Great Britain, April 5, 1999 -- The Yamaha YZF-R7 OW-O2 has one purpose in life: To win races. You may have seen it displayed in various shows with lights and road gear but these have only been added in order to homologate the bike to meet F.I.M. regulations. Only 500 exacting, hand-made machines are being produced, making it one of the rarest production bikes ever to leave a Japanese factory. Even if you could afford the £20,000 ($32,000 USD) sticker price, you couldn't actually purchase the bike unless you can prove you have a full season's racing ahead of you. Of course, you
could always sponsor a rider. Then at the end of the season you have an awesome track day tool to play with, if there is anything left of it after a hard year of racing at the Superbike level.Technical SpecificationsAt first glance its spec sheet reads just like that of the YZF-R1 or R6. Like its cousins, the R7 is powered by a slant block, in-line, liquid-cooled, four-cylinder, four-stroke engine used as a fully stressed member of the chassis. But closer inspection of the spec sheet shows a wide divide between this racer and its road-going relatives.
Breathing and combustion
First, the bike is fuel injected. The electronic twin-injector system meters fuel into the intakes which receive air from a massive 15-liter airbox, but without any ram-air ducting. All that air and unburned fuel is squeezed into the combustion chambers via 12 titanium inlet valves mounted in a CNC-machined cylinder head. This mixture is then squashed to 11.4 times atmospheric pressure by ultra-strong, ultra-light, short-skirt forged pistons with plated crowns. The pistons connect to the ion-nitrified crankshaft by "H" section titanium con-rods. Burned mixture is expelled past eight more titanium valves held in place by aluminum valve retainers. Plated cylinders and a one-piece crank are not unique technology but it's better to have them than not.
Along with the other YZF-R series Yamahas, the R7 features compact and lightweight direct-ignition coils mounted in the spark-plug caps and is fed sparks from a compact, high-output AC generator via a DC-CDI arrangement. The multi-function ECU monitors crankshaft and camshaft speed, throttle position, temperature and pressure as well as controlling ignition timing and volume. The ECU also features a self-diagnostic system to help assist race mechanics.
Brakes, Wheels and Suspension.
You may be surprised to learn that the YZF-R7 is not fitted with a dry clutch, although the wet multi-plate clutch does feature a back torque limiter to prevent lock up during aggressive down-shifts. The gearbox is a six-speed close-ratio racing set-up. The gear shafts are mounted in the now familiar tri-axis arrangement and "stacked" vertically instead of horizontally to shorten the engine, allowing Yamaha to fit a longer GP style swingarm yet still keep its ultra-short 1,400 mm (55 inch) wheelbase. Take a look at Yamaha's YZR GP race bike and notice how similar the YZF-R7's black aluminum frame looks. It should since Yamaha based the R7's chassis as closely as possible to their two-stroke GP bike.
Riding the YZF-R7
The brakes are powerful, as you might expect since they are very similar to the R1's set-up. What surprised me was their feel. They are very progressive, a nice touch because they are so powerful. The rear brake was also a gem. Too many motorcycles have rear brakes that are all or nothing. Not the R7, its rear brake is powerful and progressive.
The bike is not designed for road use and is set-up rather stiffly. On the bumpier roads the rear shock transfers every jolt to the kidneys. The suspension is a lesson in control, despite the stiff set-up, and while on the bumpy Yorkshire roads the wheels stayed glued to the ground. Only when gunning the R7 hard down a particularly bumpy straight was there even a hint of flap from the front-end. With the front wheel lightened from acceleration the bars would give a slight twitch in the riders hands, but it was far from the violent slapping the road might have induced on lesser bikes. And this was without a steering damper.
The engine surprised us. Here we had a brand new bike, only two hours out of the crate and restricted to comply with the toughest regulations in Europe yet it was far from feeling tight, strangled or capped -- the power delivery was sensational. Here is a 100 horsepower, 750cc inline four that thinks it's an RC45. Apart from a little emission-controlled fluffiness below 3,000 rpm the power delivery was impeccable.
