2009 Yamaha YZF-R1 First Ride

MotorcycleUSA Staff | January 19, 2009
Eastern Creek played host for the  09 Yamaha R1 press introduction.
Floggin’ Yamaha’s ’09 YZF-R1 at Australia’s Eastern Creek Raceway.

Unleash The Spin Doctors

“MotoGP technology for the street.” We’ve all heard this more times than we care to remember, from the very second GP racing went back to four-stroke machines, thus relating them to the production world. No matter how tenuous the connection, GP to street became a PR mantra. Personally, my ears started bleeding about the 100th press release or intro I attended where this was the spin of the day.

After a 15-hour flight to Eastern Creek Raceway outside Sydney, Australia, the first words from Yamaha’s mouth about the 2009 Yamaha R1 are: “born from MotoGP.” Not again… But they did fly us halfway around the world to see the thing, so before I brushed it under the table as hopeless PR propaganda and turned my iPod on, I gave them a couple minutes to explain. And, for once, it was actually worth a listen… 

Real GP Technology

The R1 gets a slightly taller windscreen and wider upper fairing for better aero.
At first glace it doesn’t look that much different than last year. But it is…

“1000cc Corner Master” – got to love the Japanese and their direct translation – blunt and to the point. This was the concept behind the new R1, which all starts at the heart of the beast, the engine. To achieve the “corner mastering”, Yamaha needed to make drivability a priority and the connection between the rider and the rear tire was paramount. More traction means better performance.

Say hello to an all-new engine.

Highlighting the entire basis of the new engine is their crossplane crankshaft, which is a first for any production motorcycle ever mass produced, and comes straight from the bowels of the Yamaha M1 that Sir Valentino Rossi throws a leg over.

While it’s new to the two-wheeled world, it has been seen in four wheels before. Some older American-made V-8s have used the basic concept, as well as a few other cars. So they just cut a Chevy V-8 in half, right? Not exactly…

The idea is simple. Well, simple as in memorizing Webster’s Dictionary front to back, simple. Bet here’s a shot in layman’s terms. Engines produce torque, initially solely from combustion. This is called – yep you guessed it – “combustion torque.” As the revs increase so does the piston speed, in turn driving the crankshaft speed. This creates another form of torque called “inertial torque.” Because of the unbalanced weight distribution of a crankshaft when used with a traditional firing order, this makes for a rotational torque curve that is off axis of the torque curve generated by the combustion torque, which is connected to your right wrist as you twist the throttle. Because these are off, the connection between the rider and the rear tire can get further apart as the rpm increase. Now Yamaha has come up with a way to change this; for the first time on an inline-four cylinder motorcycle at least.

The R1 s crossplane crankshaft.
Yamaha’s new crossplace crankshaft comes straight from Rossi’s M1 – and shares some in common with old American V-8 automobiles.

By having the firing order 90-degees apart in the crank’s rotation it makes for a linear and constant crank speed at all times, and the end result is a nearly flat inertial torque curve. This, in turn, then matches up almost identically to that of the combustion torque curve. The idea being, the only change of torque happens when the combustion torque changes, hence it exactly follows what your right wrist is doing. With both torque curves lined up, it eliminates another variable of disparity, putting the rider one step closer to the holy grail of rear wheel connection. As the Japanese so elegantly put it: “pure torque plus maximum linearity.” A counterbalancer, to keep the engine smooth with the new firing order, is now needed as a result. (More exact details and a full animation of this are available at: www.yamaha-motor.com.)

First seen on The Doctor’s M1 less than four years ago, it is that much more impressive considering the timeline of development needed to put it into street use. Consider this as well: one can’t simply take the totally-new engine and bolt it into the old frame. Because the power characteristics are so much different and the resulting bike behavior changes so drastically, the entire motorcycle had to be redesigned around the new powerplant. It really was a massive undertaking to get this bike into your hands in the time they did. Kudos to the boys in blues. As I like to say: “no progression leads to more recession.”

