1997 Yamaha YZF1000R Test

Yamaha's YZF1000R blew on to the scene promising to deliver on an interesting idea; that idea being a bike with a YZF750 based frame and geometry with a refurbished FZR1000 motor. On paper, this bike would have the excellent composure and handling of the 750, and the straight line thrust of the biggest FZR. After personally riding this thing for 3,500km, I had the opportunity to find out how the bike works in the real world.

After picking up the bike from Yamaha Canada, the commute home revealed several things. The clip ons are really low, but also not too long a stretch from the seat. I noticed the seat height was a bit high, and that it was very wide with a lot of fore and aft room. Normally a high seat and overly low bars would be very uncomfortable, but since you "sit in" the YZF instead of the more common "sit on top" postures of most other sportbikes, it's okay. The leg indents in the gas tank don't splay your legs out uncomfortably, and both the indents and the seat look like they could accommodate large people well. Heavy traffic and low speed gave wrist aches, but higher speed was comfortable, the very effective windscreen letting just enough wind by to take some of my weight off the bars. Highway cruising at average car speeds revealed some high frequency buzzing, which could be felt primarily in the tank and pegs, but a bit in the bars too. The buzzing fuzzes the otherwise excellent mirrors at speed too, and is there at various points in the rev range. I didn't find it that annoying, but the YZF certainly isn't as glassy smooth as a ZX-11 or a CBR1100.

The motor revs quickly, with a light flywheel effect, but I stayed under 6,000rpm for the first 550km to break it in, as the bike had just been taken out of the crate for us. Carburetion is excellent except for an annoying flat spot right off idle, which can make for embarrassing stalls leaving stoplights if you're not thinking. It's extremely quiet, no big surprise here, the YZF has the biggest muffler can I have ever seen on a streetbike. I also noticed that this bike feels large. Not too heavy, but just physically big. It's got a big fairing that stretches out every which way, and makes the bike look long and wide. The fairing also dumps a lot of heat on your feet in town on a hot day.

The first long street trip I did with the YZF, with my girlfriend as passenger to the Kingston area countryside, revealed a powerful, utterly stable machine. It has no nervous handling manners, and the superb chassis makes the thrust so easy to use (are we talking about the bike or Ivana? - RH). Unflappable and confidence inspiring, the compromise the YZF makes between stability and maneuverability is just about perfect for street performance riding, and the result is that you just don't bother slowing down for bumps, frost heaves, and other irregularities that would have other sportbikes tankslapping, weaving, and generally scaring the crap out of you. It feels calm and serene rounding bumpy rural corners at over twice the posted speed limit.

The suspension feels taut and well damped once adjusted for this sort of apex strafing, and in terms of quality feels very similar to the CBR900RR, which out of all the bikes I've ridden to date is my benchmark for suspension excellence. Although the YZF doesn't steer as quickly or as lightly as the 900RR, it feels much more secure on bumpy surfaces, and riding fast on your average bumpy back road, the YZF rider doesn't need to worry about violent tankslappers, so you can take in some of the scenery. I might add that even having a passenger aboard doesn't affect the big Yamaha's composure during this form of riding. Before the trip, the fully adjustable suspension was on stock settings, but I adjusted the rear preload up to three clicks off maximum for passenger duties. The YZF didn't lose any of its handling composure, still remaining solid and secure even rounding bumpy 160km/h fast sweepers. What's more is that most of the time my girlfriend Ivana didn't even notice just how fast we were going around these numerous big long corners. That's how safe this thing feels while railing.

Dunlop Sportmax IIs suit the bike very well, sliding predictably when cold, but have perfect composure when hot. Spinning the cold back tire out of slow turns is fun and has a certain grace to it, the strong low end power gently hanging out the rear end and lifting the front wheel an inch or two once the bike came back upright.

Unfortunately our planned racetrack testing at Mosport fell through (shame, I so wanted you to get back on that track and have another go at the nasty corner #4 - Ed), so lacking a racetrack on which to sling the YZF into corners, I made do with attacking the on and off ramps just along the Weston and Islington interchanges with the Hwy 401 in Toronto. So I donned ye good olde smelly racing leathers, and went on a weeknight after work at around 2:00 in the morning - just to make sure no car slugs were around.

After some familiarization, my ramp speeds increased, and the front end started pogoing a bit while accelerating out of the Weston Rd./401 West on-ramp. I stiffened the forks to 3/4 preload (one line showing), added five clicks of compression damping and dropped the tire pressures to 33psi front and rear. This improved things, but as I started to hang off the bike a bit, grinding my kneeslider, and going faster, the YZF's sheer size makes itself known. The short wheelbase and steep geometry still don't mask the fact that this is a big motorcycle, and you don't feel that the bike is an extension of your body, like a YSR50 or CBR600 feels. I expect track riding would get the giant muffler can and the footpegs scraping pretty quickly, because it was relatively easy to get the righthand peg to ground out after several passes of the Islington North off-ramp. Oh, by the way, when/if you ride like this on ramps, be careful of painted lane division lines; they are slippery! For fast street riding though, the YZF is as close to faultless as any open class sportbike gets.

