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Gallery: Celebrating 20 years of the R1

Published: 20 September 2017

This week in 1997, Yamaha revealed the R1. We celebrate its place in history and see how the original compares with the latest, greatest R1M

“How the hell is this bike 20 years old?” It’s a question you ask every time you look at the original R1 and becomes even more pertinent if you’re lucky enough to ride one. It may seem like five minutes ago, but two decades have passed since the R1 gave the all-conquering FireBlade a bloody nose. In a sportsbike climate where the Blade had redefined the quest for lighter, faster and more extreme, the result was a bike that was so far ahead of its time that it is still the blueprint for superbikes today. 

Every sportsbike since has followed its creed. Bum-up, nose-down stance. Elegant yet massively strong aluminium frame. Fully-adjustable suspension. Monoblock calipers. Sub-1400mm wheelbase. 150bhp. But what set it apart was how the engine and gearbox’s design integrated with the chassis. Stacked gearbox shafts, with the main shaft above the crank meant a shorter engine that could be positioned for optimum weight distribution and a longer swingarm for traction and stability. 

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Here at MCN, we’d first seen pictures of the R1 filter through during the summer of 1997 as the Yamaha test team worked their way across Europe’s finest tracks. Led by hotshot engineer Kunihiko Miwa and ridden by Colin Edwards and Scott Russell (who later donned a silverfoil one-piece suit for the bike’s unveiling), we’d assumed that the R1 was a new 750.

It seemed far too lithe, too compact to be a 1000cc bike, but it was. Its numbers were mouth-watering – 150bhp, 177kg dry with an otherworldly level of technology. Ducati’s 916 may have been the most beautiful bike of the 1990s, but nothing looked as advanced as this. 

And now 20 years later, it’s still a long way from being an artefact. We took a celebratory blast on the original 1998 4XV model and the latest, greatest of the family – the 2017 R1M.

To read the full feature, check out this week’s issue of MCN.

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