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Just another R1? Er, no actually

Published: 18 February 2000

Updated: 19 November 2014

WHAT’S in a name? Plenty, actually. And in certain cases lots of cred, respect and prestige. Do a bit of serious name-dropping and your rank can be instantly elevated. Certain names are real status symbols and are the fastest and easiest way to rise above the masses.

Mention you’ve got an MV and you’ll be immediately considered as an affluent and discerning biker. Do the same with names like Ferrari, Gucci and Armani and the whole world’s at your feet wanting to know more about you.

But try doing it with the name Yamaha and the results aren’t quite as influential. It’s just too common. Add the label R1 and people are a bit more interested, but even this name doesn’t guarantee you instant cred because there’s so many of them on the road now.

But throw a few other names into the equation – like Ohlins and AP – and it’s a different story. Well, that’s what I found when I rode this Harris R1.

The word Harris gives you instant kudos for a start and tells people this is no ordinary Yamaha. The firm is famous for several things – running GP, WSB and now Honda’s British superbike teams, building countless specials and supplying trick bits to thousands of road riders. The quality of the Harris brothers’ handiwork needs no introduction, and with that sort of reputation there was no doubt in my mind this was going to be one hell of a bike.

When you’ve got a machine like this it’s important to show it off, so what better place than a local bikers’ pub to get some reaction? Everyone stares and cranes their necks to the point of osteopath appointment-inducing pain to get a better look at this bike. And any time it’s stationary there’s a barrage of questions. How fast does it go? How much does it cost? Is it as good as it looks?

The posing was helped by the fact that this particular Harris R1 is the same one which thousands of visitors gathered around at last year’s NEC and this month’s Ally Pally shows. And you can understand why.

It really is very special. The work Harris had done removes that mass-produced feeling of the standard bike. And so it should – this is a rolling showcase for the firm so everything it can sell to the world’s R1 owners has been fitted.

No surprise then that there’s plenty of detail to study. There’s beautifully-crafted adjustable yokes and rearsets, a high-level Harris carbon-fibre exhaust, WSB-spec Ohlins forks, Marchesini five-spoke wheels, six-pot AP brakes, an R7 swingarm which looks stiff enough to stand the strain of 500 horses being pushed through it, carbon-fibre bodywork and a very appropriate Kenny Roberts Yamaha YZR500 replica paintjob.

In total there’s more than £11,000 worth of extras on this machine, and while there’s no doubting they make it look the business, I still had to ride if to find out what difference they make on the move. But after just a few hours in the seat I could answer the question " is it as good as it looks? " with an emphatic YES!

In fact, you could even argue it’s better than it looks. It’s the kind of bike you feel right at home on, no matter how hard you ride.

I’m a big fan of the R1 and my recent ride on the 2000-spec model proved to me the best had just got better. But it’s quite a bit behind this British creation. The bike’s engine has had no tuning work, but this machine will have no trouble keeping up with just about anything because the handling is so good. And let’s be honest, with over 140bhp at the rear tyre you’d just be greedy if you wanted more.

The motor is so powerful that even if you ride one regularly the performance still takes you by surprise. Even when you’re short-shifting and only revving it to around 6000rpm, the amount of grunt is incredible. Rev it harder and it’s simply amazing. And as much as I loved the howl of the Harris pipe, and the trick button-operated gearchange, it took me a little while to reacquaint myself with all this power before I felt comfortable enough to really wring its neck.

Wheelies and slides were the order of the day if I was too ambitious with the throttle. And the broad, creamy-smooth power delivery was so deceptive I’d swear the digital speedo was knackered. Every time I looked at it there were three figures showing. And half the time they were increasing in number so fast they were hard to read.

Even though the thought of a year on the bus was becoming more and more prominent in my mind, the expression " the throttle works both ways " wasn’t making much sense. The rush was so seductive it was impossible to resist.

Added to that rush was the confidence the chassis gave me to cane the engine even harder. Steve Harris may have made sense when he said the Yamaha’s motor is more than enough for the roads. But he has effectively given it extra power because his chassis mods have made it so much easier to ride fast.

We were up early to catch the sun for photos and the roads were still damp and greasy from the night before, but that couldn’t put a damper on my quest to see how well the bike could deal with the twists and turns of the local, and very familiar, back roads. Even with the limited grip available, the Dunlop D207RR tyres did a fantastic job.

These are the latest sports tyres from Dunlop and they feature the tread pattern and compound from the super-grippy D207 GPs. But these were notoriously unstable on the road, so Dunlop has used the same construction as that found in the D207 Sportmax, which improves stability significantly. The result is a tyre which is simply superb for fast road riding and track days.

The tyres’ performance was improved further by the quality of the Ohlins suspension, which made staying on line far easier than I expected. And with the adjustable fork yokes, which can be tuned to alter the character of the steering and its stability, turning into bends couldn’t have been better tailored.

