Top Ten Reasons Why the 2015 Yamaha YZF-R1 is Tricker Than an AMA Superbike

John Burns
by John Burns

Rules are rules when it comes to racing, but Yamaha’s new YZF-R1 – the star of EICMA 2014 for some of us – doesn’t have to follow any of them. Things get coy when you ask how much horsepower a factory Superbike makes, and Yamaha USA doesn’t even care to divulge horsepower numbers for an off-the-shelf R1. Its European counterparts, though, make no bones about it: 200 PS, they say, which is about 197 crankshaft horsepower in a 439-pound package that looks a lot like the one Vale rides.

Wherever you look, the new bike’s numbers seem designed to run with the BMW S1000RR and Ducati Panigale, and to lay waste to the other Open-class sportbikes that have had their way with the old R1 for too many years in media comparisons, at least. Here are ten reasons for them to fear the new R1, and areas where it even outshines last year’s AMA American Superbike (may it rest in peace).

10. Titanium fracture-split connecting rods

Josh Hayes’ four-time AMA Championship-winning R1 must make do with the steel connecting rods it was born with per the AMA rulebook. Plenty of engines use fracture-split connecting rods, but the new R1 is the first production bike to fracture titanium ones. (Fracture-split means actually breaking the big ends of the rods, and if you thought it was just a guy with a hammer you would be wrong.)

The big titanium advantage compared to the previous R1’s steel rods is, of course, that the ti rods are around 40% lighter. Since rods and pistons are reciprocating components, i.e., ones that start and stop 25,000 times per minute, it’s easy to see how lightness here makes a big difference. When the current R1 got its “crossplane crank” in 2009, it gained quite a few pounds. The titanium rods in the new engine allowed the crank to lose them again. At 50.9mm, the stroke of the new engine is 1.3mm shorter, which also helps Yamaha claim an “inertial moment” 20% less for the new crank. Overall, it says the new engine is nine pounds lighter than before. The numbers on the tachometer don’t turn red until 14,000 rpm. Not long ago, 14,000 rpm was a big deal on Yamaha’s FZR400.

9. Other Tasty Internal Combustion Tidbits …

At low rpm, longer intakes are better. At some point in the rev band, a servo motor snaps the plastic funnels up (inside the 23% larger, 10.5-liter airbox) and lets the engine breathe through the short intake tracts that produce best high-rpm power. One set of 12-hole fuel injectors lives inside each gaping 45mm throttle body. Another set of injectors showers fuel from on high … poor Hayes’ bike had to make do with just one set of injectors.

Meanwhile inside the new head, finger-type cam followers with super-slick Diamond Like Carbon Coating activate the 33mm titanium intake and 26.5mm exhaust valves. The leverage of the followers lets smaller (lighter) cam lobes achieve high lift with reduced friction (and may make valve adjustments possible without having to remove the cams). An even flatter combustion chamber bumps compression to 13:1. Use Ethyl.

8. Magnesium wheels and subframe

Marchesini says the current R1’s wheels weigh 24 pounds combined, and that its M7R Genesi magnesium street wheels weigh about 6.75 lbs less. Yamaha was less ambitious (or more honest?): It says its new magnesium R1 wheels are 1.2 lbs lighter in front, and 0.75-lb lighter at the rear compared to the previous aluminum alloy ones. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but any reduction in spinning weight (wheels, tires, brake discs, crank and transmission shafts) makes a big difference in how quickly and easily a motorcycle steers and changes direction. And the less unsprung mass (the parts of the bike not supported by its springs), the easier the suspension’s work of controlling them.

AMA Superbike rules do allow use of aftermarket wheels, but subframes must be of the original material. The R6 has used a magnesium subframe since its last redesign; now the R1 gets one as well. According to a quick search of the interwebs, magnesium is approximately 34% lighter by volume than aluminum and 50% lighter than titanium – and bicycle people tout its vibration-quelling properties. An added bonus is that, if you mangle yours, it should burn like a Volkswagen engine block. Magnesium is also used in the new bike’s oil pan, engine covers and cylinder headcover.

