Top 10 stunning homologation specials

Track-ready production bikes to make you drool

HOMOLOGATION specials are a weird concept. Production-based racing– epitomised by WorldSBK – is supposed to let manufacturers to show off their real-world road bikes on track. But then those same manufacturers go and build special race-oriented bikes that they shoehorn into showrooms purely to get an edge on their rivals.

Objectively the resulting homologation specials are usually terrible road bikes. But since when has the longing for a bike been objective? It turns out that many of us would be more than prepared to put up with lumpy idles, uncooperative flat-slide carbs, single seats and unusable gear ratios in exchange for the sublime, race-ready feeling that goes hand-in-hand with these machines.

These days the homologation special is having a revival, albeit without the compromises of the past. Road-ready racers like Honda’s CBR1000RR SP2, Kawasaki’s ZX-10RR and Yamaha’s R1M have all been created to exploit minimum production limits of Superbikes; they’re classics of the future, but will any become as desirable as the bikes in our top 10?

10: Kawasaki ZXR750RR

Kawasaki might have become a dominant force in WSBK over the last few years but while it didn’t finally clinch a manufactuter title until 2015 the green-obsessed firm has been a leading light in the series since its inception. Adrien Morillas took the firm’s first victory on a GPX750R (unusually, it was red) at the fourth-ever WSBK race – race two in Hungary, 1988.

Within a few years the likes of Aaron Slight, Scott Russell and Rob Phillis were regular winners, with Russell taking the rider’s title in 1993. The ZXR750RR – and its descendant, the ZX-7RR – were the bikes that carried Kawasaki racers through the 90s. The formula remained consistent; compared to the stock superbikes, the RR models got close-ratio boxes, flat-slide carbs, alloy fuel tanks and suspension tweaks. The stock ZXR750R was the more useable road bike, but it doesn’t make the RR any less desirable.

9: GSX-R750RR

Suzuki is another firm that’s been a WSBK stalwart over the years, but its rewards for the involvement are even more limited than Kawasaki’s. It took both the rider and manufacturer titles in 2005 with Troy Corser on a GSX-R1000, but those are its only championship successes. So why include the GSX-R750RR here? Because it’s the ultimate expression of the oil-cooled GSX-R750 line. It also looks awesome.

Just 500 were made back in 1989, with a long-stroke engine, single seat, alloy fuel tank, close-ratio gearbox and big, 40mm carbs. Suzuki never dived headlong into the homologation game like its rivals, so special GSX-R750s are thin on the ground, making the RR all the more desirable. There was one more – the water-cooled GSX-R750 SPR of 1994 – but it lacks the RR’s style.

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8: Aprilia RSV Mille SP

Aprilia’s era of WSB success may have come with the RSV4, taking four titles in the five years spanning 2010 to 2014 but the firm’s first foray into the championship was arguably more impressive still. The RSV Mille V-twin, launched in 1998, was Aprilia’s first big bike, and its homologation version – the SP – had all the usual bolt-ons to make it faster. After an exploratory year with Peter Goddard aboard a single entry in 1999, its full WSB onslaught started in 2000. The first win came in the second round – at Phillip Island – with Troy Corser. He’d win four more times during the year, taking 3rd in the championship. Not bad for a firm that had never made a multi-cylinder four-stroke before.

7: Honda VTR1000 SP1/SP2 ‘RC51’

You need to be a Honda nerd to spot the differences between the VTR1000 SP1 and SP2, so we’re including both here. Both are ‘RC51’ machines, named to tie in with the earlier RC30 and RC45. It’s a misnomer, though; ‘RC’ in Honda-ese means four strokes with a capacity between 601cc and 900cc. Bigger bikes like the 999cc V-twin VTR1000 SP1 and SP2 are given the code ‘SC’. So, confusingly, the ‘RC51’ is actually the SC45…  Clear? Good.

