Niall Mackenzie Column - Dec 2008

Seeing the 2009 Yamaha R1 brings up thoughts of styling uncertainty and memories of 'big bang' GP bikes for Niall Mackenzie

Posted: 13 December 2008
by Niall Mackenzie

I have to confess, when I first saw the press pictures of the 2009 Yamaha YZF-R1 I was hugely disappointed. The new model image I had been building in my head was of a smaller, sharper machine with no underseat pipes or bug-eyed headlights. I truly believed we would get a combination of the 2008 R6 and Rossi’s M1. Seeing it for the fist time took me back to of one of these blind dates you organize because the girl in question had sounded amazing on the phone.

In your head it’s Madonna with a superbly honed body, in reality it’s Waynetta sucking on a kebab. (Am I the only person in the world to find Madonna today vile and haggardly? - JC) I will add at this point that I ended up marrying a hot telephone date called Jan, so don’t let me put you off.

Okay, I admit the 2009 R1 is not that horrendous and the more pictures I see the more I’m warming to its stubby look, especially the white version with the red frame. I’ll leave my final judgment however until I see it in the flesh at the NEC.

Reports say, due to its MotoGP alternative firing order or ‘crossplane crankshaft’ the new bike sounds more the new bike sounds more like a throaty V-four, so I guess it’s goodbye to the distinctive R1 howl we’ve enjoyed over the past 11 years. I enjoy a change as much as the next man, but I remember it was a very sad day when this happened to 500GP racing. In 1992 Honda shocked everyone at the first GP of the season when they fired up their ‘big bang’ NSR500 in the Suzuka pitlane.

Although the 180 degree firing order was a very effective tool when it came to winning races, they had made their glorious screaming V4 two stroke sound like a single cylinder four stroke motocrosser. Like sheep (and I was right at the front of the queue) all the other factory teams copied them thinking it was the only way to be competitive. Ironically, Yamaha eventually won the World championship that year, but even Wayne Rainey would agree that was more down to Mick Doohan mangling his leg at Assen than the Yamaha being the superior machine. Interestingly, a few years later Doohan found winning 500GPs became far too easy with this machine so he reverted back to the original engine to alleviate his boredom, hence proving it was possibly more about the rider than the engine.

Since the first R1 appeared on our shores in 1998 I have never found any model difficult to ride. Of course they have always had an abundance of power, but their brilliant transmission meant you could ride every model in tall gears at low revs helping to keep things safe. That said, with overall weight coming down and bhp increasing, I suppose systems have to be in place to maximize rider safety. Yamaha claim their new technology will now give the rider a much better connection between the throttle and the rear wheel and deliver more linear power. This will also produce more grip and superior acceleration on corner exits, meaning greater top speeds on the following straights. If all this is true and we take into consideration that all of the current 1000s have around the same maximum bhp, does the opposition really stand a chance? Why do shepherds, collies and wellies spring to mind?

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