It’s one of the most iconic and elusive bikes on the planet, with a back story so muddied that few people will ever know the full truth behind the Petronas FP1’s tale. But having managed to get our mitts on one, we were at least in a position to see if it lives up to the hype…
There are rare bikes that might come with an interesting back story, or which have been produced in small numbers to satisfy homologation rules. There are also special bikes that happen when engineers are let loose and the bean counters kept out of the room. There are also unicorns – bikes that are all of the above, but which also come with enough urban myth to cast doubt as to their existence at all.
The Petronas FP1 is one such bike, whose legend is made by virtue of the fact that not one of the road bikes produced for homologation in 2003 were even officially sold – they are ghosts.
Almost every piece of media coverage the FP1 has had since it was produced has been speculation, and reports of deals gone bad, tax dodging, people being sued for tens of millions of dollars, bikes going missing, bikes found in containers, bikes impounded by foreign governments, debts owed, and gagging orders placed on anyone who had anything to do with the project.
I’ve never read an FP1 road test in print or online anywhere in the world, which only further adds to the myth. So, imagine how happy I am, having had a Petronas FP1 for more than a week, to be able to write about what it’s actually like to ride instead of yet another update on its murky history. Having said that, it’s still worth a recap of how the FP1 came to be such an icon without any getting sold, simply because you literally couldn’t make it up.
When the Malaysian oil and gas company Petronas decided it wanted to make and race motorbikes, it threw the kitchen sink at the job and designed a bike with quite a radical layout – a reverse three-cylinder 900cc engine – with a view to entering the World Superbike Championship in 2003. Except the firm didn’t get the memo about the rules changing in 2003 to allow 1000cc four-cylinder engines, which meant the Petronas was uncompetitive from the very start.