A Day With Josh Hayes and His Graves Yamaha YZF-R1 | Thor’s Hammer

By Zack Courts, Photography by Brian J. Nelson

Another question: Why is the fork so stiff? Josh Hayes’ preference, it turns out, and he knows a thing or two about setting up a bike. It’s hard to get used to, but as unyielding as the front suspension feels it is amazingly obedient, especially considering the seat is so high. Turn-in is crisp and light as you would expect, and the Graves R1 doesn’t show it’s 370-plus pounds even transitioning from side to side in fast sets of corners.

Question number three: What planet are these brakes from and do they have a website? Initial bite from the sintered pads is severe but the calibration is, for lack of a better word, perfect. More squeeze on the radial-pull lever equals more stopping force, with zero fade and absolute predictability. Also, because the fork is so stiff, the bike behaved impeccably while trail braking. It didn’t become twitchy or nervous as bikes often do when the fork compresses and trail decreases—it simply dug in and turned like an apex-seeking missile.

Because the firm fork also reduces dive there is huge potential for braking before the rear wheel lifts off the ground. I tried to use the massive Brembo calipers to their full potential, but still couldn’t talk myself into braking late enough at the end of the 170-mph front straightaway. Even when slowing down too much for Turn 1, data readouts showed me later that Hayes actually squeezes the lever about 20% harder in the same braking zone. I’m amazed his face is still attached to the front of his skull.

In fact, insane braking forces have not dulled Hayes one bit, and if results are anything to go by he is sharper than ever. It doesn’t take much time talking to him to realize why the R1 has turned into such a potent weapon. Beyond his obvious talent, he is a tremendously cerebral rider, with a precise memory and an unending drive to improve both himself and the bike.

Hayes joined Yamaha in 2009, the same year that the crossplane crankshaft design debuted in the YZF-R1, and in his first season he won seven races, finishing runner-up in the championship. Since then he has proceeded to stamp his name on AMA Superbike history with three consecutive championships and a total of race wins second only to Mat Mladin on the all-time list. Rome was not built in a day, as the saying goes, and so it is with this Graves R1. The bike is the product of countless hours of work. Pushing to the limits of the machine and rider, with endless fiddling—all documented—makes that limit both higher and more attainable.

Hayes’ first impression of the 2009 R1 was not all positive, but the finer points are not lost on him even now. “Having that amazing connection between your hand and the rear wheel” he says, “that stood out the most to me about the R1 and was probably my favorite thing when I first got on it.” Four years later he is still adamant that the same feel and precision not only be incorporated but also improved in his current bike.

He is an extremely efficient filter, then, maintaining the best aspects of the bike and letting engineering that is detrimental to success simply come and go. However, he is big enough to know that it’s not a one-way street. “I had to adapt myself a lot to the machine and adapt the bike to me a little,” Hayes remembers, “and through that learning process I’ve gotten to a place that feels like home.” A home adorned with three Superbike titles. Comfy.

The core of Hayes’ “home” dates back to January of 2004, when the Yamaha team first took to the track publicly with its new crossplane “growler” engine at the MotoGP test in Sepang, Malaysia. Nearly 10 years ago now, and oh what hell the crossplane design hath wreaked upon the competition. Five MotoGP championships, two British Superbike championships, a World Superbike title, and now three consecutive AMA Pro Superbike championships in the hands of Josh Hayes.

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