2007 Yamaha R1 - First Ride

Too Fast For The Racetrack?

Valentino Rossi and company are right: MotoGP bikes are too fast for Laguna Seca. I know this not because I've ridden one there, but because I just returned from the press intro for the 2007 Yamaha R1 and it was too fast!

Seriously, the R1 may be a streetbike, but it's got so much thrust I felt like I was flying a jet in a hangar. I can only imagine what it would be like with another 60-80 horsepower.

At one point I walked past the Japanese engineers standing along the pit wall, and one of them asked what I thought of the bike. "It's so fast, it's almost too fast," I replied. He smiled a big smile and said, "Thankyouverymuch." Uh, yeah.

Since its debut in 1998, the R1 has never been anything less than radical. The first edition blew everyone away with its origami styling and midrange-intensive power delivery that made wheelies easy and corner exits anything but. It's been redesigned four times since then, the most recent 2004-'06 iteration boasting a top-end-biased powerband that was completely unlike its predecessors. It wasn't what you'd called weak in the midrange, but it felt that way compared to the competition. Hold the throttle to the stop long enough, however, and all 173 horses were let out of the corral, and the world became a very narrow place.

Knowing this, the engineers went back to the drawing board and worked on boosting the R1's low to midrange power. That wouldn't have been too difficult if it hadn't been for new, tougher emissions standards, which meant they had to take a step back before they could take the proverbial two steps forward.

They met their goal by dropping the R1's trademark 20-valve cylinder head in favor of a conventional 16-valve head and equipping the engine with all sorts of MotoGP-derived techno-trickery (see "Hard Parts," page 46). Variable-length intake tracts optimize power throughout the rev range, a Fly By Wire throttle smoothes response and a slipper clutch eliminates wheel hop while downshifting.

Everything else about the motor remains as is, but it gets additional help from the new "layered" fairing, which has two large intake holes beneath its cat's-eye headlights to boost ram-air effect and channels in the sides to help suck heated air through the new, smaller radiator and away from the engine. The sum total of these changes is a claimed 178 peak horsepower at 12,500 rpm. That represents a boost of 5 bhp over last year's model, with significantly more power below the 10,000-rpm torque peak. We expect to see close to 160 horses at the rear wheel when we get a testbike on our dyno.

The '07 chassis looks the same as last year's, but has been tweaked for optimum flex. The cast steering head, swingarm pivot and motor mounts were reinforced, while frame rigidity was reduced substantially in the vertical, lateral and torsional planes. In contrast, the new asymmetric bridged swingarm is more rigid torsionally and only slightly less stiff laterally.

The suspension is new, too, with a 43mm KYB fork up front held by stouter triple clamps with 5mm less offset for increased trail. Out back is a Soqi shock similar to that of the R6, with both high- and low-speed compression damping and a ramp-style preload adjuster. Spring rates are stiffer front and rear, and the shock linkage is more progressive, which together with a 3mm-higher swingarm pivot help reduce squat under acceleration.

Last on the list of upgrades are new front brakes, radial-mount Sumitomo six-piston calipers with four pads apiece-one for each of the leading pistons and another for the two trailing ones. Those calipers grasp smaller rotors (310mm, down from 320), which reduce centrifugal force to improve high-speed handling.

Two days before the press intro, I took an '06 R1 to a track day at Buttonwillow Raceway to refresh my memory. Nice bike, solid-handling, fast if somewhat peaky. My only real complaint was the lack of a slipper clutch, which made for chattery corner entrances-especially when downshifting to first gear, which you do fairly often given the R1's tall final gearing.

All of which made the '07's behavior at Laguna Seca that much more shocking. Talk about a handful! It got light over the crest of Turn 1, weaved exiting Turn 5, shook its head on the approach to the Corkscrew, pattered across the Turn 9 bumps and wheelied exiting Turn 11. None of which, with the exception of the wheelies, was any fun at all.

Fortunately, the U.S. R&D; guys helped me get the chassis sorted, increasing shock spring preload and high-speed compression to keep the rear end from squatting and reducing rebound front and rear to keep the wheels on the ground. That done, the bike became much more rideable-though it was still goddamn fast! Seriously, most of the track could be negotiated in first or second gear, and I only got it into fourth once per lap on the front straight.

Given the R1's new high-tech components, it's ironic that the slipper clutch is the most noticeable improvement. There are a few heavy braking areas at Laguna, notably Turns 2 and 11, and the R1 was a model of civility there, even during hurried downshifts. The brakes are strong yet predictable, and the bike tips in easily and doesn't stand up while trail-braking. As on the R6, front-end feel is exemplary.

Getting back on the gas at the corner exit, there's noticeably more midrange power than before, as the front end torques right up; you no longer have to be going 90 mph in first gear before it'll power-wheelie. So it's safe to say the variable-length intake tracts work, even if you can't feel them working.

Ditto the Fly By Wire throttle. The bikes we rode were fitted with the stock Pirelli Diablo Corsas (they'll also come with Michelins), and wheelspin wasn't an issue until the tires started to get shagged late in the afternoon. As the day wore on I grabbed progressively bigger handfuls of throttle, and the engine never wrote a check the tires couldn't cash. As one Yamaha rep put it, "Fly By Wire isn't traction control, but it acts like it." Yes, it does.

The Japanese have always been big on acronyms, but this one takes the cake: GENICH, which stands for Genesis in Electronic engineering aimed at New, Innovative Control technology based on Human sensibilities. Uh-huh. But the truth is, the R1's electronic controls are completely nonintrusive. Like a good co-worker, they simply help you get your job done-the job, in this case, being to go as fast as possible.

Still, techno-wizardry or not, the '07 R1 is a lot of motor-cycle, best left to experienced sport riders with a firm grasp on that most critical of qualities: restraint. If the old bike felt like a 600 on steroids, this one's a 1000 on crack.

2007 Yamaha Yzf-R1

MSRP $11,599-$11,699
Type l-c inline-four
Valves DOHC, 16v
Displacement 998cc
Transmission 6-speed
Weight 389 lb., claimed dry (177kg)
Fuel capacity 4.7 gal. (18L)
Wheelbase 55.7 in. (1415mm)
Seat height 32.9 in. (835mm)