We at MO, luckily, like to believe everything happens for a reason. Okay, well, most things. It so happened that a much more experienced motojournalist with a large print publication who's also a good friend of MO happened to be at the launch and agreed to fill the void, for a small fee, because he likes us and is a fine human being.There I was, having swung a leg over the all-new R1, given its starter button a punch and its throttle a big twist, etc., etc., and after a lap or two to warm the custom-built Dunlop D208 street tires (a bit of a knife in an Uzi battle) found myself drafting former Yamaha superbike pilot Rich Oliver deep into the braking zone of Circuit Catalunya's looooong front straight. There went the 300-meter board; quite a way into sixth gear, the digital speedo was reading 270-some kph. Oliver hit the brakes just before the 200-meter sign. So did I. He turned. I didn't feel like it was the right thing to do just yet frankly, and so missed the turn one apex by only about 20 feet, give or take. Blast. I'd blame the brakes, but in fact the new nickel-plated aluminium pistons (iron last year) in each lightened Sumitomo caliper, and sintered pads, provide the cliche'd awesome stopping power combined with excellent feel, and so I'll blame the tires again.
Regaining my legendary composure I set off again after Oliver, now a dot on the horizon, around Catalunya's long, fast right-hand turn three. Cornering clearance is never a problem (on these street tires), and when you see the brown patch you can feel free to wind the throttle way on. The R1's lead engineer, Mr. Kazu Koike, came up with an ingenious fuel injection system for the R1, which uses vacuum diaphragms like the ones in the CV carbs of yore to control slides downstream of the 40mm throttle bodys' butterflies. The result is fuel injection response like no other injected bike I've ridden; Yamaha's press material claims "sensual throttle response," and yes, I will admit to a slight tumescence every time I whacked the gas on. Power delivery is even moreso than you expect from the R1, which is to say approximately mind-boggling, and even smoother under any circumstance you could envision. Dashing from one Catalunyan corner to the next looks and feels more or less like on-car footage from a Formula One race.A bit of pressure on the new, reangled right clip-on avoids the doddering bald mess that is our ex-correspondent down the chute into turn four, and with the throttle pinned you have a second to contemplate how crafty Yamaha's craftspeople have been in improving upon last year's R1 as well as what a spastic he is. Nary a stone was left unturned.
A quick confab with Oliver after the first track session had me releasing one line of spring preload from the new fork in an effort to get the bike to turn a bit sharper, and it's revealing to, ah, reveal that doing so resulted in a feelable difference in session two. Allowing the R1's front end to settle that much more into its front travel resulted in a bike more willing to dive in on the brakes and one less willing to understeer at the exits -- as well as one less light-feeling in front down the front straight; truly, this bike attacks that straight with airplane-taking-off velocity. Springs are considerably stiffer at either end of this year's R1, no doubt in order to deal with the greater fore/aft pitching forces produced by raising the engine fully 20mm in the new, 30-percent stiffer frame.
PAGE 2 Well, I could go on with more tales of track derring-do, but the fact is that riding a bike this powerful, on a track as fast as Catalunya, really is akin to shoving the Preparation H back into the tube, on street rubber. On D208 race-compound tires, I'd no doubt be able to whinge on ad infinitum about how easily the R1 trails the brakes into the tightest apexes, etc., etc., but the fact is that on the stock rubber, nobody felt particularly comfortable doing so. Even Oliver said he was doing most of his braking while straight up and down, and there was plenty of talk concerning the bike's ability to overcome the rear's tenuous grip even on what felt like neutral throttle in some of the circuit's never-ending corners. (And immediately afterward, everybody also commented upon how composed and controllable the bike felt with the rear tire spinning merrily along.) An increase of 11mm trail -- that's a bunch -- keeps things nice and stable. The same 1395mm wheelbase as before, along with the aforementioned 20mm raising of the engine, means the thing turns just as light and quick as ever. The purpose of raising that engine, the engineers say, is to achieve greater mass centralization between it and the bike's other heaviest bit -- its rider. The swingarm pivot was raised 17.5mm accordingly and the 2.5mm increased offset between the two means the bike should better transfer weight onto the rear tire under acceleration. And once off the edges of the tires, the bike's impeccable FI did allow a pretty healthy whack of the throttle post-apex.Racy as all hell though it might be, this is after all a streetbike, and what a streetbike it is we assembled journalists learned the next day when Yamaha set us free upon the Spanish main. After a botched pit stop at the first toll booth on Spain's A7 motorway, I lost the draft of the American journalists and missed my exit toward the coast. So pleasant was the R1's 100-mph cruise, though, I really didn't mind going it alone, and it was quite some time and almost into France before I realized my mistake. The clip-ons are 10mm forward compared to last year's bike, but reangled more toward the rear, and footpegs are fully 17.5mm higher and 12mm rearward. Sounds like a recipe for discomfort, on paper, but the fuel tank is completely reshaped (shorter or maybe just reangled on top) and the overall feeling is of a shorter reach to the grips, a la R6, and the footrests felt perfectly natural too. The fairing and windscreen are slightly taller and wider, and I felt as though Paris was in easy reach if only I wasn't expected for lunch in Lloret del Mar: the officials of these press junkets tend to overreact if their bikes don't show up at the preordained stops.
