Road test: Exup-engined, Harris-framed Suzuka replica

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A classic road test from the PB archives. Welcome to January 1998...

‘It’s wet and it’s slippery. It looks gorgeous’ said Bob. ‘Stop trying to make it sound good’ said Alex. Just buy a CBR600 and have done with it…’

hat’s the point of a perfect bike? Bor-ing. Surely you want a bit of character – a bike which pinches fingers on full lock, won’t run in the wet and blows its fork seals every week? Then you want an Exup-engined, Harribox-framed Suzuka replica, you do. Bob Sarnie is the masochist…

‘What do you mean, Flash Gordon approaching?’ open fire, all weapons…’Despatch war rocket Ajax to bring back his body…’ ‘Gordon’s alive!!!’

You are a toy. T…O…Y…- toy. You’re not factory supported, you don’t race for eight hours at a time (come to think of it you don’t race at all), and you are definitely not ridden by world class riders. You’re stuck with me, remember? I’ve had the same conversation with this bike ten times, but it keeps forgetting. Trouble is, each time it forgets, I get sucked into its world of make believe. And we end up racing around the countryside like we’re doing the final stint in the Sukuka eight hour endurance race.

But our race is temporarily stopped thanks to rain (which is why I’m preaching to the bike). Both of us are sat under some trees in a lay-by waiting for it to stop. You see, the Yam doesn’t run in the wet – either water gets sucked through its massive, open mouthed carbs, or some component in the homemade wiring loom is shorting. One thing’s for sure, it makes riding in the fast lane of a dark, wet A14 a big problem.

It’s not the only problem with this tuned, Harris-framed EXUP-powered Suzuka replica. As I turn right and pull out of the lay-by, a stab of pain tears into my hand. Again. It’s that bulging Harris Deltabox frame, plus zero steering lock, which means tucked-in clip-ons have no option but to crush my thumbs/fingers at every opportunity. I soon learn to set up for junctions early, stopping short of white lines to give more turning room, and forcing myself to lean the bike over at very low speed instead of letting it run wide off the road.

But despite that, and despite it conking out in the wet like a hydrophobic washing machine, I love this bike. Okay, so I’m a masochist – but like Paul Weller said, it does something to me, something deep inside (Steady on Bob – SH). Which is why I don’t leave the bike in the middle of the A14 to be run over by a large lorry at the first sign of trouble, tempting though it is…

You see, all the time I’m riding the Yam tries to please me in a number of subtle ways. There’s the riding position, which forces me into the most comfortable racing crouch ever – much better than, say, the new GSX-R750. It balances me perfectly. There’s no weight on my wrists and I drift around on the bike with so little effort it’s like being weightless. The only pain is in my arse, coz the Yam’s attitude is so tail-up I slide to the front of the seat where padding is at its most painfully sparse.

But bikes aren’t only made for sitting bolt upright on. Fortunately this puppy corners fantastically, if only for the way it makes me hold the bars. They’re at such an extreme downward angle my wrists are perfectly placed for delicate throttle adjustments mid-corner. This is a real race rep riding position. I feel like Jamie Whitham, hanging off with my head in the wind, knee skimming the tarmac, and getting an instant woody after each corner. I end up hunting for bends to get the feeling again. Enough already! Cornering isn’t just about where bars and footpegs are. Thankfully, this Harribox special is endowed with seriously tasty suspension. A pair of 43mm, fully adjustable WP forks grace the bow and an equally multi-adjustable WP shock sits astern. Both allow the bike to sail across the bumpy tracks of the fens like it was a mill pond.

Unfortunately, after two days terrorising the hapless residents whose misfortune it is to live near my fenland mud hut, I came to the bike one morning to find a river of reds, blues and greens winding their way from the front end. The offside fork had yopped its guts everywhere, and the nearside was halfway there. The knock-on effect is a front end with more bounce than an Olympic trampoline and a front tyre which slides rather than grips around corners (check out the pictures).

The AP Racing calipers, previously the penultimate word in retardation (I’m the last word in retards) also suffered an oily kick in the four pots from the leaky forks. A good tug on the lever eventually stopped the bike and, besides, I soon returned them to their former glory while speed testing at Bruntingthorpe. Buzzing flat-chinny-bollock-out through the radar, followed by an ‘Omi-god-I’m-never-gonna-pull-up-in-time’ emergency stop sorted them out, even if they smoked like a tribe of very peaceful Indians afterwards.

Top whack, tucked in tight behind the one-off carbon fibre fairing, was 162.5mph. Not bad. The 130bhp motor could push it along a bit faster, but it’s geared for road use rather than flat oot blasts along runways.

It’s a stable as a wooden shed with horses in it though. Not a wibble or a wobble at full chilt, thanks to the factory swingarm and linkages holding the Technomagnesio 18in wheel in line at the back. I was eternally glad for this: I remember thinking ‘If this bike develops even a mild tankslapper, I’m gonna be known as Bob No-fingers’.

But if any part of this mad-bastard machine will get me into trouble it’s not in the handling/stability department. It’ll be its motor. It lives for high-octane gasoline, spits fire from all its orifices and has an unbridled passion for making lots of noise and lifting the front end at every opportunity. Rattling around somewhere between the crankcases and the gas-flowed cylinder head are a number of special parts. Trick, re-profiled cams tap-dance to the chorus of major horsepower while Harris downpipes sing the melody. The carbs have seen action too – smoothbored, Dynojet kitted, and no air box to interfere with proceedings. On wide open throttle they suck oxygen like Luciana Pavarotti blowing up a hot air balloon and their warbling/burbling/howling induction noise is louder than the Phase One can.

The more I think about it the more I realise that, despite its bad points, I’m hooked. I can’t stop riding. It’s so easy to slip back into that daydream world where rustling leaves are really the cheers of the Suzuka crowd, lollipop ladies morph into pit lane marshals and traffic lights are stop-go penalties. Suddenly it all makes perfect sense.

Unfortunately, it ends in early retirement and a DNF – I have to stop for tea. The bike is parked in the garage and the lights turned off. Playtime is over and the race is done, but it doesn’t matter coz tomorrow is Saturday and I can play all day.


Chassis: Harris ‘Harribox’ ally frame. OW01 alloy kit swingarm and Terry Ryme’s OW01 factory linkages, WP fully-adjustable forks and shock, Harris rearsets, Harris clip-ons, Technomagnesio die-cast 18in rear wheel, Technomagnesio 17in front.

Engine: EXUP block built by Doug Lois, gasflowed head, re-profiled cams, Dynojet kit, smoothbore EXUP carbs, Harris downpipes and Phase One carbon fibre can.

Other bits: lightweight carbon fibre bodywork, Yamaha factory Suzuku eight hour colours by MRS, Harris rear brake master cylinder, Goodridge braided brake lines, bicycle digital speedo, Yamaha tacho, digital temperature gauge. Carbon fibre front mudguard, AP Racking brake and clutch master cylinders, AP Racing four pot calipers.

 Words Bob Sarnie

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