2020 Yamaha R1 and R1M Test at Jerez
Note: This is a follow-up to our first ride review of the 2020 Yamaha YZF-R1 and YZF-R1M.
When Honda released the CBR900RR in 1992, the machine brought an entirely new concept to the world of high-performance motorcycles.
Although it had the goofy 16-inch front/17-inch rear wheel setup that just never felt right for me, the RR attracted attention from the masses. No other Japanese OEM came close to competing.
That changed in 1998 when the Yamaha released the YZF-R1, which truly set off the literbike craze among the Japanese Big Four. The R1 designed by Kunihiko Miwa was basically a race replica and had the size and feel of a 600 supersport, but with 150 horsepower—more than 20 over the 1998 CBR900RR.
The R1 also had slick looks. The first time I saw one next to one of my all-time favorite designs, a Ducati 916, the R1 didn’t look out of place. And that first generation (1998-1999) in red/white was pure moto eroticism – something I had ONLY said about the 916 before then.
The bike shocked the other OEMs in the Big Four, and it would take some time for the others to catch up. Honda responded first with the CBR929RR in 2000, a bike I’ve owned and loved. Next was Suzuki, with the GSX-R1000 a year later, which was followed by Kawasaki with the Ninja ZX-10R in 2004.
The turn of the century literbike movement is a pinnacle moment in superbike history. Yamaha arguably initiated this movement by taking a super ballsy approach and releasing the 1998 R1. In regards to pure styling, that first generation continues to have a modern appeal.
Its only downfall was carburetors—something Yamaha changed in 2002 with the introduction of fuel injection for the third generation. The other radical evolution of the R1 arrived in 2009 when the MotoGP-inspired crossplane crankshaft engine was released for the sixth generation.
With its 270-180-90-180 firing order, the crossplane creates a sound like no other—very MotoGP-like. The design of the engine helped the already optimally handling R1 gain more traction, especially when getting on full throttle at corner exit. For the seventh and eight generations, Yamaha continually refined the bike’s electronic technology, engine power, and handling.
This constant flow of innovative refinement resulted in four MotoAmerica Superbike titles and 60 percent of all the victories in the class, plus four-straight Suzuka 8 Hours victories (2015-2018). Ben Spies also captured Yamaha’s only World Superbike title in 2009 aboard the R1.
With all this awesomeness, Yamaha is again innovating to get every morsel of performance from its already capable platform. On paper, the changes appear subtle. However, the tweaks make a vast difference in both better handling and smoother power delivery.
How much better can Yamaha’s superbike get for the ninth generation? After spending two hours aboard the 2020 Yamaha YZF-R1 and its premier-class brethren, the YZF-R1M, at the Circuito de Jerez—a track on both the WSBK and MotoGP calendars—I can easily say every element has improved, and quite drastically.
Riding Jerez with talents such as four-time AMA Superbike Champion Josh Hayes, as well as the factory Pata Yamaha WorldSBK duo of Michael van der Mark and Alex Lowes, gets you up to speed quickly. It allowed me to fully focus on the task at hand—testing the updates of the new 2020 Yamaha R1 and R1M.
For the test, the R1 was fitted with Bridgestone Battlax Racing R11s— DOT-legal race tires—and the R1M with Bridgestone Racing Battlax V02 racing slicks. Out of the factory, both arrive on showroom floors with RS11 tires.
I already covered the more technical aspects of the 2020 R1 and R1M in my first ride review. For this piece, I’ll discuss the top changes and what they mean for both a track and street rider compared to previous models.
The 2009 R1 was updated with Yamaha’s crossplane crankshaft engine. The motor was the result of the OEM’s MotoGP prototype technology that was designed with input from World Champions Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo.
The engine improved over the past few years, and for 2020 the fourth version of the CP4 emerges. The changes include:
- New cylinder head and intake layout to maximize combustion performance while adhering to Euro5 regulations
- New rocker arm shape to improve stability at higher RPM
- New camshaft profiles
- New exhaust catalyzers that get up to operating temperature to improve overall exhaust efficiency
- Revised oil system for optimizing oil pressure and lubrication
In real-world riding, the power delivery is smoother and more linear, especially noticeable from 5K to the 14,500 rpm redline, something that helps with consistency around the racetrack, and on the street.
The engine refinements, and the addition of the cable-free ride-by-wire system—a first for the R1—improves feeling over the previous generations. A magnet sensor now detects the throttle opening at throttle grip that’s sent to throttle valve motor. This allows you to finely tune your input with zero twitchiness.
