The 2011 Yamaha YZF-R1 offers a riding experience beyond the ordinary V-Twin or Inline-Four engine configurations. The R1 is the Tuning Fork brand’s rendition of the classic four-cylinder layout using technology developed by Valentino Rossi for the MotoGP championship-winning M1. Specifically, the crossplane crankshaft and uneven engine firing sequence produce a hybrid between the thundering bottom-end thrust of a Twin and the top-end power rush of an Inline that emits a unique howl from its twin under seat exhaust. Look no further than its top showing in the Engine Character category for proof that we like the way it feels and sounds, so let’s take a look at what the $13,590 R1 is like to ride on the street.
Lift the R1 off its kickstand and it’s clearly the heaviest bike in this shootout. With its largest in class 4.8-gallon tank filled to the brim it sports a curb weight of 473 pounds and takes a more muscle to steer than the other bikes. Hop into the saddle and the Yamaha is notably wider too, which we could see as being a plus if you’re a taller than average rider. Seat height measures 32.8 inches, which is on the high side, though none of our testers complained about that specifically.
Even though the cockpit feels similar to its Japanese and German-built counterparts our testing troupe wasn’t blown away by it, judging from its mediocre scores in the Rider Interface and Overall Comfort categories. The controls are located in a logical layout and it’s easy to get comfortable at the helm of the R1 but it didn’t do anything to stand out. Common complaints were that it felt too heavy and wide, the windscreen could be taller, and the engine and under seat exhaust pour out excessive levels of heat. That may be a welcome trait in cooler weather but not so much when it’s hot outside.
(Above) With its smooth spread of power the Yamaha YZF-R1 is a very easy motorcycle to ride. (Below) Yamaha offers riders a something different with its crossplane-equipped R1.
The electronics package could be better too as we didn’t find Yamaha’s D-SMS adjustable throttle map system to be very useful. This piece of electronics allows the rider to adjust the sensitivity of the throttle. By default the engine is in ‘Standard’ mode. ‘A’ mode increases the sensitivity of the throttle and ‘B’ decreases it. Our testers preferred ‘Standard’ or ‘B’ mode as ‘A’ mode made the engine feel like it surged too aggressively during delicate throttle situations like moments after hitting the apex of corners. We understand that the objective is to offer options to the riders but we would prefer to have more useful options than the R1 maps offer.
“The Yamaha feels okay… It’s actually pretty similar to the other Japanese bikes ergonomically,” states Gauger. “The dash is easy to read and the riding position isn’t cramped, I just didn’t really like how wide it felt. It was also sort of heavy too, which made it a bit more-tricky to manhandle during low-speed corners and maneuvering it in parking lots.”
A tall first gear makes escaping stop lights on the R1 harder than you’d expect from a liter bike. It requires a fair amount of clutch slippage to get it rolling and that made it difficult to get a perfect launch during drag strip testing. Fortunately the clutch lever action is light and offers good feel which offsets the fact that you have to really drag it to get a good launch. The rest of the drivetrain components including the six-speed transmission, final drive gearing (17/47) and slipper clutch were all rated highly and tied the Honda for second-highest honors.
In our acceleration tests the Yamaha registered a 0-to-60 time of 3.08 seconds which put it last along with the hard-to-launch 1198. Granted both those bikes and the RC8R all took more than three seconds to reach 60 mph. At the drag strip it finished the quarter mile in 10.38 seconds at 139.3 mph, which once again had it languishing near the back of the pack along with the Italian and Austrian Twins. We attributed to its modest engine power output paired with excessive weight and tall first gear to this showing. It gearing was very good for the track this time around, but it hurt the Yamaha in head-to-head performance tests.
