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.
The R1's racetrack orientation is apparent in most situations where you're not riding aggressively. Although there's plenty of room for taller riders (especially with the footpegs set in the 15mm lower of two positions), the seat padding is racetrack firm, as are the overall spring and damping rates at both ends. Even softened up in an attempt to handle the imperfections of urban pavement, the Yamaha's suspension still retained a compression damping harshness that would send a jolt back to the rider over bumps, and combined with the stiff ride of the new OEM-spec Dunlop D210 Sportmax tires (more on that later) made traveling over rough tarmac a sometimes sketchy proposition. Another commuting aspect of the R1 that hasn't changed is the heat emanating from the underseat exhaust; expect to get your thighs roasted medium rare in traffic.
Despite the new secondary injectors in each throttle body delivering more fuel at high rpms, the crossplane-crankshaft engine is no thirstier than its predecessor. Our test unit averaged 31 mpg, although it would dip down into the 26-29 mpg range when ridden aggressively, and even though the low fuel light was fairly optimistic (coming on with almost one gallon still left in the 4.8-gallon tank), it still meant that overall range is limited to about 150-160 miles depending on your riding style. Wind protection from the low-cut windscreen and slender fairing was surprisingly good, and the mirrors provide a decent rearward view.
The crossplane-crank engine is incredibly smooth at any situation other than the aforementioned lower-rpm lugging scenario. There's no buildup of high-frequency vibration as the rpms rise, and the engine's silky demeanor and gruff exhaust note can be deceptive at times, making you think that you're turning lower rpm than you really are…until you sneak a glance at the tach or the shift light begins blinking in your face.
The different firing order...
The different firing order of the crossplane crankshaft necessitates different routing for the header pipes and collectors of the exhaust. Exhaust system is all titanium construction.
The new R1’s dash layout is...
The new R1’s dash layout is laid out much better compared to the previous model, with a more compact setup that includes a better-positioned shift light. Damping is separately handled with each Soqi fork leg; compression adjuster is on the top of the left fork, rebound on the right.
The R1’s seat has been moved...
The R1’s seat has been moved forward almost 8mm to bring the rider closer to the front for better weight distribution. Padding is racetrack firm, but wide and supportive.
R Is For The Real Thing
It's difficult to describe just how mesmerizing the R1's power is when the Yamaha is given the whip coming off a corner. There's all the in-your-face acceleration that you'd expect from a 1000cc inline four, but with a sense of controllability and feel that transcends all the conventional characteristics of that engine configuration. Throttle response is immediate and precise (in the standard mode of the Yamaha D-Mode system) without that fierce and razor-sharp edge that can threaten to upset the tires and chassis in midcorner, meaning you can feed in more throttle and not have to guess what you'll get in return. It's like a form of traction control directly connected to your brain that can still allow monster drives off corner exits without pulling back power and torque.
We actually found the more aggressive A mode to be a bit too forceful while canyon-carving. The first 10 percent of throttle movement seems to yield what feels like 40 percent throttle in the same space, requiring an extremely delicate hand on the throttle to avoid upsetting the steering and forcing you off your intended line. To tell you the truth, we weren't that fond of A mode on the racetrack in the slower corners, either, and that was with sticky DOT race tires and much wider pavement to work with; on the confining and unknown lanes of public roads, it became an exercise in concentration that quickly got tiresome.
There's plenty of good steam available from 5000 rpm on up, with a distinct—but not abrupt or hard-hitting—jump in power around 9000 rpm, meaning you can utilize the engine's torque to keep corner momentum high. Acceleration remains strong and linear on up to well into the five-digit rpm range, with the off-tone YZR-M1 MotoGP exhaust note singing a song like no other. Who said inline fours can't have character or charisma?
Yep, we know what many of...
Yep, we know what many of you are already thinking: “The ‘09 R1 sucks on the dyno compared to the ‘08 model. How can it be better?” The problem is that a dyno only reads full throttle application in one gear. It doesn’t read partial throttle applications, which is where the crossplane crankshaft’s feel truly excels. The top-end deficit is hard to ignore, however.
We did notice, however, that acceleration tended to tail off a bit past 11,000 rpm, and a look at the dyno chart confirmed our subjective impressions. While the crossplane-crank R1 is by no means a slug on top, it was pretty easy to discern that the Yamaha lacks the outright top-end speed of the faster competition. And it's one that we'd lay blame on three areas: one, the stricter EPA noise tests that force a smaller inlet pipe in the titanium mufflers for U.S. models; two, the counterbalancer necessary to run the crossplane configuration robbing power at higher rpm; and three, cam timing with significantly less overlap than the previous generation R1. On the street, the deficit isn't noticeable, simply because by the time you get to that rpm even in first gear, you're already exceeding the national speed limit by a good margin. On the track, it may not be as much of a liability as you'd think, due to the R1's ability to get off the corners so well. We'll see just how much of a concern it might be when we get all the current literbikes together for our shootout next issue.
The R1 not only comes off corners well, it gets into them with serious speed too, thanks to precise steering, a suspension/chassis combination that provides excellent feedback, and an engine character that seems to roll into corners better with less back-torque/compression braking than a conventional inline four. The firm suspension spring/damping rates come into their own once speed picks up, absorbing most pavement imperfections while keeping the chassis stable and planted (we loved the hydraulic spring preload adjuster on the Soqi rear shock; far better than being forced to use a hammer and punch, or fabricate some sort of special tool). While steering effort isn't as lithe as a Honda CBR1000RR, it's still easier than the rest of the competition to flick into a turn, and as long as the pavement's smooth, the precise steering characteristics of the OEM Dunlop front tire allow you to pick your entrance line down to the inch. The chassis' superb handling masks the R1's heft well; you don't really feel the extra weight in the vast majority of riding situations, and it'd be easy to think you were riding a bike weighing 40 pounds lighter. The same heavier-flywheel sensation of the engine felt at slower speeds also seems to let the R1 enter faster corners with less engine drag when you're off the throttle, freeing up concentration for quicker turn entries.