Blip the throttle at tick over and the revs rise and fall at a moments notice, indicating the lightness of the crank and piston assembly. Get the R7 rolling and twist open the race action throttle a quarter turn -- to full open -- and the bike lunges forwards without hesitation. Between 4,000 and 6,000 rpm it pulls very respectably, comparable to my own Thunderace (Yamaha YZF-1000). Once the revs cross the 6,000 mark the bike pulls stronger than any "restricted" 750 has a right to. Despite being brand spanking new the bike was hungry for revs and the tach needle really moved by the time it swept past 10,000. Sympathy should have forced a gear change at this point, but the top-end rush was so addictive I couldn't resist letting it run on to 12,000 rpm. For a bike with little more than a few miles in its bores it felt very free revving. I couldn't wait to ride it in kitted form, and judging by the look on his face neither could Dean Ashton.
Some people have all the luck and its its not me.
However, even the losers get lucky sometimes.
Sitting beneath me was a full race-kitted Yamaha YZF-R7 on slick tires, the very bike that I drooled over as it sat on the stage at its launch in Munich. It looked so absolutely fantastic that I vowed to ride it one way or another. For most of us the nearest we'll get to one is our dreams, that is unless we're prepared to take up a career in bank robbery and happen to possess a strong racing resume as well. Now, without being a racer or having held up a single bank, one of those 500 R7s was between my legs in the pit lane at Donington Park, Britain's historic Grand Prix and World Superbike circuit. I had already ridden the road bike version but nothing had prepared me for my track experience.
All this engine performance is pointless without a chassis that's up to the challenge. Right from the start Yamaha set out to make this the best handling bike in its class. Lucky for them that they had a template to work with: the YZR500 Grand Prix bike. Using the same dimensions the R7 looks tiny. It's short, low and narrow. The black frame and swingarm look great, as do those sculptured body panels in the red, black and white of Yamaha's race colors. Believe me, it feels as good as it looks. Actually, it feels even better, in fact.
The tires were stone cold. We had just unloaded the R7 from the truck when a Marshall came running out to tell us our slot had been pushed forward and I could get on the track. I only had an hour to ride but what an hour that was. Donington is a difficult track and I am no racer. Get one curve wrong and the next three are wrong as well. For me that meant spending the first 20 minutes warming up the tires and finding a line that seemed to work. This was the first time I had ridden on slicks. Once they were warm the grip was superb, but when they were cold the rear would slide if I opened the throttle too hard. I abused the front-end by braking too late and getting caught by the engine's immediate pick-up, but there were no near-death experiences. Once I got into a groove and started to apply the power hard and early through a turn I began to experience the depth of the bike's abilities. One thing was for certain, it has much more ability than I do.
This particular R7 was fitted with Nissin racing brakes that put braking into a higher league, scrubbing off speed effortlessly while being so progressive they allowed for deep braking into corners. The stock Ohlins suspension at the front and rear handled some of Donington's bumpier sections without fuss, although winding the power on hard out of some bumpy bends did cause a little wallow at the rear. However, the rear tire fitted for the tests was getting decidedly second-hand, having been used hard during testing in Spain. This may have been the reason for a slight weave down the main straight, something that wasn't evident on the road version. Given the impeccable behavior of the chassis, I'm inclined to blame any undue movement on the too-scrubbed rear tire.
After about 35 minutes on the track I began to try and up my pace. Rather than risk dropping the R7 on difficult sections of the circuit, I cruised the risky bits and attacked the sections I was more comfortable with. Soon I was flying through the bends faster and faster, only to find the R7 becoming more and more willing. The closer I took it to the edge the better it felt. Now I was getting the bike leaned way over in the turns, with the engine singing at over 10,000 rpm. Donington doesn't need brakes for large sections, just big balls. The sweeping sections were the most fun. Joining one curve to another under hard acceleration was easy and the bike doesn't seem to need any effort to turn it.
To say I enjoyed the short ride I had on both the road and track versions is an understatement. All my life I have dreamed about a bike that is fast but flexible, small and light, one that handles impeccably. Many bikes have promised to reach these heights but riding them has always revealed small flaws. The R1 is the nearest I have experienced to Motorcycle Nirvana, but it has now been totally eclipsed by the R7. Well, I got my ride, and now all I have to do is figure out how I can go about owning one. Where did I put that book, "The Beginners Guide To Bank Robbery"?