“It was a hor­ror story in there”

A labour of love stock re­build for a late friend turned into one of the hand­i­est (and prici­est) VTRS PS has yet rid­den

Practical Sportsbikes (UK) - - In The Far East - WORDS SI­MON HAR­G­REAVES PHO­TOG­RA­PHY JA­SON CRITCHELL

MATT GREENALL, 37 and mod­i­fied Hon­davtr1000 builder, pauses and looks into the dis­tance. I’ve just asked him where the Firestorm thing started for him. Didn’t think it was a tough ques­tion...

“A friend called Dave got thisvtr in the late 1990s. I al­ways liked the look of them but was into sports­bikes – I had a ZX-9R and an RGV250; I pre­ferred full fair­ings.any­way, around 2007 Dave de­cided to strip thevtr and re­furb it. But he couldn’t spend much time on it and didn’t get very far – and then it stopped when he got ill and sadly, he passed away. He left me the bike in bits; frame in one box, sub­frame in an­other, en­gine in an­other, and wheels ratchet-strapped to­gether. It was fit for the scrap­yard.” Ah, sorry mate.and this is the bike? “Yup, orig­i­nally in red.and a mess.the cam­chain ten­sioner had failed on the front cylin­der, which is why Dave stripped the bike. So I de­cided to re­build it all.”

Us­ing Dave’s me­mory for in­spi­ra­tion, Matt got to work.a failed cam­chain ten­sioner isn’t un­known on­vtrs; the de­struc­tion in­cluded a cou­ple of bent valves, a hole in the pis­ton and a scrapped head. “Apart from the cylin­der head, I used all-new parts for the re­build,” says Matt. He re­newed rings, big end shells, crank bear­ings – then put it all back to­gether, clean­ing the frame, re­fresh­ing sus­pen­sion and sort­ing out new bolts and fas­ten­ers. It wasn’t easy: “The front en­gine bolt seized – it runs through the frame, then through the cases. It’s a steel bolt and it welds it­self to the alu­minium. I tried drilling it, us­ing a die-grinder, used a de-bur­rer – noth­ing. So I sent it to an en­gi­neer­ing shop who said they could re­move any bolt – still wouldn’t come out. In the end I cut it out then had to get new cases – and a new bolt.”

Af­ter all that ef­fort, Matt, im­por­tantly, kept Dave’s bike stock... for about eight weeks. So how did the mod­i­fy­ing start?

“Well, that’s thanks to an­other friend, Martin. He lives in Spain and he’s got a Firestorm with some nice af­ter­mar­ket parts. The more I spoke to him the more I thought ‘you know what, I’ve sorted the bike for Dave, but it could be so much bet­ter’. Honda never de­vel­oped thevtr, or put ef­fort into it. Pretty much threw them to­gether.”

So Matt started think­ing – and re­turned to his sports­bike roots: “I won­dered if ’blade 954 forks would fit, be­cause I used to have one of those and I loved the front end. But then, once you up­grade one part, you have to do the rest. It spi­ralled out of con­trol very quickly. I spent a lot of money; I got boxes de­liv­ered to work and to friends’ houses so the wife wouldn’t see them. She knows why I wanted to do thevtr, but as it went on and got more ex­pen­sive, it was harder to jus­tify. Ev­ery day a new par­cel turned up so I had to get things de­liv­ered else­where.

“For ex­am­ple,” Matt says. “I had nar­row­track PFM calipers on thevtr forks, but I didn’t get on with the clat­tery noise they made. So when I went to Fire­blade forks I got some Brembo HPKS – told the wife I had to get them. She asked why couldn’t I just put stock ’blade calipers on? I told her it was a down­grade from the Pfms.then she asked how much they were, so I told her £900.

“She opened the box and saw the in­voice was only just shy of £1800”

Un­for­tu­nately, that was just for one caliper. When she opened the box she saw the in­voice was just shy of £1800... and to make mat­ters worse, the ’blade discs wouldn’t fit theaprilia wheels I got, so that was an­other £450 on new discs.”

Matt’s work­shop garage is a good 20 min­utes drive from his house.that can’t have made things any eas­ier ei­ther?

“No, it’s dif­fi­cult. I’m AVOSA in­spec­tor, so I work weird and won­der­ful hours any­way. And then you have to split time be­tween fam­ily, friends and bike.the bike comes last... un­less the sun’s out. But it is hard – late hours at night and early in the morn­ing.”

The first re­build took seven months. But mod­i­fy­ing has been a long process, start­ing in 2013 and still go­ing to­day – lit­er­ally. Matt fit­ted the Oberon clutch slave cylin­der cover last night. But let’s be­gin at the be­gin­ning: what was the very first thing you did?

“Take the body­work off and send it to Ra­ce­paint, sadly no longer trad­ing, to do the Roth­mans scheme,” says Matt.

Why Roth­mans?

“I wanted some­thing from the 1990s, so it was a toss-up be­tween this and other colour op­tions – Rep­sol or Kon­ica Mi­nolta colours.”

