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)