Southern Comfort: Jamie James Productions Yamaha YZF-R1

The Ragin' Cajun cooks up a new dish: Jamie James Productions Yamaha R1.

"I wanted to build something that I would really enjoy, that I think would be an ultimate streetbike," says former AMA Superbike champ Jamie James, proprietor of Jamie James Productions, of the first of his custom Yamaha sportbikes. "I think we've put together a really good package, something that people will enjoy riding. It's very user friendly and powerful, and makes corners very well." And after spending a couple of days riding the bike at Road Atlanta in Georgia and in the hills surrounding James' Asheville, North Carolina home, I have to agree: this is one nice motorcycle.

The idea, says James, is to make available through Yamaha dealers custom versions of the R1 in various stages of tune. "It's similar to the Saleen Mustang thing. I've been a big fan of all those guys for years. That's the concept that I'm trying to do, is to become like the Saleen Mustang of the motorcycle world." To that end, this Series 1 R1 is the first model offered and, in fact, the first unit out of James' amazingly well-kitted Asheville shop--it was finished just hours before our ride.

James begins with Yamaha's already stellar open-class R1, stripping the bike down to nearly the bare frame. Up front, a handmade JJP top triple clamp--to which an Oehlins steering damper is bolted--replaces the stock clamp, and a set of Oehlins Road & Track fork tubes slide into place. James is a big fan of Braking's Wave rotors, and says he can notice a big difference in the way the bike flicks from side to side with them in place. The rotors are worked by a pair of AP Lockheed six-piston calipers, which connect to an AP master cylinder with Goodridge braided stainless-steel hoses, and mount to the fork tubes with JJP-machined aluminum brackets. The stock shock is jettisoned and replaced with an Oehlins unit, which allows for ride height changes and has a remote preload adjuster. Another Braking Wave rotor and Goodridge brake line are found out back.

While James is hard at work on the chassis, the cylinder head is sent off to Robert Reeves (formerly of NASCAR engine fame) who cleans up the ports, re-cuts the valve seats, and smoothes out the rough edges between the seats and combustion chambers. The cams are timed to midrange-enhancing numbers specified by Reeves, but otherwise the engine is left stock internally. An Akrapovic pipe takes care of the exhaust, and James is dabbling with fuel injection modifications and cam timing before deciding on a final spec.

Detail touches are liberal on the JJP bike, and include a handmade fender eliminator (which incorporates tiny license plate lights into its mounting fasteners) and an etched plate on the frame which identifies and numbers each bike. But the crowning touch that really separates the JJP R1 from other custom sportbikes is the paint. James' spray booth would make any professional painter envious, and in it Russell Moeller applies the base colors and custom decals, then overlays everything with three coats of deliciously deep clear. The finish easily rivals the stock paint job, and it's impossible to feel the decal edges under the clear coat.

The serpentine Road Atlanta circuit revealed that James has nicely addressed the stock R1's few weak points, without sacrificing any of the bike's strengths. With slightly more aggressive geometry than stock, the JJP R1 flips from side to side much quicker through esses, but the Oehlins steering damper erases the stock bike's tendency to shake its head under power. And we're well acquainted with the Oehlins suspension pieces--the JJP Yamaha tracked straight and true over what few bumps there are on that particular track. While the bike has killer midrange and excellent drivability, it seemed to me at first that top-end power was a bit down from stock. As we found out after a trip to Reeves' dyno though, the subtle cylinder head massaging and cam timing changes have given the bike an extremely potent midrange and bottom end, which was masking what is actually a peak horse-power gain of 14 ponies!

It's on the street, however, that James' creation really shines. That midrange rush is intoxicating arcing through a canyon, as the power gains are perfectly placed for quick street riding. The chassis is likewise fantastic on the street, with the bike feeling planted and stable over pavement that is quite rough in places. It's deceptive because things feel less frantic than on the stocker, yet what seems like a relaxed pace is actually moving along at a good clip.

James is still deciding on a final specification for some of the parts, but for being fresh out of the box the JJP R1 is quite a well-rounded package. By drawing on his own vast experience, and the talent of local craftsmen, the four-time AMA champion has built a bike that is beautiful as well as functional--you'd be just as happy sitting and staring at the R1 as riding it. As for the future, James says, "There is a possibility of us doing a stage two and possibly a stage three, in the same year. There will be a series two next year, and then there will be a stage two of the series two, and a stage three possibly."

For more information, visit www.jamiejamesproductions.net.