2015 Yamaha YZF-R1 and R1M | FIRST RIDE

A new Crossplane R1 radically ups the superbike ante.

They say: A MotoGP bike for every rider. We say: Shockingly, not that much of an exaggeration.

The good news for current Yamaha R1 owners is that your bike is still part of long lineage of superbikes, feared on the street and on the track. An icon in the industry, even. The bad news is that your bike is now mostly obsolete. Almost any street-going superbike, really, has just taken a discernible step backward in terms of how it stacks up to the cutting edge.

You heard it here first, Yamaha’s 2015 YZF-R1 is the next big thing.

To take such a huge leap forward Yamaha contemplated and redesigned seemingly every part of the motorcycle. In addition, there was a serious shift in the philosophy. Yamaha admitted that for previous R1 models the focus of development was on road-going performance, but that is no longer the case. For 2015 the orientation of the R1 is track first, everything else second.

Talk about race-ready, that's a number plate first and lights second. The running lights (thin strips along the lower edge) and the main beams are LED. If that ram-air scoop looks familiar that's because it was copied directly from the M1 MotoGP bike, in function and style.

Just how painstaking is the process of creating a new-from-the-ground-up superbike to take on the likes of Aprilia, BMW, and Ducati? Let’s start with a few numbers, as examples. Pistons are larger but 8.5 grams lighter than the previous R1’s. The clutch is 7 percent smaller in diameter and 19 percent lighter. The bores, intake valves, and exhaust valves are all larger, yet the engine is 1.3 inches narrower at the crank axis. The engine as a whole is 8.8 pounds lighter than before, but is more powerful than ever. Cast magnesium wheels save 1.9 pounds, while the new gas tank is formed from three sheets of aluminum and is 3.5 pounds lighter.

The list goes on, but the upshot of all of this laborious engineering, Yamaha claims, is a 439-pound wet weight, 197 horsepower, and overall, “the most technologically advanced motorcycle Yamaha has every put into production.” (Note: we're told the horsepower claim will be less for US bikes, and weight will likely be a few pounds higher due to a more complicated exhaust pipe. We will test and update this as soon as we have a bike in our shop!)

Beyond putting each part under the microscope and shaving weight by the gram, Yamaha went to great lengths to make sure each piece was doing its job as wholly and efficiently as possible. Company test riders from all over the world were flown to Japan to ride Yamaha’s M1 MotoGP machine in order to set goals for how the new R1 should behave. Racers too; Josh Hayes and Valentino Rossi did their part in contributing to the development of the R1. During the technical presentation Yamaha went so far as to call it, “a MotoGP bike for every rider.”

Fitting, then, that our test took place at Eastern Creek Raceway’s Brabham Circuit, 2.8 miles and 18 turns of undulating, former-grand-prix pavement located 25 miles west of Sydney, Australia. The track’s diversity of fast sweepers, obnoxiously tight hairpins, and blind crests meant the ultimate test of building confidence, something the new R1 does extremely well.

A new seat is an inch higher, as well as wider and flatter front-to-back to allow the rider to move around more easily. It's also unlikely to win any awards for plush comfort. Note the "hollow" tail section that barely masks the magnesium subframe.

It starts with a much different riding position, with both the footpegs and seat being raised (the saddle is an inch taller for 2015 at 33.9 inches) to create 10mm more legroom, and over 2 inches more reach from the center of the seat to the clip-ons. The result is a commanding riding position, suitable for the track. For the street it will feel aggressive, and the seat is very thin.

Engaging first gear and putting out of the pits, the shorter internal gear ratios are noticeable—first through fourth gears have been shortened, and final drive gearing is also shorter. The engine revs more freely at low rpm, too, despite the focus of tuning for the new mill being on high-rpm power output. Yamaha claims the livelier feel comes from a multitude of small changes, from rocker-arm cam followers that allow lighter valve springs to an improved oiling system and less counterbalance weight for the crankshaft.