The 2020 R1 and R1M share the same powerplant, which produces around 200 horsepower and leaves nothing to be wanted out of an inline-four.
And I must mention that sound again. The sound of the CP4 brings an emotional attraction to the R1 and R1M, an attraction that sometimes supersedes the stellar performance of the race-winning engine design.
The 2020 models offer four revised power modes, with mode 2 being the ticket for my style of riding. One was a bit aggressive, and I’d reserve mode 3 for the street. But 2 on the track was smooth, providing smooth delivery when finessing the throttle during cornering, or delivering the bike to full throttle upon corner exit.
The 2020 models return with all the electronics of the previous generation’s Yamaha Ride Control (YRC) suite that utilizes a six-axis IMU: cornering traction control and ABS, slide control, wheelie control, launch control, and quickshift that allows for clutchless upshifts and downshifts.
The full-color TFT dash display is simple to read under any lighting conditions, showing YRC settings and the electronic suspension settings on the YZF-R1M. You can select what info you want to show in the main view, such as a lap timer. Yamaha uses a simple wheel on the right control to scroll through information such as miles and temperature, making it easy to switch info on the fly with gloves on. The left control has a simple three-button switch to change YRC settings. Also, a gear indicator is standard.
The significant change is the revised ABS, or as Yamaha calls it Brake Control (BC), and the new three-level Engine Brake Management (EBM). For EBM, the ECU controls engine braking based on gear position, rpm, throttle position, and throttle valve opening. EBM 1 is set up like the previous model, but EBM 2 and EBM 3 provide less engine braking, allowing me to fine-tune the delivery to my riding style.
What a difference EBM 2 made while riding Jerez, especially at turn 2 and the entire back section from 9 (Ángel Nieto) to the final corner 13 (Jorge Lorenzo). EBM has just the right amount of engine braking needed when going from wide-open throttle to braking. Also, when regulating throttle through a corner after running wide, the engine braking slows the bike down just enough if needed to tighten the line. On the previous generation, I relied more on a slight touch of the back brake.
The previous R1’s linked braking system is gone. The new Brake Control compensates for it, and is a much better option—seasoned riders will concur with after the first corner.
Suspension Updates Inspire Additional Confidence
Yamaha updated the base model’s KYB inverted fork with a new internal shim stack design and optimized the KYB shock settings. I spent an hour (three 20-minute sessions) on the R1, and didn’t mess with the factory suspension settings.
With a bit more time, I would have tweaked the front fork settings for a bit more quicker response, as I felt some front-end chatter under heavy braking on both of Jerez’s long straights.
Over the previous generation, the motorcycle certainly felt more planted under trail braking and maintenance throttle throughout the corner. This is a combined effort of the engine and electronic enhancements—especially the engine braking.
For street use, the KYB setup is without a doubt an overachiever. We’ll find out soon once we get some serious street miles on the new R1.
The R1M is a different story. If you rode any of the previous-generation R1Ms, I’m sure there was not one complaint about the suspension. Handling gets much sharper due to the new Öhlins Electronic Racing Suspension (ERS) that uses an NPX fork with integrated gas cylinder.
The test R1M’s Bridgestone V02 slicks at Jerez felt immediately dialed in, regardless of the riding situation. From the two long straights to the tight switchbacks and flowing corners, the R1M’s suspension, especially in setting 1 of 5, remained magical. It allowed me to forget about suspension altogether and focus more on riding.
The new suspension setup, along with carbon fiber bodywork that helps shave two pounds for a total curb weight of 448 pounds, are two large reasons you pay an $8300 premium over the base YZF-R1.
For truly advanced riders, and those who are serious about the track and racing, the R1M’s added price is worth it. For the street rider, the YZF-R1 is the optimal choice. The revamped KYB suspension may take a bit more dialing in on the track, but for everyday sport riding, the base R1 will not present one issue.
Thankfully the R1’s brake system carries over from the previous generation. Yamaha did install a new Bosch ABS unit, along with revised stainless-steel braided front brake lines. The ABS does initiate a bit differently over the previous model, especially in BC2, which intervenes too hard under hard braking on the track.
I’d likely use that setting for wet conditions on the street, but all other ridings would be in BC1, as that setting provides the optimal amount of input around the track and is barely felt when engaging. Another change is updated material for the brake pads. I never experienced any brake fade, and I was able to use one finger for most of the day initiating and trail braking the braking system.