7. Alyouminium petrol tank (say it with pompous British accent)

Your magnetic tank bag won’t stick to it, but the new 4.5-gallon aluminum tank reduces weight by 3.5 pounds compared to a steel one, and shows how much Yamaha cares. You can count on the fingers of one partially amputated hand the production bikes with aluminum tanks over the past couple of decades: early ’90s Kawasaki ZX-7R, a couple of special Ducatis, Honda RC30. In fact, with the alloy tank, titanium rods and 90-degree crank (which endows the R1 with an excellent V-Four purr), Yamaha has essentially built the modern RC that Honda never seems to get around to. Hayes’ Superbike? It had to stick with the steel tank it came with.

6. Light Compacticity

A new aluminum “Deltabox” frame bolts the engine in solidly at either side of the cylinder head, and at the bottom rear of the crankcase. A long swingarm was a hallmark of the original R1, for better rear-tire feel and control. The new bike’s traction and stability controls make that rear-tire feel less critical; its wheelbase is 10mm shorter, 15mm of that coming out of the new swingarm. Yamaha says the new bike weighs 439 pounds full of fuel – 15 pounds less than the current bike, 10 pounds less than BMW’s claim for its S1000RR, and 19 pounds more than Ducati’s claim for its new 1299 Panigale. That exhaust is mostly titanium.

5. Racy, aerodynamic looks

The carbon-fiber enhanced bike in the above photo is the exclusive R1M, but the pedestrian model also gets the subversive LED head and positioning lights, which reinforce Yamaha’s assertion that this streetbike was built with racetrack intentions. Slap on numbers and a couple pieces of tape over the lights and you should sail through tech inspection unhindered. The shark gills in the tank cover look like the ones on the MotoGP bike, so do the slots in the top triple clamp that first appeared on the race bike in an attempt to tune its “flex.”

Everywhere you look you see slots and airfoils and winglets, all of which lead you to believe Yamaha’s assertion that the new bike is 8% more aerodynamic than the old one. An engine that’s 1.2 inches narrower probably doesn’t hurt either. Racers are allowed to use aftermarket bodywork, of course, but it must “closely resemble” the original stuff.

4. ABS and UBS (Unified Braking System)

Developed on the race track, UBS activates the rear brake when the front brake is applied, distributing braking force most efficiently based upon the bike’s attitude and lean angle. We’ll go out on a limb and bet it works better than the purely mechanical linked braking systems we’ve complained about in the past. Brake hardware consists of a pair of conventional 320mm discs in front with four-piston monoblock calipers, and a single-piston caliper out back squeezing a 220mm disc. ABS on a racebike is so foreign an idea, the AMA rulebook doesn’t even address it.

3. Six-Axis IMU (Inertial Measurement Unit)

The brains of the operation has gyros that sense pitch, roll and yaw. And G-sensors that monitor acceleration in fore/aft, up/down, and right/left directions. In other words, the bike knows how hard you’re braking or accelerating, how quick you’re turning, and how bad you’re screwing it up. It’s the basis for a highly advanced package of electronic rider aids Yamaha calls its Ride Control System. Analyzing data 125 times per second, the IMU sends its intel via CAN to the ECU, which uses it to instantly adjust fuel injection volume, ignition timing and throttle valve opening.

According to 2014 AMA Superbike rules, if your bike came with it, you can use it – and maybe modify it. Pity the competitor trying to outprogram Yamaha’s MotoGP technicians next season.

2. Yamaha Ride Control System

YRC offers four grouped presets for quick and simple “one-click” selection via simple handlebar switches. Beyond that, each mode can be independently adjusted to suit conditions. While we know that Josh Hayes did finally decide to use some sort of traction control a couple of seasons ago, we’re pretty sure it was never as sophisticated as what the new R1 sits on the showroom floor with.