Note that we said "as long as the pavement's smooth" with regards to the R1's steering. The Yamaha comes equipped with a Japanese-made OEM-spec version of the Dunlop Sportmax, dubbed the "D210 Sportmax" (this is not the same as the OEM-spec Sportmax Qualifier that is found on other U.S. bikes—including the R6—whose genetic lines were descended from the last generation D209 Sportmax GP DOT racing tire). Although overall handling and grip from the D210 is good, we found the carcass on this particular OEM-spec Dunlop to be very stiff, and while it provides good feedback on smooth pavement, any bumps encountered at various lean angles can quickly cause traction to deteriorate significantly. No amount of suspension or tire pressure fiddling could make up for the D210's rigid feel, and the tire's rough ride definitely compromised cornering on rough tarmac. It should be reiterated that this is an OEM-spec tire, and it will only be available as a replacement fitment from Yamaha dealers. We're anxious to try the R1 with some different rubber, and will report on our findings soon.
Braking power from the radial-mount/six-piston...
Braking power from the radial-mount/six-piston calipers was good, although we’d prefer a little more progressiveness; really aggressive braking required a lot of lever effort. The OEM-spec Dunlop D210 tires offered decent grip and handling, but their ride was overly stiff, compromising traction on rough pavement.
Braking from the six-piston radial-mount Sumitomo calipers and 310mm discs was excellent for the most part, with nice response, good power, and decent feel. We'd prefer a little more progressiveness in the braking power though, as really strong stopping power requires a he-man pull on the lever, especially at street speeds where the pads don't have much time to warm-up. The R1's slipper clutch worked well, although we're not sure how much of its superlative action was due to the crossplane crank engine's lack of engine braking. Case in point: the R1 will back into a corner when downshifted into first gear if you don't make a concerted effort to blip the throttle.
R Is For Ready
With the all-new GSX-R1000 finally making its appearance elsewhere in this issue and showing a much improved level of performance, and the new faster and stronger Ducati 1198 being debuted earlier, it’s clear the new R1 is going up against the toughest literbike field ever. There’s no room for slacking in this class; even the Honda CBR1000RR and Kawasaki ZX-10R, both returning for ’09 basically unchanged, are formidable sportbikes packing some serious firepower. This is going to be one monster literbike comparo coming up.
But one thing’s for sure…the Yamaha R1 is up for it, ready and waiting.
2009 Yamaha YZF-R1
+ Sublime engine power characteristics
+ Track-ready suspension
+ Excellent handling
- Excessive weight
- Down a bit on power
- Stock Dunlops ride stiff
x The most innovative approach to sportbike performance in quite some time
|SUGGESTED SUSPENSION SETTINGS
||Spring preload: 4 lines showing; rebound
damping—14 clicks out from full stiff;
compression damping—26 clicks out
from full stiff
||Spring preload: 8 turns out from full stiff;
rebound damping—14 clicks out from full
stiff; high-speed compression damping—3
turns out from full stiff; low-speed compression
damping—14 clicks out from full stiff
'09 Yamaha YZF-R1
(blue/white); $12,490 (Raven/Candy Red; Cadmium Yellow/Raven; Pearl White/Rapid Red)
Type: Liquid-cooled, 4-stroke, inline four
Valve arrangement: DOHC, 4 valves/cyl.
Bore x stroke: 78.0 x 52.2mm
Compression ratio: 12.7:1
Induction: Mikuni EFI w/YCC-I, YCC-T, 45mm throttle bodies, dual injectors/cyl.
The complex shape of the aluminum...
The complex shape of the aluminum frame castings is evident in this stripped bike photo. The rear subframe is a one-piece precision casting that is lighter than the previous two-piece unit.
Front suspension: 43mm inverted cartridge fork, 4.7 in. travel; adjustments for spring preload, rebound and compression damping
Rear suspension: Single shock absorber, 4.7 in. travel; adjustments for spring preload, high- and low-speed compression damping, rebound damping
Front brake: 2 radial-mount/6-piston calipers, 310mm discs
Rear brake: Single-piston caliper, 220mm disc
Front wheel: 3.50 x 17 in.; cast aluminum alloy
Rear wheel: 6.00 x 17 in.; cast aluminum alloy
Front tire: 120/70ZR-17 Dunlop D210F Sportmax
Rear tire: 190/55ZR-17 Dunlop D210 Sportmax
Rake/trail: 24 deg./4.0 in. (102mm)
Wheelbase: 55.7 in. (1415mm)
Seat height: 32.9 in. (835mm)
Fuel capacity: 4.8 gal. (18L)
Weight: 477 lb. (216kg) wet; 448.4 lb. (203kg) dry
Instruments: Analog tachometer, LCD display panel for digital speedometer, coolant temperature, clock, odometer/ tripmeter, Yamaha D-Mode setting, gear indicator, fuel consumption, lap time; warning lights for neutral, high beam, turn signal, engine trouble, shift indicator, oil level, coolant temperature, steering damper trouble, low fuel level
Quarter-mile: 9.82 sec. @ 144.2 mph (corrected)
Top speed: 182.1 mph
Roll-ons: 60-80 mph/2.90 sec.; 80-100 mph/3.01 sec.
Fuel consumption: 26-33 mpg, 31 mpg avg.