|More Information on the Harley-Davidson VR1000|
The 1994 VR 1000 was the first pure racing motorcycle HarleyDavidson ever built. Every other Harley racer, from 1915 through 1993, had been a modified production machine. The VR was purposebuilt from the ground up. Milwaukee has never been comfortable with the concept of purebred competition machines. Eighty years earlier the founders had 'been dragged mumbling into the racing game, convinced of its necessity only after Indian had captivated the sporting enthusiasts of the 1910s and 1920s. But once installed in the Milwaukee hierarchy, the racing department proved itself a continuing resource of team spirit and public good will. People rode their motorcycles to the races, and supported their favorite riders and manufacturers. HarleyDavidson had maintained its support of dirt tack, the traditional American fairgrounds racing, and built a few XR 1000 productionbased roadracers. But nothing on Milwaukee's menu suited the demands of Superbike racing in the 1990s. At the upper outposts of "street bike" competition, the trackwise roadsters weigh 375 pounds (170kg) and produce 150 horsepower. Handling and braking factors are tuned to millisecond response margins. All of which is enormously expensive to achieve. With some money in the bank, Harley decided to build its second eightvalve racer, with an American engine, chassis and brakes. Engineer Steve Scheibe headed the team, and called in experienced help from NASCAR and Indy Car racing. The project took five years and produced a doubleoverheadcam, 60degree Vtwin, with 4valve heads, WeberUSA electronic fuel injection and liquid cooling. Power went by gear to a multidisc dry clutch and through a 5speed transmission. The first bikes used a Penske inverted fork and Wilwood sixpiston brake calipers. The road model carries an Öhlins fork with titaniumcoated stanchions. The body work is constructed of carbon fiber, and the factory listed the dry weight at 390lb (176.9kg). The production schedule was set for 50 copies of the VR 1000, the price of each listed at $49,490. The VR first appeared on the racetrack for the Daytona Superbike race in 1994. There were few illusions about the early chances, and teething problems were anticipated, but the motorcycle handled remarkably well. Top speed was not at the level of frontrunners, though rider Miguel Duhamel turned in good results on some of the tighter circuits. Results for the 1995 season were disappointing, and rider Doug Chandler had difficulty coming to terms with the machine. National dirt track champion Chris Carr was also on the team and showed a quick learning curve. Rumors circulated during the offseason that management disputes in Milwaukee cast doubts on the future of the VR 1000. The factions split as they had a halfcentury before; the economic rationale perceives bigleague factory racing as large expense versus small return. The sporting enthusiast segment says racing pays huge dividends in public relations, and puts the company logo on television. And wins hearts and minds. Review Thoughts of Harley Davidson motorcycles will invoke images of large, proud, chromeladen, antiquated cruisers with thumping great paintshaker motors. As for racing and sports bikes, Harley is hardly the marque that conjures up images of ontrack glory. Or even any pretences of speed. If you have a good memory you might recall their brief marriage with Aermacchi and a string of twostroke sporting bikes. More recently, you may have pointed to the (now defunct) Buell lineup of Sportsterpowered sportsters. Generally you won’t think Harley when you think of expensive, bleeding edge superbikes built to dominate on a road course. That is, unless you are familiar with the longlived (but ultimately unsuccessful) VR1000 project. Such is the image and marketing of Harley Davidson that the public has been quick to forget (or dismiss?) a highprofile racing project that stretched from 1988 to 2001. Those who followed AMA racing in the 1990s are surely aware of the HD campaign with the VR1000. The VR1000 endeavour began in 1988 as an attempt to make a triumphant return to the top level of road racing. At the time Harley had not had any notable wins since the successes of Cal Raybornaboard XR750TT in the 1970s, and the victories of the (supposedly) obsolete XRbased Lucifer’s Hammer in the Battle of the Twins class of the mid 1980s. Unfortunately for Harley and despite heaps of money, modern engineering and good intentions Lucifer’s Hammer would be their last great roadracing mount. The VR was expected to hit the pavement around the 199091 season. Expected being the key word. The VR1000 was to replace the XR platform as a more modern, liquidcooled, fuelinjected, overheadcam 8valve design that was aimed squarely at unseating Ducati’s Desmoquattro on the track in AMA Superbike. Here 750 fours were pitted against 1000cc twins, and Ducati was enjoying remarkable success with its new 851 Superbike. The previous XR designs had been highly tuned versions of the venerable pushrod OHV, iron barrelled, aircooled motors of yore. The XR had been around since the 