Designed as a direct response to Ducati’s stream of V-twin WSBK titles, the VTR1000 SP use a tuned version of the FireStorm’s engine, bolted to a completely new aluminium frame. Unlike the usual homologation special – production bikes with bolted-on tweaks – the SP1 and SP2 were dedicated designs intended to win the WSBK title. They did; Colin Edwards dominated the bike’s debut year, 2000, and won it again in 2002. As investments go, a decent SP1 or SP2 has got to be a good bet these days, given the way RC30 and RC45 prices have risen…

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6: Yamaha OW-01

The Yamaha FZR750RR OW-01 was he firm’s response to Honda’s RC30, a dedicated race bike, with just 500 made to meet homologation rules and get it ready for the 1989 WSBK season. While it didn’t look radically different to the road-going FZR750, the OW-01 was a substantially different bike. Its five-valve engine, with titanium rods and flat-slide carbs, needed careful fettling and regular maintenance. Today, they’re highly prized despite never winning a WSB title.

5: Ducati 999R

For many, Ducati’s 999 is the ginger-haired stepson of the firm’s superbike lineage, but the ‘R’ version deserves to be heralded above most of its relatives. Sure, you might not like the Pierre Terblanche styling; the South African’s attempt to make a clean break from the 916/996 range that preceded it was radical, but perhaps not beautiful. Ducati threw everything at the R version; carbon bodywork, a redesigned engine making 150hp even in road trim, Brembos, Ohlins, magnesium bits wherever possible… It was a tour de force, and the recipe worked. It won the WSBK title three times – 2003, 2004 and 2006. Sure, the 916 and its spin-offs won more titles, but in 2004 and 2006, the 999R’s wins were against 1000cc fours, not the 750s that its predecessor had to battle.

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4: Honda RC45

Ah, the Honda RC45. Also known as the RVF750, it was a direct successor to the VFR750R RC30, sharing the same basic design ideas but updated for the 1990s. The engine was still a V4, but gained (rather snatchy) fuel injection, completely new heads, a shorter stroke and a bigger bore. The frame also looked a lot like the RC30’s but its geometry was tweaked and the addition of USD forks brought its specs up to date.

New, NSR500-inspired aerodynamics further helped its racing prospects. But despite all this, it struggled to beat the dominant Ducatis. It debuted in 1994, but lost out to Ducati’s similarly new 916. The same happened in 1995. And 1996. Only in 1997 did Honda regain the WSBK title, with John Kocinski scoring the RC45’s only world championship. In 98 and 99, the RC45 lost to Ducati again. But despite that record, the RC45 is endlessly desirable, as proved by the increasingly insane price tags to be found on unmolested examples.

3: Yamaha R7 OW-02

The Honda RC45 mightn’t have won as many titles as it was expected to, but Yamaha’s OW-02 R7 was even less successful, never taking a single WSBK championship. Just 500 were made, all in 1999. Yamaha needed to make the R7 because it had just launched the R1, which was the era’s dominant road-going superbike but, as a 998cc four-cylinder, wasn’t WSBK-legal.

In stock road-going form, they weren’t even fast, but with (expensive) racing tweaks applied the R7 became a serious weapon. However, even with Nori Haga doing his best, the WSBK title evaded it. Why is it so desirable, then? Because its chassis was developed from the contemporary YZR500 GP bike, as was the aero. It looked fantastic, too. In the real world, an R1 of the same vintange would be the better road bike, and would cost a 10th of the price of an R7 these days. But in terms of desirability the R7 has few peers.

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2: Ducati 916/996/998

The Ducati 916 had a series of homologation special spin-offs. There was the 916SP, the 955SP, the (996cc) 916 SPS, the Foggy Replica (marketed as a tribute bike, but sneakily used to homologate a tweaked frame and airbox), the (998cc) 996R and the Testastretta-engined, 999cc 998R.

Between them, they took eight WSBK world titles, hot on the heels of three that had gone to the 916’s predecessor, the 888… We’re lumping them all together here because any Ducati 916/996/998 derivative has the same combination of style and desirability, and any limited-edition homologation version is even more drool-worthy.

1: Honda RC30

For the first three years of the WSBK championship, the Honda RC30 was the bike to be on. It won the title in 88, 89 and 90. It epitomised the idea of an off-the-shelf racer. Honda made more than the required 500 bikes, keeping the RC30 in production for three years and eventually churning out nearly 5000 of them.

That’s why, for a while, it seemed that every national championship, not to mention races like the TT, was packed with privateers on RC30s. The result was that the RC30’s racing heritage stretches far wider than WSBK alone, and even though a lot were made, the number of unmolested road bikes is still low and prices are sky-high.

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