Reader's Rides: 1999 Honda VTR1000F Firestorm - Part 2
If you missed Part 1 of Micky Garneau’s incredible Honda VTR1000F build, you can check it out here. In this, the second and final installment, Garneau dives even deeper into his Superhawk in his quest to leave no stone unturned.
The OCMD Chronicles – Part 2
The VTR’s frame was one of Honda’s first forays into the world of “tuned flex” (the first venture down that path being the 1996 CBR900RR). More specifically, at the time of its release in 1997, engineers were quick to point out that the chassis had been designed to work with its OEM Dunlop D204 tires. They went so far as to warn that replacing the Dunlops with stickier rubber could overtax the chassis’ delicately engineered balance.
Suffice to say that tire technology has evolved greatly since 1997 and it seemed appropriate to recalibrate the tuned flex balance to accept stickier tires. Replacement of the spindly stock fork and bracing of the swingarm upped things significantly but an OCMD episode compelled me to look at bracing the stock frame. Bracing was added in the steering neck area, and the castings located in the engine cradle area also received additional support via the addition of welded plates.
Finally, one of my numerous Google sessions had me stumbling upon a brace offered by Japanese speed shop HARC-Pro and originally designed for VTR’s competing in Japanese roadracing competitions. A close examination of the pictures led me to embark on a journey to make my own. And so, some threaded M8 aluminum collars and round stock later, I had my own rear brace. While the revised frame has not been subjected to Finite Element Analysis, suffice to say the VTR is much more composed than it used to be, notably in mid-corner bumps.
The stock conventional 41 mm Showa fork could hardly be called state-of-the-art. As delivered, it suffered from overly soft, progressive springs, excessive high-speed compression damping, and a general lack of rigidity. Following an initial re-valve and re-spring (with appropriate straight-rate springs), the next upgrade involved adding a fork brace. This set-up worked recently well and went a long way to fixing the stock front end’s shortcomings.
In the finest OCMD tradition, the next mod came by way of a set of 1996 CBR900RR forks, which brought with it more robust 45 mm stanchions and compression adjusters. Lo and behold, a set of Ontario Moto Tech triples, with less trail than the OEM units for added stability, came up for sale and so their fate was sealed as well. A Race Tech Gold Valve kit and weight-rated springs made for a nicely performing front suspension. Nonetheless, the idea of a set of USD forks and radial calipers was eating away at me. After doing research, it became obvious that the 43 mm USD Kayaba forks from a Gen 1 ZX-10R would allow me to keep my titanium axle (20 mm diameter), PVM magnesium wheels, and Braketech rotors. As an added bonus, the stanchions were coated with DLC, reducing friction and improving action. The new tubes were re-valved with a kit from Daugherty Motorsports and Sonic springs were installed (0.85 kg/mm).
A lower triple from a 2007+ CBR600RR handled duties working in unison with a modified Yana Shiki billet upper (which had to be opened up by 2 mm to accommodate the larger Kayaba tubes). It’s worth noting that triples from a 2005-2006 would have worked too, but these had a steel stem (added weight, the 2007+ is aluminum) and more offset (less trail and stability).
Changes to the rear suspension were more straightforward than those carried out at the front. Incremental changes involved a Gold Valve kit added to the stock shock, followed by the addition of a reservoir (adding high and low-speed compression adjustment in the process) to the same unit, before finally settling on a two-way adjustable Ohlins with remote spring preload adjuster. The proper rate spring was added, as well as a 2mm shim to help raise the rear end slightly and speed up the steering.
The stock “tuned flex” swingarm was reinforced using the brace from an earlier CBR900RR. This is a common mod for OCMD-afflicted VTR owners and helps to tighten up the rear end noticeably. Chain adjusters were powdercoated black and the adjuster bolts were replaced with titanium replacements (colored blue). A blue titanium axle nut finishes things off.
Those “in the know” loudly proclaim that the most significant and noticeable performance gain one can get with most any motorcycle comes from swapping out stock wheels with lightweight replacements. The first upgrade consisted of swapping these out with a set of significantly lighter PVM cast magnesium 6-spokers. I ran these for quite a few years, always keeping a keen eye for a set of carbon rims, the Holy Grail of lightweight wheels. When a used set of Dymag CA5 carbon rims for a 2007+ CBR600RR came up for sale on eBay, needless to say, said rims now adorn my VTR.
