First Ride: Y2K Yamaha YZF-R1

Better Than Ever?

story by MO Staff , Photograph by David Dewhurst , Created Dec. 20, 1999
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Valencia, Spain, December 20, 1999 -- We could write this review in one sentence: The Year 2000 Yamaha YZF-R1 is an awesome motorcycle.

Although that's about all most people need to hear, we feel we owe it to Yamaha and a few pesky readers to extrapolate a bit with more detail. Sure, we'd rather you take our word so we can turn off our computers and go riding, but in the interest of professional journalism we'll park our bikes, take off our helmets and fire off a few more words on what is basically a great motorcycle.
To understand the YZF-R1's place within the motorcycle universe, a short history lesson is in order. When Yamaha's YZF1000 debuted in 1996, the world's motorcycling press wondered, as spot-on as that bike was, how open-class motorcycles could become any better. The YZF1000 did everything right and nothing wrong. It had a brawny motor, a solid and well-balanced chassis, a dialed-in suspension and fantastic brakes. Even so, in 1998 Yamaha unveiled the R1 on an unsuspecting world and changed the perception of the limits of open-class supersport motorcycles. 

We'll take ours in red.
Brent "Minime" Avis ripping up the tarmac in Spain. On borrowed leathers & helmet too. His are allegedly still in the hands of Iberia Airlines. Yeah, right. Overheard recently in the Valencia countryside: "Nice Dainese leathers and cool Arai Helmet." "Thanks, dude." (English translation courtesy of motorcycle.com)
New bodywork improves aerodynamics with a sharper fairing design, new mirrors, a higher screen, new headlights and a new under-cowl.
New pads, reduced disc bracket thickness and number of rotor pins make what were perhaps the best brakes in the biz even better.
New fuel tank shape, improved seat profile and adjusted handlebar, footpeg position & heel guard should improve rider-to-bike communication. Rider: "Tight right-hander. Lean please." Bike: "No problemo."
Here is Minime in action ...

The competition's open-class bikes available were geared, quite literally, more for top-speed honors and back-up sport-touring duties. But the Yamaha YZF-R1 changed the rules by successfully combining the awesome power available previously in open-class size with the lightweight and responsiveness that a 600-class chassis affords. Honda tried this with the CBR900RR and although they arguably created the modern liter-bike supersport class by pushing beyond the previous heights of the Suzuki GSX-R1100, it was, by no means mechanically nor stylistically, the quantum leap forward the R1 made.

Thus Yamaha permanently altered the sportbike landscape. Yet when we heard they would hold a world press introduction for the Year 2000 R1, we wondered why they would go to such lengths. Could Yamaha have altered an already revolutionary motorcycle so much and soon to justify an expensive undertaking such as a worldwide press intro? Perhaps Yamaha was concerned about the notoriously short-attention span of the industry press and, with the upcoming challenge from Honda's all-new CBR929RR, they wanted to maintain the R1's position as the top-of-mind cutting-edge sportbike among enthusiasts and the motorcycle press. Or perhaps Yamaha did indeed make one of the best sport motorcycles even better. Of course we weren't complaining, we simply wouldn't know until Spain. New Life Nothing of mechanical importance in this shot. Just a cool, post-industrial, minimalist kind-of-looking pic. When refurbishing the YZF-R1 for the Year 2000, Yamaha's main design goal was to sharpen the pre-existing bike and not redesign it. Even so they instituted over 150 changes in hopes of making an already light, sleek and mean motorcycle even lighter, sleeker and meaner. For example, even with the addition of the new Air Induction System, which weighs four pounds, the overall weight of the bike is down five pounds to a claimed 385 pounds dry. At a claimed 150 horsepower at the crank, top-end output remains the same but changes to the engine management system are supposed to result in a smoother, broader distribution of power.

We felt sorry for Minime so we agreed to run his picture a lot.

The bodywork is still unmistakably R1 although a few changes were made resulting in a 3% reduction in the drag coefficient. The headlight housing has a sharper profile, the side panels are more aerodynamic and slippery and the windscreen has been reshaped for better rider protection. In fact the bodywork changed so much that bodywork from previous R1s will not fit the Y2K edition.

 Also updated is the seating area. The fuel tank is reshaped with a more relaxed rear angle and deeper leg recesses to provide for better rider feel. The seat extends further towards the front of the tank and the new, steeper seating position puts additional weight on the front end. All of this is aimed at improving weight bias and offering sharper cornering and more stability. Again, the resounding theme here is to sharpen what was already a very sharp package. Titanium exhaust in blue adds a nice touch.

Yamaha improved chassis balance and cornering by adjusting the density of cast materials, improving the rigidity of the engine mount and reducing front-end dive with more progressive brakes.

Performance wise, Yamaha claims the year 2000 R1 provides improved aspiration, smoother shifting and better lubrication. The motor is equipped with Yamaha's new Air Induction System (AIS) that works off of crankcase pressure and a bladder-type device to pump air into the exhaust port after the mixture has been combusted. The Air Induction System will be found on all bikes worldwide and for track use it can be removed and the holes plugged. Reportedly this will not hinder performance.

The carburetors have been rejetted in an effort to improve throttle response -- especially in the low end -- all the way up to the bike's 11,750 rpm redline. The redesigned camshafts are lighter and use internal oilways to lubricate journals that, when combined with reduced tapped clearance, provide less friction and create less engine noise. Also changed within the crankcase is the gearbox featuring a taller first gear, a hollow chrome-moly shift-shaft with an additional bearing and a completely redesigned shift linkage and foot pedal. These changes are aimed at nixing last year's transmission complaints as well as helping to transfer as seamlessly as possible the R1's prodigious power to the pavement.  