Starting from the inside and heading out, new forged aluminum pistons now sit inside ceramic composite-plated cylinders, designed for better heat distribution. Crank journals are now 4mm larger (up from 32 to 36mm) to handle the torque of the crossplane crankshaft. Some small tweaks to strengthen the clutch basket in the ramp-type slipper clutch round out the internal changes.

Yamaha’s YCC-T throttle system returns, controling their YCC-I variable intake system, which is updated for smother action. The system changes the intake funnel length based on rpm for optimum power. It’s a two-part system that changes length at 9400 rpm, with the funnel in its long length below that mark and the two pieces separating there to make for a shorter intake track above 9400 rpm for improved peak hp. Fuel injection is now aided by secondary 12-hole Mikuni injectors for better atomization, a first for any production R1.

State-of-the-art projector beam headlights make room for the new air ducts and feature both high and low beam together.
Ram-air ducts now sit on the outer edge of new projector beam headlamps.

Large ram-air intakes are located where the outer headlamps used to be, with the inner area now using a state-of-the-art projector beam system that acts for both low and high beams, allowing for free space in which the old lights used to occupy.

Highlighting the rest of the new technology is their D-Mode function for the updated YCC-T throttle body system, which allows rider adjustment of three different power characteristics. Standard mode is what Yamaha has determined as “optimum,” while ‘A’ mode opens the throttles bodies 30% faster for the first 50% of the throttle opening, increasing acceleration off the bottom. Finally, ‘B’ mode slows down throttle opening by 30% all the way to redline. While other companies have done this by limiting power and fuel delivery or ignition timing, Yamaha only changes the YCC-T intake system to control the rate of acceleration, thus not hampering peak horsepower at all. Both make the same bhp up top, the only difference being how quickly it gets there.

Exiting spent gasses is an all-new exhaust system, featuring giant, stylized underseat mufflers. While looking a bit over the top, these are there for a reason. Due to increasing EPA noise regulations and extensive emissions standards, the days of tiny, lightweight exhaust are a thing of the past. Suffering as a result is peak horsepower. This and the previous model are claimed to be about the same. Though, we are at a loss of 6 peak hp as compared to the Euro model due to the mufflers alone. Where the Euros have a standard straight-through system muffled by packing, we get a mechanical, two-part system that keeps things quieter but reduces power. (Damn you, EPA.)

New EPA sound laws equals new massive exhaust systems.
New EPA sound laws equals new massive exhaust systems.

To cope with the demands made by the new engine, which makes power in an entirely different way, producing much more down low, an all-new chassis had to be designed around it. A new delta-box frame and swingarm are made from a mix of die-casting, gravity casting and pressed plating to change the frame’s rigidity on all three axis. Vertically it’s 22% stiffer, latterly it’s 37% less rigid and torsionally it’s 2% less rigid. This added flex from side-to-side is aimed to give the rider more feel at corner exit when first applying the throttle.

With an engine angle that is 9-degrees steeper (31 degrees), it allowed the Yamaha men to move the engine 8.2mm forward, thus putting more weight on the front end to make for a 52.4% front and 47.9% rear weight distribution. Wheelbase is now 5mm shorter (down from 1420 to 1415mm), while a low-mounted fuel tank that extends under the seat and a magnesium subframe further focus on lowering the center of gravity.

A more compact riding position sees the clip-on handlebars 10mm closer to the rider, with the seat 7.6mm forward and the footpegs 10mm forward. The pegs are also now adjustable and can be put 15mm higher and 3mm further rearward as desired.

Footpegs are now adjustable 15mm up and down and 3mm front to back.
Adjustable footpegs highlight some of the chassis changes.