Once at speed the new engine feels incredibly smooth, while still emitting that lovely, Crossplane growl that has come to define the R1 over the past six years. A new Quickshifter System (QSS) is standard equipment these days if you want to be taken seriously in the supersport category, and it works beautifully. Linked brakes—or UBS, for Unified Braking System—are a new feature on the 2015 R1, with front brake application applying pressure to the rear rotor (but not vice versa), above 12 mph. Sadly, our test was limited with UBS; it was disabled almost immediately for better track performance.

A full road test will likely bring to light some of the sacrifices Yamaha has made for track performance, but in our limited low-speed experience with the new R1 it seems perfectly docile. It’s when the pace picks up that the R1 truly impresses. As quickly as the variable-length intake stacks rise up and allow the engine to breath through shorter velocity stacks the R1 switches from a calm, smooth, sporty machine into a razor-sharp track weapon.

The new R1's swingarm is 15mm shorter than last year, contributing to a 10mm shorter wheelbase. A fully adjustable KYB shock replaces YHSJ (Yamaha's in-house brand) components.

As you ask the R1 to perform you become very aware of all of the bike’s actions. Throttle response feels incredibly connected to your wrist, the chassis is agile, willing, but amazingly stable. It changes direction, holds a line, and fires down straightaways in such a casual way that it almost feels like the bike isn’t trying. The fork and shock (both by KYB) are fully adjustable and are a definite upgrade from the previous model’s in-house components.

The R1’s foundation is extremely solid, no doubt a result of the obsessive engineering that went into the chassis, but it does have help from electronics. Lots, and lots of electronics. Take a deep breath and stay with us here.

At the core of the enormous ball of wires that make up the R1’s brain is a six-axis IMU, short for Inertial Measurement Unit (if you’ve read First Rides for Ducati’s 1299 Panigale S or KTM’s 1290 Super Adventure you know the drill). This IMU tracks the bike’s movement via three gyros, monitoring roll, pitch, and yaw, and three g-sensors that measure the R1’s accelerations left-to-right, up and down, and front-to-back, basically allowing the motorcycle to “feel” how it’s moving. That data (from lean angle to rate of acceleration) is then shared with the 32-bit CPU, calculating as quickly as 125 times a second to control the Yamaha Ride Control (YRC) systems—read: traction control, ABS, etc.—which manage traction and stability.

A Launch Control System (LCS) is new for the R1, which holds rpm at 10,000 and allows the rider to focus on only the clutch engagement. We tried it. It’s neat, but further testing is needed to see if it’s actually better than a manual launch. Yamaha’s Lift Control System (LIF) manages wheelies in three levels of intrusion depending on which setting is chosen, all of which work quite well. Setting 1 is the least intrusive and the clear choice for performance, hovering the front wheel perfectly above the pavement while allowing the bike to accelerate at maximum pace. It’s brilliant, but one of the amazing things about the new R1 is that with LIF turned off, the bike is still completely manageable. There is enough power to wheelie out of every corner, but as long as throttle inputs are measured the bike never does anything but rear up gently and surge forward.

Less clear is the functionality of the new Slide Control System (SCS), a first for production bikes, says Yamaha. The system works in tandem with the traction control, using IMU data is to sense and correct cornering slides induced by lateral forces rather than wheelspin. Switching SCS off and leaving the Yamaha Chip-Controlled Throttle (YCC-T) traction control system to work alone, it was hard to say slide control was necessary. The R1’s traction control uses IMU data and curbs power to the rear wheel via throttle butterflies, fuel, or ignition, but each of the three interventions is independent depending on how abrupt the loss of traction is. Bottom line: SCS is amazing technology, but with a chassis this stable and a TC system this good, we don’t think it will have much work to do.

The up/down/enter switch on the left bar adjusts ride modes and YRC settings on the fly.

