Yamaha has created a superbike to beat the best of its European rivals. The new BMW S1000RR and Ducati 1299 Panigale are going to have their work cut out to keep up with the new £14,999 R1.
Think of the Yamaha as being the size of a 600, with the power delivery of a turbo-charged 1000, all reined in by the most sophisticated electronic rider aids of any current road bike and you’d be some way there.
It’s not the smooth, cuddly R1 of old, it’s an unashamedly aggressive, angry, fighty race-focussed superbike. It’s lost some of its low-end grunt, but it’s been replaced by a top end punch so brutal it’s hard to hold on to it in full attack mode.
The R1 has a much in common with its MotoGP racing cousin and has the same riding position, face and engine position as the 2011 YZR-M1 MotoGP bike. It even has forged magnesium wheels as standard.
It has traction and launch control, ‘anti-lift’, a quickshifter, riding modes… the electronics list goes on, but the digital highlight is Yamaha’s new Slide Control System (SCS), developed in MotoGP and only fitted to Rossi and Jorge’s bike in 2012. It’s so effective you can actually hold a rear wheel drift to the point it will snap back into line when you shut off and brake for the next bend.
Within a few laps riding this Eastern Creek circuit the SCS gives you the confidence to square-off corners like a pro-racer without fear of it launching you. The only thing is you’ll need to be careful jumping on a non-electronic 1000 after riding the R1 and doing the same – you’ll highside yourself into oblivion.
Engine power, delivery and electronic control are all light years ahead of the previous R1, but so is the handling. Yamaha has shrunk it into the size of a supersports bike and if it didn’t have any stickers giving the game away, you’d believe it was an R6.
As well as being agile, there’s loads of front and rear feel and it turns smoothly on the brakes. Full lean stability is great, but the bars can get a bit flappy when the front goes light over bumps at full throttle, so Michael Dunlop might want a steering damper fitted for the TT later this year.
Yamaha hasn’t just moved the R1 story along, it has created a serious tool for racers and serious trackday riders that will rival the best of its European rivals for the first time. It’s rapid, handles superbly and has race-ready electronics (unless you’re a BSB rider and you’ll have to take them all off).
And if the R1 wasn’t impressive enough, there’s the special edition £18,499 R1M. Semi-active electronic Ohlins gives it an extra layer of sophistication, grip, control, confidence over the standard R1 and it’s nothing short of race-bike-sensational around Eastern Creek.
Add to this extra performance the carbon goodies, datalogger, the Yamaha Racing Experience and the sheer exclusivity of it and it’s one special machine.
The only problem is all 75 coming into the UK this year have been sold, so you’ll have to wait for the next limited edition batch to come in next year.
Pictures by Alessio Barbanti, Henry Benno Stern, Josh Evans