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Yamaha R1 - Madder than ever?

Road test by Adrian Percival

Since the R1 was launched earlier this year I had been trying to get hold of one for a decent road test, but as so many of the press bikes end up being crashed or damaged by other shall I say 'leading magazines' it proved to be a difficult task! Well I did eventually get one and after my first short ride was taken aback at the power and user-friendiness of the bike.

This year's R1, If you hadn't guessed it by now, is almost a total re-design on earlier models, in fact the only thing I can honestly say is the same as the previous version is the oil filter! The new R! is lighter, it's smaller, way thinner, better finished, and a whole lot quicker than anything R1 in the past. We now have a massive 172 hp at the crankshaft, a 20bhp increase on last years model, plus the fact that with the ram-air induction that number goes up to 180bhp! So in theory (my theory at least) it is a bike that will be capable of at least 190mph when it nears it's rev limit of 13,750rpm.

Getting on the bike feels like you are on a small 600, gone is the big tank and wide fairing, now we have a very narrow, almost Ducati like waistline and a much, much smaller frontal fairing area. This slimness has come about by a whole number of major changes from Yamaha. The engineers at Yamaha have always placed a high level of importance on the inclined cylinders of their 4cy superbikes, and since the first FZ750 back in 1985 they have been placing them at an angle of 30deg. For the new R1 this angle has increased to 40deg and now keeps the bike ultra narrow by allowing the aluminum frame to go over the engine instead of around it. Not only is the frame a lot narrower, but the engine is as well, a smaller distance between the cylinder bores together with other internal mods, and the placement of the generator behind the cylinder head has made the overall crankcase width a whole 2" narrower than before.

So a clean-sheet design has made a whole load of difference to the latest R1. In the engine department, in addition to the other mods the pistons are now some 3mm larger and 3% lighter. With a shorter stroke the engine is still the same 998cc but now has the higher rev limit of 13,750rpm. The fuel-injection has also seen a makeover with the throttle bodies up 5mm to 45mm, this matches the increase in the intake and exhaust ports providing a faster burn and helping boost the compression ratio up to a respectable 12.4:1. The new intake and exhaust valves are up in size by a small 0.5mm and are operated by all new cams and a highly modified timing. All this is now controlled by an equally new ECU which is up to a hefty 32bit and operates at twice the speed of the old ECU. The new speedo and gauge package still retains the analogue tacho and digital speedo, it looks good and with the usual readouts to hand Yamaha have added a temp gauge reading from the air box, and a lap timer. We still have the programmable gear shift light but that gets a bit hard to read when you hit the ballistic speeds that this bike is capable of!

Yamaha have also departed from the usual style of exhaust layout and have fitted the R1 with a titanium exhaust system that snakes around to twin underseat cans. There are always compromises for this type of layout, either you have a single sided swingarm or make a departure from the standard style. For the new R1 Yamaha have made an all new swingarm that has its bracing below the main spar instead of above it. The new swingarm is virtually the same dimension as the previous model but weighs in at approx 19% heavier. On the plus side though it is supposed to be 30% stiffer, and when riding it you can certainly feel the difference at the rear.

Riding the new R1 is an experience, the acceleration of this bike is actually hard to comprehend. On my first day out with it I spent most of the time under 10,000rpm thinking here goes my licence! This bike is so fast, it's ridiculously fast and you just don't know it. Accelerate away in in no time at all you are way, way past the national limit and changing up to 3rd gear!! The new R1 will take you to a different dimension when it comes to 1lt sportsbikes, and beware the front end will fly at almost any speed, in fact well into 3 figures with just a little dip of the clutch or a small hump in the road. To be honest here it's hard to say if the R1 is in fact more powerful that the GSX-R1000 or the new Blade, it certainly feels a lot faster than the Blade and more user friendly than any of them put together, which is a strange thing to say I know, but it actually is a very easy bike to ride once you have got used to the power delivery characteristics.

