Compared to many of today’s 600-sized hardcore 1000s, the R1 is big and heavy. It has a conservative suspension set-up and average sports tyres, too. Fit some sticky rubber and dial in the suspension to make it steer quicker and the R1 is insanely fast. It can hold its own at tight tracks against any of its rivals, but struggles with speed along long straights. It’s very easy to ride fast or slow and is very comfy too, with the most legroom of any of the 1000s.
With its crossplane crank and irregular firing order layout, the 998cc inline-four-cylinder engine is almost vibe-free, despite its rumbling exhaust note, has the linear power delivery of an electric motor, the grunt of a V-twin and the free-wheeling engine braking of a two-stroke. It’s a riot of contradictions and it seems you either gel with it or you don’t. It doesn’t have masses of power at high rpm and its speed comes from its acceleration out of corners and the ease in which you can get on the throttle, even on full-lean. Try and rev the R1 like a conventional inline four and it feels painfully slow. In most occasions you need to ride a gear higher than you think and use the engine’s low-down power to go fast. In saying that, it has a very tall first gear, so you can use the bottom gear more than you would normally.
Build quality and reliability is top notch, but R1s have particularly grabby clutches, which seems to be normal. MCN has run a crossplane crank R1 on its long term test fleet since 2009 and it’s clocked up over 40,000-miles with no problems.
The cost of the R1 has risen from £9999 to nearly £14,000 in the past three years, making it the most expensive Japanese superbike. It’s now in the ballpark of European exotica. You could argue that we’ve had it too good for too long, if you consider the R1 was nine grand when it was first released in 1998, and this is how much a performance bike like this should really cost.
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The new traction control system is based on Yamaha’s MotoGP bike, albeit a far simpler, less adjustable version. It doesn’t have an internal gryo, just sensors to keep an eye on front and rear wheel speed, but it works remarkably well. It’s very intrusive in the highest of its six settings, so it’s perfect for tricky conditions – it stops wheelies, too. For track riding, you can turn the traction control down, via buttons on the left handlebar (like the Aprilia RSV4 APRC), and the system won’t get in the way of fast riding, only chiming in to help you when things get really out of shape. The R1 also has three electronic riding modes, radial brakes, adjustable suspension, ride-by-wire and electronic, variable height inlet trumpets.