Welcome back to the playground

Published: 16 June 2000

LIFE is hard. There are those who can amble through it not worrying about the next big bill, but they are a privileged few. The rest of us have long forgotten that happy, simple land where children play and policemen clip ears.

But once a year – and if you happen to be a motorcyclist – someone opens the door and beckons you back in. With a wave of a wand, a small island in the Irish Sea is transformed into a playground for us all. Whatever your motorcycling perversion, you are catered for. From full-factory race bikes to sidecars and stunt shows. This is the magic of the TT.

This year was just as much of an escape as ever before. From the fastest ever TT Senior lap record to the rain-soaked Production event, to the tear-jerking one-two finish of the Morris brothers’ machines in the Singles race. Like any fairytale, you need a winner against the odds. Enter David Jefferies and his Yamahas against the might of the factory bikes. While Joey Dunlop was getting his share of the limelight he was on PURE race bikes: Honda 125 and 250 two-strokes and an SP-1 with an engine straight out of Aaron Slight’s WSB bike, for God’s sake!

Jefferies’ machines are like the ones you can buy, like the ones you own – tuned a bit where allowed and tuned like mad when given the all-clear. When the dust had settled, he would finish victorious in the Senior event (setting a new lap record of 125.69mph) and do it again in the rain-soaked Production TT.

And then there was the Junior four-lap race in which he topped the podium once more, this time on an R6. How special must those bikes be? I mean, if you ride an R1 or R6, or anything similar, you know how incredibly fast, how ludicrously sharp-handling, how amazingly hard-braking current sports bikes are. So what must the cranked-up, Island-dominating versions be like?

There is, as they say, only one way to find out, and it’s one that is immensely agreeable to me. We must ride them. So eager are we to grab hold of them that we ask for access as soon as they roll off the ferry.

We don’t care how grimy or fly-encrusted they have become. In fact, the dirtier the better. There’s nothing clean about the way these machines perform – they are absolutely low-down mean and dirty in their hearts.

So, just as they finish the race – bar a change of oil and tyres – we bring the best together. In one privileged place we have the V&M Yamaha Senior-winning R71 (R7-style frame and bodywork with an R1 motor), the Junior-winning Yamaha R6 and the Production TT-winning Chesterfield Motorcycles R1.

You almost expect the clouds to part and a shaft of golden light to fall upon them.

Of course, when life is looking this fantastic someone has to throw a spanner in. On this occasion it was that British favourite, the weather. Some warm front or other had gathered up a significant part of the Atlantic Ocean on its passage from the Gulf of Mexico and decided that Donington Park was as good a place as any to dump it.

So there we were, two photographers, one art editor, four riders and the three race teams complete with tools and mechanics. And all of us wet and miserable. First, they wait... as the Guinness advert puts it. Breakfast came and went, so did lunch. And there was still enough water about for a re-shoot with those prancing horses and a bunch of surfers.

At 5pm we admitted defeat.

We would have to reconvene the following morning – and this time the venue would be the Bruntingthorpe test track in Leicestershire. And with a new day came a brighter start and the chance to throw a trembling leg over these snarling beasts.

Might as well start at the top, with the bike Jefferies took to victory in the Senior, where restrictions on tuning are few and far between: The V&M/QB Carbon R71.

V&M Racing is not a new name to TT fans, nor indeed to race fans of any description. Jack Valentine and Steve Mellor have been at the forefront of building TT winners for years. And with their Senior winner this year they have a bike that set a new lap record.

V&M have the deserved reputation of one of the best engine build shops in the country. Building a reliable R1 engine producing over 180 bhp was not a problem for them.

They knew the chassis would have to be something special to withstand the rigour and torture of the TT.

They started with a stock R7 chassis (if you can ever call an R7 chassis stock) and delivered it to the Nottingham workshops of QB Carbon. QB’s John Merrill has made his name in producing some of the finest carbon aftermarket parts and race bodywork, but his real interest is in chassis design.

He started by cutting and strengthening the R7’s frame to enable a massive airbox to be fitted and chopping and lowering the rear subframe. This series of mods allows a new set of custom-built carbon bodywork to be wrapped around the bike.

A new battery tray sits in the modified sub-frame, a massive 24-litre fuel tank which sits low and around the engine - keeping weight low – now sits on top of the lowered frame spars. The tank is a necessary evil for the length of the TT circuit.

While the frame was being modified, V&M’s Steve Mellor stripped the stock R1's 998cc motor and treated it to a full V&M Formula One spec tune.

Like most engine builders, Mellor is understandably a little tight on detail, but with the modded engine breathing through a massive ram-air type airbox with reworked carburettors and exiting its burnt hydrocarbons through a titanium lightweight Akrapovic exhaust system, it works.

