Yamaha R1 | Superbike Review

Crossplane R1

I fired up the all-new Yamaha R1 with great expectations. Those expectations were just improved upon after my first laps and that’s not often. The new R1 sounds like a proper motorcycle and it snarls like an angry dog matching what my brain thinks 182 horsepower should sound like!

The standard tires on the Yamaha R1 are the latest Michelin Pilot Powers. New is the 190/55-ZR17 rear tire. Usually Yamaha have chosen a lower profiled 50 at the rear. The 55 helps the Yamaha R1 to turn in as quick as you like and adds a new nimbleness. The front Michelin Power is in the usual 120/70-ZR17 dimension. I am afraid that these tires were outperformed by the burning hot surface on the track. With more than 100 degrees F registered in the shade, I am pretty sure that only a really hard compound could solve our little heat problem.

Later in the day we were all treated to test the new Michelin Power One race tires, which also slid exiting first and second gear corners, but much later in the powerband than the standard tires. Any motorcycle tire that can handle 182 horsepower and a scorching hot Australian track surface gets the thumbs up from me! On any European circuit in the summer these tires would glue themselves onto every inch of track surface they touch.

I guarantee you that after five-six laps in this heat it was hell inside my leathers, but never has hell felt that good I dare say. The linear response from the new R1 Crossplane engine gave me a similar sense of security on extreme lean as Ducati’s traditional supermotorcycles do. It’s hard to tell exactly what I had expected despite reading all the hype, but the R1 blew me away so for once you can actually believe the hype.

There’s more chassis news in the new flexible swingarm that adds even more controllability through the corners. Attached to the swingarm at the most ideal position for mass centralization we find the new bottom-link rear shock assembly that’s also taken from The Doctor’s motorcycle. The new position has also allowed Yamaha to lower the fuel tank further down the frame, and that is where we find the answer to the improved mass centralization. The Deltabox aluminum frame is all new, and hardly anything is the same as the 2008 version. The latest in frame technology is to use several different components made with different types of aluminum to maximize feel, stability and flexibility.

Needless to say, suspension on the Yamaha R1 is fully adjustable. New, however, is the fact that each fork stanchion leg performs different tasks, rebound controlled from one and compression from the other. Out on the circuit again I am utilizing all these high tech features as best I can. As also the R1 engine has been moved around in the new frame further forward the front tire is simply planted whenever I need to use the front brakes. Due to the fact that a superfast 4th gear corner follows the main straight at Eastern Creek, I never got the chance to really, really test that front end, but from what I did experience this is solid stuff indeed. Due to the track conditions, I didn’t feel that I could test the R1 rear suspension fully either as the heat beat the tire basically. The Yamaha R1 brake set-up is still a six-pot monoblock affair, but with smaller discs to improve several things such as heat dissipation and lower unladen weight helping turn in again.

The Yamaha R1 feels like something very new also in the handling department, as I can flick it from side-to-side 600 fast! From hard braking to extreme lean scraping the footpegs is done in no time at all, and with minimal effort. This is definitely one of the R1’s fortes. The new Yamaha R1 is also much less wheelie prone than I can remember from older models despite the new and shorter wheelbase. It’s all in the new chassis and that bottom-link rear suspension that prevents that rear suspension squat that usually ends in a wheelie. Which leads me into the part of this article where I want to tell you about the heart of the new R1 and all the clever technology that has resulted in such an extremely capable supersport motorcycle.

I have saved the best for last, and that’s the new Yamaha R1 998cc in-line four featuring that Crossplane crankshaft. 182 horsepower @ 12,500 rpm may not sound like that much of a revolution, but it is. The Crossplane crankshaft requires counterbalancing, and that actually takes some horsepower away from the package, but it still features two horses more than the ’08 but with a lot better handling around a circuit. There is also around two ft/lbs more torque, resulting in 85 ft/lbs @ 10,000 rpm. I am so glad to be able to say that these figures mean nothing reading them on a spec sheet.

You need to get out and try it to see and believe how that R1 Crossplane crankshaft transforms all that torque into fully useable power even at the highest of revs. The amount of times I rode through corners using 10,000 rpm (where you have max torque) and more from mid corner, and then just emptying revs out of the corners, was a revelation.

This is what happens: Cylinder 1 fires at 270 degrees, cylinder 2 fires at 180 degrees, cylinder 3 fires at 90 degrees and cylinder 4 at 180 degrees. This is called uneven firing intervals and it overlaps and balances out the two measures of torque in a combustion engine giving that V-twinish traction to the rear tire. There’s no huge leap in torque or power to upset the rear tire and a steady and progressive throttle position can be held throughout the corner and also be applied much earlier than on a traditional inline four.

One of the great byproducts is that all-new R1 sound that can be described as a mixture between a V-4 and a performance 90-degree V-twin. Yamaha hardly had any incidents at all on the circuit, and that’s a tell tale sign that this motorcycle really is something else. Due to the heat that made the rear tire slide a lot, I kicked in 2nd gear a lot instead of 1st. However, you don’t lose much as the R1 picks up revs so fast now from lower rpm, and it’s a true joy being in the saddle on such an extreme motorcycle with that level of control.

Control is the big clue here and the Yamaha R1 has got it all. When accelerating from 2nd gear onto the main straight the 2009 Yamaha R1 doesn’t feel as brutal as the 2009 Ducati 1198S that I tested a short while ago, but it may be deceptive as the new linear power band plays tricks with you. I saw 160 and 170 on the speedometer fast enough in fifth gear before I urgently had to kick one gear down and brake for the fast 4th gear left hander following the straight. I choose to go wide in this corner rather than keeping it tight a few times taking me out to a bumpy part of the track. Looking at the onboard footage I can clearly see quite a bit of movement on the headstock, but inside my helmet whilst riding it felt like nothing at all. The Yamaha R1 is uber-composed!

I think there’s no doubt in my mind that this is the very best motorcycle Yamaha has ever built. All I am thinking of now is where else can Yamaha apply the R1 Crossplane technology?

Photography by Dentsu Live