First Ride: 2002 Yamaha YZF-R1

Jin Sato Bai!


Spain, 26 February, 2002 -- Sorry for the delay, loyal MO reader; we would've had news of the launch of the new R1 posted from Barcelona yesterday, but were--how you say--Royally Screwed, by an ex-European Correspondent. It happened like this: Minime was all set to attend the launch, when a Legal Emergency required his presence in Los Angeles. To cover, our (disloyal) English subject was therefore called in as a replacement, but somehow managed to file his (less than stellar) report with another (less than stellar) web site! Shock, horror! What an idiot!

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.

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