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.
A die-cast magnesium one-piece...
A die-cast magnesium one-piece rear subframe is a first for the R1, and reduces outlying area weight for better mass centralization.
In contrast to the old R1...
In contrast to the old R1 frame that was made mostly from Controlled-Fill precision die castings with extruded plates welded outside the main frame spars, the new R1's frame is all-new, with a combination of conventional gravity castings for the steering head and swingarm pivot section, with a Controlled-Fill precision die cast middle spar section backed by an extruded inside rail. Note the front engine mount now attaches to the bottom front of the cylinder head instead of the rear. The new frame is 22 percent stiffer vertically, but is actually 37 percent less rigid laterally, and 2 percent less rigid torsionally.
Although outwardly similar,...
Although outwardly similar, the new R1's swingarm has been subtly modified to provide 28 percent more stiffness vertically, while being 21 percent less rigid laterally and a whopping 29 percent less rigid torsionally.
The new R1's fairing shows...
The new R1's fairing shows a lot of work with internal airflow management, with a longer separate side opening creating a larger low pressure area to help pull airflow through the radiator.
The four-bulb headlight assembly...
The four-bulb headlight assembly of the previous R1 has been replaced by a twin projector beam setup that now features both high and low beam in each projector assembly, eliminating the need for the previous reflector beams.
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.