There’s an Ohlins steering damper to keep things calm, but most of the time I ran with it on the minimum setting anyway, which is a great indication of just how well the chassis has been set up. As the roads dried it made an even bigger impression.

Handling is obviously tested more in better conditions, and despite every effort to find fault, the bike just laughed off my relatively mediocre riding skills. Even Noriyuki Haga would be impressed with this machine. The Harris R1 feels so much more taut and responsive than the standard bike. It reacts immediately to any pressure you put on the bars and it feels as though you’ve gone through the corner just seconds after you first glanced at the apex. Choose any line around a bend and the bike follows it to the accuracy of fractions of millimetres. And the superb feedback from the suspension tells you exactly what the tyres are doing.

The ride is firmly controlled, but the damping is still easily capable of tackling the rigours of high-speed runs over bumps and ripples without breaking your back or sending the tyres skittering across the road. It offers you the best of both worlds.

Quality kit like this aids speedy progress so much, yet increases safety when you’re searching for the limit. It’s amazing why most riders overlook it when they want to improve their bikes. Instead of trying to just make their bikes go faster with end cans, carb and big-bore kits, they’d be far better off making it handle better. After all, going round corners fast is infinitely more satisfying than howling down straights, surely? Leaning bikes over and trying to get horizontal is what it’s all about.

If that’s your priority then look no further than a bike like this. OK, it will cost you a small fortune to have an R1 made to this spec, but not all the equipment on this example needs to be considered. If you fitted the suspension and steering damper you’d notice a real improvement for less than £2500. And not only would it make your machine handle better, it would also make you the envy of your friends.

Parts like the wheels and brakes, which do offer some benefits, aren’t strictly necessary. But in saying that, after testing the Harris R1, the riding thrills and pose value it gave me almost justified its bank-breaking £19,563 price tag.

It’s a very special creation. I was as happy name-dropping and bragging about it as I was carving quickly through the countryside on it. Let’s hope they do the same to the Blade, SP-1, GSX-R750, ZX-6R, R6...

WHAT YOU GET FOR YOUR CASH

QUALITY parts like those used on the Harris R1 don’t come cheap. If you want all the bits featured on this bike you’re looking at the best part of £20,000, including the cost of a 1999 R1. But you don’t need them all to improve your bike. Here’s a full breakdown of the costs.

•1999 Yamaha R1: £8299

•Marchesini wheels: £1120

•Ohlins shock: £540

•Ohlins forks: £1595

•Ohlins steering damper: £292

•Harris adjustable yokes: £546

•R7-style swingarm, hugger chainguard and brackets: £1295

•Harris carbon-fibre end can, downpipe and bracket: £411

•Carbon-fibre bodywork: £702Padded Cell Kenny Roberts replica paintjob: £1200

•Crash protector mushrooms: £65

•AP brake set-up: £1491

•Harris adjustable rearsets: £282

•Acybre tinted screen: £47

•M&P mini indicators: £24

•Carbon frame protectors: £149

•Hydraulic quick-shifter:£558

•Renthal chain and sprockets: £127

•Dunlop D207RR tyres:£220

•Harris clip-ons: £112

•Powder-coating for frame:£140

•Harris rear brake caliper:£213

•PFM rear disc: £70

•Harris top yoke plug: £12

•Paddock stand: £53

TOTAL:£19,563

THE FACTS

HARRIS YAMAHA YZF-R1

Cost: £19,563

Availability: Order a complete bike or any of parts it features from Harris on 01992-551026

Colours: Whatever you want, mate

SPECIFICATION

Engine: Liquid-cooled, 998cc (74mm x 58mm) 20v dohc four-stroke in-line four. 4 x 40mm Mikuni carbs. 6 gears

Chassis: Aluminium twin-spar

Front suspension: Ohlins 43mm inverted forks, adjustments for pre-load, compression and rebound damping

Rear suspension: Ohlins single shock, adjustments for pre-load, compression and rebound damping

Tyres: Dunlop D207RR; 120/70 x 17 front, 190/50 x 17 rear

Brakes: AP/Harris; 2 x 320mm cast iron front discs with 6-piston calipers, 210mm rear disc with 2-piston caliper

PERFORMANCE

POWER: 144bhp @ 9900rpm

TORQUE: 80ftIb @ 7300rpm

Weight/power to weight ratio: 167kg (368lb), 0.86bhp/kg

Standing 1/4-mile time/terminal speed: 10.3s, 144mph

Top speed: 176mph

Geometry (Rake/trail/wheelbase): 24°, 9.2-10.4cm, 139.5cm

Average mpg/tank capacity/range: 32mpg, 18 litres, 126 miles

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