V&M also fitted a set of WSB-spec Ohlins front forks re-worked by Maxton Engineering. 320mm PFM front rotors grabbed by PFM six-pot billet calipers handle the halting. Jefferies has a preference for Penske rear suspension. To make sure all their hard work isn't blown away at the pit stop, V&M's own design billet machined "quick-change" rear wheel system sits in the braced rear swingarm.

Lightweight magnesium Dymag wheels replace the stock bike’s hoops, treated to a coat of bright yellow paint to match the bike’s new colourscheme. Suited and booted in its V&M colours, still splattered with flies and dust, the V&M R71 looks menacing. It's part motorcycle part Mike Tyson. But it feels much lighter. It weighs 170kg (374 lb). A stock R1 weighs 177kg (389lb). Instinct tells you there is something very different about this beast as soon as you sit on it. Lightweight bracketry is everywhere.

Ignition on, clutch in and select first – lifting up on the race pattern gearchange. A V&M crew member gives me a shove until the moment is right to dump the clutch and the brute instantly fires, spitting pure venom and wrenching my arms.

A few laps to warm the Pirelli race slicks introduce me to another world. Easy there Tiger, there’s an awful lot can happen if I twist my right wrist just a little too much.

But bit by bit I’m feeling my way into this. As the flies splatter on my visor, and the wind howls through my helmet’s vents, I start to gain confidence. Hell, this TT business…anyone can do that, can’t they?

Just by teasing the quick-action throttle the front wheel's in the air, down with your foot into second and it's still climbing, third, OK snap it shut…

But this bike has no intention of running out of steam on its skyward climb. I've tested some big horsepower lightweight motorcycles in the past, but this thing is just pure violent.

This doesn’t scare you in a behind-the-sofa-the-Daleks-are-coming kind of way, it is more a no-really-the-aliens-have-landed-and-they-eat-motorcyclists emotion. But what a way to be terrified!

As I head down the long back straight I tuck in behind the screen with its raised bubble. Even at what seems like 150mph the V&M R71 is as solid as a rock. Anything below treble ain’t worth fannying about with. What must it be like at 180mph on the TT course with stone walls inches from your head?

Watch it in action and it’s as though you’re watching a piece of speeded-up film. The bark from the pipe sends shivers all the way down to your socks.

The slightest stroke of the lever on the right-hand bar hauls the bike down to sanity. If I thought the way it had thrust me through the air was impressive, the way it stops is inspirational.

And even with the bike set up for Jefferies (the big bacon-butty muncher is almost twice my weight) it corners with the finesse of a well set-up 600.

It asks to be cranked into the bend and leaned over farther and farther with every lap. But as you exit the bend and twist that throttle the beast snarls forward, again violently snatching the front wheel off the deck.

Every bump in the track surface is transmitted to your body, I know the set up is all about high-speed stability, but I just can't imagine the butt-bruising, teeth-shaking, spine-shortening battering a rider must take giving it handfuls round the Mountain.

Riding it teaches you all about respect. Imagine teasing Iron Mike Tyson with a sharp stick, poke-poke-prod, and then wallop! This bike will idle then it'll rip your head off.

Time for something approaching sanity. I eye up the Chesterfield Motorcycles R1. This won the Production TT – surely it can’t be that different from any R1 I’ve ridden before? The rules covering what you can change are fairly strict. Well, actually, it can.

The only changes you can make are to revalve the forks, switch the rear shock for one of your choice, add a race can and Dynojet kit (but you must keep the standard air filter) and change the brake pads and lines. But you can blueprint the engine and there are vital bhp to be gained in doing that.

CMC started with a stock out-of-the-box Yamaha R1. The chassis was stripped down to its last nut and bolt, while the engine was sent to tuning guru Tony Scott for a full stripdown and blueprint. What you get in return is an immaculately prepared and balanced engine. A Micron " Big-Bore " carbon exhaust does the dirty work out back. The stock front forks were revalved by Maxton and the rear shock replaced with a Penske unit (just as Jefferies likes).

Carbone Lorraine pads are chosen to speed the stopping. Standard fairing panels, fuel tank and seat unit are kept but paintwork experts Pro Art blanked off the R1's headlight.

An Ohlins steering damper and lightweight Pro-Mac gearchange pedal replaces the through-the-frame stock shifter assembly. This and a change to the gearing (a 16-tooth front sprocket matched to a 41-tooth rear) and a switch to a very strong and light Regina Gold GP drive chain are also allowed.

Riding the CMC R1 is pure pleasure. It feels like a slightly stiff set up stock bike, your feet slip on to neat billet machined footpegs and unlike most race bikes its got no nasty reduced steering lock. It's even got a softly padded seat.