The VTR’s stock brakes have never been described as stellar, and for good reason. After going through the “low-hanging fruit” transformations of brake line and pad replacement, I set off to get some real braking power on the bike. My quest led me down a long road of part swapping which included four master cylinders (RC51 SP-2, Nissin 19 x 18 radial, OEM Ducati Brembo 18 x 19, and finally the current Galespeed RM 17 x 17 unit).
On the caliper side, models tried included a selection of Nissin’s finest axial offerings, including RC51 SP-2 units (30/32mm pistons) and 1999 CBR900RR calipers (34/32mm pistons), before settling on the current radial 2009+ Triumph Daytona 675 monoblocs (32/32mm combo).
Rotors did not escape the part swapping exercise either and the OEM (296 mm) rotors initially gave way to EBC oversize (320 mm) discs, which in turn were replaced by Braketech Axis Cobra rotors (stock VTR size). Finally, after an apparent eternity of looking, a set of Braketech’s fabled CMC (Ceramic Matrix Composite) rotors came up on eBay (310 mm diameter) and their fate was sealed. Actually, the rotors were for a 2005 GSX-R1000, but Braketech AXIS rotors are designed with common “blades” and replaceable carriers, so a new set of 2007+ CBR600RR carriers later I was good to go.
Various pads were also tried over the years, beginning with the obligatory EBC HH. These were eventually replaced with the famous HRC Hard bites (stellar!). Sadly, these were no longer available come replacement time so Versrah RJLs were given a try, only to be superseded by their SRJL siblings. Great pads from Vesrah.
Having read rave reviews about Zcoo pads, I decided to give them a go (they are designed for stainless rotors) and I have to say they lived up to the hype. Feedback and power are unrivaled and they wear forever while being easy on the rotors. They also work at any and all temperatures and suffer no discernible drop in performance in the rain. If you are running stainless rotors, you have to give these a try!
Finally, after having scored the CMC rotors, I was determined not to mess them up with just any pad so I opted for Ferodo XRACs, following a recommendation from the knowledgeable folks at Braketech. So, after this long path of experimentation and parts swapping, my current set-up consists of a Galespeed RM17 x 17 radial master cylinder (with short, folding lever), braided lines (duh!), Nissin monobloc calipers, Ferodo XRAC pads and Braketech CMC rotors (310 mm). Speedbleeders, ProBolt Ti pad pins (coated with DLC for reduced binding and improved durability), and Ti caliper bolts round out the package. The combination is beyond sublime. Feel, ease of modulation, and power are surreal in all conditions. The lever is soft and progressive and the power will dislodge your eyeballs from their sockets. Yes, my quest is over and I couldn’t be happier.
The road to Shangri-La is much less traveled when it comes to the rear braking system. The caliper is a stock Honda/Nissin OEM unit, the original caliper having been replaced with one from a CBR600F4i for color purposes. The rotor story is only slightly longer, the original disc having given way to a machined/lightened Honda rotor (which was later sold off to a friend). eBay came through (yet again!) as I stumbled across a rotor originally used on a British supersport Daytona 675 (almost one lb lighter than stock!). After the race rotor began to show signs of wear, it was replaced with a lightweight MMR (MikeyMoto Racing), this unit weighing in at 0.8 lb less than the stock disc.
The master cylinder was replaced with one from a Suzuki RMZ250 (1/2-in diameter piston; stock is 14mm) fitted with a reservoir extension from Zip-TY Racing. Why the change? I wanted to get rid of the external reservoir and this allowed me to do so. As an added bonus, the slightly smaller piston increases the mechanical advantage, upping the power slightly for those times I do use the rear brake. Pads are EBC organics. A Speedbleeder makes maintenance easier and all hardware has been replaced with Ti for weight savings. The lever was replaced with a billet unit from Thurn Motorsport. Looking to reduce the clutter around the pedal, the light switch (and spring) was replaced with a pressure-sensitive sending unit.
