Yamaha R1 Project Update: Amateur Racing on a 1000cc Sportbike

Club Racing the Motorcycle of the Year

ABOVE: The Yamaha R1 race project, Stage 1. Hover your mouse over the dots on the image to learn more about each update that has been made.

Wrist: Zack Courts
MSRP (2015): $16,490
Miles: 2841
MPG: 33
Mods: R&G Racing crash protection, Hotbodies bodywork, Rizoma lever guard, Yamaha CCU, California Superbike School footpegs

Finally, the time has come for "Our Juan" to hit the racetrack. The idea behind race-prepping the Yamaha R1 might seem obvious (basically Yamaha claims it's a track bike with lights), but the main reason I'm so curious is that I have spent very little time on the stock R1 on a racetrack. I rode three sessions at Sydney Motorsport Park in Australia for the international launch of the R1 last year (click here to see the R1 First Ride Review), but since then have only spent time riding the up-spec R1M at speed. The spicy, Öhlins suspension works well, but what about those base-level KYB suspenders? I decided to find out, with stage one of the project focusing on minimal damage to the bank account.

Before hitting the track I made sure the suspension was back to baseline settings (these can be found in section 2-9 of the service manual or 5-38 of the owners manual), so that any adjustments I made would be from the recommended factory starting point. I had removed some compression and rebound damping from the fork and a few turns of rebound damping from the shock in search of a softer ride on the street, but never made much headway. The bike is stiff, period. I figured (hoped) it would be good on the track, and boy is it.

HOW GOOD? PROVE IT.

What I learned foremost about this R1 is that it is truly ready for the track in stock trim. In order to avoid being laughed out of the paddock I spooned on a set of Bridgestone's R10 races tires (bridgestone.com; $350/set in R1 sizes), which look a lot like the showroom-spec RS10s that come on the R1 but are much softer and stickier. Aside from the tires—and stripping off the street stuffs, as discussed below—the R1 received no performance upgrades beyond the street-based mods I've made so far. Stock suspension, stock exhaust, stock wheels, stock electronics.

Yamaha R1 Hotbodies bodywork
The Hotbodies Racing bodywork incorporates a small shelf that feeds the R1’s ram-air system, a nice touch. I kept the Puig Racing windscreen to give my 6-foot-2 self more room to tuck in.©Motorcyclist

After getting up to speed in practice, I made an important electronics selections for the race. I opted to leave wheelie control (LIF, in Yamaha language) off, mostly because the bike never seemed anxious to wheelie. Also, being in control of when to put the front wheel down was benefitting me in practice, as everyone was fighting nasty crosswinds. Even with LIF turned off, I managed a screamer of a start and peeled into turn 1 ahead of everyone except another R1. After failing to keep up with the other R1 as well as a quick Canadian on a BMW S1000RR, I settled in and rode my own race.

Results were mixed, but in three races over the course of the weekend I finished 5th, 4th, and 3rd. I was proud to podium, but to me it pales in comparison to the point of this whole race project. I went faster around Chuckwalla Valley Raceway than I’ve ever gone before in the counter-clockwise pattern (and in less than ideal conditions), a 1:51.9, all without changing the suspension at all or adding any more horsepower than the bike makes on the dealer floor. Not only that, the R1 is incredibly easy to ride. It never wheelies violently, the slides are predictable, and it changes direction with very little effort. It is extremely impressive.

Yamaha R1 track mods
Maybe the simplest R1 racebike ever. Bodywork, crash protection, tires, safety wire, and good enough for a podium finish!©Motorcyclist

Yamaha claimed from the very beginning that this was, “a MotoGP bike for the street” or similar phrases that sound like exaggerations or pure marketing material. But after a full weekend at a racetrack, I feel properly equipped to say that it is not bullshit. This bike is ready, from the ergonomics to the electronics to the suspension, to race (and if you’re a good rider, win) straight out of the box.

TELL US MORE ABOUT THE RACING MODS

I learned a few things in my first weekend on the track, but foremost was that the street shift pattern (one down, five up) wasn’t going to work. I thought this might be a problem, and luckily Yamaha did too, so I was able to fix it quickly after the first session. The shift arm is pre-drilled with a hole on the opposite side of the pivot, meaning a quick run with a tap to create threads and the shift rod can be moved to the other side. Bingo, one up and five down, also known as “GP shift.” The R1 felt more like a race bike already, plus I wasn’t chewing up toe sliders trying to upshift.

Yamaha R1 GP shift lever
Yamaha sells the R1 stock with a pre-drilled shift arm that can be quickly tapped with threads to take the bike from 1-down-5-up to 1-up-5-down.©Motorcyclist

Spending a fair amount of time above 100 mph afforded a decent test of the Hotbodies Racing Color Form bodywork, too. This set includes an upper and lower fairing, a front fender, and a tail section (hotbodiesracing.com; $750/set). The really cool thing about the Color Form kit is that the crew over at Hotbodies impregnates (!) the bodywork with blue color, meaning it's ready to bolt up, no paint required. To read about the bodywork install process, click HERE.

Next up was a front brake lever guard. It's not a vanity thing, either, just to look more like Valentino. It's mandatory in the rules for CVMA Racing, the SoCal club where I competed on the R1 (more info at cvmaracing.com). Rizoma makes a "Racing" version, which sells for around 300 euros, or a "Street" one for a third of that. I went with the cheaper one. Click here to read about the Rizoma ProGuard install and how it worked in more detail.

Sometime around my third race of the weekend I remembered that I had put on different footpegs, courtesy of California Superbike School. I realized that doesn't say much about the effectiveness of the pegs, but it might be more my riding style than anything. I'm so used to riding showroom-prepped street bikes on the track, which is how we typically test sportbikes, that these aftermarket footrests (gillestooling.au; $249 AUD/set) didn't do much for me. I do think they're better than the stock ones, but I didn't find it noticeable. It also says a lot for the standard, knurled cast-aluminum pegs that come on the R1 that a beautiful set of well-engineered replacements didn't do much for me.

Yamaha R1 GP foot pegs
Super grippy pegs from the California Superbike School. They’re really nice, but if you’re on a budget I can’t say they should be at the top of the list—the stockers would work fine too.©Motorcyclist

Lastly, and luckily, I didn't crash. However, I should point out that CVMA rules (as well as many racing clubs around the country) require crash protection to be installed. I did this with the help of R&G Racing via our friends at Twisted Throttle (twistedthrottle.com). I opted for a basic trio of case covers, frame sliders, and a nifty little piece to save toes and fingers from being sucked into the rear sprocket if it all goes pear shaped. To read about the R&G crash protection I installed on the R1, click HERE.

WHAT’S THE DAMAGE, TOTAL?

Total cost of the race prep for stage one looks like this: $350 for tires, $750 for bodywork, $113 for a lever guard, and $457 for a suite of crash protection items (I'm not counting the footpegs because I wouldn't recommend them for a budget-conscious racer). If 'round about $1,700 for race prep sounds like a lot, consider that's the price just for a factory fork upgrade on Ari's KTM RC390! (click here to read about the KTM RC390 fork mods). It's easy to spend thousands of dollars on a single part for a racebike, and considering the R1 doesn't need any suspension or electronics components I'm already way ahead. There's plenty more in the pipeline for project R1: I'm planning to race it one more time, upgrading the tires and anything else I can think of to help me get closer to the front of the pack!