Yamaha YZF-R1review116a

by Paul Berglund 

First off, wow.  Other than the mirrors being way too short to be useful, I can’t find any faults with this bike.  It’s so far beyond my skill levels, that I couldn’t find anything this bike didn’t do very well.  I rode it on the street, like most buyers will be doing, and again, the R1 levels of performance are far beyond what you can legally do when riding on the street.  If you can ride this bike to its limits on the race track, you should turn pro, because you are no mere mortal.  So, yeah, wow.

It has a list price of $12,490 for the cool Raven/Candy Red version we tested.  That’s an added $100 over the stock, but also nice, blue and white version.  Raven/Candy red means it’s black, flat black and red.  It gives the bike a menacing look.  It’s a wolf in wolf’s clothing.  More like an ultimate fighting wolf in wolf’s clothing.  I rode through several small Minnesota towns on this thing.  Those who knew what it was were drawn to it.  Those who didn’t know would grow paler than their normal scandinavian pallor, cross themselves, and whisper “Diablo”.

It rides like a sport bike.  The clip-on handle bars are low.  You will be doing a push up until you reach freeway speeds or more, then the wind coming over the tiny windshield will help support your torso.  The seat is surprisingly roomy.  You can adjust your position front to back to find the sweet spot for comfort and control.  Work on those inner thigh muscles because you will be squeezing the gas tank with your legs when the pace picks up.  On longer rides at legal speeds your wrists will complain.   You could try getting your chiropractor to write you a note to give to the police when they pull you over.  But they may not accept that this bike is only comfortable at speeds over 80 as an excuse for speeding.

It has a 998-cc liquid cooled, fuel injected engine.  The transmission is a six speed with a slipper clutch.   The whole bike weighs 454 pounds with a full tank (4.8 gallons) of gas.  Here’s the part that is hard to grasp; it makes a claimed 182 crankshaft horsepower.  Yes, it has wonderful brakes and suspension, with titanium parts and a fly by wire throttle, but it can accelerate fast enough to give most riders brain blur.  What I mean by that is, you will have to train your brain to process information at a much faster rate than you are used to, if you are going to whack the throttle open on this motorcycle.  It’s fantastically fast.  Not just fantastic as in great, but fantastic as in hard to believe.

You could have guessed that, if you knew what 1000-cc sport bikes have been capable of for the last few years.  So what’s new here?  The crankshaft.  Inline four cylinder motorcycle engines have worked the same way for years and years.  Manufacturers have added more valves, fuel injection and used high tech materials, but it’s been the same style of crankshaft and firing order for decades.  The two outside pistons (#1 & 4) and the two inside pistons (#2 & 3) move together in pairs, and the spark plugs fire every 180 degrees of rotation.  For the 2009 R1, they distributed the pistons at 90 degree intervals on the crank shaft and gave it a different firing order (270 – 180 – 90 – 180).  They call it Crossplane technology.   It gives the engine a different feel from traditional 4 cylinder engines.  It sounds different, too.

When I fired the bike up, it had a different cadence to it.  I wasn’t sure I liked it.  With older fours, power used to come on gradually, and then viciously as the RPMs increased.  Motors would howl and growl.  With the new motor, it’s much more linear.  You get more power sooner, but it all comes at a steady pace.  I loved the way this thing performed right away and by the time I returned from the test ride, I loved the way it sounded, too.  Yes, it made a huge amount of power, but it was doing it a new way.  Much the way twins feel and sound different from inline fours, this four has a sound and feel of its own.  I was fascinated and I think we’ll be seeing more engines that use this technology.  It’s good.

review116bAll that power is put to the ground through a slipper clutch.  A slipper clutch is a two way thing.  When the clutch is engaged, it will send all the power to the rear wheel, but it won’t let power be sent from the rear wheel back to the engine.  So, if you down shift too many gears and let out the clutch, the engine won’t get sent revving up to red-line by the rear wheel.  The bike will also free wheel when you let off the gas.  No more engine braking to slow the bike down.  I knew what a slipper clutch did for years.  I never wanted one, but now that I’ve ridden with Yamaha’s version, I do.  It helped me smooth out my riding.  I was using the brakes in a civilized manner, while the bike and I weren’t being brutalized by my lack of clutch and shifting skill.  It made riding a high horsepower bike more fun.  I wouldn’t have guessed that.

So, the crossplane crankshaft and the slipper clutch are big improvements.  What about the rest of the bike?  The digital dash is your friend.  Get to know it and check it often.  You will be going way faster than you should be almost instantly.  You will need to learn self-restraint.  The tach is large and features a sweeping “analog” style hand.  The dash will also tell you what gear you are in.  I love this feature and wish all bikes had it.  It has a multi function odometer.  You can cycle through odometer, two trip meters, current gas mileage, average gas mileage and a clock.  You also have an extra switch on the right handle bar.  It let’s you switch performance modes.  You can run in A, standard, or B.  Standard is the default setting.  “B” is for muted power when it’s raining or you have run out of self-restraint.  “A” mode will boost low and midrange power.  If you remember the 1976 remake of King Kong, Kong was in “A” mode when he smashed through the humongous wooden gate.

