2003 Yamaha Jamie James R1

Neale Bayly | April 10, 2003
2003 Yamaha Jamie James R1
2003 Yamaha Jamie James R1

Jamie James Productions Yamaha YZF-R1

“You can wrestle an alligator for a while.”

That was the advice from former AMA Superbike champ Jamie James to my concerns about the crispy winter temperatures in which I’d be testing his terrific R1-based special. Later on I’d find out that spending time with Jamie, one of the most down-to-earth and approachable people I ever have met, is just as pleasurable as riding his incredible bike: the Jamie James Productions R1.

On arrival, I climbed into my leathers and swung a leg over Jamie’s immaculate R1 for the first time. Beneath me, the bike purred away through the Akrapovic pipe, the only thing giving the engine’s non-standard state of tune away. With significantly different cam timing, this bike sounds very different from a stocker with a pipe, but more on that later. Clicking into gear and easing out of Jamie’s gravel driveway I headed out down a pot-holed, country lane, peppered with damp mud and tight, decreasing radius corners.

This, of course, is not what I needed for my first ride on a limited-edition, $23,500 superbike. Needless to say, the first couple of miles were spent with my jaw, as well as some other parts of my anatomy, well-clenched. However, the bike is actually very easy to ride under these circumstances, with its taller gearing and broad powerband making things less intimidating for its rider.

Short-shifting through the six-speed box, I made my way along a nice smooth piece of highway. Running legal speeds in top gear, the engine was barely turning over and provided instant forward progress at any throttle position. A few miles up the road, I rounded a turn to see a long straight stretching away through the deserted North Carolina farmland, so I downshifted to second and nailed the throttle.

Holding it wide open, I shifted right before the redline and repeated the process. The JJP R1 inhaled the road and sent the surrounding countryside into a green and brown blur. Backing off, after hitting the redline in fourth (152mph for those of you not in law enforcement), I slowed down and decided to recommence where I had left of in the breathing department.

2003 Yamaha Jamie James R1
2003 Yamaha Jamie James R1

It felt like one of those dreams when you are walking through the shopping mall and have forgotten to put your trousers on. My mouth was dry, my pulse racing and imaginary policemen lurked behind every tree. What a rush, and what a surprise. I had come expecting a ferocious, fire-spitting monster and was completely surprised to find a bike that could almost be described as civilized. Opening the throttle in anger produced a smooth flow of power, with no real hit anywhere in the rev range: Just gobs of smooth, abundant power.

The engine itself is untouched below the Yamaha Racing kit head gasket (that boosts the compression ratio), and it receives special attention from Jamie above. He starts by removing the stock engine from the donor bike’s frame, and then sends the cylinder head to Robert Reeves of NASCAR fame for a valve job and to be ported and polished for improved gas flow. Orient Express cam sprockets allow creative cam timing mods. Jamie refuses to get any more radical with the engine, stating that he is building this bike as a streetbike and is after drive-ability and long-term reliability.

“I used as many Yamaha parts as possible because I know they’ll stand up over the long haul,” said James. “A lot of times when you do a lot of mods, you might sacrifice the engine’s torque or reliability. I built a nice streetbike with lots of torque and a strong focus on long-term reliability.”

Dyno testing has revealed a horsepower gain of nearly 20, meaning the JJP R1 cranks out about 150 hp at the rear wheel. Jamie has tuned this bike to make so much usable midrange power that the top-end rush is somewhat disguised. Flogging the new Ducati 999 recently was no preparation for the JJP monster.

“After all those years on Superbikes, I never was impressed with streetbikes until I rode Yamaha’s R1,” said James. “And I’ll tell you what, this bike here is faster than the Vance & Hines Yamaha Superbike I raced in ’96.”

Our photo shoot turned out to be a bit sketchy. Picture the scene: Narrow, tight twisting uphill corner, no run-off, cold tarmac and a few fallen leaves thrown in for good measure. Then I needed to ride back and forward as fast as possible, all the while being scrutinized by the bike’s owner who just happened to have won the 1989 AMA Superbike title.

