I bought my $1,500 mongrel 2000 Yamaha R1 during a sad period of my life when people weren’t giving me new motorcycles every week or two, and I needed a project I could ride. A couple years later, I bumped into Evan Steel (evansteelperformance), who trained under the great Kaz Yoshima of Ontario Moto-Tech fame, and worked with Jeremy Toye at Lee’s Cycles in San Diego for some time. A few years ago, Evan and business partner/ fellow moto-wiz Phil Allison (Toye’s ex-Superbike mechanic) set off to open their own shop in Tucson, Arizona, where they love the warmth. More recently, Evan has been off in Italy tuning Aaron Yates’s EBR World Superbike, yet another thankless task … Before all the EBR stuff transpired, though, Evan said I should drop off my old R1 at his shop so he could build a beast like the first-gen R1 he and Kaz and Phil built for multi-time Willow Springs Champ Curtis Adams back in the Formula USA days. Why not? By then, people were giving me new bikes again, thank God.
First order of business was to see if we could get more horsepower out of an old carbureted R1 (my 2000 was the last before EFI) than a new cross-plane crank version. Some of us just like carburetors the way we like steam locomotives. They’re hoary old dirty tech now, but at least you have a shot at understanding how they work. My old bike made a respectable 131 horses at just about 10K rpm, and 72 lb-ft. of torque at about 9000. It seemed like more than enough in 2000.
A 2011 R1 we dynoed at MO made about 145 horses at 11,750 rpm, and 73 ft-lbs at 10,250. The other goal was to build a much cheaper beast than a new $14K R1, which was a thing that should’ve been easy since I was really only after a fun streetbike more than a really competent track one. With his roadracing background and contacts, though, Evan couldn’t allow that to happen.
Allow me to apologize to Evan and Phil right up front for this story taking such a long time to make it to publication. The bike was completed in the Spring of 2013, but the big magazine it was supposed to appear in never could find room for it. And while we’re pretty sure our old analog R1 can more than hold its own against the current R1, it might not fare quite so well next to the new R1 Yamaha’s about to spring at EICMA.
Yamaha was kind enough to hook us up with $1,400 worth of engine bits. Curiously to me, the stock pistons and rods were fine with Evan, who ’splains: “we replaced all of the parts which I feel have a big impact on reliability, things like main and rod bearings, rod bolts, rings, valves, valve-guide seals, valve springs, valve cotters, valve retainers – all the things that really take a beating when you run an engine at high rpm, like a trackday bike or race bike sees all of the time. The pistons and rods were deemed to be sound, so we re-used those parts, as well as the cases, crankshaft and cylinder head. Those big parts you can inspect fairly reliably by looking at them closely, measuring them exactly, magnafluxing or x-raying them. The only expensive parts we replaced were the valves, and that again was somewhat for reliability, and also for performance. Overall the engine was in great shape for something with 15,000 miles on it. Must have been ridden by a little old lady.
“Once you have a good ring seal, then the next easiest way to get HP is the cylinder head and valve job, so perfect brand-new valves help. We ported the head, decked it slightly to raise compression, and also cut the valve seats, as well as slightly massaging the back side of the intake valves to increase flow into the cylinder.”
APE (aperaceparts.com) knife-edged our crank, removing about 12% of its weight – about 3 pounds of material came off the 24-pound crank. Evan: “Balancing makes the engine idle and run smoothly, and lighter lets it rev faster, as well as reducing mechanical drag from big chunks of crankshaft. The APE version has a thinner, polished shape dragging through the air and oil. End result is a smoother, faster-revving motor which makes people happy!” I think he’s right. I’m happy.
Evan said we would need a full race pipe to meet our hp goal, a slip-on would not do. The stock headpipe has long runners, which make good low- and midrange power. The new stainless Akrapovic race system I finally found on eBay, after months of searching, was just the thing, and only set me back $750. Short runners let the new engine breathe at high rpm, and make more torque than the stocker, too. Bye-bye EXUP valve. I was pleasantly surprised how quiet it is at mellow throttle openings escaping the neighborhood, so I’m still happy.