Fully intending on using the bike as more than a garage queen meant giving it a functional ergonomic layout that made sport-touring and all-day rides both possible and enjoyable. Changes thus included trading out the stock seat for a Sargent unit, as well as swapping the OEM windshield for a taller aftermarket model. Helibars helped raise the hand position and take pressure off the wrists for longer rides. These eventually gave way to Apex adjustable risers which worked as promised. However, I eventually chose to go the handlebar route and proceed to fill the new ABM bars with black silicone in the hope of quelling vibration. They were cut down by 30 mm for comfort purposes too. Besides, the greatly reduced weight and gyroscopic effect (thanks to the carbon Dymag rim) made the added leverage unnecessary.
Down below, stock rearsets were maintained as all aftermarket units seemed geared to making the riding position even sportier; great for track days but hardly what I was seeking for street rides. Stock footpegs were swapped out for Puigs (model 7318) with rubber inserts, cutting weight while also helping to absorb some of the vibes transmitted via the engine-mounted rearsets. The end result is a nicely sporty yet neutral riding position that makes all-day rides a charm.
The first go-to on the weight savings front was titanium, an exotic metal I was first exposed to in my youth when I read a write-up about my then-hero Bob Hannah’s 1979 “OW40” works Yamaha MX racer. Post-VTR-purchase, I stumbled across some merchants offering various fasteners and other assorted parts made from the light yet strong alloy. This set me off on a process wherein I proceed to methodically replace virtually all accessible fasteners with their titanium replacements. In the case of screws and bolts located in non-critical and low-stress locations, I opted instead for aluminum, for both cost and additional weight saving considerations. A final bonus showed up for sale on one of the VTR sites I visit: a titanium front axle. An OCMD-motivated purchase, I had it treated with an anti-galling coating prior to installation, to make sure I wasn’t eventually confronted with a seized axle.
Carbon fiber was the next material I turned to in my weight reduction crusade. Sporting an incredible strength-to-weight ratio, it also ticks the boxes on the aesthetics scale (a secondary benefit to be sure) thanks to its stealthy look. Numerous eBay searches have landed me a plethora of carbon bits, including front fender, rear hugger, clutch and front brake reservoir holders and covers, and engine side covers. A set of one-off mirror block-were also fashioned by yours truly. A member of the vtr1000.org forum kindly offered to make me a set of carbon carburetor side plates too, shedding yet more precious grams compared to the stock mild steel parts. Finally, in the post handlebar conversion period, I stumbled across an ABM carbon-covered handlebar (bend no. 229) to end the “C6” journey.
Lithium batteries are all the rage these days, and for good reason, as they provide significant weight savings at a semi-reasonable cost. The stock Yuasa YTZ12S gave way to an AntiGravity 12-cell unit, shedding an additional 6 lbs in the process.
The heavy stock 530-pitch chain and sprockets were replaced with lighter 520 bits, an aluminum Renthal rear sprocket saving yet more weight. Finally, various parts which I considered unnecessary (ie. inner fairing shrouds, sidestand switch, …) were removed as well.
All told, weight savings amount to about 80 lbs (or about 16% of the bike’s published wet weight of 480 lb), this based on a tabulation of the weight of removed parts as well as the savings accumulated from replaced parts. Some weight information was also sourced online. I have yet to get it on a scale to verify, but will eventually. Suffice to say it’s much lighter than stock.
So, is this the end of the road for this OCMD journey? It would seem so. Truthfully, I would love to get my hands on a set of Keihin FCR41 carbs, but they are hard to come by, expensive, and have no choke, making them somewhat impractical for real-world use. A titanium Yamamoto 2-1 full exhaust would also be welcomed with open arms but, again, I can’t justify the cost at this time (especially on a bike that is already adorned with a full Akrapovic set-up). Finally, a rear subframe and fairing stay made from aluminum (or even carbon fiber!) would be dandy but are unlikely to happen.
As the project reaches its apex, this long-running project has allowed me to learn a great deal about motorcycles. I have tried numerous things along the way and am proud to report that virtually all of them have worked out. There’s something to be said for that. Besides, not everyone gets to ride around on their laboratory.
So, it would seem I will be “stuck” with the current incarnation of my VTR. In other words, I guess I’ll just have to settle for riding a unique, light, ultra-responsive, powerful, comfortable, practical, and incredibly entertaining VTR. It could be worse…
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