This 2002 bike has seen a total revamp, it retains the typical R1 features, but looks as good today as it did back in 1998, its first year release. This bike looked particularly impressive in its liquid silver livery and it\'s got an unforgettable, stance and style that could be compared to a Japanese equivalent of the 916/998 range.
This is the first year of fuel injection and forced induction, which brings it smack up to date in technology as well as looks. Sitting astride the bike, it feels skinnier due to its redesigned tank and front fairing design. The frame is an all new but familiar Deltabox III design and is finished in a satin black ala\' R7. It\'s more rigid, lighter and holds the motor some 20mm higher it\'s also a fully stressed member as an aid to rigid fuss free handling.
The bike still features a de rigueur titanium muffler that again, looks R1 familiar but in reality is reshaped, is lighter and has some titanium header pipes for company. The EXUP valve is still in situ, but again, redesigned to be smaller and lighter, better, stronger and faster etc. Being a Florida cracker, I\'m glad to see the radiator enjoys increased efficiency with cooling fans that produce a claimed 20% more airflow. To further that process of cooler running, the engine too enjoys an increased oil capacity and larger oil cooler providing that same cooler cooling, cooling performance.
Turning the ignition on sees a pre flight sweep of the gauges, a quick, err pre flight check, confirms that the clutch, gear lever, throttle and brakes are all where they should be. No big surprises there then. As I pulled away, I could immediately sense the immense bottom end of the big Yam\'. The nice thing about the R1 is the fact it has very nice low rev torque combined with that big open class top end hit. The bike has had some major attention to the unsprung weight department, wheel and brakes specifically, and that lack of initial inertia sees the R1 leave the line with convincing authority.
At speed, the bike is both calm and collected and due to it\'s diminutive sizing, feels much like a 600 with regards to those ergonomics. The front end has revised geometry too with reduced fork offset and increased trail, initial turn in felt remarkably pin point, regardless of late braking or heavy handedness with either brake or throttle. The revised engine position also helped with its tippy-ness (is that a word?) I can\'t overstate how nice this bike turned. These bikes are easy to ride fast and getting in over your head requires some composure from both bike and rider, the R1 won\'t let you down though, the rider is what I\'d be worried about.
Once into a corner, the bike was extremely stable on its "ear" and the only time I saw a wobble or two was over a bump under hard acceleration. The bars calmed down within a couple of twitches and never felt that it would become a problem. The fuel injection was remarkably glitch free too, picking up the throttle regardless of RPM never failed to turn forward movement relative to throttle position. I found myself picking up the throttle earlier and earlier but with such linear response, I could feel the grip I had left and take the appropriate action (ie, calm down). Oh, and I never dragged any pegs or hard parts, a complaint from the bike of old.
The brakes have always been good, and these dare I say it, are even better. The twin 298mm front rotors up front, now feature gold-anodized, 4-piston calipers with new aluminum pistons and sintered brake pads. The bike only called for two fingered braking all the time I rode it. Stopping power is further enhanced on the rear lighter-weight, smaller-diameter 220mm disc with a redesigned 2-piston caliper. All the time I rode the bike I consistently brought my reference points closer to the corner with no complaint from the bike or my under-garments.
So, it starts and stops well. Anything else? Lot\'s of millennium goodies abound. The clocks have a nifty and fully adjustable shift light to bring out the boy racer in you. The rear tail is restyled and significantly sharper both physically and metaphorically. The rear LED taillight is a tad anonymous when viewed from behind, but when the brake lights do come on, it\'s an attention getter to say the least.
How does it stack up against the "other two"?
The 954 is as the old R1 was, and a bit more. It too was a scalpel on our test track - When climbing onto this bike I went the quickest, quickest but not the absolute quickest. Confused? Allow me… Everything on this bike is where it should be and offered no surprises. I could go almost as fast as the 2002 R1 and the 954 had a familiarity about it. That meant minimal learning curve from the off. Yeah, I know, I just did a Vegas Speedway intro, but the point I\'m trying to make, is the bike will not surprise you in any way. No wiggles, no wobbles just honest and precise handling and with a street comfort that will not be beaten by anything (including the R1).
The GSX-R 1000 felt unwieldy in comparison to the above two bikes. The bike is both light and powerful compared to the newbies, but also felt awkward with its wider gas tank, seat and stodgy styling. Sure, I could go fast, but it never felt as planted as either the Honda or the Yamaha. Truthfully though, I never got to dial the big Suzuki in, so your mileage may vary. Handling issues aside and looking at the bike stacked in a row with its newer foes - it looked a little dated. Us sportbikers are a fickle lot and last year I felt the big Gixxer to be the top dog. I\'ve learnt a bit, this last year though, balance and power need to be equal or one will overload the other. I truly feel that with all riders being equal, the R1 and 954 will give the GSX-R fits in most environments with less effort and less "moments". They say there is no substitute for power, so if you must have the big dog, so be it.
OK. I don\'t make bikes or design them - I just ride them. However, I do sympathize with the job that manufacturers have with the current crop of open classers. They have a tough job to make these bikes better every year. If it was me, I\'d be tempted to just repaint it a jazzy color, make the front wheel lighter and re-introduce it as the new (sic) faster, lighter XYZ-1000 and be done...
My choice? I think the R1 is close to the perfect bike. It\'s got the technology, style, performance and a price that cannot be beat. Yamaha, being the smashing chaps that they are, saw fit to totally rework the bike from (w)heel to toe. As you can see, it\'s a winner.
The 954 is a perfect alternative if you want to trade a tad sharper ride for some creature comforts. I hate to use the term Honda friendly, because this is one of Honda\'s angriest bikes since the original RR. There are no faults with the ride, style and rideabilty of this years \'54 , I\'ll just take mine in silver.
The Gixxer is relegated to last place the same way the venerable Kawasaki ZX9R was relegated by the Honda 929 and the R1 in 2000. The Suzuki has the beans but I think it needs a freshening up that matches its stellar power plant. If I really want a one thou\' let\'s not make it look (apart from physical sizing) like its 600 little brother.
So what did I crash test ? (Dummy). The hmmm, cough, hmmm Suzuki.
Look ere\' you doubters… I think I\'ve quantified its last place position and it\'s not because I crashed it. Both of my fellow testers complained about the big Zooks front end, too vague said one, dodgy tires said t\'other. The forks admittedly were a little stiff and unforgiving, so I stopped after a couple of laps and took out a touch of compression to try and get some compliance and some feedback.
Big mistake, because at the next fast corner, the front end literally collapsed, chattering so badly that I couldn\'t stay on the brakes. I knew if I went off road I would ding the bike. I did my best "look through the corner move" and turned in, alas I drug the back brake a tad too much, which saw me slide in nice and sideways and disappear over the highside.