Like its big brother the M1, suspension has been updated with the latest technology. The 43mm inverted fork features independent damping, with the left fork leg handling the compression damping and the right side solely for rebound damping. This eliminates any kind of overlapping or dead spots for more precise tuning. Out back a new shock benefits from a hydraulic pre-load adjuster (8mm range of adjustability) and is tunable for high- and low-speed compression, as well as rebound. Mated to it is a new bottom link design, from the M1 as well. Though to make it compliant for both street and track use, it’s now more of a progressive curve, which I’m sure Rossi’s M1 doesn’t have, as it’s rarely used to go to the grocery store for milk.

The 310mm front brake disks with more rigid carriers improve stability under heavy braking, while an updated front master cylinder now has a changed lever ratio and shape, aimed at increasing feel and power. Tires on our side of the pond will be Dunlop’s D210 Qualifier as standard, with the rear getting bumped up to a 190/55 from a 190/50 to handle the added torque.

Design and styling are an evolution of the previous R1, with added air-flow as the key target. Styling is always in the eye of the beholder, so we will let you be the judge of that. From a technical standpoint they have increased the air-exit vent in front of the rider’s legs to keep the engine cooler and a slimmer tail section and higher windscreen aid in aerodynamics. An updated instrument cluster features an over-load of techy gadgets, including an Accelerator Opening Angle Indicator, plus gear position readout and engine mode indication, among many other displays.

Back from the grave is thte original Red White color scheme for the original  98 R1  and it s one of our favorties.
Design and styling is an evolution of the previous R1. Think of it as an R1 on The Juice.

Colors for the US market include the traditional Yamaha Blue, plus Yellow, Black, and Red and White, which pays homage to the original ’98 R1 and is our personal favorite. Prices start at $12,340 for the Blue and $12,440 for the other three colors. The new two-wheeler should be hitting dealer floors come the end of January, so you won’t have to wait long. In fact, I’m sure loads have their money down already.

Feel The Difference

It took us nearly a full day of traveling to get to the other side of the world for our first taste of what is arguably the most anticipated new sportbike of ’09, and when it finally came time to turn the key and unleash the new rocket we were the first in line. When Yamaha says it’s unlike any liter bike that they, or any Japanese manufacturer for that matter have ever produced, they are dead right. In fact, it’s almost strange – at first.

Say hello to GP technology for the street - at a price we all can afford.
Say hello to GP technology for the street – at a price we all can afford.

Hitting you smack in the face like a drunken guy in a bar whose girlfriend you accidentally just hit on, the throttle response is unlike anything I have ever felt. So instantaneous and so precise, it caught me off guard during our first session at the 12-turn Eastern Creek Raceway. On more than one occasion I twisted the grip a bit too far while still at high levels of lean, spinning the street-spec rear tire and popping my butt a few inches off the seat when it hooked up. Wake up time! It’s spot-on, in-your-face good.

In just about every Inline-Four sportbike yours truly has ever ridden this side of a fully tuned racebike, there is always roughly an eighth turn of free play, or lag in the throttle opening. This is something that can be tuned out with extensive modifications – pipe, ECU mapping, engine work, etc. – but is always present on production machines. Not the R1.

The R1 should make a great base platform for a race machine.
The R1 shines best when pushed to its limit under pressure.

Overall, the feeling of the engine truly is hard to describe – as is the distinct sound. You still get the sense it’s an inline-four once the revs build high, but in the low rpm it feels almost like a well-tuned V-Twin race bike, and in a way, sounds like one as well. Vibration is far from what you are used to as well, feeling somewhat like a traditional V-8 car. The most amount of disturbance is right off idle low in the rpm, smoothing out as revs increase and becoming almost nonexistent at top-end – completely opposite of any Inline-Four we have ever ridden. Strange initially, but one quickly gets used to it. And it lends itself well to freeway speeds, as 80 mph sits at a fairly high 6,500 rpm, which vibration-wise is smooth as silk.