If adjusting all of these systems sounds daunting, park your worries: Yamaha is one step ahead of you. Four ride modes—A, B, C, D—provide presets to suggest appropriate YRC settings for the rider’s ability or intention. The presets are editable, including four power modes that can be adjusted independent of mode, and each of the ride controls (TC, SCS, LIF, LCS, and QSS) can be switched off, but not ABS.

A full-color LCD of just over 4 inches is nicely laid out, and able to display more information than you'll have time for at speed. "Track" display mode, shown here, displays laptime and gear position more prominently, and the tachometer starts at 8,000 rpm. "Street" mode shows a full tach and places road speed in larger digits.

All of the electronics are controlled from two bar-mounted switches and displayed on a color LCD screen. On the left grip, a simple up/down/enter switch familiar from R1s of yore, while the right grip uses a thumb-operated wheel that clicks to select. The click-wheel is used to navigate all of the internal menus, while the three-way switch on the left grip adjusts ride modes on the fly (it also engages launch control).

You might be reading this thinking superbikes can’t get any more complicated, but that would be to ignore one of the most exciting pieces of the 2015 R1 story; the R1M. This is what the HP4 was to BMW’s S1000RR in 2013, except Yamaha has released them in conjunction. The $21,990 M version is largely the same bike as the base R1, with some (very) fancy bits added. There is carbon fiber bodywork, a hand-polished aluminum gas tank and polished swingarm, and a wider, 200-series rear tire.

The standard R1's KYB shock works well, but this Öhlins unit on the R1M is more compliant at racetrack speeds, even when it's not being adjusted electronically as you ride.

Most notable is the Öhlins suspension front and rear, equipped with what Yamaha calls Electronic Racing Suspension, or ERS. This is the same technology applied to Ducati’s new 1299 Panigale S, where the bike is designed to react to data from the IMU in order to stiffen, soften, and otherwise perfectly damp your attempt at the perfect lap. All the while, your data is being recorded with a standard GPS-enables Communication Control Unit (CCU), which tracks the bikes position (and therefore laptimes) as well as 21 channels of data, received from the IMU and ECU. Lean angle, throttle position, speed, gear position, and intervention from all YRC parameters is fed to a graph and available for the rider to read on Yamaha’s Telemetry Recording and Analysis Controller (Y-TRAC) application for smartphone or tablet.

Wires into the Öhlins fork caps on the R1M power the electronic sensors and motors that capture suspension data and let the bike react to conditions as they occur. Do you wish the front end was stiffer as you brake? The system already knows that, and it's already done.

We were given three sessions at Eastern Creek aboard the R1M, which had been set up with slick tires and a 43-tooth rear sprocket (stock is 41T) to compensate for the 200-65 rear slick’s tall profile. The upgraded bike feels very much the same, but the combination of slicks and Öhlins ERS make the R1M almost unflappable.

Each R1M fuel tank is made from three sheets of aluminum, and then hand polished.

Every way you turn there is an electronic guide to save a misstep. About to miss an apex? Simply roll the gas on and point the bike where you want it to go; the shock will stiffen to maintain proper geometry, TC and SCS will save any slide, and when you power down the straightaway you’ll pop through the gears wide open (thanks to QSS) in a perfect, low wheelie.

You will feel like Valentino Rossi and it will feel good.

This GPS unit comes standard on the R1M (it's a plug-in option for the standard bike, but no word yet on price) and communicates with the CCU to log data, allowing R1 owners not only to see what the bike was doing, but where exactly it was doing it.

At this point it sounds like we’re over the moon for the new R1, and the M version. We admit to only having spent a day with the bikes, but just to be clear, yes, we are extremely impressed. The 2015 R1 is the new standard for how good a motorcycle can feel on a racetrack, and most impressively it accomplishes that without being a standout in any one category. It doesn’t have the most power in the class (we estimate about 160 hp at the rear wheel), it’s not the lightest, but it is so incredibly capable that none of the statistics matter. To top it all, despite being one of the most advanced motorcycles on the market, the base price has been set at $16,490.

