Photos courtesy of Yamaha Motors Corp., unless otherwise specified
Believe it or not the Yamaha YZF-R1 has been around for 17 years. Introduced in 1998, it raised the performance level of the few true open-class supersport machines on the market at the time (actually, only the Honda CBR900RR preceded it), and it has been getting consistent upgrades ever since.
When first launched it used a derivative of the 20-valve inline four that Yamaha had introduced way back in the 1984 with the FZ750. Over the years it received upgrades on a two-year cycle and eventually got a 16-valve engine, but this year, as it enters its eighth generation, the R1 is an entirely new machine.
Yamaha Canada extended an invitation to ride the 2015 R1, and the higher-spec R1M at Talladega Gran Prix, a small, tight racetrack just outside Birmingham, Alabama.
This is the technical intro for the bike. If you wish to avoid confusing your head with blurbage that may not mean much to you, please feel free to skip ahead to ‘The Ride’.
According to Yamaha, the new R1 borrows heavily from the YZR-M1 MotoGP machine to make a more focused racetrack machine than ever before. To help in this process it asked several lucky test riders to ride the M1 to get a “development benchmark” for the new R1, while racers Valentino Rossi and Josh Hayes rode the R1 for their input too on the other side.
The new 998 cc engine continues to use the crossplane crankshaft, but now uses a larger bore and shorter stroke than the outgoing R1 (+1 mm/-1.3 mm), meaning that there’s room for larger valves to get the air/fuel mixture into the engine.
Although Yamaha is quite shy when discussing power output, at the technical presentation we were told it was between 190 and 195 hp at the crank (we’ve erred at 190 for the spec sheet in the CMG Buyer’s Guide). A race ECU available through Yamaha reportedly boosts that to over 200 hp. Peak torque is 84.6 lb-ft at 10,000 rpm, which is the open-class inline-four average, except that the R1 delivers its torque over a very broad band.
Transmission ratios have been reshuffled, with first through fourth gears being slightly lower, and fifth and sixth slightly higher than before. A new slipper clutch is smaller and lighter, and uses a mechanical assist to increase engagement pressure.
The front brake now has 320 mm discs (up 10 mm), but uses four-piston radial calipers instead of the six pistons on the 2014 model.
To help centralise mass (when’s the last time you heard that buzzword?) the wheels and subframe are made with lightweight magnesium, the fuel tank is aluminum, and the exhaust has now gone underneath the bike. This also helps to reduce curb weight to a claimed 199 kg.
Steering geometry has been tweaked to improve corner entry, turning transitions and front-end feel. KYB provides the fully adjustable suspension components on the R1, while the R1M uses an electrically adjustable semi-active suspension from Ohlins. The R1M adds a GPS data logger, a wider 200 section rear tire and carbon fibre fairing and fenders, although oddly, it’s 2 Kg up on the standard R1 as a result.
And then there’s the electronics, or what Yamaha is calling YRC (Yamaha Ride Control):
- nine-level, lean-angle-sensing traction control that increases intervention with lean angle;
- three-level wheelie control,
- two-level launch control,
- two-level quick-shifter,
- semi-linked cornering ABS (the rear brake works independently)
- four selectable power modes.
But wait, there’s more! There’s one electronic aid that no other supersport machine has yet:
- three-level slide control.
Yes, the R1 can now drift around corners … in a controlled manner. Also, all the rider aids can be turned off.
That’s a lot of electronics, which would otherwise be a convoluted mess to sort through when selecting modes and adjusting settings, but Yamaha has done a stellar job of making the user interface remarkably simple thanks to a new, configurable 4.2-inch TFT display.
Switching between the modes was exceptionally easy, especially on the R1M, which also adjusts suspension settings through the screen. Explaining all the different functions would be much more confusing than actually trying the system, which you can do using this R1M simulator.
The tester’s first person account of how the bike actually feels.
Learn to trust the electronics. This is what I have learnt I must do on a modern litre bike, but it takes some time to trust that the system will do as advertised and not throw you into the weeds mid corner.
Luckily for me, I had unlimited access to the track for the day and only one other journalist (Bertrand Gahel) to share it with, save for a brief cameo appearance by Editor ‘Arris. This gave me ample opportunity to try the R1’s different levels of the various electronic systems without the manicness of a track full of testosterone fuelled journalists.
From experience I find that on an unfamiliar bike it’s wise to set traction control to its most intrusive (level 9 on the R1) just to see how the bike reacts, and then turn it down from there. Power mode could have been set at 4, but I didn’t want the R1 castrated for the rain that wasn’t there, so I set it to 3, which permitted full power but with a smoother delivery.