The 2020 R1 and R1M also gets slightly massaged bodywork. Yamaha claims a 5.3 percent aerodynamic improvement when a rider is at full tuck. I couldn’t tell the difference on Jerez’s straights, though van der Mark said he positively feels the difference—we will have to take his word for it. Additionally, the YZF-R1 also has a full carbon fiber tailpiece to complement the returning carbon fiber side fairings and nose.
The R1M also has a super slick GYTR Communication Control Unit (CCU) that uses GPS to track the motorcycle’s position and recorded data from the IMU and ECU. The data shows everything from throttle opening to engine speed at whatever area of a track you’re working on. This allows you to dial the R1M in for your riding style and bike setup at a specific track to achieve your fastest lap times.
For racers and track riders who want to achieve the very best, this data is the equivalent of what the factory team of analyzers get. The CCU is compatible with the Yamaha Y-TRAC app for mobile devices. Communicating via Wi-Fi, it facilitates downloading data and making settings changes. This is a $700 accessory for the base YZF-R1.
Yamaha has taken an already amazing superbike and made it better. I have to continually remind myself of how impressively innovative the engineers must be to increase the performance with such small changes. I also remember that the team is already starting with a platform that many could have only dreamt about when the original YZF-R1 was released 22 years ago.
I remember thinking how grounding breaking the first R1 was. Then even more so when the crossplane crankshaft engine arrived in 2009. Every time I asked myself how can the R1 perform any better? Then Yamaha astonishes me with yet another advancement—one that’s significant for street and track riders, and racers.
I’m performance over aesthetics, but one huge disappointment for me is that Yamaha has dropped the red color scheme on the base R1. The red is easily my favorite, just as the original white and red one spoke more to me over the Yamaha blue colors.
For 2020, the R1 has an MSRP of $17,399, up $700 from last year. The YZF-R1M runs $26,099, $3100 over last year’s model due to the updated electronic suspension.
Some quick math and you see that the upgraded R1M carries an $8300 premium over the base R1. That’s much coin for electronic suspension, carbon fiber, and some electronic functions. However, if you’re into magic and don’t want to think about the suspension tuning aspect, that premium is worth the money—especially if its main focus is track duty.
The base model is a super bargain over the 2019 model. Sometimes the smallest changes make the most significant differences, and this sentiment speaks mounds of truth for the 2020 R1. Now, if we can only get that red color scheme back.
- Helmet: Arai Corsair-X Carbon IOM TT
- Suit: Alpinestars GP Pro V2 with Tech-Air
- Undersuit: Alpinestars
- Gloves: Racer High Speed
- Boots: Alpinestars Supertech R
2020 Yamaha YZF-R1 and YZF-R1M Specs
- Type: Inline-4
- Displacement: 998cc
- Bore x stroke: 79.0 x 50.9mm
- Compression ratio: 13.0:1
- Valvetrain: DOHC, 16 valves
- Transmission: 6-speed
- Clutch: Assist-and-slip
- Final drive: Chain
- Frame: Twin-spar cast aluminum w/ magnesium subframe
- Front suspension; travel: Fully adjustable KYB 43mm inverted fork; 4.7 inches (YZF-R1M: Fully adjustable Öhlins Electronic Racing Suspension NPX 43mm inverted fork; 4.7 inches)
- Rear suspension; travel: Linkage-assisted fully adjustable KYB piggyback reservoir shock; 4.7 inches (YZF-R1: Linkage-assisted fully adjustable Öhlins Electronic Racing Suspension piggyback reservoir shock; 4.7 inches)
- Wheels: 10-spoke magnesium
- Tires: Bridgestone Battlax Racing Street RS11
- Front tire: 120/70 x 17
- Rear tire: 190/55 x 17
- Front brakes: 320mm discs w/ 4-piston radially mounted calipers and master cylinder
- Rear brake: 220mm disc w/ single-piston floating caliper
- ABS: Bosch (cornering and adjustable)
DIMENSIONS and CAPACITIES
- Wheelbase: 55.3 inches
- Rake: 24.0 degrees
- Trail: 4.0 inches
- Seat height: 33.7 inches (YZF-R1: 33.9 inches)
- Fuel capacity: 4.5 gallons
- Estimated fuel economy: 33 mpg
- Curb weight: 448 pounds (YZF-R1: 450 pounds)
2020 Yamaha YZF-R1 and YZF-R1M Colors/Prices
- YZF-R1: Team Yamaha Blue and Raven; $17,399 MSRP
- YZF-R1M: Carbon Fiber; $26,099 MSRP