Yamaha YZF-R1

Staffers' Rides

Ringleader: Barry Burke
MSRP (2010): $13,290
Miles: 1108-3875
Average Fuel Mileage: 22 mpg
Accessories & Modifications: Akrapovic mufflers, Dynojet Power Commander, Goodridge brake lines, Graves rearsets, Harris levers, Michelin tires, Öhlins fork kit and shock, Renthal clip-ons, grips and sprockets, RK chain, Vortex fuel cap, Yamaha GYTR air filter, solo seat cowl, fender eliminator, frame sliders and swingarm spools.

How do you improve our 2009 Motorcycle of the Year? Just add time and money. The more you spend-especially time-the better it gets. From the beginning of this project,I focused on improving front-end feedback and shaving weight, which would also make the R1 more neutral under braking. I was working with a $4000 budget, which sounded like a lot until I started spending it. Parts are prioritized by bang/buck ratio, so stop reading when you run out of dough.

We started with an Öhlins FGK 201 30mm cartridge fork kit ($1202; www.ohlinsusa.com). It's pricey, but the extra confidence it delivers-especially at the racetrack-is worth at least that much. Instructions call for the oil level to be set at 160mm, but after talking to World Superbike suspension guru Mike Watt, we lowered that to 180mm along with 10.5-kg. springs ($135). That sounds stiff for a 175-pound rider, but it turned out to be perfect. These cartridges don't just drop in as with previous-generation R1s, so don't try installing the kit at home unless you know your way around the inside of a modern fork and have the required specialized tools. An Öhlins TTX shock ($1403.91) takes care of the other end, sharpening performance compared to the stocker, with a standard ride-height adjuster that lets you raise the rear of the bike to where it needs to be. So equipped, the bike feels stiff on the street at first, but you'll get used to it.

The stock bars are short and narrow with a strange sweep, plus the R1's broad mid-section pushes your knees out, making the bars feel even shorter. Swapping for a set of Renthal clip-ons ($199; www.renthal.com) let us move the bars forward at an angle that enhances feel, comfort and control. Renthal's 7075 aluminum mounting clamp has laser-etched position marks every 5mm to make setup easier. Last but not least was a set of Renthal's firm grips-just like Yamaha put on its two-stroke TZs in the '80s. With the bars dialed in, a set of Graves rearsets ($749.95; www.gravesport.com) balanced the other end of the ergonomic equation. A broad range of adjustment makes room for my long legs. Though build quality is solid, a carbon-fiber heel plate snapped off 100 yards into my first track day. Graves already has an up-dated part in production, so hopefully no worries there.

Perhaps the most surprising improvement in handling came from the new 120/70ZR-17 "V" Michelin Power Race front tire ($256). Starting with a different profile than the standard Power One ($170), the Race front uses a harder compound in the center than in the larger side areas, resulting in a more aggressive profile that improves both feedback and initial turn-in. Combined with a 190/55ZR-17 Power One rear ($240), this tire works brilliantly on the R1, as the bike holds a line better and finishes corners with ease. It's available only from Michelin race-tire distributors like www.racersedgeperformance.com-look for a "V" in the circle where the compound designation is located on a standard Power One.

The 998cc inline-four has great midrange right out of the box, but runs out of breath up top. There's more useable horsepower in the upper midrange, like a hot-rod twin. Spinning it like a traditional four just slows you down. The right gearing makes staying in that sweet spot between 10,000 and 12,000 rpm easier. At SoCal's Auto Club Speedway, Renthal Ultralight sprockets (15-tooth front $39.95, 45-tooth rear $59.95)-connected by a top-shelf RK GB520GXR chain ($122.41; www.rkexcelamerica.com)-had me up against redline before my braking point for Turn 1. A 43-tooth rear put me back in that sweet spot. The transmission started out fine and is only getting better; ditto the cable-actuated slipper clutch.

As good as it sounds with the stock exhaust, the Yamaha's crossplane-crank engine sounds even better through a pair of Akrapovic slip-ons ($1595.95; www.akrapovic.com), which also knocked nearly 6 lbs. off the stocker's top-heavy character. Adding the optional Y-pipe would have eliminated the catalytic converter and yet more weight, but it wasn't in the budget. A Dynojet Power Commander ($359.95; www.powercommander.com) and a Yamaha accessory GYTR air filter ($79.95) complete the respiratory therapy. Both dropped in easily. Harris clutch and brake levers ($170; www.harris-performance.com) have a positive and great adjustment for any size hand. Finally, the Vortex gas cap and base ($106.90; www.vortexracing.com) look great and function well.

All this stuff adds up to a lot of money, but think of it as a shopping list, not a package deal. Start with the tires and the fork kit and take it from there.

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