Over the last decade there have been few bikes that really raised the bar and should be considered landmark machines. The 1998 Yamaha YZF-R1 was truly one of those bikes. The lineage continues today, but it all began with the first generation model that debuted in 1998 and ran until 2001. It was lightweight, powerful and a giant step ahead of its closest competitor.
Looking at its rivals of the day, the Honda CBR900RR was a good handling bike but its comparatively wimpy motor was nearly 20 horsepower shy of the R1. Suzuki was preoccupied with the superbike-bred GSX-R750 and was caught asleep at the wheel when the new R1 hit the streets, leaving the company with its overweight TL-1000R twin as the only Suzuki literbike in the showroom. Kawasaki on the other hand had a new ZX-9R out in the same year, but even with its comparable horsepower and huge weight loss over the old model, it couldn't quite match the Yamaha. In fact, it would take the competitors until 2001 to catch up with this "total package sportbike."
With a powerplant making 150 horsepower and weighing in at 419 pounds dry (448 pounds wet), it was the most powerful and lightest bike in the class. It was also the smallest; in fact, the diminutive setup was smaller than most 600s at the time. Yamaha claimed the wheelbase was an ultra short 54.9 inches, and even though the actual length was more like 55.5 inches, it was still much smaller than its competition.
With a bike this groundbreaking, you can bet Yamaha sold a lot of them. In the early days of the new model it was difficult to find one because dealers sold them as fast as they arrived and supply could not keep up with the demand. As you would expect with a bike this good, its popularity has lived on well past its normal life expectancy, and even today nice examples can be found roaming the streets and local tracks.
The Genesis five-valve engine sported a compression ratio of 11.8:1 and an 11,750-rpm rev limit as well as several unique design features such as vertically-stacked transmission shafts with the clutch positioned high in the cases. To save space, the water pump was located inside the engine cases, making repairs a nightmare if it failed. Anything that could be stacked or shrunk was in order to make the engine as tiny as possible. In fact the whole engine bay was quite packed, which made some maintenance items rather difficult. One look under the gas tank and you knew you were in for an afternoon of fun when it came time to change the plugs or re-jet the carbs...you do remember carburetors, right?
If you were old enough to be riding sportbikes back in 1998 you will know fuel injected motorcycles were not quite mainstream yet (the fuel injected R1 would not show up until 2002). So if you wanted to remap your bike's fuel curve, it meant pulling the tank, airbox and a bunch of hoses to access the carbs. Jet kits were popular for those of you that installed both slip-on and full exhausts. Others simply shimmed the carb needles and adjusted the mixture screws. Most riders who replaced the exhaust opted for full systems to get rid of the EXUP valve, which appeared to be more about sound reduction than maximizing exhaust scavenging.
Yamaha equipped the R1 with...
Yamaha equipped the R1 with dual four-piston calipers biting down on 298mm discs. These were, in fact, similar units to that of the previous YZF, only now were charged with stopping 75 pounds less weight.
The combination of re-jetting, a free flowing exhaust and the addition of an after-market air filter resulted in an easy 10 horsepower and the loss of 9-12 pounds as well (SR simply installed a Yoshimura stainless steel RS-3 Duplex system by itself on their test unit and gained 13 horsepower with no jetting changes!). The result was a bike that made power everywhere. With such a long-stroke engine configuration, the R1's midrange was unrivaled and these mods only helped things get better. Of course, the aftermarket world became ripe with go-fast goodies. Both Graves Motorsports and Yoshimura had drop-in cams and adjustable cam sprockets for $799 as well as ignition advancer modules that would get you in the 150-horsepower neighborhood when combined with more compression and a proper head porting.
All that torque meant that the front wheel would often be airborne, and the R1's 24-degree rake and 92mm trail steering geometry wasn't the most stable around. Thus, the addition of a steering damper/stabilizer is another popular modification.