Turn the ignition on and press the starter button and you wouldn’t feel too bad about arriving home on it at midnight. The exhaust is quiet enough to prevent curtain twitch. The up-for-first gear change belies its race pedigree but the power delivery is both user-friendly and exceptional.

With its honed chassis, it is one of the most refined R1s I’ve ever ridden. Yes, if you chose to dial enough throttle in to test the chassis the power delivery would break the rear Metzeler RS2 loose, but never so violently that you are on the edge of a highside. You have all the advantages of a well set up track bike without the hassle.

The suspension package is a mod every R1 owner in the country should consider. It completely transforms an already fine handling superbike into the sharpest of corner fiends. It is leaps and bounds ahead of the stock bike’s suspension. The Scott-built engine is so crisp you have no choice but to play with it.

After the sense-smashing experience of the R71, this seems to massage your mind, squeezing the adrenalin out and metering its release rather than taking a brick to your head and spurting the lot in one explosion. It has just the right amount of torque and horsepower and the ideal suspension package for going fast with ease. And that’s what wins proddie races.

Now the R6 that Jefferies won the Junior TT on is rather unlike the one you might have in your garage – unless yours happens to top 175mph.(In a speed test for MCN later in the year, this bike cracked 180mph.)

V&M’s engine man Steve Mellor did the magic on the R6’s engine components. His secret changes, which are bound to have included some reworking of the carburettors have raised the rear-wheel horsepower from the stock machine’s regular 101bhp to a whopping 123bhp.

A full close-ratio gearbox and a heavy-duty set of clutch springs help deal out all this extra horsepower, while a custom alloy radiator with built-in extra oil-cooler, is shaped to fit neatly inside the carbon-fibre bodywork. Yamaha’s standard framework now holds Maxton reworked stock forks matched to a fully adjustable Penske rear unit (you know the Jefferies drill by now). Wheels and brakes are stock Yamaha parts although brake pads were swapped for Carbone Lorraine items. Pirelli Evo tyres and a full Akrapovic race system with a neat carbon muffler-mounting bracket have their roles to play.

Compared to the R71 and R1, the R6 feels tiny – almost as if they left it out in the rain too long. You hop on and it's like sitting on a minimoto. That Jefferies could hop from one to the other and win on either scale of machine is hard to believe.

But it’s deceptively quick and powerful. The engine fires straight off the button and idles just like the stock bike. That’s where the similarity ends. Again the up-for-first race pattern and a twist on the quick action throttle sends you off down the track, a slight tug on the bars will have the front end going light and towards the clouds, snatch another gear and you can hold it there, seemingly supported by some unseen hand.

But it’s through the corners that the V&M R6 really comes up with the goods. Pick almost any line and you can just chuck it in. It tracks like a Scalextric car – the perfect one you always wished for, the one that can’t come off the track.

Even when you ride up against the bigger bikes it is only on the straights that they can pull out any distance. Could this be the ultimate giant-killer?

Imagine you could put a bike like this on the road and a bunch of smug Blade, ZX-9R and R1 owners started breathing down your exhaust pipe. Wouldn’t it be fun to blow them away on a 600?

Wouldn’t it be fun to be David Jefferies?

FROM TRAGEDY COMES SUCCESS

YOU may have read in MCN about one of the real storybook tales of this year’s TT: That of the Morris brothers. If a movie-maker is ever in need of a script, they should join you in reading on.

When Lee and Neil’s father Dave died at the age of 48 in a freak racing accident at Croft, their mother, Alison, 45, asked the boys to carry on and help her set up a team to defend her husband’s TT titles.

Not even Coronation Street could match the tragedy of what happened next. Within days of Dave’s death, Alison was also dead – killed by a heart attack.

It took real guts to carry on with the dream, taking their father’s unfinished project bike to race in this year’s event. But the brothers had been raised constantly surrounded by their father's fascination for single-cylinder race bikes.

As a close family they had watched him win on the Island three times previously. The TT held a lot of joyful memories for the Morris brothers.

After the initial and massive shock of their double bereavement, the brothers took time out and took stock. The task ahead was huge. Not only had Dave Morris done almost all the development work on his bikes almost on his own, he kept an almost endless list of details for chassis settings, jetting, and many other all important details in his head. The only record he had written down was gearing. It was a start.

For a month they would discuss the task ahead. Was it even possible?

One night a phone call from Honda's Bob McMillan was to change everything. He promised his help and support to fulfil their dream. The Morris brothers now had the riding talents of Honda men John McGuinness and Jason Griffiths on their side, but only one unfinished bike. Steve Harris was then approached to build another chassis. Fortunately, he agreed. His only request was that Ricky Hunt of CarbonTek International assembled both the bikes.

The chassis were being prepared by their dad's old arch rival in the singles class both for engineering and on the track, Gary Cotterell. What parts were available he took and re-worked for the four engines.

