The first surprise came when we rolled up our '09 Yamaha R1 test bike onto our digital scales fully fueled and ready to ride. As the numbers settled down on the Intercomp digital readout, we did a double-take at what the LCD display was showing: 477 pounds. Um, wait a minute…477 pounds? That's eight pounds heavier than the previous porker of the class, the '08 Suzuki GSX-R1000, and a stunning 13 pounds heavier than the previous generation R1. How could that be?
The next shocker came when we strapped the '09 R1 down onto our Superflow Dyno and the computer screen showed a peak horsepower figure of 146.3 at 11,500 rpm. Hold on a second, only 146 horsepower? That's more than 14 horsepower down on the '08 Kawasaki ZX-10R, and six horsepower less than the previous R1. While we'd felt that the '09 R1 seemed down on top-end compared to the previous model, we didn't think it was down that much.
So simply judging by the numbers, the new R1 must be an absolute pig of a literbike that can barely get out of its own way, right?
Wrong. After being so impressed on the racetrack during our brief exposure to the new R1 at the world press launch in Australia ("Game Changer," May '09), it was difficult not to think that its innovative design would transform the Yamaha's street manners as well. And several weeks spent living with the new Yamaha on a daily basis showed jumping to conclusions based on just a spec sheet can be a mistake of tremendous proportions.
R Is For Real World
As soon as you fire up the new R1's crossplane-crank engine, it's pretty obvious that this is no ordinary inline four. The slightly lumpy idle reminds you of a V8 with a streetable race cam, and the exhaust note when blipping the throttle sounds similar to a V8 as well. The way the R1 revs is unique; it has the quick response of an inline four along with the torquey feel of a V-twin, and that sensation carries over to the moment you start feeding out the clutch in first gear. Instead of the rpm becoming hypersensitive to load as you'd normally find with an inline-four, the R1 has a bit of that lazy, heavier flywheel sensation that allows an easier task of pulling away from a stop.
That additional low-end torque is a good thing considering that the Yamaha's first gear is still rather tall due to the close-ratio transmission. A good amount of clutch slippage is necessary to get off the line smartly, and letting out the clutch too soon with too much throttle results in some vibration as the uneven firing order works against the high load imposed on it. The transmission action is superb, one of the best we've encountered; no notchiness or sloppy movement, just crisp, precise shifts whether cruising or pinning the throttle.