Yamaha's epic new R1 is the unanimous, hands-down winner of our 1000cc superbike track test. It easily beats the competition, but it has to be said from the off that it takes time to appreciate the R1's brilliance. That's down to the Yamaha's unique MotoGP-inspired crossplane crank motor with its irregular firing intervals. It's so different to anything anyone except JORGE LORENZO and his mates have ridden before, it takes time for it all to sink in.
When fellow road tester Bruce Dunn rode it briefly for straight-line performance testing at our test strip, he wasn't jumping for joy. When I rode it against the more familiar Fireblade in France, I was initially convinced it wasn't as good as the Honda. Already there have been magazine articles saying it's all hype.
But all these opinions come from lack of quality time in the saddle. The more you ride the R the more you'll fall in love with its unbelievably vibe free engine, glassy-smooth power delivery, gruff factory YZR-M1 engine note and ability to let you get on the throttle sooner than you ever thought possible. Jump off the R1 and on to any of the other four-cylinder 1000s here, and they lack the Yamaha's instant burst of acceleration as soon as you pick up the throttle out of a corner. They all feel a bit gutless and vibey. All of us on this test were bowled over by the R including James Haydon, who was almost speechless after riding it.
INSPIRED BY MOTOGP: Back in 2004, Yamaha gave Rossi's a crossplane crank and irregular firing order so he could get in and out of corners as fast as possible. The same applies to the new R It's like there's an electric motor in the big red Deltabox chassis, not a big inline four-cylinder internal combustion engine. Unlike the others, the engine won't try to twist the chassis and pump the tyre under hard acceleration, causing it to be unstable. It just drives you forward with sublime feel for the rear tyre, so you can get on the throttle sooner and harder from the middle of the corner.
You almost have to ride the R like a twin using the grunt, not the revs so a lot of the corners at Cartagena can be taken a gear higher than on the Blade, for example, which makes the Yamaha less frantic to ride fast. Ironically, the slower corners have to be taken in first, though, as it has a very tall bottom gear.
WORN TIRES DON'T FAZE IT: The R is also easiest of all the bikes here to ride on worn tyres. You can feel the exact moment the tyre starts to lose grip and you can control it from there. When the ZX-1oR goes, it snaps sideways violently. The Blade and the K have lots of natural grip thanks to their long swing-arms, but still don't offer the sublime feel of the Yamaha. The electronically-aided Ducati lust splutters on its traction control when the tyre starts to spin, which is cool, but you have to wait too long for the power to come back in again, by which time the R has buggered off along the next straight.
With its lack of crank inertia, when you throttle-off the R1 freewheels, almost silently like a two-stroke. This keeps the R stable on the way into corners and gives you the confidence to run in faster with more control. But this lack of engine braking can make the R1 'back in' slightly, especially if you use the back brake, so you have to ride accordingly.
LIKE THREE BIKES IN ONE: The R1 is three bikes in one: a twin or V4 on the throttle, a two-stroke off it and an inline four at high revs. This is the key to the Rfs speed around the track or through a set of corners on the road, but none of it shows up on paper, testing it by conventional means. Its power and torque figures aren't particularly impressive (it's the least powerful inline four) and the straight-line performance is on a par with the competition. 'Where you feel it is through the seat of your pants and, of course, on a stop watch around a track.
The ZX- has 53bhp more power, but it still laps over a second slower than the Ri. And the Yamaha is two and a half seconds faster than the more powerful new K9. It's nearly a second quicker than the Ducati u98S - and that has full Ohlins suspension and traction control!
It's hard to see how the competition is going to catch up in the future. The ZX-1oR proves that throwing big bhp at a bike doesn't make it fast from A to B. The Ducati shows that top-shelf suspension, a big engine and advanced electronics can't quite close the gap on the Ri. It's going to take some Yamaha-style 'out of the box' thinking to catch the R1.
While the engine dominates the R1, it also handles beautifully - once it's properly set up for the track. Get it on its nose - by taking off front preload, adding more rear and tightening up the damping at each end - and it 'floats' around the track. A fast lap is completely effortless. The suspension is plush, giving lots of feel, and flip- flop chicanes can be taken with ease. The brakes have more feel and power than any R1 I've ever ridden and the lack of engine vibes and useable power make riding the R1 as fast and easy as playing a computer game.
That's not to say the Yamaha isn't fun and involving. A screaming four-cylinder Blade or ZX- certainly gets the juices flowing, but there's nothing more fun than reducing following riders to a speck in your mirrors as you leave them for dust out of corners and pull a huge gap. Here at Cartagena there must have been a lot of red-faced slick-shod race bike riders wondering 'what the hell was that growling bike with a numberplate, indicators and mirrors' flying past them.
VERDICT: Yamaha has shown its crossplane crank engine and irregular firing order works at MotoGP; Ben Spies has proved it works at WSB and it has demolished the competition in our 1000cc superbikes shootout. Here is a bike so full of contradictions and so different to anything out there, but just so damn good. Most impressively, our R1 had only 322km on the clock when we tested it the motor was still tight!
Model: Yamaha YZF-R1
Rating: 68.4 out of 100.
Engine and transmission
Displacement: 998.00 ccm (60.90 cubic inches)
Engine type: In-line four
Bore x stroke: 77.0 x 53.6 mm (3.0 x 2.1 inches)
Fuel system: Injection. Fuel Injection with YCC-T and YCC-I
Valves per cylinder: 4
Fuel control: DOHC
Cooling system: Liquid
final drive: Chain
Dry weight: 176.9 kg (390.0 pounds)
Seat height: 836 mm (32.9 inches) If adjustable, lowest setting.
Overall height: 1,110 mm (43.7 inches)
Overall length: 2,060 mm (81.1 inches)
Overall width: 719 mm (28.3 inches)
Wheelbase: 1,415 mm (55.7 inches)
Chassis and dimensions
Rake (fork angle): 24.0°
Trail: 102 mm (4.0 inches)
Front suspension: 43mm inverted fork
Front suspension travel: 119 mm (4.7 inches)
Rear suspension: Single shock w/piggyback reservoir
Rear suspension travel: 102 mm (4.0 inches)
Front tyre dimensions: 120/70-ZR17
Rear tyre dimensions: 190/50-ZR17
Front brakes: Double disc
Front brakes diameter: 310 mm (12.2 inches)
Rear brakes: Single disc
Rear brakes diameter: 220 mm (8.7 inches)
Fuel capacity: 17.97 litres (4.75 gallons)
Color options: Blue/white, raven, candy red
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