There's no doubting that sportbike performance just keeps getting better year after year. Engines gain more power, machines get lighter, handling becomes more agile, suspension is better controlled. As every new bike season unfolds, we're continually amazed at the annual increase in speed. How can they keep getting better?
And yet there was beginning to be a subtle, creeping boredom to it all. The marketing hyperbole was starting to get a little old--"The new bike is more powerful, lighter, better handling than before..." Yawn. The conventional approach to better performance is a road that's beginning to get pretty worn down. And while some have ventured off the beaten path, they might receive some accolades for innovation--but the end result was usually more an exercise in engineering soap-boxing than in increased performance.Until now.
Born In MotoGP
Yes, the buzzwords "developed in MotoGP" are starting to get a bit overused in marketing press materials, but in the '09 Yamaha YZF-R1's case, it's far more than just adspeak describing some overall design brief or fancy exhaust.
SR's OG ("Original Geek") Trevitt explained some of the intricacies of the crossplane crankshaft in our December '08 issue ("New Bikes '09 - 2009 Yamahas"). Descended from the same design used by the YZR-M1 MotoGP racebike, the crossplane crankshaft utilizes 90-degree (instead of 180-degree) cylinder phasing and an uneven firing order to radically change the behavior of a typical inline-four engine. The main goal was to provide a more linear power response to throttle movements, allowing the rider to better sense traction and thus allow earlier and stronger drives off the corners.
An engine primarily produces torque by combustion. However, there is also a secondary torque produced by the spinning crankshaft due to the counterweights used to balance out each cylinder's inertia, and this is aptly named inertial torque. In a conventional 180-degree inline-four crankshaft, the inertial torque actually causes the crankshaft to spin faster at top dead center and bottom dead center (12 o'clock and 6 o'clock positions) than it does at the 90-degree and 270-degree (3 o'clock and 9 o'clock) positions. Because of this variance, the inertial torque rapidly influences the combustion torque as rpms rise, and this results in a spikey torque curve that can often be out of step with throttle movements.
The crossplane crankshaft changes the cylinder phasing from 180-degree to 90-degree intervals. As a result, instead of combustion occurring every 180 degrees of crankshaft revolution, the crossplane crank's first two power pulses are separated by a long 270 degrees of rotation, followed by one firing 180 degrees later and the next taking place only 90 degrees after that, with the same firing pattern beginning again 180 degrees later. By spreading out the engine's power pulses at 90-degree intervals, the inertial torque is smoothed out to the point that crankshaft rotational speed is nearly even throughout each revolution. By having combustion and inertial torque working together, the result is not only a more linear torque response to throttle movements, but the uneven firing intervals also produce the low-rpm torque of a V-twin with the usual high-rpm horsepower of a four-cyinder.
The Right Venue
To introduce the new R1, Yamaha chose the famous Eastern Creek International Racing Circuit just outside of Sydney, Australia, and they didn't select it just for the great weather. Eastern Creek has an abundance of corners that place an emphasis on lower gear acceleration, perfect to showcase the Yamaha's newfound power characteristics.
Immediately noticeable when climbing aboard the new R1 are the revised ergos. The clip-on bars are now positioned 10mm farther rearward, while the shorter fuel tank moves the rider forward another 7.6mm; the footpegs are also moved forward 10mm (the footpeg bracket is also adjustable in two positions, with a more track-oriented setup that positions the pegs 15mm higher and 3mm rearward). This makes the new Yamaha feel shorter and smaller, with less of the "perched atop the front of a rocket" sensation that the older model had.
Blipping the throttle produces a unique feel and sound that is unlike any other motorcycle--with the exception of Rossi's M1, of course. The exhaust note is an exact copy of the M1, with the usual inline-four shriek almost canceled out by a deeper, almost V-four-ish growl; we can't wait to hear it with a set of slip-ons. Just as interesting, though, is how the engine revs. It responds instantly to the throttle and revs super-quick like any well-tuned sportbike engine should, but at the same time its character is softer and less frenetic than your typical inline-four.
