2009 Most Important...Yamaha YZF-R1

Genuine MotoGP technology lies inside the latest manifestation of the wonderful R1. It’s not flawless but it’s verging on the fantastic

Why’s it so important?

Unless you’ve been locked in a padded cell since last November (and it is an attractive thought), then you should know all about Yamaha’s revolutionary revamp of their legendary YZF-R1.

It is the first mass-produced in-line four to follow the crossplane crank trend of MotoGP. Taking design cues directly from Rossi’s YZR-M1, the new-for-2009 YZF-R1 has been met with mixed

reactions from the world’s press, some blown away by Yamaha’s ingenuity and originality, others less than impressed by the overall package.

In barely-modified Superstock trim, it’s fair to say the R1 achieved very little this year, with Suzuki and Honda proving more than a match on both home and foreign soil. But in the hands of the Superbike teams, its success has been unprecedented. Leon Camier’s record-smashing season of 19 wins and nine pole position starts in British Superbikes gave Yamaha their first UK domestic title since Visordown’s very own Niall Mackenzie won it way back in 1998 aboard the Cadbury’s Boost backed YZF750SP.

Similar success went Yamaha’s way with another record-breaking season in World Superbikes. Ben Spies racked up 14 wins making fellow Yank, Doug Polen the only other rider in WSB history to have won more races in a season when he notched 17 back in 1992, some 17 years ago.

Even Troy Bayliss’ astonishing starts/wins ratio isn’t a match for Spies, a man who’d never seen the tracks or the bike before a season he has utterly dominated, despite mechanical failures and a fair spate of crashing. When people cast their minds back to the madness that was Superbike racing in 2009, there’s most likely only one bike that will stick in their thoughts.

And what’s it like to ride?

Once you’ve realised all’s well with the motor and the YTS lad at the dealer hasn’t put the spark plug leads on the wrong way round, the familiar yet alien R1 experience is really quite something. Yamaha has been fairly conservative in the styling department, keeping an almost identical riding position and only making subtle changes to the design. This has created a stockier, more muscular looking R1. When it comes to everything else they’ve taken quite a walk on the wild side.

For a start, stick it in full power mode on the road and you’re likely to get yourself into a whole world of bother, the aggressive delivery guaranteeing wheelies in the first three gears and a grin as wide as the R1’s new crankcases. But keep it on its default setting, and the engine character offers a benign flexibility never before experienced on an in-line four. On the road, this spread of power and lazy nature makes for a fast yet easy-going road bike with a soundtrack that doesn’t quite match the visuals; a completely new noise neither V-twin grumble nor in-line scream. In fact it’s not even a blend of the two, it’s completely unique.

And understanding the R1 goes for the rider, too. For me, it feels a little unfinished in stock trim. The forks seem too firm and mismatched to the soft rear shock while the ‘deceptive’ power delivery and supposed extra rear wheel traction from an undeniably clever engine design is negated by this lack of a decent out-of-the-box chassis set-up.

But my view is only one of many and the first batch of R1s sold out within a fortnight, the steady flow of customers slowing only when Yamaha announced a price increase for subsequent bikes, taking the bike up £1,000 from it’s original RRP to £10,999 – and straight into Ducati territory – making it the most expensive Japanese four on the market.

So far this year our group test winner, the mighty Honda CBR1000RR Fireblade, has outsold the R1, making the Yamaha runner-up in the 1000cc sports sales chart.

But it matters not – for sheer ingenuity and impressive engineering, Yamaha has won over an army of fans, given us all a nod to the future and a totally new riding experience, breathing new life into an old configuration.

And we reckon that just like the Italian guy ultimately responsible for Yamaha’s recent upturn in fortunes, the R1 will only get better with age and understanding.

Rating: 4/5

  • FOR: MotoGP technology, broad spread of power and easy to ride fast
  • AGAINST: Hard to set-up, red frame...seriously and on the expensive side

2009 Yamaha YZF-R1 Specs

Price: £10,103
Top speed: 178.8mph
Engine: 998cc, 16 valves, liquid-cooled, in-line four
Bore and stroke: 78mm x 52.2mm
Compression ratio: 12.7:1
Power: 182bhp @ 12,500rpm
Torque: 85ft/lbs @ 10,000rpm
Front suspension: 43 mm inverted forks
Adjustment: Preload, compression and rebound
Rear suspension: Monoshock
Adjustment: Preload, compression and rebound
Front brakes: Six-piston calipers, 310mm discs
Rear brake: Twin-piston caliper, 220mm disc
Wet weight: 206kg (454lbs)
Seat height: 820mm
Fuel capacity: 18 litres
Colour options: White/Blue/Black