Steve Bond takes a plane to the Eastern Creek race track in Australia for a day with Yamaha’s all-new tech-packed R1. Lucky bastard.
While most of Canada is in the deep freeze, my problem is at the opposite end of the personal comfort spectrum – it’s too bloody hot!!
But if surveyed, I’m pretty sure most CMG-ers would jump at the chance to ride Yamaha’s new litre-bike around a challenging GP-spec racetrack – even if the ambient temperature is a balmy 37 degrees C.
I remember riding the first generation R1 at a track day in 1998, coincidentally enough, hosted by OMG, the prehistoric harbinger of the mighty media conglomerate CMG has become. Even back then the R1 exhibited unprecedented acceleration, brakes and handling and set the sportbike world on its ear.
IT’S ALL IN THE CRANK
Now, just eleven years later, the R1 has gone through five redesigns – and not just minor tweaks either. Life at the top of the sportbike food chain requires a completely new motorcycle every two years.
The 2009 R1 shares nothing with its predecessor. There’s a new frame, swingarm, mufflers, bodywork and even a new ergonomically shaped brake lever, but if this generation R1 will be remembered for anything, it will be the Moto GP-inspired crossplane crankshaft.
In all previous inline fours, the main rod journals are spaced 180 degrees apart – two pistons go up while two go down. The crossplane crank has the four pistons firing 90 degrees apart, smoothing power impulses and applying torque to the rear tire in a way that can only be described as confidence inspiring.
The other noteworthy feature of the crank layout is the way the new R1 sounds. Yamaha still has the ‘Bat-zorsts’ up high, which makes you wonder about weight and lack of mass centralization, but they’re all new lightweight titanium units and engineers assured us that a low pipe just didn’t work as well.
Hit the starter button and the R1 springs into life with a sound as distinctly different from the usual inline four as it is from a vertical twin. At full song, it has the flat drone similar to a V4.
The usual electronic trickery applies in the form of variable intake lengths and computer chip controlled throttle but there’s new gadgetry afoot as well. The ’09 R1 has Yamaha’s “D-mode,” a three-position power mode switch that doesn’t actually change engine mapping, as some of these systems do; it modifies the way the throttle responds to the rider’s input at the twistgrip.
When the ignition is turned on, the system defaults to “Standard,” which gives optimal all-round performance, “B” mode is a kinder, gentler application and when you select “A,” stand by to repel boarders chum, because all 182 horsies will be unleashed.
Moving on to the chassis, it’s business as usual with a new frame with different stiffness parameters (stiffer in some areas, more tuned flex in others), a longer braced swingarm and a beefed up steering head and swingarm pivot area. Even though the swingarm is longer, overall wheelbase is down by 5 mm to make for quicker handling.
As with the Moto GP bikes, the left fork handles compression damping while the right takes care of rebound. Engineers feel there’s too much oil cavitation and too many dead spots on the fork stroke to let both forks play together any more.
All the tech drudgery is fine (see the R1 entry in the 2009 NMBG if you want more) but I want to know how it works with my fuzzy pink butt on the seat and my right hand firmly on the twistgrip.
Well … it’s pretty freaking impressive really. Most litre-bikes I’ve ridden have given me the feeling that there’s a monster lurking at every corner exit, just waiting to highside me into the next postal code if I get the slightest bit careless with the throttle.
But even with stock tires and the system in “Standard” mode, the R1 was eminently controllable and never gave me the feeling there would be hospital food in my future any time soon.
At the end of four morning sessions in mid-30 degree heat, the stock Michelin buns were pooched. I could feel the front “nibbling” and the rear was sliding alarmingly.
I switched to mellow “B” mode (it can be changed on the go but the throttle must be closed), and the back end was still sliding but the bike was still rideable and wasn’t scary in the least. It was similar to a 600 in controllability but still had most of the litre-bike hit at full throttle. Interesting.
When set on “A” mode, riders will be happy to know that the violent litre-bike hit is still present, it’s just spread equally over the rev range, not coming in all at once at 10 grand.
After lunch, Michelin race rubber was installed and it was a huge improvement, although the stock buns worked pretty well, considering the heat and power they were dealing with.
A LAP OF EASTERN CREEK
Eastern Creek has a very long front straight, followed by a scary-fast first turn that’s taken in fourth gear. Once I turned up the Brave-O-Meter and started getting good drives out of the turn leading onto said straight, I was seeing 270 km/h before sitting up and grabbing a quick downshift at the 100 meter marker.
The large digital speedo makes it easy to sneak a quick glance and it’s pretty cool to feel your left knee ticking the ground with the speedo at 190 or so.
Turn 2 is a second gear left that tightens up on the exit. This was one of the main areas where the R1 gave me the confidence to drift the rear tire – something I normally don’t do on a litre-bike.
Turn 3 is a fast right where you’re accelerating hard and the front gets a bit light over a hill crest but that’s not a problem as the R1 has a standard steering damper. Another right, then a quick left where you get on it hard again.
A short straight leads into a hard braking zone where you’ve got to clip a curb to get a proper line for the next left. A short uphill straight where the front wheel gets light again, then a quick left under a bridge and into a long, sweeping right that I sucked at until I remembered to start looking farther down the track.
A short straight leads to the only hard braking zone at Eastern Creek and, even though the R1’s brakes are smaller (at 310mm), the feedback and feel are excellent, meaning trail braking up to the apex if you get in a little hot (not that I ever did) is no problem.
The slipper clutch means you can grab a quick downshift without upsetting the chassis too.
Another increasing radius corner leads to the straight and you’ve done a lap at Eastern Creek.
Job done. No worries, mate.
BACK TO THE REAL WORLD
The North American version has six less horsepower than the European models due to different mufflers that must meet stricter noise regulations (so that’s why those pesky Euros were passing me. Yeah, that’s it).
Difficult to say whether this technology will benefit the top racers – after all, they get paid good money to handle the ferocious power of a Superbike. Ben Spies is riding a new R1 in World Superbike and Ben Bostrum will be competing on one in whatever series the AMA puts together.
The ones who will benefit most from the new technology will be club racers and moderately skilled track day warriors.
With all the journos from around the world flogging new bikes around a racetrack, there was only one incident during the day and that took place during the first, relatively cool morning session.
A former World 500 GP Champion (who shall remain nameless) low-sided his R1 while testing for an Australian magazine. Okay, rhymes with hardner … ?
|Four-stroke dohc four,
(crank – claimed)
176 hp (@12,500 rpm) – North American spec.
84.6 ft.lb (@10,000 rpm)
|Mikuni 45mm throttle body FI
|Six speed, chain drive
|Twin 310 mm disc with six-piston
|Single 220 mm disc with single-piston
|825 mm (32.9 “)
|1415 mm (56.7 “)
|206 kg (453.2 lb)
|Yamaha Blue, Metallic Black, Reddish Yellow