This is the first R1 that makes you not want to rush off to the accessory shop and get a loud can. The reason for this, and you will notice it immediately, is the somewhat race-like howl that emits from the rear at almost any revs. Yamaha seem to have designed this into the system and does it sound good! Combine this with the intake growl and you have pure music for the petrolheads amongst us!!

On the road owners of previous R1's will definitely notice the much firmer ride, this is all down to the new racetrack experience Yamaha have gained over the past year or two. The upgraded Kayaba inverted forks now have stiffer springs and at the rear the shock has also been given a re-design and is a lot firmer than past models. All this adds up to a bike that can certainly go, but it also handles beautifully without any pitching or bad manners when you give it some on the twisties! For everyday riding, and you can with the new R1, I would probably back off the damping for a slightly softer ride.

One thing I did notice with the new bike is that it seems to be a little slower to steer than previous models. My first R1 was indeed an animal back in 1998 and up to last years model all R1's were pretty quick and feel both nimble and agile. I don't know of any reason for this as all the geometry figures seem to be virtually the same, if not slightly steeper which should make it quicker. So the conclusion is it's down to the tyres and the more rounded profile of the new front especially made for the R1. I did think it may have been the steering damper the R1 has fitted but there is a feature that will prevent it from working at slow steering input. This is a check valve that will only let the damper come into force if the steering is moved violently, like in a headshake (which we all know R1's were indeed famous for!), it's a similar thing to the Honda damper fitted to the Blade, but not electronic. Whatever the reason it is only a slight niggle on a bike that will amaze you when you ride it. In my opinion the steering damper is a must here, I was ever so grateful for it when the front wheel was skimming lightly over little bumps at 120mph or more!

To pull you up from the astonishing speeds that this bike can achieve Yamaha have increased the size of the front brakes to 320mm and have fitted radial mount 4 piston calipers together with a radial master cylinder. The new discs are a little thinner to save some weight, but at 0.5mm less than the old ones you really don't notice the difference. All I can say is that the old brakes were great, these are even better!

The R1 starts up with no fuss or bother, no choke levers and no fast idle controls, the the electronic brain will adjust itself to cope with all conditions of engine and air temperatures. Unlike last year's piston type injection, the new R1 has a vacuum-controlled suction valve with a motor-driven throttle valve for better throttle response, this is yet again some more track technology Yamaha have added here. The 2002-03 model was one of the best injected bikes on the market, but the new one is slightly different and it is in this area that you could criticise it a little bit. It's not quite as smooth from closed throttle to open, which really matters when you are leaned over in a corner, if the power comes in too fast then you can and probably will be off in a flash..You have to ride the new bike with a careful right hand and you will have no problem at all with it, if you are clumsy with it then it will bite back and be jerky, especially at high rpm, but the seasoned rider will have no problem here except to maybe notice a slight surge constant small throttle openings.

I'm trying to find something to criticise the R1 with here and I'm probably going overboard with the injection system, it's a minute detail from a bike that I can find no other negative things to say about it! The new R1 is an absolutely stunning bike in every respect, it's both comfortable and powerful, it handles exceptionally well and is probably the best finished Supersports bike on the market. I can think of no other 4cyl bike that will pull from as low down as 2,500rpm right up to 13,750 in second gear, that's 30mph to 125mph without any fuss or bother as the rev limiter cuts in softly then shuts it all down at 14,000rpm! The new gearbox will do this and more, it may be a bit high geared, and you may well be trying to go down to that nonexistent gear below first until you get used to it, but any bike that can top 90mph in 1st has to go down as a winner in my book!

The R1 has indeed grown up to be the king once again, but for how long we ask ourselves? This years bike is a stunning bike to ride and to live with, the comfort factor is up with slightly higher bars and lower pegs, but the racetrack ability is there also. Don't be fooled into thinking this bike has softened because of the more 'comfy' bits, it hasn't, it's as good as it has always been and more!

Most people buy bikes on the way they look and how the bike makes them feel, well if that's the case then there will be few critics of the R1, this bike is a masterpiece of design and function and will thrill you every time you ride it.


Read external Yamaha YZF-R1 reviews on ciao.


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