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2004 Yamaha YZF-R1 Comparison

Wednesday, May 19, 2004
2004 Superbike Smackdown Track Test - Laguna Seca
While some may consider Yamaha's styling of its new R1 as overwrought, there's no question which bike garners the most attention in this group. It's an intriguing mix of cuts and curves that somehow flow together.
"Although they provided huge amounts of stopping power, so much that I often found myself doing stoppies going into the corners, the lever tended to fade quickly," Chamberlain griped. "Even with the lever adjusted all the way out, I continually found myself pulling the lever back and hitting my fingers before optimal pressure was applied."

Each bike in this test has top-shelf brakes and radial-mount calipers, so we're confident a thorough bleeding would fix this condition.

While we're on the topic of brakes, we're shocked at Japanese manufacturer's reluctance to fit braided-steel brake lines, especially on the most powerful bikes in the world. Their lack of flex makes hard braking more positive with a firmer feel at the lever, much preferred over the rubber lines on this group. Crevier calls it "rubber-hose syndrome," and fitting braided-steel lines would be the first change we made if any of these bikes were our own. They come as standard equipment on bikes from BMW, Buell and Ducati, to name a few, so it's not like we're asking for world peace here.

That said, the braking performance of all of these bikes is stellar, and it's hard to choose which one's are better. Becklin and Korfhage said the R1's were best, while Crevier chose the CBR's; Hutchison and I judged the CBR and R1 about equal so, democratically, we'll have to give the narrow edge to the Yamaha.

The R1 is even easier to ride on the track than the street. Its tall first gear and top-heavy power curve is mostly noticeable when leaving the pits. Once up to speed the R1 thrills with its shrieking rush to its expansive, high-rpm playground, and then it bails you out with the best binders and a level of stability nearly on par with the unflappable CBR.
2004 Yamaha R1 Highs & Lows
Highs
  • Impeccable finish and style
  • Screamer of the literbikes
  • 100-mph first gear!
Lows
  • 100-mph first gear!
  • Spotty powerband
  • Least comfortable (if you care about these things)

"Handling and stability were all top notch," said Chamberlain, adding, "the brakes worked great, and there were no problems in the gearbox."

While Hutchison liked the R1's tall gearing that "helped keep the power manageable in the first gear turns," Chamberlain and Becklin believe they could go faster around Laguna with shorter ratios. To me, the tall gearing just simplified the laps, and the same goes for the similarly geared Kawasaki; I could ignore the upper three gears altogether and still exceed 135 actual mph on the front straight, as measured by our remarkable new Vbox data logger.

The highest speed Crevier reached on his data-acquisition runs was 142 mph on the ZX, a few mph up on the others, with the CBR being the slowest. Each of these machines briefly exceed 1.0 longitudinal G accelerating out of the tight Turn 11, but the R1 and ZX can hold that figure longer and more often. The ZX gathers speed at a .96G rate as it's hitting the meat of its bodacious powerband at 85 mph, which would mean that your girlfriend could assume a nice supergirl pose on back, assuming she could hold on.

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