheets – maximum torque and horsepower at 10,500rpm and 12,500rpm respectively, and that’s before the race kit.

It’s comfortable too. The pegs are quite high but there’s a decent stretch to the handlebars and enough room to shuffle around the seat area to get the fit right. The riders-eye view is more endurance racer than road bike, but then it is most definitely more of a street-legal race bike than a nicely kitted road bike. A slightly over-tall first gear requires a few extra revs as the OW eases away and through the close-ratio 6-speed ‘box. This one feels tight but in that precise, fast, accurate way that feels pretty much as sharp as anything available today. As you might expect, there’s not much happening in the performance department at around 5,000rpm. There’s just about enough torque to keep the thing from falling over but no hint of a promised 120 screaming horses around the corner. It’s no bad thing that the gearbox is good as it will never be idle on a highly tuned 750.

Neither is there any hint of anything other than immaculate fuelling and super-smooth power delivery. Let the revs build gently in second to 7,000rpm and force a big mouthful of fuel into those 38mm flat-slides and we suddenly no longer have a dated and unattractive motorcycle. It starts to suck and roar its way to 8,000rpm and then the screaming begins. The EXUP valves open and the engine internals get very busy as the rev counter needle flies round to the 12,000 mark. No need to rev all the way to 13,500, select third and repeat the process until the speedo passes 150mph. This motor is certainly frantic but also feels strong and willing. It’s not lightning fast but very quick – similar to a two year-old 600 – and has that same rev dependency. It would be tiresome though, without the EXUP system that prevents the power delivery from becoming an on/off affair.

Down-change and brake for a sweet second gear right and we’re suddenly back on a 15 year-old motorcycle. Braking at a fairly keen road pace requires four fingers on the lever and a degree of patience which is surprising of high-end Nissin equipment, quite possibly due to the age/lack of use of the pads fitted. Once re-calibrated, the brain can deal with this but I would steer clear of any circuit before a thorough overhaul. This does not spoil the ride though, which remains consistent and near perfect over a variety of twisty surfaces. The new looking Pilot Sport tyres work well here and give the confidence to exit corners banked over at high revs. It is a fun plaything that takes a while to get going, but impresses when it’s on the move.

You could claim, admittedly to a far lesser extent, a similar characteristic with the 888, but that is probably where the similarities between these two end. You have to squeeze into the SP5 like an Armani suit and forget about stretching out to get comfortable, you are looking sharp and should be grateful for the admiring glances that are about to come your way. I was at least 10 years younger when I last tried on an SP5 but it was coincidentally on the very same stretch of tarmac. It would not be unkind to call it cramped (though it also happens to fit me perfectly) but this is a feeling far out-weighed by the thrill of that pedigree lump bursting into a relaxed rumble. It all comes back in an evocative, nostalgic, amyl nitrate rush – the rattling clutch, black racing rear-sets with the Cagiva embossed rubbers, the numbered plaque on the headstock, the V-twin vibration and the heavenly sound that comes with it.

This is a rare motorcycle that possibly sounds better on its approach than it does disappearing off into the distance. In the same way as the FZR, pulling away and moving up the gears at a modest 5,000rpm results in a similar sensation – that of inactivity. Not to the same level as the Yam, but surprising for a motor of this size and configuration. I’m making sweet progress but there is very little feeling of useful low-end grunt. In fact, the same applies to the mid-range. This motor, like the Japanese 4-cylinder rival doesn’t actually get into its stride until 7,000rpm but unlike the OW, it’s short, sharp and ready for the next gear by 10,000rpm. It’s hard to tell which is the faster - it might be the Yamaha but they are both deceptive. The insane fuss and noise of the FZR makes it seem quicker than it probably is and the opposite applies to the Italian. But in the cold light of real-world road riding, the Ducati will be long gone before the 750 is even near the power.