While I was riding along through pastoral southern Minnesota,  the dash was telling me I was getting 35 or 36 miles per gallon.  I soon found the direct link to horsepower and gas consumption.  At 50 miles an hour, in sixth gear, you are only using a fraction of those 180 horses and the current miles per gallon reading would reflect that.  I would let off the gas and the reading would shoot up to 99.9 mpg.  Well, that was fun for a few seconds.  I soon found that by down shifting and using more throttle, I could make way more power and drop that number significantly.  I was now using much more of those horses and burning more fuel to show for it.  With the power setting switch in standard mode and at full throttle, I could drop that number to 13.3 miles per gallon.  While this is very politically incorrect, as was the mind bending rate at which I was accelerating, it pointed out just what making 182 horses costs.  You can ride responsibly and get gas mileage like a fuel sipping econo box.  Or, you can ride like a hooligan and get gas mileage like a large SUV. In the interest of science, I switched the bike into “A” mode.   I did this only to find out what the effect on gas mileage was.  Forward acceleration and gas mileage were right about where you’d expect the space shuttle to be.  I watched with horror and glee as the numbers dropped to 10.3 mpg.

Yes, I’m stupid and yes, that’s a juvenile thing to do. But even Spider-Man had to find out the hard way that with great power, comes great responsibility. Gas mileage will be the least of your concerns when you open the throttle on this bike. Survival and the police will be at the top of your list. I’m not sure where you’ll get full use out of an R1. It’s a fantastic bike. The street isn’t the proper place to let one loose. Maybe track days? What I can tell you is, if you want one and you can afford it, you won’t be disappointed with any aspect of its performance. It’s that good. The question is, are you?

Big thanks to Starr Cycle in Mankato for supplying this month’s test missile. Give ’em a call at 507.385.1990 or on the web at www.starr-cycle.com.

by B.P.Goebel

The liter capacity, race replica is a distillation of everything a manufacturer has learned through decades of trial and error. Everything has been quantified and honed and rethought and honed again, over and over to yield the smallest gain in performance. It’s the sharpest tool in the shed.

Yamaha Corporation has a long history of building high end, technologically advanced products in such diverse fields as electronics and musical instruments. With a research and development budget second only to Honda, they do not disappoint with the technological tour de force that is the 2009 YZF-R1.

The brightest star in the R1s’ technological Milky Way is definitely its engine. It has been a long time since an in-line four cylinder engine has been heralded with as much ad hype fanfare as the new CrossPlane engine has. Is this all sound and fury, with no significance? No way.

review116cThe in-line four cylinder motor configuration has amongst its pluses and minuses, the plus of instantaneous powerful acceleration, and the minus of a reputation for being peaky and hard to control at the limit. It takes up lots of organic processing power if the rider has to devote an inordinate amount of their attention to making sure that the slightest movement of their right wrist doesn’t send them to the moon or into the weeds. Especially on a 454 lb bike putting out 180hp. This brain power could be put to much better use when riding on the edge of the envelope. In military aviation, they say ‘fight the enemy, not the airplane’. In typical trickle down fashion, the technology that started on Valetino Rossi’s championship winning YZR-M1 MotoGP bike has come to the unwashed masses.

Yamaha has tried to manipulate that rabid power delivery in a way that makes the motors power more easily accessible to the rider. They call it CrossPlane crankshaft technology. The result has multiple benefits; it creates an inline four with a very linear, turn the throttle X amount and get exactly X amount back, non-peaky torque response and added low end, v-twinish torque not commonly associated with the inline four motor configuration. It also sounds like no other inline four. It sounds kind of flat, kind of a drone, kind of honk, similar to an unmuffled WWII vintage fighter plane at full rip. It is an excellent sound. While deep in the powerband, I felt it necessary to experience this sound many times while riding the R1. For no other reason than to hear it again. This motor even feels different against your contact patches-its vibrations are greasy smooth. Lest you think that they have made a slug out of the engine, the tach needle literally launches across the tachometer with instant throttle response. 60mph arrives at about 4000rpm and 100mph comes at approximately 7000rpm.A shift light alerts you of the 13,750rpm redline. Of course the power comes at a high cost. The R1 returned 28mpg at admittedly high speeds.

Making it easier to control (or harder!) all this power is Yamaha’s D-MODE system. This is a 3 way switch on the handle bars that works in conjunction with the fly-by-wire, Yamaha chip controlled throttle that changes the way the power comes on. The bike defaults on start up to standard mode. “B” mode gives a 30 percent slower throttle opening response at all throttle settings. This might be useful on the street in the rain or if trying to conserve tire life in a race situation. “A” mode is 30 percent MORE aggressive in the first half of the throttle range. Whoa.