Wow, the Kon­ica colours are fab;tamada’s RCV from 2006 is a clas­sic. “That’s what’s go­ing on my next project,” says Matt. And what’s that? “AVTR1000 for my son,” he says, laugh­ing. “But the Roth­mans did it for me. It’s a good fit; I didn’t want to get the belly pan and have it fully faired, be­cause it just doesn’t look right.”

While the body­work was away be­ing painted, Matt de­cided to change a few bits; first the cans: “They had to be ti­ta­nium, and they had to be a good brand,” says Matt. He’s not kid­ding; he or­dered a be­spokeyoshimura sys­tem from Ja­pan for £1500, and had to wait six months for it to be de­liv­ered.when it turned up, one of the cans was dam­aged in tran­sit: “It went back, and I had to wait an­other four months.”

Mean­while, Matt tried a pair of 1998 ’blade rwu forks and yokes, but didn’t like the look of them. So he of­fered up a pair of 954 forks in­stead: “Ba­si­cally, the en­tire front end,” he says. “It was a pain – dif­fer­ent size stem bear­ings to match the stem to the head­stock (same length, dif­fer­ent width), 954 yokes – but you can’t use 954 clip-ons be­cause they won’t clear the fair­ing. I heard you could use 929 ’blade clip-ons, but they don’t fit well ei­ther.”

So Matt got his mate John to mill him up a pair of ’bar adapters and clamps, bring­ing the ’bars up to the right height by trial and er­ror. “But even then it’s still tight,” says Matt, point­ing to the Brembo clutch and brake mas­ter­cylin­ders. “They come out a lot fur­ther than the stan­dard items.”the gouges in the fair­ing pan­els bear tes­ta­ment to as much er­ror as trial.

Matt was also look­ing for rearsets, even­tu­ally opt­ing for a £400 set of Gilles ’pegs, and of­fered up the PFM brakes be­fore set­tling on a Brembo set-up. Even that wasn’t sim­ple: “Three months af­ter I paid for the calipers, I got an email from Brembo say­ing they didn’t make the adapter plates any­more. So they said I could have the brakes, but I couldn’t fit them.” Re­ally? That’s crap ser­vice. “Yes, so I asked for the di­men­sions but they said they didn’t know; they didn’t ac­tu­ally make them.” You’re kid­ding. “No, but I got the brakes any­way and got my mate John to make up be­spoke adapter plates to mate them to the fork bot­toms.”

While he was at the front end, Matt gut­ted the forks, fit­ted Öh­lins in­ter­nals, got the out­ers an­odised gold to look a bit Öh­lins-ish, added a Hyper­pro steer­ing damper, and bought a gen­uine used Öh­lins rear shock off ebay. “It had only just been ser­viced, but I got a new spring for my weight,” smiles Matt. He sent the sub­frame off for pow­der­coat­ing, “...be­cause it was crap; all cor­roded. It’s not ally, just mild steel.”

Matt spent more time and money adapt­ing an R1 Brembo rear caliper to be un­der­slung and cap­tive to the swingarm. “That took ages; a real night­mare,” he says.then (he doesn’t make life easy for him­self) he bought a pair of OZ wheels from anaprilia Mille RSV1000 R and got them painted white – with­out even check­ing they’d fit. “I’d make them fit,” says Matt. “I got some bushes made to match the front spin­dle to the bear­ings, and some spac­ers cus­tom-made – but it was tricky cen­tring the wheel with the calipers.they were meant to be used with Fire­blade discs, and now it’s go­taprilia discs – I had to shave the adapters down mil­lime­tres at a time un­til the calipers were cen­tred. It took three months.”

But the real prob­lem, says Matt – as if he wasn’t al­ready up to his neck – was the rear wheel. “THEVTR wheel is 5.5in, theaprilia

is a 6in.”the an­swer? New spac­ers to get the wheel in, and then a 520 chain with hard­ened ally spac­ers in the sprocket car­rier to get the chain run lined up.

Matt now had a rolling chas­sis. “Next I did the dash,” he says. This is one area of Matt’s VTR I’m strug­gling with. It looks like the Trans­logic unit is nestling in a small boat.

“That’s be­cause my lads are both boat builders, hence the fi­bre­glass.the orig­i­nal clocks looked shabby, so I got this in­stead. But what a bas­tard to fit; a proper bas­tard,” says Matt, growl­ing. “It was both the wiring and the mount­ing. I took mea­sure­ments off the orig­i­nal clocks, drew it up, gave the di­men­sions to my boys. It wasn’t quite right so I had to trim it, which is why it looks like some­one’s been at it with a chain­saw.”

Which fi­nally brings us the Mori­waki mo­tor.and it’s a proper hor­ror story.