Evan: “Once that was sorted, we put the old girl on the dyno, and installed a BMC race air filter as well as a Dynojet jet kit. With a few minor tweaks to the carbs (and lots of swearing when the float-bowl gaskets leaked and I had to pull them back off and install some new rubber gaskets and o-rings which I had neglected to order the first time around), we were able to get this beauty of an old R1 making good power, quite a bit up from where we started if memory serves me correctly …”
I thought I was getting a deal when I bought the bike for $1,500; it only needed a new lower triple clamp. Wrong! Her frame was also bent, and needed help from the local Megamax man, conveniently just up the road from ESP’s Tucson works. That was about $600 worth of measuring and pulling, but now we’re back to what Yamaha intended, frame-geometry wise, and it’s much less money than a new frame and all the bureaucratic hurdles that entails.
Another thing that turned out to be hard to find cheap was a period-correct Öhlins steering damper. I’m told its A-frame mount was designed by Harris in the U.K., and it perfectly matches the R1’s cool old brushed aluminum frame. Everybody wanted $600 for them or more. I finally found a slightly dinged up one for $180, from Friction Zone on eBay, which worked perfectly once I tapped a nice Time-Sert into its mounting hole to restore its threads. I like a little patina. You?
Here’s where we (Evan Steel) got a little carried away. For a streetbike, I was happy enough with the R1’s stock components – just broken in with only 15k miles on the bike. But ESP is into roadracing, and they couldn’t resist. When Evan reappeared with the bike about a year later at a Chuckwalla track day, it was wearing a JRi three-way adjustable (four-way if you count length) piggyback shock, $1,325 (jrishocks.com).
JR is Jeff Ryan, a shock savant who’s had experience on everything from F1 automobiles to Harleys to trophy trucks and everything in between. “The JRi is a great choice for this bike,” Evan says, “we used almost this exact shock in our AMA Superbike in 2012 with great results; Aaron Yates had a best finish of fourth on our BMW S1000RR with a JRi shock.”
The shock’s connected to the frame with a Graves linkage system, sponsored to us by Chris Redpath at MotoGPWerks ($0) because he’s a good soul and had a box of them. The Graves link reduces the rear end’s progressivity and lets the bike squat and blast out of corners better when guys like Freddie Spencer are riding it.
For the front fork, Barry Wressle from GP Suspension installed a 25mm fork kit: “Again,” says Evan, “I felt like that was a great choice for this bike, Barry is a real professional with great customer service, and the GP 25mm fork kit offers good front support for track use, while still supplying great feel on the edge of the tire. Plus, it’s more compliant than most of the other kits on the market, which is important for a bike that gets ridden on the street as well as the track.”
Was It Worth It?
Does our bike have traction control, ride-by-wire, gnarly cross-plane crank growl and that new-bike smell? No. Does it have 20 valves, Haga style and a throaty whubbawhubbawhubba idle? In spades. Race gas is good at the track, just to be on the safe side and because it smells nice, but Evan assures me high-test is fine for the street.
|Lower triple clamp (eBay)||$30|
|Megamax frame straightening||$600|
|APE crankshaft work||$225|
|Cylinder head work||$850|
|Dynojet kit and tuning||$250|
|Akrapovic exhaust (eBay)||$750|
|GP Suspension fork kit||$1500|
|JRi piggyback shock||$1325|
|Ohlins steering damper (eBay)||$180|
|Galfer brake lines (eBay)||$53|
|OEM brake pads (eBay)||$16|
Ten gees is a little more than I had in mind when we set out, but most of it wasn’t mine, so how could I complain? Big thanks to everybody who pitched in. Tune in next time for the big dyno run, weigh-in, test rides and whatever other genius ideas we come up with between now and then. I promise it will be closer to two weeks than two years.