The sonorous, low-pitched drone of the 2009 Yamaha YZF-R1’s engine is more akin to a V-four or a triple than a conventional inline-four motorcycle. The odd thing is that, despite your ears telling you that the revs are low, the tachometer-redlined at 13,750 incidentally informs you that the motor is in fact, much, much busier than you think. Yet, even while doing it, the R1’s crossplane motor is as velvety smooth as a perfectly sustained note from Sinatra, and like the man himself, simply never lets on how hard it is working.
First gear is tall and the slipper clutch requires a bit of abuse to move off the line. Once underway, the gear ratios are well-spaced and the effortless torque doesn’t back off until redline. But, that power develops in an unusual way.
Unlike typical liter-class fours that whip their power out in a frenetic rush-and then spiral it upwards in such dramatic, unruly fashion that you have to watch for the front wheel flipping over backwards-the R1 crossplane simply gathers speed in a torrential, shove-in-the-back kind of way. It is more giant tsunami than frantic twister, and, like Sinatra’s perfectly controlled breathing, the rolling power sustains and yet stays well controlled. There is no drama or shock to it, and it makes the R1 a deceptively easy street ride. In fact, the shock only comes once you realize how insanely fast you are travelling-and how it just doesn’t feel like it, so watch out.
Yamaha’s fly-by-wire throttle is very precise. Especially when leaned over on corner exit, I could sense the edge of the rear tire’s traction, which was extremely confidence-inspiring. As for the R1’s handling, consistent with its predecessors, front end feel is great and, although naturally the suspension is firm, it is compliant and feedback is excellent.
The R1 now comes with three distinct, selectable fuel maps which will be useful on the street. Alternates to the default setting are the ‘A’ mode, which delivers extra midrange power, and the ‘B’ mode, with its softer response for low-traction conditions.
When Rossi was asked to choose between the conventional, big bang, or crossplane engine, he went for the third, later referring to it as “the sweet engine” because of its easy power delivery. It is that sweetness that translates so well on the road, making for smooth, controllable power-albeit an extraordinarily generous helping of it.
Photograph by Don Williams