Though conditions weren’t ideal, the repeated runs did give me a chance to observe the incredible suspension that graces this bike. Every time I would dive into the turn, I kept twisting the throttle harder and the bike just felt more comfortable. Wearing top-of-the-line Ohlins fork, shock and steering damper, the JJP R1’s handling is absolutely out of this world. It just soaks up bumps and keeps the bike on line as if they weren’t there.

2003 Yamaha Jamie James R1
Minor engine mods along with a wicked looking Akrapovic exhaust system take horsepower into the 150 range.

The way it turns is almost telepathic, and I had to keep reminding myself that the bike is a liter-class Superbike. Not having much experience with such high-quality suspension components, I had been a little skeptical of their benefits and high price. Not now: I have simply never ridden anything that felt so planted or so in control, and I can only wonder what it would be like to put them to full test on a racetrack.

The standard brakes are removed and replaced with Braking’s Wave rotors, AP Racing 6-piston calipers and an AP Racing master cylinder, the latter being fully adjustable for lever positioning as well as lever ratio.

Squeezing the lever hard, with triple digits showing on the digital speedometer, is similar to getting kicked in the ribs while slamming the contents of your brain into the front half of your helmet. It’s almost unbelievable the way the brakes haul the big Yamaha down from speed. There is no excessive dive from the fork and the front tire feels is if it is turning to liquid rubber as it glues itself to the road. I was able to try this out a few times on the deserted North Carolina roads, each time trying a little harder. Each time I was just simply in awe. This is absolutely the best braking system I have ever sampled, bar none.

The JJP R1 looks subtle and understated. The standard bodywork is custom painted in black and gray with Jamie’s signature and the bike’s personal number on the gas tank. Quality exudes from the Akrapovic Evo titanium pipe to the Jamie James Productions upper triple clamp. Brake lines are Goodridge stainless steel, footpeg brackets are powder-coated black and the turn signals are euro-style. The back end is cleaned up with a JJP rear fender-eliminator kit, and a 520 Vortex sprocket conversion has a few less teeth for taller gearing. The bike also wears JJP serial number plaques and even includes a Pit Bull race stand, a bike cover and custom tie-downs.

Whether all of this worth twenty-three large is the question I am sure most of you are asking. Sure, you are buying a lot of nice off-the-shelf hardware, a top-quality paint job and some light engine tuning, but a good tinkerer could take a stock bike and add the stuff at home.

However, I’d say the person who is going to buy this bike is going to want it for exactly what it is: an extremely tasteful custom sport motorcycle. It’s the kind of bike that its owner will be able to subtly ride down the road, but one that will definitely attract the attention of anyone who knows something about motorcycles. It’s an incredibly fast, competent motorcycle that performs flawlessly in every aspect.

2003 Yamaha Jamie James R1
A fender-eliminator kit and new turnsignals clean up the R1’s knife-edged rear end.

I have ridden some really fast and extremely expensive “specials” before and have been impressed with their high levels of performance. But there has always been a price to pay, whether it’s inaccurate speedometers, pathetically reduced steering lock, erratic idle or excessive heat build-up.

Not so on the Jamie James Productions R1. Just a totally reliable and unique motorcycle that performs much better than a stocker in every department.

Jamie James Productions Contact info
Phone: 828-683-2538

What do you think of the Jamie James Yamaha R1? Respond in the MCUSA Bike Review Forum.


Neale Bayly

Contributing Editor | Articles | With 37 years in the saddle, Neale Bayly has ridden motorcycles in 45 different countries around the world. Until it was sold to Fox Sports, Bayly was the motorcycle editor for Speed Channel, where his 2013 reality series "Neale Bayly Rides" made its debut. The series documented a charity ride to a Peruvian orphanage, which his charity, Wellspring International, supports. The British-born Bayly currently lives in Charlotte, NC, and spends his free time with his two sons, Luke and Patrick, hanging out and riding dirt bikes.

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