Yamaha YZF-R1 (2015) review

Rider on the Yamaha YZF-R1 (2015) 
The R1 incorporates a race-derived electronics package that is arguably the most sophisticated yet on a production bike, enabling amazing traction and stability Credit: ALESSIO BARBANTI

Yamaha's blistering YZF-R1 is primed to make its mark in the resurgent super-sports market

In recent years it seemed that the decline of the super-sports market, as motorcyclists have turned to adventure bikes and other less high-performance alternatives, might result in some Japanese firms abandoning the sector altogether. Yamaha's launch of a new, race-developed YZF-R1, the successor to the famed 1998 model of the same name, is an emphatic statement to the contrary.

Indeed, the new R1 is more like Valentino Rossi's YZR-M1 MotoGP racer than any of its predecessors. Yamaha's research showed that riders who continue to buy super-sports bikes tend to be hardcore enthusiasts who use their bikes on a racetrack. Hence the decision to shift the emphasis from road to circuit performance, and base this R1 not on the previous model but on the M1 racer.

With a maximum output of 197bhp, and weighing 199kg with fuel, the Yamaha has a power-to-weight ratio fractionally higher than that of BMW's class yardstick, the S1000RR. Equally importantly, the R1 incorporates an M1-derived electronics package that is arguably the most sophisticated yet on a production bike.

Yamaha's system is based on a device called an Inertia Measurement Unit which, like those used by BMWDucati and KTM, uses gyroscopes and accelerometers to track movement more than 100 times per second. This allows a more refined traction control system, a separate slide control for limiting rear tyre movement on acceleration, plus an anti-wheelie system. According to project leader Hideki Fujiwara, the system has 90 per cent of the function of its M1 equivalent.

Roland (enjoying a well-earned water) found the R1 breathtakingly fast

The 998cc, 16-valve four-cylinder engine uses conventional tuning methods, including more over-square dimensions, higher compression ratio and redesigned valve operating mechanism to gain 18bhp over the previous power plant. It is lighter and revs higher but retains the R1's "crossplane" crankshaft arrangement, derived from the M1, that gives a distinctive, droning exhaust note and usable torque delivery.

As you get on to the R1's slightly higher, thinly padded seat there is no doubt that it's a supremely focused machine. Below the fairing's fairly low, racy screen is a colourful digital instrument panel that displays the wide variety of settings, controllable via buttons on the handlebars. The range of functions and adjustability is potentially bewildering but the Yamaha is outstandingly intuitive and easy to use.

The R1 is exhilaratingly, sometimes breathtakingly, fast, combining ferocious acceleration with very refined throttle response, even in the most aggressive of its four engine modes. Peak power arrives at 13,500rpm and the engine is respectably flexible, pulling sweetly enough at low revs to suggest that the bike will be perfectly happy at modest road speeds.

And on either road or track, its electronics package matches – if not exceeds – the best rival systems, allowing expert and less experienced riders alike to approach their and the bike's limits with an outstanding level of safety. The gearbox's quick-shifter lacks the downshift facility of its BMW and Ducati rivals but in every other respect the R1 is outstandingly rider-friendly.

The R1 offers almost limitless adjustability and sophisticated electronics galore

Its chassis, based on a new aluminium frame and suspension parts, is equally capable; taut, light and supremely agile. I didn't find the bike cramped, despite being tall. It's firmly suspended, superbly well braked – the ABS system links front and rear discs, depending on the bike's angle of lean – and effortlessly controllable.

Inevitably this is a hardcore machine whose performance will be largely wasted on the road, where its more aggressive riding position, smaller fuel tank and shorter wheelbase will be of little benefit. But those electrical systems will be useful everywhere, and help justify a £14,999 price that's as competitive as the Yamaha's performance.

The R1 was developed under the motto "no excuses". Comparison tests with a stopwatch running will be the ultimate judge, but in isolation this wonderfully fast, focused and exhilarating race-replica is good enough to suggest that none will be needed.

Valentino Rossi and the R1, which has electronics similar to his MotoGP racer

M appeal: YZF-R1M

Alongside the R1 is an even more high-tech model, the R1M, that combines an unchanged 197bhp engine and aluminium frame with lightweight carbon-fibre bodywork and semi-active suspension from Swedish specialist Öhlins, similar to that used on Ducati's 1299 Panigale.

Predictably, performance is near-identical in a straight line and subtly better still on a track, where the semi-active system continually adjusts to suit the situation, giving a supremely smooth and stable ride.

The R1M costs £18,499 but don't bother saving up: this year's UK allocation of 75 bikes sold out in a few hours.


Yamaha YZF-R1 (2015)

Tested: 998cc four-cylinder four-stroke, six-speed gearbox

Price/on sale: £14,999/now

Power/torque: 197bhp @ 13,500rpm/83lb ft @ 11,500rpm

Top speed: 185mph (estimated)

Range: 140 miles @ 40mpg (estimated)

Verdict: Exhilarating, MotoGP-inspired superbike that combines a powerful four-cylinder engine, compact chassis and ultra-sophisticated electronics to impressive effect

Telegraph rating: Five stars out of five


Ducati 1299 Panigale, from £16,695

The Italian firm's latest has a desmo V-twin engine producing 205bhp with abundant mid-range, light weight and gorgeous styling.

BMW S1000RR Sport, from £14,760

Redesigned for 2015, BMW's fearsome 198bhp four comes with semi-active suspension. It has a genuine rival in the R1.

Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10 ABS, from £13,199

Yamaha's leading Japanese rival boasts 197bhp, a fine chassis and World Superbike-winning credibility but is starting to age.

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