 

Page 2Track Day


 We thrashed the new R1 at the Ricardo Tormo Circuit de la Comunitat in Valencia, Spain. Yamaha flew in multi-time AMA 250 GP National Champion Rich Oliver to help us out with bike set-up and show us the fast lines around the track. Also on hand was Yamaha's 500 GP star Carlos Checa.    Despite the changes to the bodywork, the R1 is still undeniably an R1 in terms of its distinctive looks. The new black/white/red color scheme caught our eye more than the corporate blue/white paint that we preferred over last year's bland red/white scheme. The new, blue-tinged titanium exhaust canister was extremely eye-catching as well, looking just as good on the red bike as on the blue bike.

Immediately we noticed that the shifting was improved significantly.

... in borrowed and slightly ill-fitting leathers ...
... is a felony in the American South.
... such are the occupational hazards...
... of the motorcycle enthusiast press.
Minime and Andy stealing away for a rare moment alone.
No, the photographer's lens was not tilted. This little Spanish town was.
The YZF-R1 rules.
Okay Minime, come back to work. You've got a story to write.
Even the Headless Racer, being passed by Minime, agrees.
The notchy action found on earlier bikes was gone. On the Year 2000 YZF-R1 the formerly clunky shift from first to second gear was now no more abrupt than a shift from third to fourth at moderate speeds. It's silky smooth, and the rest of the cogs meshed even better. The clutch still retains the same great action as on earlier models and it didn't exhibit any grabbiness. 
Once we began circulating the track at elevated speeds, a typical R1-thing happened. When we came out of a second-gear left hand corner we noticed that while we were heading left the front end was aimed right. The abundant power is so smooth and seamless we didn't notice the front end lift. When we grabbed third gear after a seamless, clutchless up-shift and the front end returned to the tarmac, we felt only a minor flutter of the handlebars. Oh well ...
When most other bikes begin to twitch, the shakes get worse before the front end straightens out. With the R1, the front end regains its composure quickly because the chassis is so solid and the steering is so neutral. The front-end flutter soon faded and before we knew it we were braking into the next corner, where we learned that the dual four-pot calipers, generally regarded as the best in the business, are even better. The pads are new, the disc bracket is thinner and the number of rotor pins has been reduced from 10 to 8, all of which help to minimize front-end dive and provide for an even more progressive feedback.
Not once did we wish for more power or better handling. Even though the motor wailed up to the point where the rev limiter kicked in, we found the best results were garnered by shifting a few hundred rpm shy of redline. The only bad traits we uncovered could be traced to the special R1-spec Dunlop D207-ZRs. As good as street tires the ZRs may be, they are not ideal for track duty, and on the R1 we would have preferred the new 207-GP Stars. Still, the tires gripped the track sufficiently and the sound of footpegs dragging mid-corner was heard all day. Ground clearance remains ample and only at Rich Oliver's cornering speeds did hard parts scrape, and even then he only nicked the blue exhaust can.
The track was ice-rink smooth with zero pavement seams and only one minor mid-corner bump, so it was tough to grade the suspension for mid-corner bump absorption. That would have to wait for the 500 kilometer ride across twisty Spanish back roads and through picturesque towns. Only on the return road would we encounter a long stretch of straight highway.

Road Day


With suspension settings returned to stock, we headed into the hills. The motor that was such a potent screamer at the track proved to be more than willing around town as well. The R1 still possesses gobs of torque and midrange power and the machine pulls cleanly from as low as 2000 rpm. The quiet titanium muffler didn't seem to disturb residents and we didn't have to over-rev the bike in first or lug it in second through the tight streets because the taller gearing did not necessitate an inordinate amount of clutch slip.  

We call this "Minime the Thinker." Pondering global concerns and celestial issues, Minime queries the Heavens Above: 'Can I strike a pose, or what? If I seem tough, yet pensive, will chicks dig me?' Deep thoughts for a moto-journalist, indeed.


On a wet mountain road a few riders pussy-footed along because they feared the R1 would suddenly decide mid-corner to make 50% more power and toss its pilot. However, the new carburetion changes kept the R1 tractable, although without riding last year's R1, it's tough to say whether or not there's any significant improvement. Still, we quickly learned to trust the bike and as speeds increased our comfort levels rose correspondingly. 
 When the pavement was dry and we found ourselves alone on the twisty roads, the speeds soon came up to stupid levels because our track day gave us an abundance of confidence. Even though the first R1s were well-sprung, the new valving in the forks combined with the lighter-for-2000 rear shock offer a compliant ride across all surface conditions while keeping the bike composed at truly rapid speeds.  

The Jury Says ...


 Yamaha has achieved their goal of creating a bike that feels sharper. The bike has a seemingly perfect balance of brute power and rideability coupled with track-worthy suspension that, with just a few clicks, becomes compatible with city streets and country roads. Few bikes achieve this even after significant and expensive aftermarket upgrades. Still, without riding last year's bike, it is hard to tell how much better the new R1 is. It's our initial impression that the Year 2000 Yamaha YZF-R1 is a better, crisper supersport motorcycle.
With the Y2K YZF-R1 Yamaha has upped the ante and forced the competition to aim at what their press literature calls a "moving target." This model year other manufacturers will offer either all-new or significantly tweaked open-class supersports, so the question remains: Can the new R1 maintain its position as the open-class supersport motorcycle?   We're anxious to see what happens when we ride the open-class supersport bikes together. Has Yamaha done enough homework to satiate its current customers and acquire new ones who may be holding on to their deposit money until back-to-back comparisons of all three bikes take place and one bike stands above the rest? Stay tuned?
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