Once I was able to grasp which corner went which way and on Michelin’s latest race-compound rubber for the afternoon sessions (morning was spent on Michelin street tires, and let’s just say we should be very thankful we are getting Dunlops in the U.S.) we were able to push the R1 good and hard. And no doubt, nearly equally as impressive as the engine is the chassis.

Middleweight-like handling from a liter-bike.
Middleweight-like lean angles from a literbike.

Street tires reared their ugly head and slowed down initial turn-in and flickability in the morning, but the race rubber quickly cured the woes. Front-end confidence is greatly improved from last year due to the updated weight distribution, giving the rider far more confidence to push deeper and flick harder as the fork gives ample feedback. Once on its side, the R1 continually feels as if you can lean it further and further, quickly approaching elbow-dragging territory.

Updated chassis flex characteristics are noticed and instantly felt, as the bike hooks up and is much more forgiving on corner exit, easily coping with the added low-end torque of the new engine. With street tires we were able to exploit the chassis when pushed to the point of tire-smoking power slides, and while the tires failed, the chassis came through with shining colors. Thankfully, race rubber put grip levels back in equal standing with the chassis’ prowess and we recommend doing the same if you plan to take your R1, or any sportbike to the track. All of this that much more impressive when you consider the overall weight of the bike actually increased slightly, somewhat due to the new mufflers (thanks again Mr. EPA).

Brakes are still the weak point of the R-Uno. Despite the changes up front the lever feels a bit wooden throughout its pull, lacking the outright power of some of the competition. Where in this day and age using anything more than two fingers to stop is almost unheard of, on more than one occasion I was in deep enough to require the use of my entire hand, even running off the track into the grass once, something I haven’t done since… well, the last time I rode an R1. That being said, they are slightly better than the previous model.

2009 Yamaha YZF-R1 Highs & Lows
  • True MotoGP technology and affordable
  • Middleweight handling in a liter-bike body
  • Pushing the evolution envelop
  • Love it or hate it styling
  • Loses some peak HP
  • Gains weight

Wind protection has never been an issue with the latest liter-class Yamahas, and this edition is even better than last year’s. Stability is also vastly improved, due in part to the updated weight distribution as well as a servo-activated electronic steering damper. The servo opens and shuts a ball to control oil flow into and out of the damper. The ball closes the circuit when the throttle is opened past 50% and also above 125 mph, otherwise is fully open to reduce steering effort as much as possible. The result is a very stable, far less twitchy machine that loses nothing in the slow-speed corners.

Equally cool on the techie side of things is the D-Mode selector. While I personally hate similar systems on some of the competition’s bikes, saying they are nothing more than a ploy to appeal to the video game generation by adding buttons (which happens to be my generation, though the video games were never my thing), on the new R1 it truly works. The standard mode is best just about all the time, but on worn out street tires the ‘B’ mode provided a perfect way to tune out the excessive rear tire sliding without hampering drive or lap times. A-mode takes some getting used to and is a bit jumpy at first, but once acclimated it makes for one hell of a corner-exit drive. I wouldn’t recommend ‘A’ mode on street tires, as it’s far too abrupt on the track if you are at any kind of lean angle when twisting the grip. But overall, the system is fantastic. 

Spinnin  the Euro-spec OE Michelin street tire was quite easy. A bit too easy.
Could this be the view the competition is seeing come Shootout time? Stay tuned…

Believe The Hype

When the OEs fly us to exotic locations to ride new bikes, while we never complain, sometimes it is to mask a lack of changes with a fancy racetrack and nice dinners. This is not the case with the new R1. It truly is all-new and leaps and bounds better than the previous model in every single area, bar maybe a hint of top-end power. And while some may complain about said loss in top-end power, the added torque and drivability, plus improved chassis, will have them circulating the track or ‘B’ road so much quicker that they will soon forget any peak power gripes whatsoever. To this I say: bring on the Shootout as Yamaha has a real contender on their hands with this one.

MotorcycleUSA Staff