Introduced in 1998, the Yamaha R1 set in motion sportbike styling trends still visible in today’s performance bikes. The Yamaha R1’s pointed front end and minimalist tail section gave the bike a very lithe profile — befitting for a literbike with a dry weight of only 375 lbs.
Key to the Yamaha R1’s performance was its “stacked” transmission, offsetting the gearbox’s input and output shafts, thus creating a compact engine design and allowing for more centralized engine mounting and shortening of the bike’s wheelbase. Initial tests saw the 132-hp R1 accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in under three seconds, from 0 to 100 mph in under six seconds, and top out at a maximum speed of 165 mph.
Largely unchanged except for semi-annual minor performance upgrades to the engine, suspension and bodywork, the 2002 Yamaha R1 received a new fuel-injection system and the new Deltabox III frame was now manufactured with hyrdo-form technology that decreased the amount of welds and increased the frame’s rigidity.
The next generation Yamaha R1 in 2004 maintained the distinctive profile of the R1 while also modernizing it for the new millennium. Twin under-seat mufflers graced the rear of the new Yamaha R1,while ram-air intakes were added to the front fairing. Also at the front were new radially mounted brake calipers. A steering damper now came stock to quell headshake problems.
In 2006 the U.S. enjoyed a special limited edition Yamaha R1, the YZF-R1 LE/SP. The 500 special Yamaha R1s imported featured vintage Kenny Roberts “Bumble Bee” paint schemes worn during Roberts’ racing dominance in the late/early ‘70s/‘80s. The special edition Yamaha R1 also featured Öhlins suspension and a slipper clutch.
A holdover from the original Genesis engine design was the five-valves-per-cylinder engine format, but the 2007 model did away with that technology, replacing it with the more standard four-valves-per-cylinder layout. In 2009, borrowing from Yamaha’s MotoGP effort and the highly successful M1 prototype, the new R1 featured an engine with a cross-plane crankshaft, creating an uneven firing interval for an alleged increase in a rider’s feeling of rear-tire grip. Also introduced in 2009 is the D-Mode, Throttle Control Valve Mapping which allows the rider to select differing power delivery depending on road or track conditions.
In the Hands of Noriyuki Haga the bike took second or third place in World Superbike competition for six years in a row, but it didn’t earn its first title until Ben Spies left AMA Superbike racing (following two championships on a Suzuki GSX-R1000) and won the World Superbike Championship for Yamaha in 2009 riding an R1. The Yamaha R1 has received limited success in AMA Superbike racing, not winning a championship until Josh Hayes on a Graves Motorsports R1 took the title in 2010.