Long-Term Yamaha R1: Gearing for Street Performance

A 520 Conversion Kit and Shorter Final Drive Makes All the Difference.

Yamaha R1 sportbike mods
Project R1 with a D.I.D. 520 chain and Supersprox conversion kit.©Motorcyclist

Wrist: Zack Courts
MSRP (2015): $16,490
Miles: 2,487
MPG: 33
Mods: D.I.D chain, Supersprox sprockets

A common theme among superbikes these days is annoyingly tall gearing. There are a few reasons that companies do this—noise emissions, perceived throttle response, and fuel mileage among them—but at the root of changing the gearing on this R1 is that the tall gearing bugs me. If I was riding on a Grand Prix circuit the gearing is probably perfect, but I’m at traffic lights way more often than I am carving up GP tracks and riding at low speed with tall gearing bites. So, to the aftermarket! There are a few options and different directions you can go, explained simply below.

FRONT SPROCKET SWAP

The cheapest and easiest way to make a drastic change to a bike's final drive gearing is to change the countershaft sprocket. The folks over a Supersprox (supersproxusa.com) sent me a 15-tooth front sprocket (one tooth smaller/shorter than the stock 16T) for $20 that worked great. Cracking the front sprocket off the countershaft will require proper tools and some elbow grease, but 20 bones is a bargain upgrade to make the R1 a lot more enjoyable to ride on the street. (Note: as a general rule it's a good idea to change sprockets and the chain at the same time. However, this upgrade is happening early in the bike's life, so swapping out a sprocket while keeping the 2,500 mile-old chain is perfectly acceptable.)

520 chain and sprocket mod for the Yamaha YZF-R1
The blue Supersprox sprocket is cool, but it doesn’t match the wheel quite right. Originally I thought to put a gold sprocket to set off the blue, and if I had to do it again that’s the route I’d go.©Motorcyclist

CHANGE BOTH SPROCKETS

The stock R1 sprockets are a 16-tooth on the countershaft and a 41-tooth rear sprocket. The gearing I settled on is 15/42 (down one in the front, up one in the rear), which requires two new sprockets. Adding to the $20 countershaft sprocket, I ordered up a Stealth rear sprocket from Supersprox for another $80. Why so ‘spensive? The Stealth sprox are pretty nifty—an aluminum chassis keeps it light but a steel outer ring means it’s built to last longer than a full-aluminum piece. If you wanted different ratios for the track and for the street, I would probably recommend steel rings just to save some loot.

520 CHAIN CONVERSION

What I ended up doing was a full conversion to a 520 chain and sprocket setup. Why? A few reasons. One, for the performance gain offered by switching to a smaller chain—less mass and resistance means less weight spinning around and more power getting to the ground. Our friends over at Super StreetBike put this idea to the test and found it was true (to read about how chains affect horsepower, click here. The other reason is to test the smaller chain on this particular bike; 520 chains are used on fast, powerful bikes all the time so it's mostly proven, but I wanted to try it for the sake of other 2015/2016 R1 owners curious about the switch. Lastly, the gold links look awesome!

The ZVM-X Gold X-ring Sealed Chain from D.I.D (didchain.com) is a spicy piece, both in appearance and in price; $185 to be exact. I sourced mine from Drive Systems (drivesystemsusa.com), which also sells Superlite sprockets if you so choose—$34 for the XD Series steel countershaft piece up front and $55 for the RS7 Series steel sprocket astern. I should mention, too, that Drive sells a whole kit, chain plus sprockets, for $270 (part #: R12A1022-9). I tried the Superlite sprockets and they plugged in just fine, but I decided to leave the Supersprox on mostly because I like the bling of the anodized aluminum rear ring.

Practically, the gearing change is excellent. The R1 is much more enjoyable to ride between 5 mph and 50 mph, and there’s no significant difference in cruising comfort at freeway speeds. I think fuel mileage might go down a little, but unless it’s drastic I’m not going to sweat the extra petroleum (especially not with global prices under $40/barrel). I think at a fast racetrack it might be geared a little short, so I’m going to put that to the test as well. If so, it’s only $20 for a 16T 520 countershaft sprocket and that will put the R1 back in range of stock gearing.