2009 Yamaha R1 - Niall Mackenzie's big bang launch review

The Yamaha R1 promises to be a genuine breakthrough, making use of a crossplane crankshaft developed in MotoGP to deliver smooth, even power. Will this radical new technology put the R1 ahead of Honda’s awesome current-generation Fireblade?

Posted: 30 March 2010
by Niall Mackenzie

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Up front we have brand new 43mm front forks but this time the right fork is solely responsible for compression damping and the left for rebound damping. This simple idea makes so much sense, allowing each fork leg to have only one job. Another benefit is a bigger range of adjustment from the top-mounted adjusters.

The brakes have also had a major update with Yamaha claiming the lighter 310mm discs with their radial six-pot calipers will offer better initial friction while dissipating heat more efficiently. The brake lever and lever ratio have also been changed to give better feel both in the wet and while feathering the brakes into corners. Although I haven’t tested them in the wet, the new system did have great feel and suffered no brake fade after seven hours on the track in sweltering conditions. Although there was no lack of stopping power I would have to say that the Ducati 1198 with its monoblock calipers still has a slight edge in outright braking performance. The rear brake will be fine for the road, but I found it too aggressive on the track – the slightest touch had me backing in unnecessarily.

Looks can be deceptive. The 2009 R1 has to be the heaviest looking 1000cc sports bike on the market, but thankfully that doesn’t translate into a heavy-handling bike on track. From the moment I hit the starter button and set off down the Eastern Creek pit lane I could have been on any race spec superbike bang on the weight limit. The ride-by-wire throttle also has a light feel and this

is perfectly matched to the most unusual bark of the free-revving engine. The cross-plane crankshaft gives an engine note that sounds like an 1198 Ducati and the previous R1 rolled into one. And that is pretty much what it feels like to ride as you get the best engine characteristics of a big twin and an inline four. I only needed half a lap to feel how much more linear the power delivery was compared with other four cylinders and how easy it was to get on the throttle so much earlier.

The engine has three mode settings, but the system is quite different from the Suzuki GSX-R range. The Yamaha system is controlled by the ride-by-wire throttle as opposed to the ECU. Unlike the Suzuki, it defaults to the middle B setting every time you restart the engine. This setting has softer power to 50% of the throttle’s opening, at which point you are on course for the maximum claimed 182bhp at 12,500rpm. The A setting gives full power all the way through, but is definitely too much for road riding and will be hard work for all but the hardiest on the track too. In full whammy mode I was reminded of riding the wild 1098R earlier in the year, which was a real handful in first, second and third gear. The C setting is soft all the way through and perfect for wet or cold days. You can switch modes on the move by simply closing the throttle and flicking the switch on the right hand bar.

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