The 888 needs warm tyres and a degree of influence to turn in but it does still feel light, nimble and precise. There is nothing to spoil the high-speed hustle on the SP5 as the brakes are perfect in every way. Feel at the lever, power and progression are perfectly matched to a machine of this weight and BHP. These Brembo’s are not only sublime, they feel ready to race and that is exactly how it should feel on an expensive Sport Production tool. No problem with the gearbox either. The change is fast and accurate which is good because it gets a lot of use. The 8-valve motor needs and loves to be revved. You can quite happily plod along in fifth and sixth but to get the best out of it, the revs have to be kept on the boil between 7-10,000rpm, and this all adds to the special sensation of riding the last of the legendary 851’s.

The effect that the SP5 experience has on the heart rate is hard to match. Not only does it make you feel special, it requires a level of concentration and input not normally associated with a V-twin, and with that comes the reward. It is impossible to not get a thrill from this particular Desmo experience, and realise how close you are to riding the all-conquering WSB assault vehicle. The Yamaha is special, but just can’t match the emotional overload that comes with riding a true legend.

WACO WACKOS AND BUTTHEAD...


Wild Bill Clinton makes it into the White House as Buckingham Palace opens its doors to the public for the first time. David Koresh, the delusional leader of yet another whacky American religious sect met his maker as the FBI put an end to the 51day siege at Waco, Texas with a fire that killed 65 of his followers. US forces in Somalia bite off more than they can chew in Mogadishu as their Black Hawk goes down. Back home, red-faced British Airways are rumbled and have to apologise to Richard Branson for a dirty tricks campaign. Beavis & Butthead’s moronic tendencies prove to be a small screen hit as Mulder & Scully launch a never-ending series of paranormal investigations. Jurassic Park is the big screen summer smash but the final credits roll for Vincent Price and Audrey Hepburn. Farewell also to Bobby Moore and Frank Zappa.

THE OWNERS

Ducati 888 SP5 - Mark Durbridge – 39, BMW Bike Technician

"Before this I had a 900SS and it was a very different bike. It had lots of mid-range, more like a traditional V-twin and was easier to live with. This SP5 came in as a part exchange on a BMW F800 and, as I’ve always wanted one, I had to buy it. I’ve always loved the styling and the way it sounds, and it’s the last of the 888’s so extra desirable.

I’ve had it 18 months and put around 2,000 miles on it. It was very unreliable in the first eight months and let me down four times with various electrical/charging problems. I had to change the alternator, regulator, rectifier and fuel level warning light but it’s been okay since.

The bike is standard except for the 5-spoke black wheels, which I prefer to the original gold 3-spokes.I absolutely love it and will never sell it – I’ve been offered £10k for it already!"

Yamaha FZR750R OW01 - Paul Shoesmith – 33, businessman

"Well, I’ve had the bike for nearly six months and guess what? I’ve never ridden it! There are a couple of reasons really. Firstly, it’s an immaculate, very low mileage, original version and I want to keep it that way. Secondly, I know that the performance will be very tame compared to the bikes that I’m used to racing, so why thrash it, because I'll only to be disappointed.

It’s as new and has only done 3,000kms so I swapped one of my race bikes for it and to be honest, I’m happy to have it sitting in my office looking good and appreciating in value. I haven’t actually put it up for sale but would part with it for less than it would have cost new. So, If somebody seriously wants it and has the cash, they can drop me a note on shoey.69@hotmail.com"

MODEL SPECS

DUCATI 888 SP5

Price now:
£5000 - £9,000

Engine: 888cc water-cooled, 8-valve V-twin

Power: 118bhp @ 10,250rpm (crank)

Torque: 69.5 lb-ft @ 8,000rpm

Front suspension: 41mm telescopic Showa USD fork, fully adjustable

Rear suspension: Ohlins monoshock, fully adjustable

Front brake: Twin 320mm discs, 4-piston calipers

Rear brake: Single 245mm disc, 2-piston caliper

Dry weight: 188kg

Fuel capacity: 19litres

Top speed: 155 mph

Colours: red

Web: target="_blank">www.docgb.org

YAMAHA FZR750R OW01

Price now:
£7,000-£11,000

Engine: 749cc water-cooled, 20-valve DOHC 4-cylinder

Power: 121bhp @ 12,500rpm (crank)

