Track Test: Harley Davidson VR1000

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Track Test: Harley Davidson VR1000

Post by ganahsokmo on Fri Jul 09, 2010 11:24 am

Approaching the front straight out of Thunderhill
raceway's super-slick turn nine, the rev counter needle pulled from
nowhere up into the power zone. As the pointer flicked through 6,000,
then 7,000, then 8, the bellow grew to a roar, the scenery rushed
forward in warp drive, and then with a quick flick of its pointy tail,
the tach hit 10-and-a-half grand and the power was gone.

With a
thoughtfully deliberate nudge (because the transmission selects gears
exactly opposite the normal way) the gear lever clicked into third, and
the needle flicked quickly up from 8,000 rpm again. Another nudge into
fourth, then fifth, and turn one arrived, hard. Time for a two-fingered
squeeze on the oh-so-strong brakes, and time to lean to the left, hard.

Just another day, out
for a ride on a Harley-Davidson...

You can hear Andy's lap
of the track via Audio-on-Demand in our Multimedia Archives.

This is definitely not your average Harley-Davidson, or even one that
shares any parts with the usual Milwaukee iron. The VR1000 is a V-twin,
it's made in America, but there the resemblance ends. This half orange,
half black apparition is built solely for the racetrack: Any
resemblance with any other form of Harley-Davidson motorcycles begins
and ends with the name on the fairing.

Made in America was the theme for the Harley factory's first
built-from-scratch roadracer, the VR1000. Harley's road-racing
department put the bike together using a list of American parts
suppliers, some with no motorcycle experience, using no existing Harley
motorcycle parts.
The streetable VR1000 you see here (and the race version) are both
owned by Mike Canepa, manager of the San Jose Harley-Davidson race team.
Over the latter part of the 1995 season, Mike has spent hours in his
shop, and in the shops of many other Northern California metalwork
magicians, fettling the VR to its peak performance. Their work all
seemed worthwhile when rider Michael Barnes qualified faster than the
factory riders, Doug Chandler and Chris Carr, at the Phoenix AMA
national at season's end. Canepa owns the street VR as a rolling parts
cache for the race bike, but offered Motorcycle Online a chance to ride
the rare machine. We jumped at it.

The VR is an unabashed racer, hiding
behind its faired-in single headlamp, elephant-ears mirrors and unlikely
turn signals. But it's a racer without a pedigree. Unlike the Japanese
and Italian competition, the VR doesn't have decades of race experience
behind it. A glance from the left side of the VR1000 will give a clue to
why Harley did things this way -- the engine looks like one fourth of a
V-8 car engine, and the car world has many collective years of making
rapid motors. How difficult could it be to make a fast V-twin and stuff
it into a well-handling chassis? The answer is, very.

Two seasons later, the America First policy has changed. The sturdy,
strong-as-the-Golden-Gate-Bridge frame with its direct connection
between steering head and adjustable swinging arm remains, but many
other components have been changed, and it's likely that more will
change before the VR shows up for the first race of the '96 season.

Ohlins front fork tubes now grace the front end, and wheels are now
lighter-than-the-originals Marchesini items. Two years of racetrack
development have obviously brought refinement, but the search for more
power has continued.

The 60 degree V-twin (previous Harleys
have all shared a narrower, 45 degree angle between the cylinders) is
less tall than a narrower angle v-twin would be, yet doesn't present the
design difficulties that a long, 90 degree V-twin (like all the current
two-cylinder Ducatis) would to a frame designer. The engine is compact,
and fits well between the twin spars of the massive box-section
aluminum frame. Popular mythology around the race track attributes that
strong frame with unshakable handling, but the experience of various
riders has been different, according to trackside sources.

Over the last two seasons, the VR's obvious power disadvantage has
kept it off the podium, but the factory team has also struggled with
handling problems. Factory rider Doug Chandler complains of understeer
on corner exits, of too much weight up high.
Perhaps the frame design will change, (Over? Spondon? Harris?) but
this year time was spent chasing other, more immediate problems. The
original factory triple clamps presented a very narrow bearing area to
the frame, and one of the factory improvements this year has been to
change the clamps, and the bearings, to offer more support. Both San
Jose Harley VRs are fitted with Fast By Ferracci magnesium triple
clamps. The bigger clamp pinches the Ohlins tubes less, one theory being
that misalignment of the tubes was upsetting handling. But the
non-adjustable clamps also have a more solid bearing surface than the
Harley originals, and according to Canepa, riders who have ridden the
bike since the change have all noticed the difference.
First impressions are of heft, due to the large
gas tank right in front of the rider's perch, and of the massive size of
all components. The magnesium triple clamps are huge, and a giant
economy size piece of carbon fiber covers the fairing mounted battery
and regulator.

It would have been nice to sample an
absolutely stock VR, but as I rode the VR1000 around Northern
California's Thunderhill track, it felt good just to be riding one at
all. To be legal for AMA Superbike races, the VR must be street legal.
Not in the US, but street legal somewhere in the world. It would cost
Harley a fortune to make the VR street legal in emissions-conscious
America, so a country of convenience was chosen. Next time you go to
Warsaw, have a look in the Harley dealer's window, let me know if
they've sold their VR yet. Yes, the VR is officially legal for street
use only in Poland. You'll have to go there to buy one, unless the
factory relents and does the US paperwork, or unless you promise them
you'll use the bike only on the racetrack: And then do it. Harley has
some pretty hefty lawyer friends...
First impressions are of heft, due to the large gas tank right in
front of the rider's perch, and of the massive size of all components.
The magnesium triple clamps are huge, and a giant economy size piece of
carbon fiber covers the fairing mounted battery and regulator.

My first laps around Thunderhill are
timid, slow affairs, as I get used to the bike; the feel of its brakes,
the quirks of handling. The steering damper imparts a vague feel to the
steering, so I back it off to almost nothing. The Ohlins forks are
supple, blanking out all tiny bumps in this smooth track. The rear
suspension felt stiff, overdamped when I first bounced on the seat, but
it handles the real-world cornering loads with aplomb, soaking up the
bumps. It's only when I open the throttle, hard, over the curb at the
apex of turn nine that the front wheel rears, shakes its head, then
settles back. It doesn't misbehave, but the bike doesn't inspire instant
confidence. This machine must be muscled into turns, but once it does
comply, the combination of 17 inch front wheel and ultra-quick steering
head angle flick almost too quickly. The brakes, though, are a delight.
The six-piston calipers bite progressively, hard as you want, and bring
the machine down to slow speed, quick. After a dozen laps, I'm beginning
to get a handle on the bike's manners, and able to heel it into turns
easily, but the $50,000 price tag is hard to forget.

Now it's time for the VR racer, and the difference between the two is
amazing. Fifty pounds lighter, thanks to the lack of battery, lights,
and electric starter, the racer pulls better from low rpm, handles more
predictably (helped by brand new racing slicks and a quarter inch wider
front wheel), and I'm instantly circulating faster. The gearing is just
right for the track, and in the hands of a real racer, the bike would
easily pull up to the 10,800 rpm redline at the end of the straight. In
my hands, the tach needle climbs to oh-so-nearly to brush the ten thou'

I'm impressed with how near to the mark the Harley is -- and how far
the VR has got to go. If it can't scare me, it needs more power, less
weight. Canepa and the San Jose team have made steps towards more power
-- most noticeably with head work performed by Santa Rosa, CA based
Engine Dynamics -- but there's sure to be a lot of head-scratching in
Milwaukee this winter, and more than one engineer trying to make the
orange and black beast faster.


Join date : 16/01/2010
Age : 37

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