Snicking the bike into gear and heading down the pit lane, you quickly realize that this is definitely no ordinary inline four, and certainly nothing like the previous generation R1. Despite its more oversquare dimensions (the new powerplant sports bore/stroke figures of 78 x 52.2mm versus the previous 77 x 53.6mm measurements), the new engine has an abundance of torque at lower rpms that its predecessor could only fantasize about. Even with the same tall first gear (albeit with two extra teeth on the rear sprocket), the new Yamaha effortlessly pulled away from a stop without any of the deft clutch manipulation usually required, and it's a sure bet the R1's enhanced low-end and midrange power will pay dividends in real-world street use. No longer will the R1 pilot be forced to keep the rpms higher than usual to get serious steam from the engine room. In addition, we found the previous 7000-rpm flat spot of previous generation R1s to be completely banished in the '09 model.
Once the Michelin Pilot Power rubber (U.S. models will be fitted with the new generation Dunlop D210 Qualifier tires) was warmed up after a couple of laps, it was time to put the hammer down and see if the new Yamaha was going to live up to the hype. It didn't take long.
The Right Stuff
Yamaha has stuck with the inline-four engine configuration because of its many advantages. Probably the most significant one is that it is more compact front-to-back, which allows more freedom with engine positioning for optimum weight distribution without running into the front wheel clearance problems that are problematic with transverse vee engines. In fact, the '09 R1's cylinder bank has been tilted back nine degrees so that the lower portion of the engine can be moved forward 8.2mm for more front-end weight bias, with the weight distribution now 0.6 percent heavier at the front (52.4 percent front/47.6 percent rear). But their one big disadvantage has always been a spikey torque curve that can make it difficult on the rider's efforts to control rear tire grip, especially in the lower gears.
With the new R1's engine, however, you really do get both the friendlier torque curve of a V-twin and quick, high-rpm horsepower of an inline-four. The Yamaha is very responsive to the throttle, like any highly-tuned liter-size inline engine putting out 160-plus rear wheel horsepower would be. But it's nowhere near abrupt; instead, while the crossplane crank engine has a crisp immediacy that puts you in direct control of acceleration, it's almost as if that fierce drive has its sharp edges rounded off just enough so that you can better sense what the rear tire is doing.
There's plenty of midrange pull to get through slower corners without being forced to use a lower gear, allowing the rider to keep up momentum far easier than the old R1. A distinct increase in power can be felt just past 9000 rpm, which is approximately where the newly-mapped YCC-I intake funnels change to their shorter position for better top-end power. From there on up, the strong top-end charge continues unabated until around 13,500 rpm, just short of the 13,750 rpm redline. Our seat-of-the-pants dyno seemed to feel that the top-end wasn't quite a strong as our last R1, and although the claimed power figures are basically the same, Yamaha reps confirmed that EPA noise regulations have indeed choked off the U.S.-bound Yamahas by six horsepower (due to more restrictive mufflers) compared to the Euro version. You can bet that aftermarket slip-on exhaust and fueling computer sales for the new R1 will be brisk. Still, final judgment will have to wait until we can get a U.S. version on our own dyno for a full road test.
The new R1 also joins the ranks of sportbikes with different engine power modes, with its three-position "D-Mode" system. We've grown to dislike these systems because they end up being nothing more than softer engine power maps that don't really have practical usage--but the Yamaha system has broken that mold. The R1 D-Mode system only works through the YCC-T (Yamaha Chip-Controlled Throttle) ride-by-wire system that controls throttle plate movement, so it only changes portions of throttle application, not overall power output. Besides the "standard" mode, there is a "B" mode that is provides 30 percent slower throttle opening response at all throttle openings. This was especially helpful when the stock Michelin Pilot Power tires became slippery from being overworked on the Eastern Creek racing surface; by softening up the initial throttle response, the D-Mode system allowed the tires to maintain traction until you picked the bike up onto the fatter part of the rear tire, by which time you were at full throttle and getting full power. There is also an "A" mode that is actually 30 percent more aggressive in the first 50 percent of throttle opening, and this took some getting used to because of its sharper response. On a racetrack with sticky DOT race tires (which is what we were provided with for the second half of the day), it works great, but we definitely wouldn't recommend it for a novice rider on stock tires and an unfamiliar circuit or dodgy conditions.
