First Ride: Y2K Yamaha YZF-R1
Better Than Ever?
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.
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.
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.
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?