‘Now this is a real Superbike!’ These were my first thoughts after throwing a leg over the factory Yamaha.
Sterilgarda Yamaha YZF-R1
By virtue of a little luck and because I was up last before the lunch break, MotoUSA managed to snag a few extra laps on what, for us, was the coup de grace. Spies had just piloted this very machine to the World Superbike crown, bringing it back to America after a seven year draught and giving Yamaha their first series title since its inception in 1988. All in his rookie season. On a brand new bike. There’s no question this was the result of a special rider on a special machine.
Swing a leg over the relatively large-sized machine and first thing noticed is the stretch to the extremely wide bars. Probably as wide, or wider, than any race machine I’ve ever thrown a leg over. No surprise considering Ben’s 6-foot-plus height though. Get moving out pit lane and the next thing that strikes one is the ease of which it turns, feeling as if there is no steering damper at all. And, at low speeds, there isn’t. Since Assen of this year Yamaha has been using an electronic Ohlins damper that is variable based on speed and suspension position. And it works extremely well. Too well, in fact, as WSBK has banned it for next season. Though, according to Ohlins, expect a street version to be coming out soon. The beauty of trickledown technology at its finest.
(From left) Big changes allow the fuel to be relocated under the seat; One of the best cockpits of the bunch; Host of TC controls.
Compared to the AMA variation, Spies’ Yamaha is far more supplely suspended, as Ben likes the fork on the soft side, which fit my small size and weight fantastically. The bike tracked perfectly and changes direction with precision. This is further highlighted by a much lower center of gravity compared to the stock and AMA machines, most of which comes from running the fuel tank under the seat, a modification allowed per WSBK rules. But this is where the easiness ends and the wild ride begins.
Spies’ traction control is set up to allow a good deal of spin before any intervention so he can steer the bike with the throttle on corner exit. One has to get really aggressive to find its limits, and by this time one’s blood pressure is without a doubt deathly high. This makes for a very ‘loose’ feeling machine in general, with a stomping 200-plus horsepower and a twitchy set of bars. And speaking of HP, if the AMA bike were a pitbull the Sterilgarda machine is a rabid, prowling wolf. The two aren’t even in the same league. Though aided by the
While it may not have been the easiest to ride or my quickest times of the bunch, the sheer excitement factor of the Yamaha was through the roof.
awesomely smooth power delivery from the crossplane engine, where the AMA bike pulls hard to 12,000 rpm before tapering off, the WSBK machine is just getting going at 12 grand and easily takes one in excess of 14,000 rpm with steam. It was everything I had to keep the throttle pinned down the front straight without sliding off the back of the bike. Not since riding MotoGP machines have I’ve felt mind-warping acceleration like this.
Equally impressive were the brakes, with the most outright power of any setup on the WSBK grid. Truck loads of feel and piles of feedback greeted the rider at the slightest touch of the Brembo lever, making for truly one-finger brakes even for some like myself that almost always uses two. Combine these binders with the rabid speed and loose nature of Spies’ setup, and compared to the rest of the bikes, well, there was no comparison. This is a real man’s motorcycle, much the same way Hayes’ TC-less AMA bike is, just to a whole new level.
I could go on for ages about this world championship-winning machine, but the bottom line was that of all the bikes ridden that glorious Monday, one bike stands above the rest as the most hair-raising, and for me, the most fun.