The R1 might be the most aesthetically impressive literbike in this shootout. The deep red paint scheme caught the eye of our testers and turned nearly as many heads as the 999R.
We’re not sure what the current literbike sales charts look like, but we wouldn’t be surprised to learn the R1 is at the top of the list. It is simply one of the most beautiful Japanese sportbikes ever made.
“The look of the R1 is just killer,” opines Hutch. “The swoopy bodywork, underseat exhaust layout and bitchin’ frame and swingarm are something the other bikes come up woefully short on in the appearance department.”
Ridden on its own, The One is blisteringly fast, nimble yet stable, and has terrific brakes. If this was the only literbike you’ve ridden, your mind wouldn’t be able to conjure up anything better.
However, riding the R1 back-to-back against its class rivals, it comes up short in two key areas that combine to yield a noticeable deficiency: grunt.
A quick glance at the dyno chart reveals the root of this problem. The Yamaha just doesn’t have the beans to compete with the more tractable powerplants in the other bikes. Response from below 4000 rpm is really fluffy, and that’s followed by a gaping hole in its powerband from 6200-7500 rpm. The largest-diameter injector throttle bodies among the Fours might play a role in this performance. And despite the highest rev limit and the most oversquare bore/stroke ratio, the R1 never catches up, whether speaking of horsepower or torque. Its weak midrange is compounded by a super-tall first gear.
“I got over 95 mph in first gear!” exclaims Becklin. “I’m sure it’s done for safety, which makes sense, but it’s a little overkill to be able to go 30 mph over the highway speed limit without ever shifting.” To be fair, both the ZX and Gixxer have similar gearing, but their burlier motors are better able to carry them.
An R1 rider is greeted by a cockpit is nearly as nice as its skin, boasting a stylish and expensive-looking gauge pack with a large chrome-ringed analog tach and easy to read digital speedo. A lot of thought was also put into the area around the instruments, which is nicely finished with attractive plastic panels. The R1 has the widest fairing but a low windscreen, and its feel between the knees is the slimmest among the Fours. Shorter riders had to reach further to the handgrips than the Kawi or Suzi. Oddly, a few testers thought the Yamaha’s grips were larger in diameter than the others.
While the R1 didn’t overwhelm us in any one category, it does so many things well, it’s difficult not to fall in love with the machine that revolutionized the category back in 1998.
Although the R1 has the least impressive dyno chart, we can guarantee that, of all the words that will flow out of your mouth after a ride, “slow” won’t be one of them. Similar to its little brother, the R6, the 998cc R1 comes on with a heady hit that leaves an indelible impression of speed and power. It comes on like gangbusters after 7000 rpm, piling on about 25 horsepower in just 1000 rpm, and it shrieks with a lovely soprano wail toward the highest available revs among this quintet. This missile feels brawnier than its dyno run suggests.
The problem for the R1 is that there are only a limited number of opportunities on the street for the above-mentioned high-rev shenanigans. In the daily grind of traffic lights, stop signs and gridlock, the YZF left us less than impressed. Because of its tall first gear and relatively weak midrange, we found ourselves slipping the clutch when getting away from a stop more than a literbike should, and it makes the bike feel less responsive at typical street revs. A stiff throttle spring doesn’t help its street manners, and neither does its abrupt response from a closed throttle position.
In the cut and thrust of canyon riding, the R1 acquits itself quite well, although it felt bigger and heavier to some. The R1’s steering might be a bit slower than some of the others, but its wide bars offer good leverage to pitch it into a corner given a determined shove. Since none of its rake, trail and wheelbase numbers are at the far end of the extreme, it offers no real surprises.
“The Yamaha‘s handling seems to sneak into the middle of this pack of contenders,” says BC. “The R1 offers up quick steering, although not quite as quick as the ZX or GSX-R. And it has exceptional stability, although not quite as solid as the Honda. Basically the R1 gets through the corner well but doesn’t outshine any of its competitors.”
- Sinister style
- Does everything well
- Excellent top-end power.
- Anemic down low
- Doesn’t do any one thing exceptionally well.
This mid-pack theme continues in the categories of suspension and braking. The Yamaha does absolutely nothing wrong here, possessing strong brakes with a firm lever and a nicely controlled ride on the street, but it wasn’t judged to be a class leader in these regards. No complaints about its transmission, but we didn’t like the clutch that engaged only at the end of its lever pull. Heat from its engine and exhaust pipes warm a rider’s thighs, though the seat itself remains relatively cool.
There’s a lot to like about the R1, and its strong points are its styling and its generous attention to detail. “Aesthetically, the R1 is a work of art, outshined only by the $30K Ducati,” raves Chamberlain. “Fit and finish and attention to detail were outstanding, and its deep red paint really drew a lot of attention from passers-by.”
In the grand scheme of things, it was mostly the R1’s engine and transmission/clutch scores that held it back in the rankings. “The overriding factor when on the R1 is its tall gearing and soft punch from the motor,” summarizes Becklin. “But it’s still a lot of fun to ride.”