UK road and track test: Yamaha R1M review

The base-model R1 recently beat Ducati’s 1299 Panigale S in a Visordown back-to-back test - so what in hellfire is the higher-spec R1M like?

THE R1M sold out quickly this year but Yamaha has just announced a fresh batch for 2016 - so what better time to put it through its paces again on road and track?

The first thing you notice about this higher-spec version of the R1 is the colour scheme, which Yamaha names ‘carbon’ and the rest of us might think of as ‘silver’.

Otherwise, at first glance the R1M looks similar to the R1. But only for a moment. Then you notice the front mudguard, fairing and tail centre is actual carbon. And you wonder how you have missed the beautiful brushed finish of the aluminium tank. And you think: why aren’t all fuel tanks done this way?

But this is no styling exercise. The contrasting blue wheels are lightweight magnesium, making for turning precision.

Another defining difference is that the R1M comes with semi-active Öhlins suspension front and rear, which automatically adjusts damping to riding conditions. It can also adjust the compression and rebound as you ride. The base model R1 instead has a fully-adjustable KYB shock and upside-down fork.

In common with the R1, the R1M is compact, with aggressive geometry which is perfect for the track and fast road riding. The steering is light and responsive. It’s lighter, narrower and shorter than previous R1s. The brakes are sharp and powerful and the bike has huge easy-to-use power. And like the R1, it has a MotoGP-derived electronics package, including riding modes, traction control, slide control, launch control and wheelie rate-of-lift control. We’re talking just-about-everything control.

There is very little you would want or need to add to the fully-stacked R1M

The suspension is easy to adjust. It comes with two factory pre-set options, one for track and one for the road. Then there are two options to program your own manual settings. On the road I used the road setting and the bike felt well set-up and handled excellently, although the suspension settings may have been a bit hard for some. Selecting a slightly softer ride is straightforward while leaving all the other settings as they are.

On track I switched to manual mode and did a session with automatic suspension adjustment set to zero, a simple matter of clicking a button and turning a dial.  I then changed to the road mode for a session, followed by track mode.  

The bike worked well in each but improved as the semi-active suspension took over and ironed out little shakes and wobbles under heavy braking and acceleration. It tightened everything up in corners.

The semi-active Öhlins seems well worth the difference in price between the £14,999 R1 and £18,749 R1M (up from £18,499 in 2015) all on its own. This suspension takes the bike to the next level.

The electronics package is superlative. You can access your own customs settings with quick shortcuts. You can toggle between settings on the move. You can also toggle and tweak power delivery options, traction control and slide control on the move.

With these too you can rely on the factory settings or set your own custom options. On track you might choose a higher power output with stiffer suspension and rider aides turned up. On the road you can switch to a more subtle power delivery with softer suspension and rider aids set according to conditions.

Like the R1, the R1M uses a six-way inertial measurement unit with an internal gyro. In plainer terms, that means the bike can detect the lean angle, acceleration and pitch. The level of intervention from traction and slide control adapts accordingly, using wheel speed sensors to monitor spin, sideways slide and locking. Yamaha’s Unified Brake System adds a bit of rear anchor when the front is applied, and uses the IMU to adapt to lean. It’s not a full cornering ABS system like the 1299 Panigale’s, but it’s damn clever nonetheless. The KYB calipers offer great feedback and as much power as Brembos.

I enjoyed using the lift control on track when I had my head down, then dialing it back when I wanted to have a bit of fun exiting corners. The traction control allowed the front to begin lifting before the bike was standing up, an immense grin generator. Controlled slides out of corners are permitted too.

But the rider aids are not intrusive – they just turn you into a riding legend while most of the time being unaware of the work they’re doing. The software makes 125 calculations per second to keep you rubber side up. It gave me the confidence to get really hard on the gas just after turning in.

The electronics package is not far off the M1 MotoGP bike’s according to Yamaha, except that is programmed to behave differently in specific corners. Surely that’s nearly cheating?

Little touches on the R1M made me smile. I left home in the dark on the morning of my track test. The dash display had a black background. As I rode, the sun came up over the mist-covered fields. When the sun reached the bike the display background changed to white.

The R1M has a 200-section rear tyre where the R1’s is a 190. Both offer grip, drive and stability but the 200 offers slightly more contact patch.

On Snetterton’s 300 circuit, the R1M had the edge over everything else on the straights, and all the main competitors were present. With the right rider on-board, I think it would have the edge in the corners too.  

It’s astonishingly fast everywhere. It feels and handles like a 600 on track and on the road. The stability in corners allows you to explore extreme lean angles – I managed to ground my fairing-mounted camera.

First gear is so tall that a lot of the time it’s all you need. It’s like a 200hp twist-and-go. Corner-to-corner, I was only using two gears with an occasional short-shift.

But it’s so fast that on the long Snet straights the rev limiter arrived almost before I could change up using the factory quick-shifter, which makes changes almost seamless. My peripheral vision felt blurred, and approaching corners felt like the ground rushing to meet you in a skydive.

Open the throttle and bikes ahead appear to be rushing backward. 

Above 8,000rpm is where the afterburners kick in and you break the sound barrier. The R1 tended to lift and shake its head a little during that top-end power rush. With the R1M there was no wobble at all, even when I knew the front was off the ground. With the wheel off centre on a little ridge on the track, it was still completely solid. The Öhlins was doing everything necessary to keep the missile in line.

On the road, in London rush-hour traffic, the bike was still an absolute pleasure. Its lightweight handling had me filtering with ease. I could easily tuck in behind the 125s and scooters. The mirrors are really well placed to see behind you and easy to fold back to squeeze through gaps.

The bike is smooth at low speed and all the way through the rev range. On faster roads its flexible mid-range and aggressive peak are conducive to smooth progress.

Even with the power turned up the bike was smooth and comfortable. Cruising in a high gear it felt very civilised, while dropping a gear teleported me out in front of the traffic.

With the power map set on level two, everything is subtler. The throttle response is much more sedate, feeding in the drive smoothly. Power-delivery is softer, more suited to traffic.

But this bike can still bite, and opening the throttle requires forward planning.  

The crossplane-crank engine has a loud bark, but the standard exhaust is quiet when cruising (and passed the track noise test with ease). I would keep the standard exhaust but some may want to change for a little more power. Because 200hp’s just not enough, is it?

With the 17-litre tank brimmed, I got a range of 118-120 miles on the motorway, 98-100 on a Sunday hack and 80-85 on track.

I took the R1M to two biker cafés, and at both it quickly drew a crowd. There was a lot of interest at the track too.

When they do a remake of David Essex’s film Silver Dream Racer, this will be the bike for the part.

Photo credit: Peter Wileman Photography

Thanks to No Limits Track Days.

Model tested: Yamaha YZF-R1M

Price: £18,749 plus on the road charges

Engine: 998cc in-line four

Power: 200hp

Torque: 83lbft 

Wet weight: 199kg (full tank)

Tank capacity: 17 litres

Seat height: 855mm

Watch our video review of the R1M here.

Read our Yamaha YZF-R1 and YZF-R1M first-ride launch report

Read our Yamaha YZF-R1 vs Ducati 1299 Panigale S back-to-back test.

Watch our Yamaha YZF-R1 vs Ducati 1299 Panigale S video review.

Read our BMW S1000RR review.

Read our Aprilia RSV4 RF review.

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