Sometimes thinking out loud-or in this case on paper-can have unexpected consequences. Example: In our group test of six naked bikes last year ("Naked and Naughty," Sept. '07), one of our staffers commented in his SRO that rather than buy a Yamaha FZ1 or Kawasaki Z1000, he'd start with an R1 or ZX-10R and "work the other way. Strip off the bodywork, mount up some lights and a handlebar, and I'd be in business." We've long desired a naked bike with the unadulterated power and chassis of a real sportbike rather than a neutered look-alike, and we're sure our man's comment expresses the feelings of many. But not long after that issue went on sale, a Yamaha representative called the unidentified staffer (whose name begins with G and ends, appropriately, in "eek"). "We'd like you to do just that," the man in blue said. "We'll send over an R1 and you can get started." Thus another SR project bike was born.
How best to proceed? To get an idea of exactly what was required we began by stripping the Yamaha down to its bare essentials. The upper and lower fairings came off, as did the stock headlight shell, ram-air ducts and turn signals. Clip-ons? Who needs 'em? No passengers, either, so off came the pillion seat and footpegs. The shelves in the shop filled up with various brackets and hardware, and soon we had a bare-bones R1 (with wires hanging everywhere) and a shopping list to fill.
At the top of the list was, of course, a standard handlebar to provide the more upright riding position that defines the standard class. Spiegler Performance Parts is a one-stop shop for such conversion kits, and a phone call netted us a box full of goodies. Spiegler's $579 kit consists of an LSL aluminum Superbike Bar (a number of options for height, width and bend are available), a nicely machined-from-billet ABM top triple clamp, longer throttle and clutch cables, a set of longer-than-stock Spiegler stainless steel brake lines, wiring extensions for the switch clusters, a master-cylinder reservoir bracket and all the necessary hardware. While the kit will work with the stock bodywork in place and minor modifications to the windscreen, the installation is simpler without the fairing. Routing the switch-cluster wiring behind the fork tubes left plenty of excess, saving the trouble of tapping into each individual wire. The only issue we encountered was swapping out the throttle cables: The R1's throttle-body cam is buried behind the frame rail, calling for deft fingers and long tools to remove the old cables and install the new ones. Everything else went smoothly, and with a day's work and some help from test fleet manager Michael Candreia we had the handlebar in place and all the controls mounted.
A handlebar kit alone does not make the perfect naked bike, and next on the list were adjustable rearsets to alter the bottom half of the riding position. Vortex provided a set that offers enough adjustment to lower footpeg height by about 10mm-not a lot, but enough to be noticeable. An added benefit of the Vortex parts is that the right and left adapter plates look like they can be switched, lowering the solid, grippy footpegs significantly if desired. The $408 kit, offered in black, gold or silver anodized finishes, includes tiny bearings in the shift and brake levers for light action and relocates the shift rod outside of the frame to allow the wide range of adjustment. No provisions are made to retain the stock brake-light switch, but Vortex does offer an inline pressure switch.
To replace the R1's lights with something more appropriate to the theme we turned to Monrovia, California-based Headwinds, well known for its work in the cruiser and automotive markets. The company fabricated a custom bar to mount two of its 4.5-inch headlight shells to the stock fairing bracket, giving the bike a Speed Triple look. Each light contains an H4 bulb set in a polished-aluminum shell. We were hoping to use the company's new carbon-fiber shells, which will be both cheaper and lighter than the aluminum parts, but they are not yet available in production form. The total cost for the lighting package-including two lights and mounts, the custom bar and all-stainless-steel hardware-came to $640. We used small bits of angle aluminum to mount a pair of Targa Accessories micro-LED turn signals ($35/pair) to the stock fairing bracket. The company sells a variety of handy related knickknacks, such as wiring adapters to plug aftermarket signals into OEM connectors, plates to install the signals in the stock mounts, and a "flash controller" that installs in parallel with an LED turn signal to retain the stock flash rate. Targa also provided a set of Hindsight Lane Split mirrors ($84.95) that attach to the handlebar ends and fold in when necessary. The mirrors are unobtrusive but quite convex, showing a wide view of what's behind.
Since we weren't expecting any top-speed records from the modified R1, we installed a one-tooth-smaller front sprocket from Driven USA ($30), shortening the gearing slightly. The company also provided a replacement steel rear sprocket in black ($45), and we stuck with the stock 530 chain for longevity's sake. Altering gearing changes the speedometer accordingly, so we ordered up a SpeedoHealer from Cal-Sportbike. The new and tiny Version 4 taps into the speedometer sensor's harness using OEM connectors and can be programmed to convert the sensor's signal to account for almost any change in gearing or tire size. The $110 unit took just minutes to install and program for a six percent reduction in speed to correct for the smaller sprocket.
