Sunday, March 02, 2008

Memorable: Gilera SP01 and SP02


The Gilera SP01, in Kevin Schwantz's 1989 Pepsi Suzuki colours!
Today, Gilera are probably best known for their scooters – the GP800 and the very cool, very funky Fuoco 500. But the Italian company has made some pretty hot motorcycles too, in the past. And for those who think Ducati and MV Agusta are the only Italian manufacturers who’ve been successful in motorcycle GP racing’s premier class, get this – between 1950 and 1957, Gilera riders won six 500cc world championships! Umberto Masetti (1950, 1952), Geoff Duke (1953, 1954, 1955) and Libero Liberati (1957) brought glory to the Gilera name on the GP circuit.

The company was founded by one Giuseppe Gilera, and the first motorcycle to bear his name – the Gilera VT317 – came out in 1909. By the 1930s, Gilera were already producing bikes with four-stroke, side-valve 500cc engines, and their machines were notching up race victories in Europe. The 1936 Rondine 500 even set a top speed record of 274.181km/h, which remained unbeaten for almost 20 years.

Gilera left the grand prix racing scene after 1957, and in 1969, the company became a part of the Piaggio Group. From then on, Gilera have only been making smaller bikes and scooters, though in the 1980s they made some very memorable bikes, most notably the SP01, SP02 and the CX125, which featured an innovative single-sided front fork.

Launched in 1988, the SP01 was fitted with a 125cc two-stroke, liquid-cooled, single-cylinder engine that made a claimed 35bhp at 10,600rpm. This, combined with the SP01’s aluminium beam chassis, stiff suspension, disc brakes, and six-speed gearbox made it the perfect sportsbike for teenagers (and, well, lightweight adults). The 132-kilo SP01 was capable of doing the quarter-mile (400m) in 15.1 seconds, and top speed was 171km/h. Not too bad for a 125cc buzz-bomb. And for Kevin Schwantz fans, the SP01 was even available with a 1989 Pepsi-Suzuki replica paint scheme!

The Gilera SP02 was launched in 1990...
Gilera launched the SP01’s successor, the SP02, in 1990. With a bit more power and bit more style, the SP02 would do the standing quarter-mile in 14.9 seconds, though top speed was still 171km/h.

Today, while manufacturers like Cagiva, Aprilia and Derbi continue to make 125cc repli-racers, Gilera are no longer making such bikes, preferring to stick with their stylish scooters instead. Now, while we love the Gilera ‘Mad Max’ Fuoco, we do wish the company would get back to making some seriously high-performance racer-reps again...

Also see:
Performance Bikes: The best two-stroke sportsbikes ever...
Yamaha RD500-based GP-replica!
Britten V1000: The greatest motorcycle ever made?
Howards Killer Customs' US$150,000 hubless-wheeled chopper!
Memorable: The Muzzy Kawasaki Raptor 850...
Design 90: A Lamborghini motorcycle, anyone?
Vyrus 985 C3 4V, and other bikes that featured alternative front suspension...
Significant firsts in motorcycling...
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