Anyway, I was lost as hell and didn't speak the language, but had a vague idea that the coast (del Mar) probably had to be in a general downhill direction, and so had an entertaining time all morning taking wrong turns, passing the German contingent, who were also lost, and waving them on as if I knew where I was going, speeding up and ducking down alleys out of their sight, then backtracking the right way. The Germans will follow anybody who appears to know where he's going. Of less historical significance is the fact that you can ride around on this bike for a long time with none of the sort of impatient discomfort you experience on things like a Ducati 998.Eventually, I stumbled into the lunch stop first. Over various crustaceans, Oliver and I resumed our conversation as to why there are so few people with Big Asses in Europe. Because they walk a lot more? Because there are no Taco Bells? It's a mystery and an interesting one to speculate upon over lunch at a nice Mediterranean seaside restaurant. I also asked Kazu Koike-san whose idea the vacuum slide fuel injectors were? These things work great on the track, but on the road is where you even more appreciate the bike's amazingly smooth, linear power output. "Right, we knew we would do fuel injection," Koike said, "but the whole time I was thinking carburetors." Which, if you've ever ridden a perfectly carbureted bike, makes perfect sense. The R1 leans hard into harness, but always smoothly.
In the afternoon we followed Yamaha's directions and came upon the amazing twisty coastal mountain route between del Mars Lloret and Tossa, a saucy wench of a road upon which you could just leave the R1 in third gear and blaze trail, or shift down to second in the corners and wheelie maniacally down the ensuing straights for even greater entertainment, which is nice since I was never any good at wheelies before. Truly, I can't remember the last time I had more fun on a motorcycle. Wait, I can: the times on the straights that morning when we'd clutch the R1 vertical in second at 60-70 mph. Though it's still down a tad on power to last year's Open-class beast GSX-R1000, the R1's less peaky delivery seems to blast it out of the type of corner found on the street even harder. Less oversquare of engine than the others, the Yamaha seems to fill its cylinders even better at 4000 and 5000 rpm, and on the street the chassis and tires constantly complement each other -- the rear Dunlop spinning just enough at each of those second-gear exits to rocket the engine into the meat of the powerband -- and there goes the front end again when it hooks up, no clutching needed.
On the street, their intended venue, the D208 Dunlops are fine, neutral steering and happy to turn with the brakes on, off, or any combination thereof.
New and ImprovedAt this point, a gentle segue into what's better. Where to begin? The fuel injection seems to make the thing run smoother as well as harder. Throttle bodies are 40mm, with a single injector in each squirting into intake tracts fully 30mm shorter. A new coating with more silicon content lines the cylinders. Shifting is improved, thanks to the new shift cam having been blasted with friction-reducing particles of tin and a longer shifter shaft. A new oil level warning system takes into account oil temperature and engine speed, and won't turn on the oil light all the time as a result. Speaking of lights, the highly visible and programmable shift light atop the tach is cool and will take time off your laps come track day. Max power -- 152 claimed horses -- is claimed at 10,000 rpm (that's 4 horses, 500 rpm higher than before), but you can turn the engine to nearly 12 thousand if you need to stretch it into a corner. A new airbox draws breath from the front of the airbox instead of the rear -- 9 degree cooler air therefore enters the engine, Yamaha says.
Other items of note:
Chassisfork tubes have grown from 41 to 43mm, with 1.75mm walls instead of 2mm ones for decreased weight rebound side of the fork stroke is now 120mm instead of 135mm Soqi rear shock uses different linkage but same lever ratios as before rear preload adjustment collar is a very nice and easy to reach aluminium alloy casting the rear brake has shrunk from 245 to 220mm, with a two-piston slide-type caliper atop the axle a la R6 the front wheel is 96g lighter, the rear 176g lighter-about 0.4 pound clip-ons are one-piece, forged
iridium spark plugs, with superfine center electrodes new, rare-earth magnet flywheel is lighter and increases output from 365 watts to 490 exhaust valves are 2 grams lighter each piston rings are new, to work with the reformulated and more durable cylinder coating the oil sight glass is bigger for better visibility gear ratios are unchanged, but sixth gear's engagement dogs are improved for "proper alignment" a new oil pan holds 200cc more, and a new oil level warning system eliminates false alarms a new oil cooler gives 25 percent more cooling capacity a new radiator fan gives 20 percent more cooling capacity self diagnostics are viewable through the instrument panel header pipes are now titanium stacking cylinders one and four headers atop cylinders three and four as they feed into the new EXUP valve, provides greater cornering clearance new, stainless EXUP is 1.1 pounds lighter the new EXUP motor works quicker, and self-compensates for misadjusted EXUP cables the muffler is titanium, with a three-way catalyst which meets US and Euro emissions standards air filter is a pleated, non-cleanable, wet element In the end, I can't remember the phrase the engineers used -- a Nichi Bani or whatever -- but it means man and horse united as one, which takes me back to rather unpleasant barnyard memories, but that's just me. The R1 remains the beast it was before, but a more civilized one now, sort of in the Honda idiom -- which is fine with me -- smoother, more refined, with a beautifully put-together, of-a-piece look Bimota would've been proud of not many years ago. The GSX-R might be a tick faster, the Honda may be a smidge lighter -- wouldn't be prudent to speculate at this juncture really -- but this R1 seems to have the best attributes of all of them and it's a comfortable streetbike to boot. It's hard to picture how any sportbike aficionado could be disappointed with this one. Absolutely brilliant. It'll be impossible for Yamaha to improve upon it. Really.