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2004 Yamaha R1 - Track Test

Monday, February 16, 2004
2004 - Yamaha R1
The Titanium exhaust is routed under the seat for improved ground clearance. Yamaha claims 56 degrees of lean angle are available on the 2004 R1.
Making Beautiful Music

If you were blindfolded and the new Yamaha R1 engine fired up next to you, I doubt it would be possible to guess what sort of bike it was. Assuming that is that you hadn't heard one already. It is obviously a big four cylinder, but my feeling is your first guess would be a heavily breathed on race bike, with a very quiet pipe.

The way the new R1 snarls and growls as you blip the throttle off idle is darn right evil. Reminding me immediately of an old GS1150 drag bike that lived at the shop I used to work at, I have never heard a stock Japanese bike that sounds so feral. This was further confirmed after the press launch, when I spent a couple of days hammering an FZ1 around the Australian countryside. It sounded so asthmatic and docile it was hard to accept the engine was from the same family.

Twist the new R1's throttle in anger, and the intake roar will have your adrenaline glands pumping harder than when your High School sweetheart's parents came home unannounced. The sound is utterly intoxicating, and running the engine up to maximum revs through the gears so addictive, it's going to make a heroin junkie's itch seem trivial. From 7000-9000 rpm, the airbox resonates with such an incredible sound it suddenly made perfect sense to me why there are tuning forks on the gas tank. This thing makes music, and I haven't even talked about how the pipes sound screaming toward the 13,750 rpm redline. I don't want anyone messing their leathers.

Thankfully, Yamaha chose to release the new R1 to the World's press at Eastern Creek Racetrack, just outside Sydney, Australia. This meant we could all twist the throttle as hard as we dared for a whole day without fear of doing time in an Australian jail. We did ride the bikes on the road the next day, and I calculated hitting the rev limiter in first gear (101 mph) on the Highway would cost $2067 Australian in fines if caught. But I am going to stick to the track, as Kevin Duke is going to be testing the bike on home soil very soon. And, if he manages to stay out of jail, he will be bringing you an in depth report about the bike's road behavior.

Being the middle of the Aussie summer, temperatures out on the track were brutally hot. Once underway though, any thoughts of this nature got immediately relegated, as eyeballs were set to wide-open, heart rate to maximum and the fun began. For the start of each half-hour session, we followed the Yamaha test rider for three laps before being let loose to our own devices. This helped me get my lines, and by lunchtime I was feeling very comfortable with the 375lb Yamaha. I wasn't using the engine's quoted 180 horsepower anywhere but the front straight, and was short shifting before 8000 rpm to keep things calm. This still provided a whole lot of speed, as the big inline four will pull strongly from 5000 rpm.

2004 - Yamaha R1
Although it is not as obvious on the R1 as it is on the ZX-10R, the frame spars route over the motor rather than around it. This helps the bike feel very narrow.
Heading out after lunch on new race compound Michelin tires, it was time to lift my skirt and start getting serious. Burrowing in behind the fairing, like a tick on a dog, I let it rip down the front straight. Shifting at 12,500 rpm, where the engine is making peak power, had the front end going light every time, and the manic grin inside my helmet growing larger. Holding it wide open in fifth gear, I passed the first brake marker and glanced down to see 170 mph on the digital speedo, before rolling off, dropping a gear and railing into turn-one. My good buddy Dave Peach, who is an Eastern Creek regular, told me I didn't need to touch the brakes. But, with the bike traveling somewhere on the wrong side of 160 mph I couldn't help taking a quick dab. What was that about lifting my skirt?

This still meant I was honking through turn-one at around 120 mph, knee puck shredding merrily away. Sitting up for the next brake marker, it was time to lose a quick 70-80 mph for the tight, uphill left hand turn-two. Time and time again, I was simply gob-smacked the way the R1's new radial brakes took off the desired speed. No dive from the front end, and no protest as I threw the bike hard onto its left-hand side. Here, I chose second gear to avoid any chance of spinning the rear wheel as I rolled up through the turn, before pitching the bike onto its right-hand side for turn-three.

This was the most difficult part of the track for me, and no matter how far to the right I got before turning in, I still ended up running wide every time. I am not sure if it because the last bike I track tested was the GSX-R600, or because the new R1 has a slightly longer wheelbase than the Kawasaki ZX-10R. But, it seemed to me that the new ZX turns in quicker in the tight stuff, and I had to get a bit physical transitioning the Yamaha from hard left-to-right.

On the exit of turn-three all that was forgiven as I crested the small hill, engine screaming and front wheel reaching for the sky. To avoid this, and keep both wheels firmly planted, it was necessary to climb up over the front end, which was great fun. This made for a better run at turn-four, and howling down into the sharp right-hander was quite the leap of faith the first time I tried it at speed. No worries for the R1, the front end taking it in its stride, and the race-compound Michelin sticking like snot to a blanket, as my adrenaline glands pumped liquid confidence through my veins.

The rest of the day was spent in this fashion as I pushed harder and harder, never even coming close to the limits of the bike's handling or braking. Feeling so totally composed, and producing such large amounts of urgent, raw power, there is no doubt the new R1 is light years ahead of last year's model. Will it be the best open class liter bike of the year? Only time and a multi-bike shootout will be able to answer this one, and if it isn't, I want to ride the bike that beats it!

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