The R1 isn’t just more electronics and more options, it’s everything done better. It’s an interpretation of what a street-legal superbike should be, and as far as we can tell it’s as close as any company has come. In the past we have imagined the perfect literbike, with the telepathic handling of Aprilia’s RSV4, the components of Ducati’s Panigale R, and the refinement of BMW’s S1000RR. Yamaha has created that bike in the new R1.

tech SPEC

EVOLUTION
An all-new version of the R1, adapting even more MotoGP technology.
RIVALS
[Aprilia RSV4][], [BMW S1000RR][], [Honda CBR1000RR SP][], [Ducati 1299 Panigale][], [Kawasaki ZX-10R][] , [Suzuki GSX-R1000][]
TECH
BASE PRICE $16,490 ($21,990 for R1M)
ENGINE 998cc, liquid-cooled inline-four
TRANSMISSION/FINAL DRIVE 6-speed/chain
CLAIMED HORSEPOWER 197 hp @ N/A rpm (Euro model)
CLAIMED TORQUE 82.9 lb-ft @ 11,500 rpm
FRAME Aluminum twin-spar
FRONT SUSPENSION KYB 43mm fork adjustable for spring preload, compression and rebound damping; 4.7-in. travel
REAR SUSPENSION KYB shock adjustable for spring preload, compression and rebound damping; 4.7-in. travel
FRONT BRAKE Dual Nissin four-piston calipers, 320mm discs with ABS
REAR BRAKE Nissin one-piston caliper, 220mm disc with ABS
RAKE/TRAIL 24.0º/4.0 in.
WHEELBASE 55.3 in.
SEAT HEIGHT 33.9 in.
FUEL CAPACITY 4.5 gal.
CLAIMED WEIGHT 439 lb. wet (Euro model)
AVAILABLE March
CONTACT [yamahamotorsports.com][]
VERDICT
The sharpest point of the cutting edge, and possibly a new king in the superbike category.
A full-color LCD of just over 4 inches is nicely laid out, and able to display more information than you'll have time for at speed. "Track" display mode, shown here, displays laptime and gear position more prominently, and the tachometer starts at 8,000 rpm. "Street" mode shows a full tach and places road speed in larger digits.
Talk about race-ready, that's a number plate first and lights second. The running lights (thin strips along the lower edge) and the main beams are LED. If that ram-air scoop looks familiar that's because it was copied directly from the M1 MotoGP bike, in function and style.
Brake rotors are 10mm larger this year, now 320mm, and squeezed by four-piston, radially mounted Advics calipers. Cast magnesium wheels save 1.9 pounds of total weight.
The up/down/enter switch on the left bar adjusts ride modes and YRC settings on the fly.
A selection wheel near the right grip adjusts all of the internal menus for everything from the clock to YRC settings. Push the wheel into the bar and hold to enter/exit the menu, click to select. Simple, and efficient.
A new seat is an inch higher, as well as wider and flatter front-to-back to allow the rider to move around more easily. It's also unlikely to win any awards for plush comfort. Note the "hollow" tail section that barely masks the magnesium subframe.
The new R1's swingarm is 15mm shorter than last year, contributing to a 10mm shorter wheelbase. A fully adjustable KYB shock replaces YHSJ (Yamaha's in-house brand) components.
Up close with the face of the R1M. Carbon fiber bodywork is standard issue for this up-spec model.
Wires into the Öhlins fork caps on the R1M power the electronic sensors and motors that capture suspension data and let the bike react to conditions as they occur. Do you wish the front end was stiffer as you brake? The system already knows that, and it's already done.
The standard R1's KYB shock works well, but this Öhlins unit on the R1M is more compliant at racetrack speeds, even when it's not being adjusted electronically as you ride.
This GPS unit comes standard on the R1M (it's a plug-in option for the standard bike, but no word yet on price) and communicates with the CCU to log data, allowing R1 owners not only to see what the bike was doing, but where exactly it was doing it.
Each R1M fuel tank is made from three sheets of aluminum, and then hand polished.