2009 Yamaha YZF-R1 - The Game Changer

Yamaha's Crossplane Crankshaft Changes Everything

By Aaron Frank, Photography by Paul Barshon

Some of these extra pounds can be traced to the Crossplane powerplant. The 90-degree crank demands a counter-rotating balance shaft to dampen its inherent vibrations, adding weight and sapping power by an estimated 3 percent. The new exhaust weighs more, too, at least on U.S.-spec bikes that require an additional mechanical baffle to comply with our more restrictive noise limits. Yamaha preemptively warned us that American-spec R1s will make about 6 fewer horsepower than European models due to this choked-up exhaust and a mild ECU change. "Paging Chuck Graves..."

There's still plenty of power available from the now-shorter-stroke engine (low- to mid- 150s, our intui-dyno is guessing), and anyway, Yamaha's power-enhancing YCC-I variable-length intake tracts, along with shorter overall gearing (now 17/47, compared to 17/45), help hide any deficit at street speeds. But raw numbers hardly describe the Crossplane's real advantages. Horsepower is useless without grip--witness modern Superbike racing's dependence on traction control. Whatever the Crossplane engine gives up in peak power, it more than pays back with smoother delivery and improved grip. For most of us, this will go much farther than an extra 10 ponies ever would.

You feel the Crossplane advantage in every part of a turn. Reduced engine braking is one byproduct, and on the downhill entry to Eastern Creek's first-gear Turn 9, it's a revelation. Without excessive compression braking pulling the bike in the opposite direction--and aided by Yamaha's excellent, ramp-type slipper clutch--the R1 zips toward the apex with the immediacy of a 600, the rear wheel obediently and ever so slightly drifting out behind. With less rear wheel input bossing the chassis around, you can brake harder into a corner without worry of overwhelming front grip.

A confident front end makes it easier to exploit the R1's newfound stability. The Soqi fork is all-new for '09 and, just like the MotoGP bike's, splits compression and rebound damping into separate fork legs for more consistent performance. Eastern Creek's Turn 2--a first-gear wake-up call coming at the end of a 140-mph straight--provided a good opportunity to assess front-end performance under heavy braking. No matter how hard I clamped on the reshaped front brake lever (boosted by a revised lever ratio for improved modulation), the fork maintained compliance and kept the front tire in full contact with the tarmac.

Smoother power delivery let the engineers reduce the lateral stiffness of both the chassis and swingarm, resulting in increased mid-corner stability, especially at extreme lean angles. Knee down through the bump-riddled Turn 4 sweeper, the R1 held a line like Gorilla Glue, leaving plenty of neurons free to anticipate the exit--and corner exits are where the new R1 shines brightest. A new, more progressive bottom-mount rear suspension link--another piece of pirated M1 technology--prevents squat and helps the bike hook up and hustle out. The R1's enhanced traction-grabbing abilities were especially evident during the afternoon sessions, when mechanics levered on mega-grippy, triple-compound Michelin Power One DOT race tires. With the front tire now grazing the tarmac on nearly every exit, we were suddenly thankful for the new electronically boosted steering damper that amplifies damping force any time the throttle is more than 50 percent open.

The final piece of the R1 rideability equation is the "D-Mode" toggle on the right-hand switchgear that jumps between three preset power profiles on-the-fly (provided the throttle is closed). The comprehensive gauge package includes both engine mode and accelerator opening angle indicators to help you navigate the system. "Standard" is the default mode, delivering an approximately 1:1 ratio between twistgrip and throttle slide movement. Taking full advantage of Yamaha's YCC-T electronic throttle activation, A-mode accelerates by 30 percent the rate at which the throttle slides open between zero and 50 percent throttle. Switching to A-mode is dramatic, if not overwhelming--we found the standard setting more than adequate, power-wise, and much easier to modulate. B-Mode blunts throttle response by 30 percent at all throttle angles. This was a surprisingly useful setting in the late morning, serving as defacto traction control after sizzling track temps reduced the standard Pilot Powers to a hot, slick mess. (Dunlop Sportmax D210s are standard fitment for U.S. bikes.)

It's a rare opportunity nowadays to ride a new model as radically changed as the '09 R1. The Crossplane crankshaft completely redefines the character of the inline-four engine and, initially at least, you can't stop noticing how different everything sounds and feels beneath you. After a few laps, though, you stop noticing; then the biggest impression is how transparent the R1 becomes. The Crossplane engine makes the R1 easier to ignore than ever before--and that's a compliment of the highest degree. It's so much easier to read what's going on at the rear contact patch because all the typical distractions--noise, vibrations, peaky power delivery--are diminished. The usual sensory inputs are muted, leaving even more attention available to focus on riding the bike. Yamaha's Crossplane crankshaft changes everything--for the better.

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