With the basics covered, we turned to some performance- and cosmetic-related upgrades while the Yamaha was in the shop. A set of Bridgestone's new BT-016 multicompound tires replaced the worn stockers in standard 120/70 and 190/50 sizes. The stock exhaust was shelved and replaced with a Micron full system. The hydroformed Serpent header is a 4-into-2-into-1 design in thin-wall stainless steel. The MotoGP-style canisters mount to either the stock or Micron header system and are also made using the hydroforming process. Inserts in the silencers keep sound in check but are easily removed (we left them in), and the canisters are available in black, polished or satin finishes. The $1800 system is more than five pounds lighter than stock, and installation took just a couple of hours.
The rear end was cleaned up with a Ride Engineering fender eliminator. The $85 sheet-aluminum kit tightens the turn signals and license-plate spacing and retains the stock (but shortened) turn signals. Installation was easy enough, although we had to scrounge for some hardware as the stock mounting nuts and their retainer can't be used on the '07 model. The license-plate bracket ($65) from Ride Engineering, a billet-aluminum piece, contains a light for the plate to keep things semilegal.
As with any custom project, it's the final few details that take the most time and effort but potentially have the most effect on the finished product. Dealing with the R1's wires that hung out everywhere took a lot of patience and more than a few zip-ties. We tucked the headlight leftovers and a couple of relays inside the fairing bracket. Wires on both sides of the bike that ran outside the frame were rerouted inside. And the air sensor that normally resides inside one of the ram-air ducts ended up zip-tied as close as we could get it to the frame's air intake. The Headwinds lamps have H4 high/low bulbs in each shell, but the stock R1 harness powers high and low beams together. That would be too much for each bulb (and too much current for the charging system), so we wired one lamp for low beam and the other for high. We'd need a different switch or relay to work the lights properly with both on either high or low. The entire electrical aspect of the project would have been easier and neater if we had modified the harness to remove unused connectors and wires, but with a chance that the bike will revert back to its stock form some day we left everything intact.
But Does It Work?
In a nutshell, our naked R1 flat-out rips and puts any naked bike we've previously ridden to shame. Power is everything you'd expect from a literbike but amplified, because the bike is lighter (21 pounds less than the stock 461 pounds) and you sit more upright. Opening the throttle in first gear will result in a wheelie. Continuing in second most likely will, too. Steering from the wide handlebar is expectedly light and neutral, making the bike feel like even more weight was shed in the transition than the scales would indicate. The naked R1 feels so different from the standard version that even after a short ride you would swear they were two completely different bikes.
Start railing down your favorite canyon road and the usual benefits of a naked bike are realized: You can change line at any time and flip from full lean to full lean with merely a thought, running circles around your sportbike-mounted friends in the tighter sections. Front-end feel is usually the first thing to go on a traditional standard, but with top-shelf brakes and suspension bits the R1 can be flung into a turn with confidence. It helps that the Bridgestones grip pavement with the tenacity of a kitten hanging onto a ball of wool, increasing confidence in midturn.
Corner exits, especially in bumpy sections, will faze the naked R1 somewhat. We removed the steering damper to help make clearance for the gauge package, and even though the bike remains stable in most situations the front end has a propensity to hunt for the sky, unraveling things if you get too greedy with the altitude-control grip. Getting on the power early with the bike leaned over and taking full advantage of the rear Bridgestone's grip helps by keeping the bike lower to the ground, but things can still get lively in the lower gears.
At a pace that would leave any other naked or standard gasping, our project R1 remains composed and barely breaking a sweat. At the other end of the spectrum, the undressed Yamaha requires far less effort to ride at speed than the standard version does, and we'd bet it's flat-out quicker down a given twisty section of road. In terms of cost, our project bike is certainly more expensive than an FZ1. Add the price of the bare modifications-handlebar kit and lights-to the cost of an R1 and you'd have about $13,000 invested compared with the $9300 FZ1. But we've also got a stack of desirable parts that could be easily sold to recoup some of the difference.
When it comes to performance, however, the naked R1 wins hands down. Our bike packs a punch the FZ1 could only dream of and is an insane amount of fun to ride. It just seems to work better the more we ride it and the more we adapt to take advantage of its strengths. Of course to fully exploit the naked R1's limits we'll need to hang on to it for quite a while. A few months more ought to do it . . .