Incredible. Outrageous. Insane. These are some of the words we used to describe Suzuki's then-new GSX-R1000 when it won last year's literbike comparison test ("Mind the Gap," July '07). Even with the victory and those platitudes, however, the writing was on the wall for the big GSX-R. While we raved about how it disguised its weight so well, handled brilliantly and had amazing power, it was 27 pounds heavier than its predecessor, and the margin of victory-over the unchanged, returning models from Honda and Kawasaki-had shrunk significantly from the previous year.
You can bet engineers at Big Red and Team Green have been burning the midnight oil after watching blue-and-white tailsections disappear into the distance-literally on the racetrack and figuratively in sales numbers-for several years now, and the all-new CBR1000RR and ZX-10R are the fruits of those labors. We sampled both over the winter, with Editor Kunitsugu venturing to Qatar for the Kawasaki's introduction ("Street Afterthought," Apr. '08) and Resident Geek Trevitt spending a day at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca aboard the Honda ("Light Makes Right," May '08). It was obvious at those bikes' press launches that the GSX-R would have a tough time hanging onto its literbike crown. And let's not forget the Yamaha YZF-R1: All-new in 2007, the R1 was hampered by EFI issues last year that have since been addressed with a new ECU, and it could very well be the dark horse this year (fittingly, our test unit is black).
We rounded up the four contenders for some extended street riding and a day at Buttonwillow Raceway, and along with old salts Kunitsugu and Trevitt we drafted in new Associate Editor Troy Siahaan and guest tester Steve Mikolas to put the quartet through its paces and find the king of the '08 literbikes.
Yamaha YZF-R1: 87.5
While the mostly unchanged R1 definitely benefits from an updated black box for this year, it isn't enough to keep the Yamaha from the bottom of the street scores in this tough crowd. The R1's nimble chassis, nicely damped suspension and crisp brakes are well matched to the Michelin Pilot Powers that were fit to our test unit. Steering is light, and the bike is plenty nimble in the canyons, although feedback is less than ideal at full lean. While our testers praised the Yamaha's chassis-one even calling it the most nimble in the class-the bike's handling prowess is more than offset by the engine's lethargic midrange (even more noticeable this year in the company of the steamy Honda), which spoils the R1's overall performance and fun factor. The very oversquare four-valve mill has a 1000-rpm higher redline than the other bikes and a very meaty top end, but accessing that power on the street is as difficult as getting Kento to a meeting on time. Our testers were, as last year, split on the Yamaha's ergonomic package-some thought it fine for the street, others did not-with no correlation to height, weight or skill. The throttle lag of our '07 test unit is thankfully absent for this year, but throttle response is still abrupt, and the underseat exhaust-the only one in the test-still cooks your thighs and butt in traffic.
|YAMAHA YZF-R1 |
|TEST NOTES |
|+ ||Sharp-turning chassis |
|+ || Strong top-end power . . . |
|- ||. . . but no midrange |
|- ||Underseat exhaust cooks your thighs |
|- ||If you like 600s, the R1 is for you |
|SUGGESTED SUSPENSION SETTINGS |
|FRONT ||spring preload: 3 lines showing; |
rebound damping: 10 clicks out from
full stiff; compression damping: 12
clicks out from full stiff; ride height:
4mm fork tube showing above triple
|REAR ||spring preload: position 4 from full |
soft; rebound damping: 5 clicks out
from full stiff; low-speed compression
damping: 10 clicks out from full stiff;
high-speed compression damping: 3
turns out from full stiff