But Wait, There's More!
We liked the previous generation R1's steering habits and front-end feel, and the new model thankfully hasn't lost any of that appeal--in fact, it's actually improved upon them. We were initially skeptical of the Soqi separately-adjustable (rebound damping is handled by the right fork, left fork deals with compression damping) inverted fork, because in the past separate damping legs were done for economy, and cheap internals resulted in poor suspension action. The Soqi fork worked superbly, however, offering excellent wheel control and feedback during all aspects of cornering, including very aggressive braking. The rear suspension was also well mannered, with a revised linkage (with more progressive rate, which we felt it needed to counter the old R1's tendency to squat under acceleration) and sorted damping/spring rates keeping everything under control out back.
Speaking of brakes, the 310mm discs clamped by radial-mount/six-piston calipers return, although the disc carriers have been changed to improve rigidity and reduce stress distortion under heavy braking, and the radial-pump master cylinder has revised stroke angles and lever shape for more efficient initial braking action. We had no problems with the R1 brakes in the past, and the minor modifications have actually improved the stopping power and feel a perceptible amount. We also noticed that the new Yamaha seemed to have less engine braking in the lower gears, allowing easier and faster corner entries; whether that was due to the crossplane crankshaft or the minor oiling mods done to the slipper clutch, the added benefit was a welcome addition.
Most riders probably won't notice the difference, but when the sticky Michelin DOT race tires were mounted up for the second half of the day at Eastern Creek, we found the R1's overall feel when pushed hard at max lean angles to be an improvement over the old version. Although the frame is stronger in a vertical plane, it's actually less rigid on a horizontal (and even torsional, i.e. twisting) sense, which permits the chassis to help absorb some of the bump loads at max lean that the suspension can't deal with because of its more horizontal attitude.
There really wasn't a lot to come up with when it came to gripes with the new R1, although one aspect that couldn't be ignored on the spec sheet (even though it wasn't noticed on the racetrack) is that the new Yamaha gained 18 pounds over last year's model. This is due largely to the crossplane crankshaft; not only is a counterbalance shaft required, but much of the engine internals needed to be beefed up to deal with the different power characteristics (for instance, the rod journal size was increased from 32 to 36mm, and it's a sure bet the transmission and crankcases were beefed up as well). We also found that doing fifth and sixth gear roll-on tests resulted in some conspicuous vibration from the engine as the uneven power pulses fought against the high loads at low rpm (at all other rpms, the crossplane engine is absolutely smooth as silk). Nonetheless, both of these issues were either only obvious in one particular instance (roll-on vibration), or hardly at all (extra weight).
A Real Step Forward
In this day and age of ever-increasing speed, it's difficult for an innovative idea to change the way we think about performance while actually improving that performance at the same time. Too many "revolutionary" ideas have really been nothing more than the same old marketing clown dressed up in different clothes. Thus, it's refreshing to see that Yamaha has truly come up with something special with the new R1. It's a sportbike that will change the way inline-four-cylinder engines are looked at from now on. And that's something to get excited about.
'09 Yamaha YZF-R1
MSRP: $12,390 (blue/white)
$12,490 (Raven/Candy Red; Cadmium Yellow/Raven; Pearl White/Rapid Red)
Type: Liquid-cooled, 4-stroke, DOHC inline four-cylinder
Bore x stroke: 78.0 x 52.2mm
Compression ratio: 12.7:1
Induction: Mikuni EFI w/YCC-I, YCC-T, dual injectors/cyl.
Front tire: 120/70ZR-17 Dunlop D210F Sportmax Qualifier
Rear tire: 190/55ZR-17 Dunlop D210F Sportmax Qualifier
Rake/trail: 24 deg./4.0 inches (102mm)
Wheelbase: 55.7 inches (1415mm)
Seat height: 32.9 inches
Fuel capacity: 4.8 gal. (18L)
Claimed wet weight: 454 lb. (206kg)
'09 Yamaha YZF-R1 Tech