Yamaha YZF-R1 LE - The 12 Bikes Of XXXMAS

You'll Never Be As Fast, But Now You Can At Least Look Like Valentino Rossi

By Aaron Frank, Photography by Yamaha, Adam Campbell

There's no arguing that Valentino Rossi is the greatest of all time. The 30-year-old Italian has eight world championships to his name and at press time was leading the '09 title chase. He's the only rider ever to win world titles in five different displacement classes, and he has more premier-class victories than anyone in the history of the sport. In 223 Grand Prix starts, Rossi has scored 103 wins, 161 podiums, 57 poles and 81 fastest laps. It's a record of incredible depth and diversity that will likely never be equaled.

Beyond his race résumé, Rossi brings an equally legendary sense of humor to the over-serious world championship realm. A man of many nicknames, known for his outrageous cool-down lap antics, "The Doctor" exhibits his playful wit at every opportunity. His helmet always tells a story. Sun and moon imagery (signifying his two-sided, playful and serious personality) are the only constant. The rest of the graphics are ever-changing. Greatest hits include his own terrified visage ("What my face looks like at the end of Mugello's front straight"), a donkey's face ("I felt like such a donkey after falling off at Indy") or the image of his late, beloved bulldog Guido adorned with angel's wings. Valentino presents himself as a uniquely funny and fun-loving individual-a stark contrast to serious, seemingly soulless rivals such as Dani Pedrosa and Casey Stoner.

Rossi is successful, one of the 10 highest-earning sports figures in the world ($34 million in 2007) according to Sports Illustrated magazine. He's superstitious, choosing to display #46 (his father Graziano's GP number) instead of the #1 traditionally worn by defending champions. And he's intensely loyal to his friends, seldom seen off the bike without Uccio, his childhood buddy who now acts as his personal assistant and confidant. Even his extended circle is never far from his mind, evidenced by the "Tribu Dei Chihuahua" fan club decal on his helmet.

Valentino Rossi is, in other words, exactly the person you want to be. He's fast, funny, amazingly successful yet still humble, adored by men, women and children, friend to the animals and filthy, stinking rich. And while it's unlikely that you'll ever be as fast, funny or fortunate, in 2010 you can at least look like him. Yamaha's new YZF-R1 LE is dressed up with decals lifted from Rossi's factory Fiat Yamaha, the graphics package correct right down to "The Doctor" decals on the windscreen, the #46s front and rear and the reproduction of Vale's signature on the fuel tank.

Unfortunately, unlike the bumblebee '06 YZF-R1 LE that featured upgraded Öhlins suspension, Marchesini wheels and more power, this latest $14,500 version is mechanically identical to the $13,290 base model. That's not to say the Rossi Replica is a complete pretender, however: Except for Ducati's ultra-exclusive Desmosedici RR, no other production streetbike shares so much DNA with its MotoGP forebear. Its unique crossplane crankshaft, sophisticated electronics and suspension technology are lifted straight from Rossi's YZR-M1.

Yamaha's MotoGP engineers first adapted crossplane crankshaft technology to tame the M1 racer's savage, 250-horsepower output. This layout locates each connecting rod 90 degrees from the next, rather than 180 degrees apart as on a conventional crank. This geometric shift, coupled with an irregular firing interval (270-180-90-180 degrees), lets the engine build power more smoothly, which enhances rear grip, improves throttle feedback and makes the R1 hook up and haul out of a corner like no other inline-four sportbike on the market. Yamaha Chip-Controlled Intake (YCC-I) runners snap from a low end-boosting long position to a shorter, top-end enhancing length at 9400 rpm, broadening the power spread and concealing the slight decline in peak power inherent in the crossplane crank configuration.

More techno-trickery in the form of an all-digital Yamaha Chip-Controlled Throttle (YCC-T) provides electronic throttle activation for improved throttle response, and also enables D-Mode functionality that allows the rider to toggle between three preset drive modes with the flip of a switch. Unlike other systems that alter power delivery by fudging ignition and injection timing, D-Mode simply alters the speed at which the YCC-T opens the throttle plates. In addition to the baseline standard setting, A-mode sharpens throttle response by 30 percent while B-mode softens it by a similar amount.

The R1 also borrows chassis technology from the M1. A controlled-fill, die-cast magnesium subframe cuts pounds and centralizes mass, while a bottom-mount rear-suspension link better resists squatting under acceleration. The fork separates damping, with compression in the left leg and rebound in the right. This keeps one circuit from negatively influencing the other, improving adjustability and optimizing road-holding performance.

Mechanically unchanged for 2010, the R1 still sounds and feels like no other literbike. It works, too: Not only did the R1 win our "Class of '09" sportbike comparison, it also earned our 2009 Motorcycle of the Year award. Yamaha saw no reason to mess with a good thing. Production of the Rossi Replica R1 is limited, and consumer interest has been strong despite a down market for sportbike sales. Chalk up another victory for Rossi's star power.

And who knows? Next year might be your last chance to score a Rossi Replica motorcycle. His current Yamaha contract is up at the end of 2010, and persistent rumors suggest he'll exit motorcycle competition and take up auto racing. Rossi has already won a World Rally Cup event in a factory Subaru, beating his boyhood hero, the late Colin McRae, in the process. He's also test-driven a Ferrari Formula 1 car, lapping within a second of F1 superstar Michael Schumacher. Schumi says Rossi has "immense talent" and would be immediately competitive. An Italian native as high-profile as Rossi driving for Italy's proudest carmaker would no doubt prove irresistible to race fans, and would almost certainly be worth any fee Rossi might demand. With nothing left to prove on two wheels, what's to stop him from making the jump to four?

Maybe the next Rossi Replica will be painted red. In the meantime, Yamaha will gladly sell you the same technology that helped make Vale such a successful motorcycle racer-and now you can even have the same graphics, too.

Jackass helmet sold separately.

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