Torque: 52lb-ft @ 10,500rpm

Front suspension: 43mm telescopic fork, fully adjustable

Rear suspension: Ohlins monoshock, fully adjustable

Front brake: Twin 280mm discs, 4-piston calipers

Rear brake: Single 177mm disc, single piston caliper

Dry weight: 187kg

Fuel capacity: 18litres

Top speed: 160mph

Colours: white, red, blue

Web: target="_blank">www.yamahaclub.com

That’s not to say that Yamaha hadn’t made a useful and widely publicised impact back in 1989. In order to eclipse Honda’s RC30 on track, they built 500 OW01 homologation specials that created a media frenzy thanks to an unprecedented level of specification and price. The street legal racer was more sophisticated, powerful and expensive than the Honda (by almost five grand), although the margin was significantly reduced with the respective race kits added. It was never as pretty as the dinky RC30 and with a price tag just shy of £13k, you were far less likely to come across one at a Sunday bike gathering. I don’t know if Yamaha ever sold their allocation of 140 units as brand new models seemed to be available for several years. Either way, the majority of what they did sell would have ended up on track.

Despite winning races in its first WSB season and finishing second in the British championship, its nose was bloodied by the RC30 once more. Yamaha would continue to impress in the UK, taking the Championship in 1990 while Ducati went a step further in WSB with the stunning new 851. The Italians had entered the fray and stamped their authority on a series that would become their own, using their series of SP-specials to homologate their bikes for racing. This is an SP5 - the best of the bunch. The Italian tradition of rule-bending began and the 851 grew to 888cc to ensure that Ducati wouldn’t have to try too hard to win, they took 17 out of possible 26  wins and walked away with it in 1992 too. Ducati forgot to increase their engine capacity in 1993 and lost to Kawasaki in WSB.

The racing was good and the fact that, finances permitting, you could stroll into your local dealer with a massive hangover and put £500 down on a World Superbike motorcycle with some extra wiring in it was unbearably exciting for so many of us. I was certainly daft enough, but had already spent the money on beer and never managed to get my 15 minutes on the OW01. Until today. Today is a big day. I’m outside the pub that was my local in 1993 and I have the keys to the two most desirable bikes of that time.

The Yamaha looks dated and unattractive, yet purposeful and menacing. It is adorned with the finest equipment money could then buy, and many trick features that are not possible for the eye to detect. The aluminium Deltabox frame is lightened internally. We have titanium conrods, 2-ring pistons, hand finished ports, magnesium brake calipers, multi-adjustable suspension with ride height adjusters. Nice touches adorn it – the span adjustable levers and electronic fuel reserve switch – all very trick back in ’93. Its price tag today is high enough to make you wince but 15 years back, it was absolutely through the roof and gave the pub bullshitters all the ammo they needed to threaten everyone within earshot about how they would be turning up at the pub the very next day on their shiny new race bike. The example before me is indeed a shiny new race bike – it’s hardly turned a wheel since 1993 and will be one of the most valuable bikes I get to ride this year.

The Ducati SP5 couldn’t be more different and provides enough of a talking point in the design department alone. It was always a bit of a stunner but dated during the 916 years and became less loved and less impressive. Yet now it has made a remarkable return to its former beauty. As the1098 has adopted a sharper set of angles, the 916 is looking a little frumpy and unfashionable yet this immaculate SP5 number 186 is tiny, pretty and oozes designer class and racing pedigree. No flashy stick-on graphics here. No longer fat and bulbous, its subtle curves, twin carbon Termignoni’s, squared off headlamp and high-stepped tail unit with extra thick bum stop adorned with the Number One are back in vogue. Like the OW01, this particular bike looks like it has just been un-crated and run in especially for me.

Continue the Ducati 888 SPS versus Yamaha OW01 Road Test - 2/2

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