TCS (Traction Control System) monitors the difference in speed between the front and rear wheels, along with the bike’s lean angle. If it detects a loss of rear-wheel traction, the ECU adjusts the throttle valve opening, fuelling and ignition timing accordingly. Choose from 10 settings, one of which is Off.

SCS (Slide Control System): Yamaha says this patent-pending system comes straight from the M1 GP machine, and adjusts engine power if it detects a slide at high lean angles – the first ever such system on a production motorcycle. Four settings including Off.

LIF (Lift Control System) detects front-to-rear pitch under hard acceleration to avoid those embarrassing wheelie-over-backwards situations. Four levels including Off.

LCS (Launch Control System) limits rpm to 10,000 when the throttle is wide-open. Three settings including Off.

QSS (Quick Shift System) detects shifter movements and cuts ignition to allow clutchless, wide-open throttle upshifts. Three settings including Off.

PWR: Like D-mode of yore, choose from four settings of throttle-opening aggressiveness for varying conditions.

All that’s missing is what the BMW has: CC (Cruise Control). So there’s room for improvement, not that Hayes would probably use cruise very often now that Daytona is off the schedule.

1. YZF-R1M

If the new R1’s not enough for you, there’s the R1M. For a few dollars more ($21,990), you get Öhlins Electronic Racing Suspension, which takes its cues from the IMU and other sensors to make real-time integrated adjustments to the front and rear suspension. Chief advantages of this are said to include reduced fork dive under hard braking, improved cornering control and increased traction exiting corners. Again, Hayes would’ve been allowed to use electronic suspension if his bike had been homologated with it. Now that Yamaha is producing 500 R1Ms, will the other manufacturers also be forced to step up?

You’ve also got your Communication Control Unit (CCU), a data-logging function that allows you to record lap times, speed, throttle position, GPS tracking, lean angle, etc. Upload that information on Yamaha’s Telemetry Recording & Analysis Controller (Y-TRAC) smartphone and tablet app via Wifi, then use it to adjust the bike’s running mode settings. (The CCU will be available as an option on the plain-jane R1!) This is also acceptable under Superbike rules, but not for making real-time adjustments during a race, which would be “communicating” with the pits maybe?

Then there’s the full carbon fairing, front fender and seat cover, coated in a clear finish to go with the clear-coated alloy petrol tank. Special metallic silver paint with blue accents matches the blue YZR-M1 style wheels and polished swingarm. Get your application in on December 1 if you don’t want to be one of the disappointed kids with their noses pressed up against the glass on Christmas morning; Yamaha says there won’t be enough Ms to go around.

Massive kudos to Yamaha for building this thing. These things.

John Burns
John Burns

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4 of 22 comments
  • Sean Bice Sean Bice on Nov 20, 2014

    John, I'm pretty certain that the only Traction Control Josh ever used on his 2009-2014 R1 SuperBike was his very talented throttle hand and, on occasion, judicious trail-braking.

    • See 1 previous
    • Sean Bice Sean Bice on Dec 06, 2014

      Not to split hairs here, Kevin, but I didn't say that Josh's R1 SuperBike didn't have TC on it. TC is an integral part of the Magneti Marelli ECU that was used on the bike. Having it available on the bike and actually using it are two different things. If you'd like to talk to Josh himself about it, I'd be happy to arrange an interview for you. Just let me know.

  • R1fan R1fan on Apr 30, 2015

    john burns is great at paraphrasing a press release and fluffing it up, but what else would you expect of a moto site that has to constantly pump out material. are the new r1s really trick with their variable stacks and magnesium subframes? thosve been on the r1 since 09. does josh hayes bike really rely on 1 set of injectors? the stock 09+ has two to work with the variqble stacks.. i suspect john didnt research this either.. he got his clicks he was supposed to earn though as i had to see what other bs is floating around.