60s and managed to stay remarkably competitive into the 80s with constant fettling and a displacement bump from 749 up to 998cc – this despite being considered antiquated and obsolete by the 1970s! But the writing was on the wall, and a new design was needed to remain competitive. Ducati had shown the way forward by coming from neardeath and beating the pants off everyone else. The VR shared nothing in common with previous designs, and famously did not share a single part with an existing Harley. To develop the cutting edge machine, HD had to enlist the aid of outside firms to develop and product components – or poach clever engineers from those firms to do the work inhouse. The engine was developed by Roush, the suspenion by Penske, the brakes by Wilwood – the machine was to be an allAmerican starspangled superbike. The project appeared promising and the new engine was mouth watering. It was a liquidcooled 60degree Vtwin displacing 996cc through a 98x66mm bore/stroke, with quad cams, four valves per cylinder, and a Weber fuel injection system. Race variants were in the region of 150 hp, give or take. Pretty serious go for 199091, and enough to be competitive with the 888cc Ducs. One problem. It wasn’t released in 1990. Or 1991. It was released in 1993. It didn't start racing until 1994. By which time it was getting well behind the curve. The VR was delayed by development hell and waffling among the higher ups at HD. Politics, money, and headbutting conspired against the project. The VR hit the track in 1993, with a public debut in 1994, and faced a series of teething problems from the getgo with handling and engine reliability – surely stuff that should have been ironed out by fiveodd years of development. It wasn’t all bad. When it wasn’t blowing up, the VR was quick out of corners and the massive beamframe chassis was quite up to the task. It was only lacking in top speed, which was a big problem on tracks with long straights. Harley had the funds to hire a string of top names to ride the beast – including Miguel Duhamel, Pascal Picotte, Chris Carr, and Scott Russell. The team managed to post some impressive lap times and come tantalizingly close to victory on a few occasions, but bad luck often intervened. The competition was light years ahead of Harley by this point – the VR would have been a hot ticket in 1991 but by ’94 it was already becoming outdated. To add insult to injury, it couldn’t beat the trapspeeds that the “obsolete” Lucifer’s Hammer XR1000 had been belting out almost ten years earlier. Lights, mirrors, turn signals. Good enough for Poland. What was interesting about the VR1000 was that it had a streetlegal (sort of) variant, required by AMA rules to homologate the racing machine. The roadgoing VR was made in a run of 50 examples (all that was needed to homologate), sold for the lowlow price of 49,490$. For that you got two colours for the price of one (black on one side, orange on the other, and a white stripe betwixt). The roadgoing VR was a high spec sportbike that weighed around 400 lbs and knocked out 135 hp – but there was a catch. You see, US emissions laws were prohibitively strict and would have required a lot of fiddling to make the VR road legal stateside… So it was homologated for road use in Poland. And only Poland. AMA rules don’t specify where the machine needs to be road legal. So if you want a streetlegal VR you can ride to Starbucks, it’s Warsaw or nothing. Reviews, such as they were (there weren’t exactly press demos to go around), noted slightly wayward handling and adequate, but not sufficient, power. Two things that you do not want to hear about a racing bike. Racers complained of handling quirks and it was well known that the VR was down on power compared to the Japanese and Italian thoroughbreds it was pitted against. Victories remained elusive despite constant fiddling and adjustments to improve handling and power, even through ditching the Americanmade components for proven gasp! foreign items. Remarkably, Harley kept campaigning the VR1000, with little success, until 2001 when they finally pulled the plug on the factory roadracing program. They haven’t returned to the sport since. The lasting legacy of the VR1000 program is clear. How many people recall the VR when they think of Harley Davidson? How many know there was a road legal (sort of) version of the beast? How many championship trophies did the VR add to Harley’s trophy case? Exactly. It’s a shame the VR1000 didn’t achieve widespread success. It wasn’t that it was a bad machine, it was just that is wasn’t good enough by the time it hit the track. Delays, slow development, corporate bickering, and budget constraints doomed the project from the beginning. Competition in Superbike was fierce in the 1990s and the VR was behind the curve before it even put rubber to pavement, despite years of development and a roster of top riders. It simply wasn’t meant to be, and Harley management (rightfully) got fed up and pulled the plug. It would be nice to see HD return to road racing, but it seems unlikely with the VR project still fresh in their collective minds.