Our Dynojet 250i revealed that the R1’s engine, despite being the most popular in terms of exciting the rider’s senses, ranked toward the back of the class in outright power. At 5000 rpm it’s cranking out the lowest amount of torque before eventually catching up with the Kawasaki, BMW and Suzuki for a moment. Shortly thereafter it belts out its peak torque of 75.65 ft-lb at 9000 rpm and then it begins to taper off. The R1 does finish ahead of the high-strung ZX-10R in the torque battle but it doesn’t have the same horsepower to make up for it that the Ninja does. The horsepower curve mimics the Kawasaki at lower rpms but it eventually peters out early with its second-lowest in class total of 152.13 hp at 11,800 rpm. Only the 1198 makes less power but again, keep in mind that the 1198, RC8R, CBR, GSX-R and R1 are only five horsepower apart. It’s the pesky Ninja and S1000RR that make the rest of the field seem feeble with their 163 and 183 horsepower figures respectively. Like we mentioned already, what the R1 lacks in outright performance it sure makes up in personality.
In Yamaha’s defense it is operating with the second-quietest exhaust note of 79 dB as measured at idle and the quietest tune of 94 dB at half of max rpm (6750). Many of our testers were raving about how awesome the engine sounds with its guttural roar more related to that of a small-block V8 than a sport bike. Equally as pleasant is how well balanced the engine is, virtually devoid of annoying vibration except at very low rpm, the R1 never makes your hand go numb because of unwanted vibes.
Perhaps it was our heavy throttle hand, but the R1 registered the worst fuel mileage of the test and even finished behind the 200cc larger Twins. We recorded a 28.6 mpg average which equates to a range of 137.2 miles. For comparison the GSX-R was the second-worst Four-Cylinder and it registered 33.9 mpg. The ZX with its small fuel tank and average fuel economy offers the next lowest range at 154 miles, 17-more than the R1. Again, it’s hard to stay off the throttle on the Yamaha though – that engine just sounds so damn good that we would be willing to give up a few mpg just to hear it howl.
(Above) Despite being a little on the heavy side the Yamaha is still a fun and playful motorcycle to ride. (Below) Despite its relative modest power output the Yamaha YZF-R1 still has some serious power.
“The R1 just feels sluggish, like it doesn’t want to get-up and go,” notes Associate Editor Justin Dawes. “All the other bikes feel like they have some hit. It just doesn’t have the ‘pop’ of a normal Inline-Four. It sounds bad as hell though. It’s so unique and gets attention everywhere you go. Too bad the performance doesn’t match the sound.”
Contrary to the Ducati, the Yamaha seems to be in its element riding through the city or on rough roads. Its suspension is noticeably softer and more forgiving, which makes it one of the easier mounts to navigate along well-worn roads in particular. Plus its chassis is stable at all speeds which is likely a combination of its above average suspension and heavy weight. The flip-side of the extra weight is that it requires more effort to change directions and has a tendency to move around just a bit more than some of the other bikes when really pushing hard around turns. This was an issue on the track in the past that they have sorted out much better with the ’11 settings though.
“On the freeway and around town I really liked the way the R1 felt,” explains Steeves. “It glides down the freeway like you’re behind the wheel of a Cadillac, so you’re feeling fresh when you reach your back road of choice. It definitely requires more effort to ride fast though.”
Although the R1 doesn’t have the boutique-quality Brembo monoblocs of the Ducati and KTM, the six-piston Sumimoto front calipers offer tremendous stopping power but they didn’t wow the riders. Low subjective braking scores hurt the R1 but there’s no denying that initial bite isn’t quite as strong as say the BMW or Ducati. Lean on the front brake lever and they get the job done. In the braking test the Yamaha covered 137 feet during a simulated emergency stop from 60 mph and that places it ahead of both the GSX-R and 1198 but eight feet off the distance set by the top ranked CBR and S1000RR.
Looking back on how the R1 represented itself on the street, it didn’t blow us away with outright performance. There are plenty of positives considering there wasn’t one rider who didn’t enjoy riding it and soaking in the sweet sound and character of its engine, and it’s a comfortable on long rides. But we can’t deny the 2011 Yamaha R1 could use some more performance if it wants to run at the front in a highly competitive class such as this. Sure, Ben Spies’ World Superbike trophy would beg to differ, but the world isn’t a giant race track, despite what we might think.
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