The R1 had difficulty distinguishing itself from this talented group and falls to fifth in track portion of our second annual Superbike Smackdown
Yamaha YZF-R1 5th Place (78.6%)
In last year’s Superbike Smackdown, it pained us to rank the gorgeous and capable R1 behind the ZX and CBR. Now, without a dated GSX-R to kick around, it sinks another spot. Still we feel pain.
I clocked in my quickest lap of the day, not coincidentally, on my last session after I was finally getting a handle on the track layout. My mount? The R1, and I had to wonder to myself, “Wow! How could a bike so powerful, stable and well-braked not be at the top of the pack?”
Well, the R1 is by no means a dog. It only falls short in one key area: midrange power.
“Just like on the street, the R1 is hurt by its lack of low-end and mid-range power,” says Brian Chamberlain, our graphics guru and an amateur racer. “Luckily on the track you are usually up in the rev range, so the power deficiency down low is not as much of an issue, but it is still a little lackluster when driving out of corners. Throttle response is also a little abrupt, but not as severe as the CBR.”
“It has good power on top, and it was a ripper when in the upper part of the rev band,” adds Don Becklin, MCUSA president and a former expert racer. “But the low-to-midrange was weak compared to the other bikes.”
The R1’s cockpit is generally well laid out, but opinions varied among our testers of its effectiveness. It’s roomy and comfortable on the track, but its pegs are mounted low and drag earliest.
“I found the ergos comfy and roomy enough for my 6-foot skeleton to tuck in easily,” says BC, “although I’m finding the shorter reach to the bars on some of the other bikes more to my liking.”
From its saddle, the slim-midsectioned R1 feels long, but its short, flat tank helps give the impression of a smaller bike. Becklin found fault with the R1’s wide but short windscreen, saying that riders taller than 5-foot-ten should probably be looking toward the aftermarket for options. “Windscreen,” asks Roberti. What windscreen?”
DB also had an issue with the handgrips on the R1. “The grips seemed fat for my smallish hands,” he says, cautioning us not to read anything into that. “Luckily I’m so brave that the thought of my hands flying off the bars didn’t even scare me,” he adds with typical modesty. Some of us also noticed the Yamaha‘s stiff throttle-return spring, which sometimes made those off/on throttle transitions a bit tricky.
In action, the R1 feels bigger, heavier and slower-steering than all but the Honda, though its composure at speed is generous.
“The R1 is very stable,” BC notes. “Although it doesn’t flick in as quickly as some, it does provide a very confidence inspiring turn-in and turn exit.” Roberti echoes Chamberlain’s comments, adding that he believes the Yamaha has the best front-end feel among the Japanese bikes.
“I liked the fact that the R1 was uncannily stable,” Becklin elaborates. “It was a good compromise between the too-sluggish Honda and ultra-quick Suzuki and Kawasaki. While stability was top-notch, it did seem to be sluggish on turn-in. You really had to muscle it into the corners, but once there it was good to go. I like the wider handlebars that makes getting the R1 turned a little easier this is just about the only bike I wouldn’t push the bars out a bit.”
There truly is nothing really wrong with the R1. It accelerates like a mother up top, as its highest longitudinal data demonstrates, and it is without any obvious flaws when railing the curves. The R1’s scores are competitive in nearly every category, though it does rack up the bulk of the low rankings. It falls significantly behind in just two categories: its low-to-midrange power and its transmission, as the R1 was the only bike to have negative comments voiced against its gearbox.
“It seems strange to say about such a fast bike, but the R1 just doesn’t have the same grunt as the Gixxer and ZX,” editorial director Ken Hutchison sums up. “And when you combine that with a vanilla performance from the gearbox and other vital components, it places this bike in the middle of the road.”