The R1 loves railing around corners, offering superb stability and good feedback. Looks pretty good from up top, too.
The R1 was the next contestant to join our motorized Dating Game. A lot of buzz this year centers around the proliferation of underseat exhausts such as on the R1 and CBR, but the universal new thread in 2004 literbikes is the quest to reduce the width between a rider’s knees.
Yamaha’s solution to Kate Moss-ness is to lay its cylinders down a further 10 degrees from the 30-degree angle of its predecessor, allowing more room over the engine for the sloping aluminum frame spars to be placed considerably closer together. The R1 measures in about 1.25 inch narrower between the knees than the once skinny Gixxer. Our 2003 supersport shootout saw the same situation with the 2003 GSX-R600: a bike in its last year of its model cycle going up against brand new designs from its three main rivals.
For nearly a decade, Japanese manufacturers have established a four-year development cycle for their sportbike designs: Introduce a new bike, revamp it significantly two years later, then bring out a clean-sheet model in the fifth year. Like dorm-room coeds, Honda, Kawasaki and Yamaha have settled in on identical cycles, while Suzuki’s 600cc and 1000cc Gixxers are one year off-kilter behind the others. This schedule is advantageous in new-model years, but it also has the effect of looking like Suzuki’s playing catch-up when its “old” model is being compared with a trio fresh faces three years later.
That step-behind development cycle plays right into Yamaha‘s hands, as the design of its new R1 is as cutting-edge as they come. The previous generation R1 was a sales success as much for its looks as it was for its performance and mamas not raisin’ no dummies Yamaha made a concerted effort this time around to exploit its style as much as possible. A more conservative eye might consider the R1 to be a little overdone stylistically, but curbside voting always had the R1 on top. If your parents didn’t play with you as a child, this is the bike to choose in order to get that attention you’ve always craved.
Check out that yellow Suzuki line. In some ways this is still the motor to beat. You’d never guess the high-revving R1 was down on power if you rode it.
On the dyno, the R1 was a slight disappointment when it was unable to bust the 150-hp mark as other R1s have. Gary Jones, bike tuner extraordinaire and White Brothers R&D ace, said he’d never felt such high a level of shaking on a dyno, so we suspect excessive vibration may have caused inconsistent traction with the dyno roller, masking a bit of the big power the R1 displays on the road. We plan to get another example from Yamaha for follow-up dyno test.
It may seem like the R1 is a real dog when looking at the dyno chart, but you’d never say that after a ride on it. There’s more than enough thrust to make your internal organs want to leap out of your mouth. Trust us on this one.
Use the stellar radial-mount front brakes to stop the scenery from blurring and you’ll notice deep wells of power that can be used without intimidating its rider. In a straight line while enjoying the view of the best looking instrument panel in the bizz, you might also notice there’s not a lot of padding on the thin seat.
Our forays into the canyons put us in contact with some first-gen R1 owners who were worried that Yamaha had neutered the impressive midrange that was part of the old bike’s charm. An important thing to note here is the definition of midrange.
- Impeccable finish and style
- Screamer of the literbikes
- 100-mph first gear!
- 100-mph first gear!
- Spotty powerband
- Least comfortable (if you care about these things)
Mid is the root of middle, so let’s agree that a point halfway between redline and an approximate 1000-rpm idle speed is pretty close to the center of a powerband. For the old “pile” and its 11,750 redline, that point comes at 5375 rpm. Factor in the 2000-rpm longer rev range of the new model and you’ll see that the new R1’s midrange arrives at 6400 rpm. The difference between old and new would be even less noticeable on the street if the new model had the same overall gear ratio (4.5% shorter) as previous. We suspect the sprocket companies had a hand in this new movement toward 100-mph low gears.
All that said, the Yamaha does have a relative deficiency in midrange power and some of that is due to the most oversquare (bore being larger than stroke) bore/stroke ratio in the class. Its 77mm piston only has to travel 53.6mm before reversing its direction, enabling a higher redline without exceeding accepted piston-speed limits and the failures that follow.