Long-Term Yamaha R1 Transmission Recall Update

Yamaha Racing Division Manager Keith McCarty weighs in on the faulty R1 transmission issue.

Yamaha R1 recall
Before the Recall at Big Willow
Before the recall, this R1 was ridden at Willow Springs (as well as Streets of Willow) on a 100-degree day, meaning 165+ mph speeds and aggressive use of the transmission. The bike was flawless.©Motorcyclist

Wrist: Zack Courts
MSRP (2015): $16,490
Miles: 2,211
MPG: 33
Mods: Transmission recall service

I haven't really put any miles on the long-term Yamaha R1 (click here to see R1 updates) since the last update, in part due to a shoulder injury but also because of a fairly major recall on Yamaha's part. According to the tuning forks, "both second gear wheel and pinion gears in the transmission may break as a result of extremely high stress and/or improper shifting." If something in the transmission breaks, that can mean losing power to the rear wheel or, if things go really pear-shaped, "the transmission could lock up, causing loss of control that could result in a crash."

A couple of things here: One, Yamaha is obviously taking this very seriously, and even though actual problems have not been well documented the company recommends all affected bikes (that is, all 2015 R1 and R1M models) be returned to the mother ship to be fixed. That's priority one. I don't have any reason to think that second gear in our bike is compromised, but I would certainly advocate complying with the recall.

See the R1 Recall Notice Here:

It's not clear how Yamaha discovered this issue, but I feel like it's worth mentioning that we tested an R1M in, "high stress" situations—a full day at a second-gear-intensive track with 100-degree ambient temperatures—and had exactly zero issues. Yamaha also finished first and second in the MotoAmerica Superbike championship, winning every one of the 18 races on the schedule. As a racebike anyway, the R1 proved itself in 2015 using basically the same transmission as every consumer.

To see if there was anything going on behind the scenes, I called up the Manager of the Racing Division, Keith McCarty, to get his take. He explained that while the factory superbike team never had any notable issues with transmissions, others in the paddock weren't so lucky. There were teams who had transmission gears showing signs of wear and damage outside the usual, though McCarty said none of the problems other teams experienced caused enough suspicion for Team Yamaha to change maintenance routines. At maximum, that means inspecting and maintaining engine internals after every couple of races.

Yamaha R1 transmission cut-away, recall
Cutaway View of R1 Transmission
A cutaway image of the 2015 Yamaha R1 gearbox. The transmission is not cassette-type, meaning the cases have to be split to get to the gears.©Motorcyclist

McCarty also pointed out that, outside his team, there isn't any way to know exactly what strains the transmissions are under. Aftermarket electronic shift aids can be installed, properly or improperly, oil outside factory spec can be used, and any number of other abuses aside from the usual (already severe) stress of track riding. That, in a nutshell, is why Yamaha is using, "an abundance of caution" in the case of this transmission recall. If an R1 is being used casually and properly, the chances of a part failing are likely lessened. Considering Yamaha doesn't know who will take the bike to a track, shift improperly, or otherwise raise the chances of internal failure, it would rather tear each one down and replace the gears.

How long will that take? It’s hard to say what exact turn-around is for the fix. This bike was delivered back to us in about 10 days which, in cruising R1 forums, seems right in the middle of what consumers are experiencing—some waiting only a few days, others a couple of weeks.

Next up for this bike, grabbier front brake pads, shorter gearing, and (eventually) a budget track-prep to see how the baseline KYB suspenders handle a club race.