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

Posted: 14 January 2011
by Simon Bowen

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.

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Discuss this story

Here is a copy of an original sales flyer that I picked up at a dealer in Canada

This has graced tge wall of my shop for many years

Posted: 17/01/2011 at 15:44

I've been riding a 851 s3 for 12 years and still thrills me to ride it! Yamaha can give anything like that!!

Posted: 20/01/2011 at 12:53

Jam A FZ 1000 motor in one and Wa La ! The Yamamonster

Posted: 20/01/2011 at 23:14

I have OW-01 !
but I like 888sp5 now..
from tokyo.

Posted: 26/10/2011 at 09:58

The SP5 wasn't the best of the 888 bunch - that was the SPS; the closest you could get at the time to a WSB replica. If you don't know that, you shouldn't be writing gushing articles like this. And in terms of looks, neither are top dog. That accolade belongs to the SP3.

Posted: 03/09/2013 at 12:29

Baines Racing reckoned the SP3/4 was the best 888 SP but all the SP's were handmade and each was slightly different. My SP4 was the best bike I ever owned.

Posted: 13/07/2015 at 19:47

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