Similar to the European V-Twin sportbikes, Yamaha offers motorcyclists something different with its 2011 Yamaha YZF-R1
. The R1 is Yamaha’s take on the classic Inline-Four engine, only with a twist. A crossplane crankshaft and a unique engine firing order create a hybrid between the instantaneous traction of a Twin and the screaming high-rpm performance of an Inline, with character all of its own.
Since it was introduced three years ago, the current generation R1 has always struggled in the track portion of our Superbike Smackdown
comparison tests. While we’re addicted to the seductive growl of its liquid-cooled 998cc engine and above-average ergonomics, its chassis and weight have always been a limiting factor—up until now. This time around Yamaha showed up at the racetrack with a wonderfully set-up motorcycle that handled night-and-day better compared to years past.
Some of the credit goes to Michelin’s V-spec front tire as tested in the Michelin Power One Race Tire Review
. The tire, combined with an excellent set-up, helped transform the R1 from a sluggish steering behemoth into an agile cat that was able to keep pace with the competition.
“The R1 was a big surprise for a lot of us,” notes Siglin. “I think Yamaha did a bit of homework set-up wise and came to the test with a bike that handled really well. The chassis seemed to be balanced and felt very light when transitioning from side-to-side.”
“It surprised the hell out of me,” Neuer adds. “I was amazed that I was able to run the times I did on it. It really all comes down to the simple fact that Chuckwalla doesn’t require big horsepower to go fast. I was very impressed with the handling of it.”
Although the Yamaha
is carrying the most weight (473 pounds fully fueled) in motion it felt light—even more so than Ducati and Suzuki—and comparable to the other Inline Fours which was a bit of a surprise based on our previous experiences. Minimal body language was required to get it to dip in to a turn and the functionality of the slipper clutch was excellent and on par with the other Inline-Four motorcycles. Once leaned over on the side of the tire some riders noted having better mid-corner stability than all but the class-leading Honda and BMW.
“This year the R1 has an extremely stable chassis that provides a very confidence-inspiring package in the numerous long, multi-apex corners of Chuckwalla,” explains Atlas. “Combined with precise turn-in and downright easy to use corner-exit drive the bike was unbelievably easy to ride.”
In fact, the R1 tied the CBR1000RR
for the highest corner speed through the banked Turn 13 (72.1 mph). It also carried the third-most lean angle (57 degrees) and also achieved above-average corner speeds in Turns 4 and 16 as well. In quick side-to-side direction changes as encountered in Turns 8/9/10, the R1 registered a flick rate of 47.3 degrees/second which put it ahead of the BMW, Ducati and KTM.
“I always seem to have my break-through ride on the R1 and it happened again this year,” explains Hutch. “I really get along well with the mellow power delivery of the R1 and I cannot tell you enough how awesome the cross-plane engine sounds at speed too. But the important thing is that the bike suits me. It feels stable, hold a line well and doesn’t put the fear of God into you the way some of the other bikes do. For some people that isn’t a selling point but for me I consider it a plus. Also the ergos were well suited for me and being comfortable makes a big difference on a liter-bike.”
Suspension balance and performance has historically been a problem but this year both the fork and the shock rated better. Riders routinely commented how well the R1 accelerated off corners due in part to its pleasing connection between throttle and rear tire – with the crossplane engine configuration getting much of the credit for this trait.
The improved chassis set-up also paid dividends in braking performance, registering -0.94g of force as the rider slowed for Turn 1. This put it ahead of the Ducati, Honda and Kawasaki
. While no one questioned the outright stopping power of the radial-mount Sumitomo calipers they did not give as much feel as the class-leading BMW or Ducati. Braking performance, however, was consistent and completely fade-free.
The ergonomics also received praise, and the overall seating position mimics that of the BMW. The relationship between the seat, handlebar and footpegs (adjustable) was accommodating for all test riders regardless of height, though it does feel a bit wide at the fuel tank. But besides that our testers had little to complain about.
“The Yamaha is considerably better than the previous R1 we tested,” reported AFM regular Michael Earnest. “They had the fork dialed in because it was always backing in last year. The fork would dive everywhere and it lifted the rear wheel as a result. It has great mid corner feel & was easy to ride. Once you lean it in the bike was really stable, absorbed bumps well and came off corners really good. It felt like it worked really well. Last year it ranked low for me but this year I didn’t mind coming in hard on the front wheel at all. That helps because you can come in faster and carry more momentum which with that great low end made it good on corner exit as a result too.”
In terms of outright power, initially the R-Uno feels like it can run with the other bikes. Although it cranks out a fairly modest wave of torque at lower revs, get the Yamaha spinning around 9000 rpm and suddenly it feels on par with most of the other Inlines. But the dyno chart reveals peak torque output was the second lowest with only 75.65 lb-ft available at 9000 rpm.
While torque output felt in the ballpark, top-end power is
definitely lacking. Next to the
, the R1 belted out the lowest horsepower numbers with a figure of 152.13 @ 11,800 rpm. Although the engine can be spun for another 1800 revs, power tapers off drastically making it crucial for the rider to upshift well before its 13,600 rpm redline to keep accelerating forward. Fortunately, the gearbox performed perfectly with no mis-shifts reported and positive engagement feel at the shift lever. Even though it was down on outright power, the engine still works well and could be a boon for riders looking to experience liter-class power in a friendlier, less intimidating way.
“I really liked the Yamaha’s engine,” comments Rapp. “It makes you feel like you’re riding Valentino Rossi’s MotoGP bike. Although it’s not the fastest, it is by far the most fun and makes the bike easier to ride. Not to mention it’s got the coolest feeling.”
“The R1's motor was one of my favorites,” agrees Garcia. “It was really easy to dial-in the throttle coming out of the corner and the power delivery was Barry White smooth. An extra jab of the twist grip could get the tire spinning a bit and get you moving in the right direction though it did run out of steam too quickly.”
Out of Turn 10 the R1 registered the second lowest maximum acceleration force reading of 0.67g. In spite of this and it’s relatively tame top-end engine performance, the R1 carried the fourth-highest top speed of 133 mph before braking for Turn 11. This might be attributed to riders getting on the gas earlier out of the corner due to its superb rear end feel, or because of the R1’s shorter final drive gearing that helps maximize acceleration. In Superpole Rapp’s best lap time of 1’53.00 was less than a second off the other Inline-Fours which proves how much better the R1 performed this year.
When the dust settled Yamaha tied Suzuki
for fourth-place. While we were impressed with its newfound handling performance and friendly engine characteristics, the R1 still doesn’t have enough top-end engine performance to be a serious contender.