One issue that did make me wish for some electronic assistance was the R1's propensity for wheelying in the lower gears, especially off the slower corners at the Las Vegas Classic Course layout. Using the rear brake kept it from getting out of hand in most cases, but I was lucky that these were mostly left-hand turns, where it was easier to work the brake pedal. And yes, I probably wouldn't have had this problem if I'd been spinning the tire more like the bike's regular pilot, but the cold ambient/pavement temperatures coupled with my unfamiliarity with the Las Vegas course made me hesitant at pushing the envelope and risking the possibility of wadding up the team's hard work into a little aluminum and rubber ball.
The Brembo caliper/Braking rotor combination did an astounding job of slowing all the velocity generated by the R1 superbike's engine. Powerful enough to reign in monster speeds with little effort yet offering superb feel and feedback, the brakes on Hayes' Yamaha border on the sublime. They were simply the best steel brakes I've experienced bar none.
The stock R1 isn't the quickest-steering literbike around, but Hayes' bike amazed me with its incredibly lithe handling, and it was much more than just the sharp and accurate characteristics of the Dunlop slicks. Flicking the Yamaha from max lean on one side to the other was surprisingly low-effort, yet there were no stability problems whatsoever. "One breakthrough we had during testing was significantly raising the ride height," revealed Roach; "It just made the bike so much easier to turn quickly," concurred Hayes. A close look at the Graves top triple clamp shows an offset "gullwing" construction that allows the fork tubes to be dropped much more than stock to raise the ride height. Astute MotoGP fans will also note that Rossi's M1 sported fork tube extensions at the beginning of the 2009 season that allowed the same setup.
Any fears of rock-hard suspension settings dissipated after my first session on Hayes' R1. In fact, despite offers from Roach and crew, I never touched the suspension settings all day; the Yamaha seemed to have the perfect combination of compliance over the minor pavement imperfections and firmness to control chassis pitch, even at my reduced pace. And to top it all off, I found Hayes' chassis setup almost perfectly balanced for my tastes. I've ridden bikes that either felt too low in the rear (dirt-trackers like Ben Bostrom and Chris Carr come to mind) or too high in the rear (making the bike too twitchy), but Hayes' R1 seemed to strike that elusive Goldilocks-like middle ground. "I like for my bikes to be balanced because I have a run-it-in-deep-and-fire-it-out superbike riding style," confesses Hayes.
Keep It Simple
The Graves Motorsports Yamaha...
The Graves Motorsports Yamaha team that makes it all happen (left to right): engine builder Jeff Myers, transportation facilitator/cook Pat Muras, Yamaha USA Road Racing Manager Tom Halverson, Josh Hayes, lead mechanic Steve Rounds, crew chief Jim Roach, and data technician Vittorio Bolognesi. Special props go out to machining/fabrication men Bob Walker and Bob Oliver, and machinist Curtis Jablonski back at the Graves Motorsports shop.
"When I first got on the Yamaha, it had all these electronic systems going on in every direction, and because they weren't dialed in just right, when you got one working OK, another would cause problems - it just confused the issue more than solving anything," recalls Hayes. "So I told the guys, 'look, let's turn all that stuff off for now, let's concentrate on the basics.' I want a bike that I know will do what I tell it do, a bike that will let me ride my best." In an age of ever-advancing technology that some feel threatens to remove rider skill from the speed equation, it's refreshing to see one combination rise to the top without any electronic assistance. And it's even more refreshing to find that particular unassisted motorcycle achieves the type of performance that many seek through the use of those electronics.