“So I’d heard about Mori­waki-tuned en­gines,” says Matt. “I started talk­ing to some­one on a fo­rum and, in a nut­shell, he sold me a le­mon.a proper le­mon. It was shagged. A to­tal sack of... scrap. I was re­ally an­gry. I went up to Lon­don, paid £2500 for it; promised it was a good en­gine with the proper carbs, stage one tune with Mori­waki, slot­ted hi-lift cams, valve springs, hi-comp pis­tons, modded crankcases, port­ing, su­per-trick Mori­waki mag­ne­sium-bod­ied carbs... it should be mak­ing be­tween 125bhp to 135bhp. But when I got home I looked down the ports and it looked like some­one had been in there with a die-grinder. I got wor­ried and con­tacted Roger Ditch­field – the Mori­waki UK man; if it’s a Mori­waki mo­tor, he built it.thank­fully, he con­firmed the en­gine num­ber from his records back in the day – so he’d orig­i­nally built it. I sent the

mo­tor to him, and he gave me a full re­port.”

Matt frowns. “I can only as­sume it had some kind of fail­ure – maybe the cam­chain ten­sioner went on this one, too. Some­one had bought two new heads and tried to port them them­selves, stuck them on, didn’t use Mori­waki valve springs, didn’t have the crank­case mod; all it had was Mori­waki cams, pis­tons and carbs. Mis-sold, I think. I fol­lowed it up with the chap – was pretty much told tough shit. Noth­ing else I could do. It was a hor­ror story in there.there was a snapped-off socket driver bit in the sump, swarf every­where, the oil pump was knack­ered.the re­build bill – ba­si­cally, new ev­ery­thing – was an­other £2500. So it’s a £5000 mo­tor.” a stun­ning amount of money.

“But at least now I’ve got a Stage One Mori­waki en­gine,” says Matt, shrug­ging. “It’s been a massive amount of work.the bike stands me just shy of £12,000. But it’s unique.and it’s a tribute to Dave; I just wish he’d left me the money to do it.”

Righto. Bet­ter not fall off it then. “You can pull wheel­ies for all I care,” he says.

The Ride

It’s al­ways a nerve-wrack­ing busi­ness, rid­ing hand-built one-offs; usu­ally it’s ei­ther be­cause it’s a lov­ingly re­stored orig­i­nal, a highly prized mod­i­fied ma­chine or a bike with deep per­sonal sig­nif­i­cance. In Matt’s case, his vtr has been, at some point, all three.at least it’s not rain­ing.

THE VTR fires up in­stantly, set­tling into a steady throb.the push-but­ton choke needs tick­ling to con­trol tick­over, but as the mo­tor warms it calms down – a reg­u­lar thud­ding from the air­box.

With ’bar ris­ers el­e­vat­ing the rid­ing po­si­tion, Matt’s vtr doesn’t feel ex­treme and is easy to han­dle at low speed. af­ter a loose clip-on is tight­ened up (that would have been fun on the brakes!), I pull onto a road wind­ing across the New For­est and open its stride with big plonk­ing-great gusts of torque fir­ing it for­ward, it feels re­mark­ably sta­ble and neu­tral steer­ing. Given the mash-up of parts – Fire­blade forks with funky in­ter­nals, Öh­lins shock, Brembo calipers and aprilia wheels – the scope for cock­ing it right up is enor­mous. Ev­ery­one knows sling­ing big names at a chas­sis guar­an­tees noth­ing; set-up is what mat­ters. Fac­to­ries use the best test rid­ers, and spend mil­lions, to get it right.

And yet, even with pretty much only a VTR frame and swingarm re­main­ing as stock, Matt’s bike... works.and, as im­por­tantly, noth­ing rat­tles loose or falls off.the dash reads gib­ber­ish – it thinks the mo­tor is revving to 11,000rpm at tick­over and can’t de­cide if we’re do­ing 10mph or 100 – but the im­por­tant bits work.the brakes are strong, the sus­pen­sion feels ex­pen­sively sup­ple and the gre­abox grabs ra­tios with slick pre­ci­sion.

Con­fi­dence build­ing, I open the taps. In first the vtr’s front pops up as the en­gine barks. well, Matt did say I can wheelie it.

With no tacho, it’s hard to tell how hard the mo­tor is work­ing as it romps through the gears.the power de­liv­ery never rolls off – it just keeps build­ing in a honk­ing surge – but I’m fear­ful of over-revving the Mori­waki parts and adding to Matt’s al­ready steep re­build bill. with most of the en­gine’s in­ter­nals un­ob­tain­able, dis­cre­tion is the bet­ter part of val­our and I keep it safe.

Af­ter a cou­ple of hours prat­ting about across the New For­est, scar­ing walk­ers with the vtr’s muted bel­low­ing – it’s not sharply ag­gres­sive; a Suzuk­itl1000s on open Mi­crons is much more deaf­en­ing – it’s time to hand the Firestorm back to Matt. He’s keen to know it feels. Is it a £12,000 bike? Of course it is. Just don’t tell his wife.


Roger Ditch­field at Rev­o­lu­tion Rac­ing (07970 915 259, www.rev­o­lu­tionuk.co.uk)

John for ma­chin­ing, Martin for in­spi­ra­tion, Dave for start­ing it all and the wife for al­low­ing it

“With most en­gine bits un­ob­tain­able, dis­cre­tion is much the bet­ter part of val­our. Safe, then”

The world’s most com­pli­cated bed pan

Test ev­ery­thing ex­cept the crash bungs please

Sup­ple, strong en­gine and brakes. Lovely

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