And it felt exactly as I expected: absolutely normal and seamless. Heavy on the throttle while exiting corners provided very hard yet smooth acceleration – the only indication something was managing the throttle other than myself in corners, was the constantly flashing TC light in the dash. Otherwise, everything felt normal.
Okay, sensible laps done, now it was time to bump up the power mode to level 1 (most aggressive), and turn the TC down to level 6. Ah… yes, there she is. The R1 now felt like a true open classer, and a satisfyingly brutish one at that.
Although power doesn’t come on with the explosive blast of the Panigale 1299, the bike feels like it has a much stronger bottom end than the BMW S1000RR or the Honda CBR1000RR. As for the TC, again I felt nothing out of the ordinary, except that the light was now illuminating less frequently despite the more forceful corner exits.
With each successive session I turned the TC to lower and lower settings, and the bike really started to exit hard, but things got very interesting as soon as the slide control was turned on …
Using the bike’s gyro and G-force sensors (which measure inertia in six axes) to override the traction control, the slide control allows the rear tire to spin up and the bike to slide on corner exit. There are several settings to allow more or less wheel spin, with the highest slide option limited to stop the rear from sliding all the way into the weeds.
In its most intrusive level, hammering the throttle at corner exits instantly led to controlled rear-wheel slides, as long as I stayed on the throttle – which I dared not shut off despite my instincts yelling at me to do so.
Entering the pits, I told Gahel that the bike will slide when you nail the throttle at the corner exit and hang onto it. Gahel, who is entirely comfortable with corner-exit, crossed up wheelies — but not so much with sliding — came back into the pits a few laps later wide eyed and proclaimed that he was now sliding the R1 around everywhere.
Needless to say, as the day drew on, the R1 slides got longer with Gahel discovering a new favourite trick – corner exit crossed up in full slide, followed by the occasional wheelie.
The tester’s final thoughts on the bike.
Although the tight track didn’t initially seem adequate for a test of a near 200-hp supersport machine, it actually provided more info and allowed for more experimentation than a standard press launch at a super-fast European circuit would have, where track time is limited by much larger groups of moto journos.
The only thing I found the R1 is missing is down-shift capability on the quick-shift system. After sampling this option on the BMW and Ducati, it proved to be a very convenient rider aid that will actually help drop lap times.
But it’s not a deal breaker, and between a quick-downshift feature and Yamaha’s giggle-inducing slide control, I would take the slide control hands down. Granted, it isn’t a feature that will make you lap any faster, nor will it actually teach you how to control the throttle in a slide, but it is a hell of a lot of fun!
With the added horsepower and the extensive electronics package, the R1 is now on par in performance and technological advances with the other bikes that lead the class, including the BMW S1000RR, the Ducati Panigale 1299, the Kawasaki ZX-10R and the Aprilia RSV4 R.
This top class performance and technology comes at a price and the 2015 R1 sells for a full $4,000 more (at $18,999), than it did in 2014. The R1M costs another 4 grand on top of that. But that’s what a technology-packed modern superport costs these days, and it would seem at least a few sportbike riders would agree – the costlier R1M has already sold out.
With this eighth-generation R1, Yamaha has raised the level of performance and electronics to the new class standard. That standard now dictates that open-supersport bikes must produce close to 200 hp, and include the electronic intervention (traction, wheelie and launch controls) required with that level of power.
As a result we’ve selected three supersports in the one litre plus range, with close to a claimed 200 hp and the electronic intervention to be able to use it. These include the BMW S1000RR (similar power) and the Ducati Panigale 1299 (the most power and delivered most aggressively, and also the lightest) and the Kawasaki ZX-10R ABS (with a ‘mere’ claimed 177 ponies at the crank).
If you take a look at the other specs you’ll also notice that the R1 has the tallest seat height of the bunch by a margin as well as the shortest wheelbase which adds to its track agility. With prices ranging between $17,299 for the Kawasaki (ABS model) to $20,995 for the Ducati, the R1 is right about midpoint, though the three-year warranty and a thousand dollar saving for the BMW, makes it a worthy contender.
On the other end of the scale, the Honda CBR1000RR ($15,999) and Suzuki GSX-R1000 ($14,999) are in limbo right now, lacking the electronic trickery that has pushed the R1 up into new levels. For now, they’re compensating for the lack in technology by being priced accordingly for the open-class rider on a budget, though sooner rather than later, they will both have to raise their game.
For me, the element that swings the scales in the R1’s favour is the electronic interface, which is easier manage than on the competing machines, and that astounding slide control, which may not increase lap times but will really impress your riding buddies and have you laughing in your helmet at the next track day.
Check out all the pics that go with this story! Click on the main sized pic to transition to the next or just press play to show in a slideshow.