INSIDE THE MACHINE: 2015 Yamaha YZF-R1/R1M

Yamaha reignites the superbike arms race with not one but two awesome new YZF-R1s.

We hardly knew how good we had it 10 years ago, when the global economy was raging and we were spoon-fed new superbikes like clockwork every other year, whether we needed them or not. Now, after six or eight successive seasons of the motorcycle industry—Japanese sportbikes in particular—effectively at standstill, we know not to take such largesse for granted. After rewiring our brains to get aroused over quarter-liter "sportbikes" and to find sex appeal even in sensible standard bikes, a new superbike from the Land of the Rising Sun is enough to make us all but cross-eyed with liter-size lust.

That's why we're so thrilled to see such a radical redesign of the YZF-R1, the first all-new sportbike from Yamaha since the Crossplane-powered R1 debuted six years ago in 2009 ( click here to see GAME CHANGER). Even a quick glance at this new-from-the-tread-up motorcycle shows the tuning fork folks haven't been sitting on their hands for all those years. Instead, they've been working overtime to adapt technology right from the race-winning YZR-M1 MotoGP prototypes to the next-generation R1 street platform, with what looks like remarkable results.

Yamaha appears to have done what we thought impossible: to catch up to and even pass European manufacturers such as Aprilia, BMW, and Ducati in terms of technological sophistication. Previous attempts by Japanese manufacturers to integrate traction control and other electronic rider aids have seemed tepid at best. Not this one, which employs a sophisticated, six-axis inertial platform lifted straight from the YZR-M1 racer to enable a full array of active and adaptive rider aids that deliver “total 3-D controllability,” Yamaha claims, making this one of the most capable and advanced sportbikes on the market, regardless of origin. This new bike has significantly more in common with the current MotoGP racer than the previous-generation R1—and Valentino Rossi played a primary role in developing the new R1, with assistance from AMA Superbike Champion Josh Hayes. This is trickle-down MotoGP technology at its best.

Yamaha will offer the new YZF-R1 in two guises: a base model for $16,490 and a limited-production (just 500 stateside), $21,990 YZF-R1M version upgraded with carbon-fiber bodywork, Öhlins electronic suspension, and a GPS-enabled datalogging system that puts the capability of a MotoGP pit booth in your smartphone or tablet (this datalogger is also available as an option on the base model). Both bikes use identical powerplants, a lighter, stronger, quicker-revving version of Yamaha’s uneven-firing Crossplane inline-four (called the CP4 here), with a new rocker-arm valve train and other innovations that raise claimed output above 190 hp. The aforementioned rider aids, including advanced traction control with rear-wheel lateral-slide abatement—a production-bike first, Yamaha says—and race-grade linked ABS, as well as a standard quickshifter, launch control, and more titanium and magnesium than a NASA recycling bin make this the most exotic Japanese production sportbike we’ve ever seen.

It’s no coincidence the new R1 looks like the spitting image of the M1 racer (the design purposely mimics the racer to underline the close connection between these two machines). The high windscreen, central ram-air intake, and “hidden” LED headlights create a unique frontal look; everyone will immediately recognize a new R1 approaching from the opposite direction. The race-influenced saddle shape and deep knee indents in the aluminum fuel tank—left unpainted on the R1M—make the bike easier to maneuver around a race circuit, Yamaha says, and the one-of-a-kind tailsection, with deep air channels running between the outer “skin” and inner spine, make a rear view that’s every bit as compelling as the view from the front.

Liberal use of exotic materials cuts claimed curb weight to 439 pounds, or 15 less than last year, and with a claimed 197 hp in European spec (US-spec bikes will make 8 to 10 fewer horsepower due to more restrictive noise regulations, but Yamaha plans to offer a “race-only” ECU to unleash full power for American owners) this is almost certain to be the quickest and most capable Japanese sportbike yet. Incidentally, those numbers are essentially right on top of the current accepted literbike champ, BMW’s awesome S1000RR (claimed horsepower: 199; claimed curb weight: 449 pounds). Game. On.

Yamaha doesn’t hesitate to say this is its most important bike since the first YZF-R1 debuted in 1998, and the company anticipates this new machine will have the same perception-shattering impact as that last bike. We think they might be right. This is the closest we’ve seen to a road-going MotoGP replica from a Japanese manufacturer yet, and this is what we’ve all been more or less waiting for since Grand Prix racing’s premier class transitioned to four-stroke engines way back in 2002. Dare we say the glory days of Japanese sportbikes are on their way back?