Yamaha engineers first designed...
Yamaha engineers first designed the 1998 R1 Deltabox chassis before the engine team could get to work. The result was razor sharp rake and trail numbers (24.0 deg./92mm) with overall dimensions smaller than most 600's of the time. Needless to say, handling was unlike anything else out there. When the engine team was finally let loose, the result was a 20-valve, DOHC, 150-horsepower monster wedged in between the frame spars. A wicked combination indeed.
Overall, the engine was bulletproof and other than the occasional clutch plate replacement, it required very little in the way of maintenance. The OEM Yamaha clutch plates and springs were usually preferred with Barnett also being another popular choice. The transmission was also a solid unit unless abused in which case you would likely experience the dreaded second gear jump to neutral while under power. When this happened, a bottom end rebuild was probably in your future.
Riders that were more interested in chassis improvements were not left out either. While the 4-piston front mono-bloc calipers already delivered class-leading braking, many riders opted for upgrades such as steel braided brake lines and aftermarket brake pads. If you wanted to go the full distance on brakes, Brembo had kits to convert your calipers over to radial-mounted models however, they were quite expensive. Those seeking better suspension often added aftermarket fork kits to the inverted forks with springs and internal valves while the rear shocks were usually replaced with aftermarket items from either Ohlins or Penske. Of course, Ohlins also offered full fork assemblies as well.
Even though the stock extruded beam swingarm was part of Yamaha's "controlled flex" in the chassis, a small group of industrious owners took the stock swingarm and welded aluminum plates between the lower beam and the upper brace in an attempt to stiffen the stock arm. If you had some extra scratch to spend, Harris made an ultra trick swingarm that looked as good as a factory part or better. Though few riders would admit it, the difference was not that great because the stock arm was sufficient for 95 percent of the riders on the street as designed by Yamaha.
While the fit and finish of the bike was high, the windscreen was quite low and the whole aero package offered little in the way of wind protection for anyone except the smallest of riders. So another popular modification was to fit a larger/taller windscreen in order to create a slightly larger pocket of still air for the rider to hide behind.
The seat was comparatively high in relation to the clip-ons, and to many riders that was a source of discomfort. So another common modification was the installation of Heli riser bars in order to ease the strain on the wrists and back. Though not a good track day solution, it did make longer days in the saddle a lot more comfortable.
The year 2000 arrived, and while we were all busy worrying about our computers crashing, Yamaha was busy releasing a new version of the R1 with a whole host of improvements in an attempt to keep it on top of its class. In fact, 150 total changes were announced, including a five-pound weight reduction and a broader, smoother powerband. While the bike maintained its razor sharp looks, the Y2K upgrades also included improved ergos with a new fuel tank shape sporting a 5mm lower top, more rounded slope at the rear and a few millimeters narrower width, and a steeper rear subframe angle with softer seat padding. Suspension improvements included revised damping rates and lighter fork springs, plus an all-new rear shock with different style adjusters. Inside the engine the new model got modified carburetion, improved camshaft lubrication, a taller first gear, lighter transmission gears, and a titanium exhaust canister.
The styling of the R1 was a definite trendsetter, and played a big role in its popularity. The dual cat eye headlights, sharp angular bodywork, and long swingarm/compact engine setup were design influences that still resonate today. Even today, the first gen R1 is a stunning bike, especially in the red and white paint scheme that seemed so rare at the time.