To understand the love that serious single-cylinder racers must have for their bikes is close to impossible. Imagine spending 40 hours turning out a cylinder barrel from a piece of aircraft-standard solid billet.

Cotterell put his own singles career on hold to build two 720cc engines and two 750cc versions – all based in some loose way on the single-cylinder engine found in BMW’s F650. Either engine would be completed by Dave Morris’s own designed and built top-end assembly.

In singles the rule is simple. If you can’t buy it and modify it then you make it. Stand close to a single-cylinder racer and it will amaze you. The detail the riders and engineers go into to perfect their bikes makes them end up looking more like scaled-down World Superbikes than Cinderella racers. And they do it without even an inkling of the budget of the likes of Foggy and Co.

The Morris brothers also had support from Arai and Dunlop – a little bit of backing that was very welcome. And finally they had two complete bikes.

Two weeks before the TT, both bikes were run for the first time at Mallory Park with almost no problems. And, more importantly, the Honda works riders liked them.

The rest of the Morris brothers’ tale is now in the TT history books. With the help and support many friends and rivals, the brothers managed to finish their father’s work and continue his tradition of building TT-winning single-cylinder racers.

They managed to turn around a series of tragedies and with months of pure determination and constant hard work stood and hugged each other as their father’s bikes came over the finish line in first and second place in the TT Singles class.

But their story is far from finished. With the right support they intend to go on into Europe. The team could only be with us on the washed-out day at Donington (see main story) and that meant this was one bike we didn’t get the chance to ride, but Honda works rider John McGuinness knows the score.

After riding home to take the victory in the Singles, he said: " That was the most enjoyable TT I've ever ridden, because of the history of the bike and also because it is so easy and enjoyable to ride. "

V&M SENIOR YAMAHA R1

Cost: £30,000 (est)

Availability: built to order by V&M Engineering (0161-654-0011)

Performance

Power and torque: 180bhp, 90ftlb

Top speed (est): 197mph

Specification

Engine: Liquid-cooled, 998cc (74mm x 58mm) 20v dohc four-stroke in-line four. 4 x 40mm Mikuni carbs. Lightened and balanced crank, race cams, gas-flowed head, ram-air. Akrapovic full race exhaust. Six gears

Chassis: Aluminium twin-spar reworked by QB Carbon

Front suspension: 41mm Ohlins forks, revalved by Maxton, adjustments for pre-load, compression and rebound damping. Ohlins steering damper

Rear suspension: Penske single shock with rising-rate linkage, adjustments for pre-load, high and low-speed compression and rebound damping

Tyres: PirelIi slicks; 120/70 x 17 front, 180/55 x 17 rear on Dymag magnesium race wheels

Brakes: PFM; 2 x 320mm fully-floating cast-iron front discs with 6-piston calipers, 220mm rear disc with 4-piston caliper

CMC PRODDIE TT R1

Cost: £12,000 (est)

Availability: Chesterfield Motorcycle Centre (01246-559900)

Performance

Power and torque: 150bhp, 65ftlb

Top speed (est): 193mph

Specification

Engine: Liquid-cooled, 998cc (74mm x 58mm) blueprinted by Tony Scott 20v dohc four-stroke in-line four. 4 x 40mm Mikuni carbs with Dynojet kit and standard air filter. Micron Big-Bore end can. Six gears

Chassis: Aluminium twin-spar

Front suspension: 41mm inverted forks, revalved and resprung by Maxton, with adjustments for pre-load, compression and rebound damping. Ohlins steering damper

Rear suspension: Penske single shock with rising-rate linkage, adjustments for pre-load, compression and rebound damping

Tyres: Metzeler MEZ3 (RS2) 120/70 x 17 front, 180/55 x 17 rear

Brakes: Sumitomo; 2 x 298mm front discs with 4-piston calipers and braided hoses, 245mm rear disc with single-piston caliper

V&M JUNIOR TT R6

Cost: £14000 (est)

Availability: built to order by V&M Engineering (0161-654-0011)

Performance

Power and torque: 123bhp, 51ftlb

Top speed: 180mph

Specification

Engine: Liquid-cooled, 599cc (65.5mm x 44.5mm) 16v dohc four-stroke in-line four. 4 x 37mm Keihin carbs. Close-ratio six-speed gearbox

Chassis: Aluminium twin-spar

Front suspension: 43mm telescopic forks revalved by Maxton, adjustments for pre-load, compression and rebound damping

Rear suspension: Penske single shock with rising-rate linkage, adjustments for pre-load, compression and rebound damping

Tyres: Pirelli Evo; 120/70 x 17 front, 180/55 x 17 rear

Brakes: Sumitomo; 2 x 295mm front discs with 4-piston calipers, 220mm rear disc with 2-piston caliper