Boring highway riding is reasonably comfortable on the YZF, although I noticed I'd stretch my legs off the footpeg rather frequently while cruising along. However, a five minute gas stop let me stretch out enough to go for another couple hundred kilometers easily. It's easy and comfortable to cruise at 160+km/h, but the buzzing will eventually put your hands to sleep. The Yamaha has great tank range, one tank usually lasting nearly 250km's before the low fuel light comes on. Ivana said the passenger seat was comfortable, but pointed out the pegs were a bit high as well.

Once past 3000km, I noticed the gearbox would occasionally miss the fourth to fifth upshift and downshift. It would never miss if you stepped on the lever hard, making a conscious effort to shift the gear home, but then you shouldn't have to do that. Along with a sometimes tricky-to-find neutral, these were the only problems with an otherwise very slick shifting gearbox and slack-free driveline.

Only having five gears doesn't hinder performance too much, as the YZF1000 has a very healthy engine indeed. Predictably, it makes power, and lots of it, everywhere. It feels much stronger in the bottom end than a 900RR, and it felt the same as a friend's ZX-11 when rolling the gas open at highway speeds. Above 6,000rpm, the intake growls and the serious acceleration begins. It's not violent horsepower like the Fireblade's, whose abrupt power wheelies have the triple clamp smacking you in the faceshield in first gear, rather it's very fast acceleration which the chassis lowish centre of gravity controls, keeping the bike level and planted. However, like most things with two wheels and over 120bhp, it'll pull big, long, lurid wheelies and carry it into second gear easily enough, you just have to try a little - From 6,000 to 10,000rpm, this motor makes strong, smooth, abundant horsepower! Roll on power from any speed is good enough for any kind of rural road passing without going for a downshift, although it's always fun to drop down to first or second and blitz past all the rolling steel cages like they were in reverse. The motor peaks at 10,500rpm, and overrevving to the 12,500rpm limiter is pointless, as the power curve drops off sharply. Go looking for top speed, and the motor stops accelerating the bike at 11,000rpm, at which point you're doing a smidgen over an indicated 260km/h.

The brakes complement this excellent street chassis and powerhouse motor by offering enough deceleration to lock a cold front tire with one finger on the lever. These brakes are the best brakes that I've used, and they must feel even more powerful on the lighter YZF600R2, which uses all the same components. Despite the short wheelbase and powerful brakes, whether the YZF locks up the front tire or lifts the rear wheel depends on your body position, and obviously, the road surface and the warmth of the tire. This, along with the bike's planted front end under maximum acceleration in first gear, points out the YZF's low centre of gravity.

The YZF1000R is a very versatile motorcycle. It's a bike that offers big power with a comfortable passenger seat, and the best balance between handling/stability for the street currently for sale. It's like a hybrid made up of a CBR900RR and a CBR1100XX. Not as truckish as the XX, but not as skittish and single minded as the RR, along with serious horsepower. For most riding that the average sportrider engages in, that is, street riding along with the odd track day, the YZF strikes a very usable balance that I think would best suit the needs of the big bore four cylinder bike fan.

Piero Zambotti


Piero went to pick the YZF up from Yamaha and so got the strange idea that it was his bike. I finally managed to pry it out of his possessive little hands for a days blast with Larry Tate and OMG's computer guru/photographer, Wilfred Gaube.

Riding across Toronto to the East end I got in to trouble almost immediately. The upcoming lights suddenly changed to red as I approached at a leisurely 40 Km/h. Wey-hey, no I'm not, more like 80! Screeech - the rear end locked up. Release back brake, apply front (hard) and I pulled to a stop just over the line. The YZF just doesn't give the same feedback of speed that most other bikes do. Don't judge by feel alone - keep an eye on the clocks, or it's goodbye Mr. Licence! Actually, one thing Piero failed to mention was a certain $300+ speeding ticket that he acquired on the YZF during one late nights blast down the Allen Expressway in Toronto. Now I can see why.

Having said that, it doesn't take long to feel at home and in a certain amount of control on this physically large machine. Heading out East with Wilfred to meet Larry, we finally exited the 401 and hit some twisties. Left, right, left, bump - eeek! That tank sure hugs yer bollocks. Combine a bump with some braking and your plumbs get a bit too intimate with said tank. After a quick stop to shake my valuables back out of my lower abdomen, I learned (quickly) to grip the tank firmly with my knees when pushing it under similar conditions.

Choices, choices...

Larry turned up on a spanking Triumph T595 (bastard gets all the good bikes), and it wasn't long before we'd swapped over. Since this is not a T595 test I won't go into details on it's particulars, but one thing it did illustrate is that the YZF isn't a balls out race rep. Although the Yam would out accelerate the T, and keep up well through the twisties it didn't make you want to really go for it like the 595. It felt a bit too big, almost too civilised - a mature machine compared to the frantic, steroid pumping Triumph. If it weren't for the low bars (which left my wrists aching badly at the end of the day), it would slot nicely into the sports tourer mold. Funnily enough, this is where we'll see it when the new sports 1000 comes into fruition next year.

Rob Harris





(As measured by Dynotronics)



(As measured by Piero Zambotti)



As you can see from the Dyno output (thanks to Peter of Dynotronics, Ph 416-749-9857) power delivery's nice and predictable up to it's max of 125hp. Don't know why it's got mph on the horizontal axis, but then I don't know why I'm stuck here writing this when I could be out fornicating instead ... bye!

© 1997 Canadian Motorcycle Guide