Climbing aboard for the first ride the R1 feels fairly low slung and at 5\'11 I can almost keep it on flat feet when at stop lights, making it pretty easy to maneuver in parking lots and around the garage as well. Keeping your eyes peeled for the fuzz is quite easy with mirrors that work and the gauges are easy to read. An on board clock is another added touch, letting you know if it\'s time to up-the-pace to make it to your destination on time. The R1 doesn\'t provide much storage under the rear seat due to the under-tail exhaust taking up much of the room so be prepared to pack everything in your leathers or a tank bag.
The R1 is still easy on the eyes and capable of turning heads. The model I was riding was flat black with attractive gold accents. It\'s a color combination that is one of my favorites and there were tons of positive comments on the color and styling of the R1. Although the styling is very close to the 2004 R1 it is a solid design that somehow avoids looking dated; definitely one of the sexiest bikes to ever come out of Japan.
The first week on the R1 was spent in some dreary rainy weather but by the end of the week it was sunny and 75 degrees and time for a day out in the canyons to get an honest feel for the R1. I zipped up the 2WF.com leathers for a road trip to Lake Elsinore via Ortega Highway, California Highway 74 for some canyon riding.
Heading to Ortega Highway over the grooved concrete slabs of L.A.\'s 405 Freeway is usually enough to rattle you punch-drunk but I was surprised at how forgiving the R1\'s suspension was on the street. Coming from a racer background I sometimes forget that today\'s sportbikes are also meant for the street but this is definitely something that has not been forgotten by Yamaha. The R1 is plush on the street, has a relatively cushy seat and a steering damper that is both useful at speed while not being limiting when turning the bike in the parking lot or at slow speeds.
Let\'s be honest though, the R1 was not designed by some technology crazed Japanese for freeway commuting; it wants to be ridden in the canyons. I was concerned that once up to speed the R1 would be set-up too soft. Fear not . . . both front and back felt firm when pushing a good pace. The suspension that felt so plush on the freeway was also working well in the canyons. The damping/spring rates instill enough confidence for the R1 to be ridden hard without upsetting the chassis when hitting any of nature\'s surprises out on the open road. The R1 comes with a Kayaba 43mm inverted cartridge front fork and the rear shock is adjustable for hi/lo-speed compression damping, rebound damping and spring preload. In a search for more traction out back, the 2007/2008 rear shock runs with revised compression damping settings which offer a more progressive nature. The progressive rate on the compression stroke has been increased to 14% for 2008 (compared to 8% on the 2006 model). There are no traction control gizmos on this R1 so look to the revised shock to keep you firmly planted in your seat.
Turn-in on the R1 is excellent and precise. One thing I noticed last year on the track was that the R1 would take an extra second to settle into the corner when at full race pace. This was not noticeable at street speeds even when the pace was a little on the hot side. The Yamaha flicks in with ease but where it really shines is once leaned over and railing a long sustained corner. This fifth-generation R1 equipped with an all-new Deltabox frame conquers both fast and slow sections and is unshakably stable and confidence inspiring while on its side. I found myself carrying more lean-angle than I normally would on public roads, but with the R1 I felt well within my comfort zone. In the tighter twistier sections I really liked the way you can get over the front of the R1 and flick it from apex to apex with very little effort. The R1 carries it\'s 459 pound wet weight very well making the bike feel extremely light when you get aggressive. The clip-ons sit fairly wide allowing you to get good leverage, helping you crawl over the front of the bike when throwing it in.
Ergonomically the R1 feels relatively comfortable and narrow and is easy to move around on and easy to get tucked in on if needed. The footpegs did seem a little far back however for these beaten knees. Sharper "layered" side panels create a vacuum-effect to help with cooling, pulling engine-heated air through large side vents by the rider\'s knees. I didn\'t notice the heat coming out by my knees but I did feel it in the seat. The under-tail exhaust creating a good amount of heat while sitting at a light for a long period of time on a hot day.
The R1 shifts very smooth and positive, no false neutrals and the Yamaha was very easy to nudge into neutral when coming to a stop light. Definitely one of the slickest shifting motorcycles I\'ve been on in a while.
One thing I did notice was a slight hesitation when starting the bike before it would fire up. When attempting to leave from a lookout stop at the summit of Ortega Highway it actually took about 30 seconds to get it running which had me a bit worried. I can picture it now, decked out in my flashy racer-boy leathers suffering from oxygen deprivation, knees weak, running to get up enough speed to push and coast the bike 20 miles down the canyon in a fully tucked position. There would be more than a few bearded men riding Harleys having a good chuckle. Fortunately the R1 fired up and my pride was left intact.
The 6-piston Sumitomo Radial-mount Calipers grabbing 310mm Dual Discs did a good job of slowing the R1 down. There is good power and feel at the lever and all is good in braking land. The 310mm rotors are smaller than the previous generation R1 but Yamaha claims the new calipers grip the disc closer to its circumference effectively making the braking surface as large as the old braking system. I never ran it into the corners hard enough to really test out the slipper clutch which improves traction during rapid deceleration and hard braking, and enhances engine and transmission reliability, but I have enough track miles on the bike to assure you that it is up to snuff. I did however encounter for the first time the Highway Patrol\'s attempt to catch speeders using wires on the road to measure your speed by the amount of time it takes you to pass over them. Luck was on my side however as it seemed every time I sat up to cool it down for a few miles I would see these wires on a shadowed part of the highway. Slow it down to a nice easy 45 mph then, and wave to the friendly officer on the side of the road. I really wasn\'t looking forward to doing a lot of explaining to the men in blue. "Yes, I actually have permission from Yamaha to ride this bike" and "Yes, they really do want me to be doing these things to the machine." I had a feeling just handing them a 2WF.com business card wasn\'t going to be enough to keep me out of trouble.
Many of the same R1\'s engine traits I experienced on the track were present when riding on the street. The lack of low-end power and torque was still noticeable and it wasn\'t until about 8,000 RPM that the In-line 4-cyclinder really comes to life. Once you get the R1 higher in the rev range it becomes a raucous blur of excitement, the power hits abruptly and pulls all the way to the rev limiter. Gear selection is very important on the Yamaha R1, more than most open class bikes. It just doesn\'t have the torque to power through a wrong gear choice. Keep it above 8,000 RPM and the power is plentiful.
One of the biggest changes for the current design of the R1 was the YCC-T “Yamaha chip controlled throttle” which monitors throttle changes at a 0.001 second rate. It worked fine on the street and throttle response was crisp with no stumbles. It really feels no different than a standard throttle but the name makes you feel like you are riding some high tech MotoGP wizardry.
Yamaha is going to have it\'s work cut out for itself this year with new models in the open class from Honda and Kawasaki and of course the already strong Suzuki. Having just finished watching the opening race from World Superbike it looks like the R1 was more than holding it\'s own on the track and I have a feeling it will on the street as well. Ya, it\'s yawningly slow below 8,000 RPM which is noticeable on the street, but as a whole package the R1 still brings the goods. Mid-corner stability and flickability are still the R1\'s strong suit and the R1 is still sexy enough to park next to the new 2008 models at your local bike night.
Open class champion for 2008? I doubt it . . . but with a solid package like the R1 you might be wise to cheer for the underdog.