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First ride: Yamaha R1M gets new rider aids to take the fight to its rivals

Published: 09 February 2018

A host of small updates further enhance Yamaha’s flagship YZF-R1M.

Three years after its introduction, minor changes have made Yamaha’s R1M faster, easier to ride and simpler to set up. It’s still the booming, intoxicating track weapon it was before, but new semi-active suspension, more sophisticated anti-wheelie and an auto-blipper allow it to keep pace with rivals from Honda and Kawasaki.

The biggest update is to the semi-active suspension.

When launched, the R1M was the first Japanese thousand with electronic suspenders and its Öhlins Smart EC system was astounding – constantly adjusting itself in real-time. For example, the front end would stiffen itself on the brakes, soften itself off to give feel in slow corners and increase the compression on the rear shock to limit squat when you’re on the gas.

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On the road, it gave a magic carpet ride that could be altered at the touch of a button. It was suspension heaven. Almost.

The only real downside was its slightly off-putting interface. If you wanted to fine-tune the settings, the electronic menus needed some thought. For some, the units of adjustment were baffling, especially as the lower the number on the display, the stiffer the setting. All that’s now changed. Just like on the Fireblade SP last year, the new R1M now has the second generation of this technology, which has a much clearer level of adjustment.

The auto-blipper is a decent addition, too. Since the R1 first came out, owners have been adding aftermarket blippers, but with mixed results. Some work well, others are clunky. But Yamaha’s new system is perfect, meshing rpm and adding to stability.

It all enhances the R1M experience. All the good points of the old bike re- main: the same nimble handling, partly afforded by the lightest wheels in the class (the R1M’s the only one with magnesium as standard). And there’s still the same gloriously fluid crossplane- cranked motor sniffing out exit grip b before droning to a heady, screaming top end down the next straight.

The new wheelie control lets the front float out of corners with stunning precision it’s far better than the unpredictable system on Honda’s Fireblade SP, for example. The bike still has the same six-axis Inertial Meas- urement Unit, too, meaning a huge range of traction control settings and slide control, which when you’ve got it on the correct setting allows even modest riders to smear rubber. But of course, like everything on the R1M, you do need to work up to it. 

Our test bikes were equipped with slicks which combined with stiff auto track settings, meant going quick was about taking a leap of faith. But once you believe, it’s like having a ticket to best roller- coaster in the world.

Sadly, the R1M still comes with the same brakes. Yamaha is persisting with a linked system meaning a smidge of rear brake is always applied when you activate the front Sumitomo monoblocks. It works well on the road but on track means the rear feels loose under heavy braking and bumps set it off into a tyre-squealing fishtail. Lever feel isn’t great either. Later, we also tried a race-kitted R1 with Brembo calipers, master-cylinder and linkage: a far better option.

Cosmetically, the R1M is virtually identical to before, save a different col- our bellypan. This is no bad thing – it’s a unique, carbon-clad demonstration of cutting-edge tech. But does it feel different enough to justify jacking in your old bike? If you already own an R1M, the answer’s probably not. But if you’re trading in at the end of your finance package you will feel the benefit. And if you’re buying for the first time you’ll be picking up the keys to a true piece of exotica. 

What about the plain-Jane R1?

The standard R1 will also benefit from updates to its quckshifter system for 2018 and, like the R1M, will also offer downshifting as well as upshifting for the first time. It’ll also come with a new Race Blu colour scheme.

2018 Yamaha R1

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