After toggling between “A” mode and “B” mode multiple times just to revel in the motor’s Jekyll-Hyde personality, I left it in “A” mode. This is why people ride liter bikes. “A” mode power is ferocious, face melting power that changes ones conceptions of time and space. A note to the faint of heart and thick of wallet; if you are giving lots of thought as to which mode you might ride in, get a smaller bike with less power. This switch absolutely does not make the R1 a beginner’s bike, although it might sucker you into thinking it is with its docility at slower speeds and lesser throttle openings. Riding any current liter bike is being responsible and constantly vigilant of the fact that the bike, at anytime, can easily pound you into the pavement like a carpet tack.

The R1 is a very compact, dense piece of machinery. The organic styling is definitely a subjective element, but it’s rooted in science. The fairing surfaces are not only designed with aesthetics in mind, but also to get enough flow through air cooling to deal with the huge power output. Seating position on the R1 feels like you are in the bike. Race replicas are certainly not known for being comfortable. I was sure that my knees weren’t going to be able to take it for long. I was pleasantly surprised. The company that brought us adjustable foot pegs and handlebars on the epic Maxim line of the early ‘80’s, has brought back adjustable foot pegs to their flagship sport bike. Unfortunately, the bars do not have much adjustability and after a couple of hours my torso core muscles fatigued to the point of placing most of the weight excruciatingly on my wrists. Because of the very narrow focus of this, bike this is a small concern as the bars are fine at high speeds. The price one pays for posing?

Turning the key gets the, now usual, gauge pack start up dance ritual. The motor fires and immediately you can feel the difference in it. Put it in gear and release the light action clutch and with very little throttle input the R1 motors smoothly away. As Editor Pearman is fond of saying ‘you could shift this thing with a lobster claw’. With the Cross Plane motor, gone are the days of having to rev the bike to take off. Super snicky transmission action makes rowing through the seemingly endless ocean of torque a pleasure. The R1 utilizes a slipper clutch. This allows the rider to absolutely hamfist the clutch release, to just throw it away on a downshift and not have the rear wheel lock up. Again, this frees up brain power for other uses.

review116dThe brakes on the R1 are proportionate to the power-massive. They are, of course, an example of the newer radial mounted, caliper brake system. All I can say about this type of braking system is that if you haven’t tried them, and don’t want to have to go buy a new bike that has them, don’t try them. The difference in feelbetween radial mounted calipers and conventionaly mounted calipers brake systems is like comparing a disc brake to a drum brake. They are a trailbraker’s delight, offering a telepathic feel for what the front end is doing on corner initiation. Seemingly, you couldn’t have a better feel for what the brakes are doing, even if you were pinching the rotors with your fingertips. When grenaded, the dual 310mm front rotors add to the already awesome soundtrack with a cool, ringing, lathe turning metal sound. Maximum straight line braking power can also be described as ferocious. Erasing 50mph almost instantly hardly taxes the system. And all that with very little effort from one finger!

Without a doubt, the many technological refinements Yamaha has done with the frame and suspension are responsible for the R1s’ stellar, precision handling characteristics. Things like making the entire rear sub frame out of cast magnesium to centralize mass. Or for frame construction, using Controlled Fill precision casting, extruded sections and regular old gravity castings for their corresponding density and stiffness levels to exactly fine tune the balances between vertical, lateral, and torsional rigidity. Revised suspension linkage ratios and design help to keep the R1’s chassis attitude on a taut, even keel under very hard acceleration. Cutting edge front suspension technology puts the rebound damping on one leg and compression damping on the other. As behooves a bike of this caliber, suspension tuning is possible through a forest full of fork and shock dials and clickers. This machine sports adjustments that were not too long ago only available on the finest, most expensive aftermarket suspension parts. Narrow focus design trims all but the necessary, maximizes all systems, and allows for the level of connectedness to the road that is necessary for exploring the Edge. Let’s remember that this bike was designed for one thing: To win closed course competition races. If you are used to anything other than a late model, pure sport bike, the handling is a revelation.

It’s a solid fact that today’s sport bikes are far beyond the abilities of most riders. On the road, their capabilities will never be accessed. It’s not an uncommon phenomenon to purchase a second hand liter bike that has a tight, unbroken-in upper half of the engines rev range. Why? Because the first owner was more than satisfied with the amount of acceleration, (maybe even scared of the acceleration-be honest with yourself) before the motor even started to think about making BIG power. Through MotoGP technology, Yamaha has made a major leap in allowing the abilities of the above -average rider to tap into what previously was only the realm of the gifted and talented. At $12,490, you don’t even have to pay a million plus dollars to get it! Technology marches on.

A twist of the wrist to Starr Cycle in Mankato for their cooperation in writing this review. Starr Cycle can be reached at 507.385.1990 or starr-cycle.com.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.