Yamaha 2002 R1 review

The 2002 R1 can be ridden harder, more easily than before - it's an awesome road bike and a more predictable track performer too.

On the track, the first thing I noticed was the amount of confidence and feedback the 2002 R1 offers when you really push it hard.

Owners of the 1998 R1 are invariably the first in the gravel on trackdays and I reckon there are two reasons for this. The first is they're normally going faster than everyone else, and the second is that on the old bike you can be very near its limits without actually knowing it. So riders without loads of experience can find themselves happily lapping faster and faster and then suddenly being dumped on their arses for, apparently, no reason.

But on the new 2002 model you'd have to be a ham-fisted monkey with low self-preservation instincts to crash without getting plenty of warning first. This is a seriously planted sportsbike.

Where the front end was always a bit nervous on the old bike, especially mid-corner when you'd run in a bit hot or hard on the gas out of corners when it could really slap about, the new bike feels very different and gives you more genuine confidence. This new feel is the most obvious manifestation of Yamaha's 'fusion/harmony' ideal.

On its side, the bike tracks through corners beautifully and the feedback and grip from the front is excellent. Even Catalunya's bumpiest corners failed to upset it - this bike could make a few oilrigs feel shaky.

The stiffer chassis and revised suspension are hard at work here, but they're complemented by the new Dunlops. Developed specifically for the bike they run a flatter profile than the D207s the previous model wore, and are slightly softer too. This is all to calm the front end down and make it less prone to shimmying about under fast direction changes.

And the result to ride is a bike that turns in as well as before, is unflappable mid-corner, but that feels heavier to haul from one lean to another through any sort of chicanery. I guess this is the trade off for all that stability.

The only place I could fault the front was at the end of the main straight where you're (very) hard on the anchors from up around 170mph down to 40 for a very tight right. Here it was bottoming out on the brakes, so I had a play about stiffening things up. Trouble was, whatever I tried upset the bike around the rest of the track so I went back to the standard settings. The bottoming-out wasn't scary, you just knew you were on the bike's limit as far as braking was concerned. Then again, a bit more oil in the fork legs would probably fix it if you were really that fussed.

At the back grip was as impressive as the front, and with this amount of traction on offer you could afford to dial in some more rear ride height to speed up the steering at the track without worrying about lightening the back end too much and losing grip.

I also added three more clicks of compression and two turns of preload which gave the bike more support when it was cranked right over and let you get on the gas harder and earlier. And when it comes to getting it over, ground clearance on this bike is astonishing. I didn't touch anything down once, not even a peg tip or the end can, road or the track. Then again, I am getting on a bit...

The riding position's been changed too, although the feel is unmistakably aggressive R1. The pegs have gone back and up a touch while the bars have gone forwards slightly which cants you further over the front, helping stability without messing up comfort - the bike's as passable as the old one. Even after a day on the road I was pretty much ache-free.

And on the road the R1's newly-found stability was its ace card. Where it made the flick-flack sections of the track harder than the old model, on the road it was a peach. Even landing fast wheelies (and on a Yamaha R1 that means 120mph-plus) I couldn't unsettle it - with the old one you had to have the bars dead straight on touch-down otherwise you were taking a short, sharp trip to tankslapper city. And even when you did have them straight it could still kick off occasionally if you caught a bump or ripple. But not the new bike, oh no. It got to the point where I was purposely landing them crossed-up to try unsettling it. All that happened was the front whipped straight back into line without a shiver. Rest assured this is the most stable R1 yet and will make the FireBlade feel very flighty indeed by comparison.

Yamaha are claiming the same 152bhp (at the crank) for this year's bike as they did for the outgoing model, but the fuel injection has rearranged the power delivery. The new bike doesn't feel like it's got the heavy midrange punch the old one had and the power feels more spread out. There's more over-rev too and the tail-off of power is smoother, so although there's as much power as before the affect has been diluted.

Now this might sound like a bad thing, but in practice it makes the bike more usable. Not only can you get on the gas harder out of the turns with fewer highside worries, but the fact the power doesn't kick in quite as hard as easily means the chassis and tyres get less stress too. Which all means you get the same power as before but now with more control. This is good news, but for die-hard R1 aficionados this motor won't feel as mad as the last one.

The gearbox is still pretty heavy too. Yamaha are claiming a new finish on the gears and increased lever travel to smooth things up, but it's still behind the GSX-R and Blade in slickness terms.

Brakes are as good as ever but having ridden the new Blade last month I can tell you that that is now packing the class-leading anchors. The R1 calipers are still strong but being picky I'd have liked a little more outright power.

Then there are the gizmos in the dashboard to play with. You can adjust the brightness levels, and latest on the 'must-have' list for 2002 there's a big blue light to tell you when to shift up. I set this at 11,500rpm for the track which was pretty much spot on. I wouldn't recommend using it on the road though - you might want to concentrate on what's ahead of you and not the dashboard...

I'd say the 2002 R1 can be ridden harder, more easily than before. Although it feels a touch slower than the old one and the motor doesn't seem to kick as hard, lap times will probably prove it faster.

On the road this bike really scores though and it's next to perfect for anything from fast cruising to ton-plus wheelie madness, and as the road's where most of us ride this is no bad thing. It's still very good at the track, but for dedicated race heads the GSX-R or Blade might be better. Out on the road however it's in a class of its own.

Should you buy the 2002 R1?

Sensible improvements from Yamaha make the 2002 R1 an awesome road bike and a more predictable track performer too. Madness is diluted a touch from the old bike, but lap times are likely to prove the new one faster. Best-looking bike out of Japan.

2002 R1 specs

  • PRICE NEW - £8899
  • POWER - 143.7bhp@10,900rpm
  • TORQUE - 78.8lb.ft@8200rpm   
  • WEIGHT - 174kg
  • SEAT HEIGHT - 820mm   
  • 0-60     - n/a