Yamaha jumps the gun and launches the 2006 R1 before the competition. Over-confidence, or are the small changes enough to make a big difference?
It was my best lap of the day, no question. I came flying into the Catalunya circuit's stadium section, sliced through the final four right handers with Yamaha's exotic new YZF-R1 feeling as sharp as a Barcelona's butcher's knife, and held the throttle wide open as the bike accelerated over the finish line at a breathtaking rate.Nobody noticed, of course. The huge grandstands were completely empty on this dull midweek morning, and the photographer who'd been on one of the bends had moved. (Not that he'd have been remotely impressed, being more used to shooting Rossi and Co.) I'd even forgotten to flick the starter button as I went over the line on the previous lap, so couldn't use the R1's stopwatch facility to get my lap time.Yamaha's R1 has been massively popular following its revamp two years ago. In fact so popular that 50,000 have been sold worldwide, more than half of them in Europe. Even so, the standard R1 has itself been revised for 2006, though the only significant changes to the 998cc, 20-valve motor are shorter intake valve guides and smoother ports, to boost intake air flow. That gives an extra 3bhp that raises claimed max power to 175bhp at an unchanged 12,500rpm. The motor also has a new camchain tensioner, a 5mm longer main gear axle and the clutch is modified to improve oil circulation.Yamaha's Superbike racing feedback inspired the main change to the standard R1's chassis, which was to fine-tune rigidity - and not simply to increase it. In fact the cast aluminium frame is slightly thinner between the steering head and front engine mounts, as the resultant reduction in rigidity is claimed to give quicker turn-in and better front-end feedback.There is a bit of beefing-up, though. The bottom triple clamp is thicker, the engine mounts are strengthened and the 43mm upside-down forks have slightly redesigned sliders for extra stiffness. At the blunt end the swingarm, whose traction-increasing length has been an R1 feature ever since the first model eight years ago, is now a further 16mm longer, increasing wheelbase to a longest-yet figure of 1415mm.
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