Yamaha R1 Bike Review – MotorPoint
Sunday ride on a Monday by Mike Emery ~ Photos by Candid Camera
When Yamaha’s PR fruit loop, Brad Banister, told me that this year’s press intro for the new 04′ R1 was going to take place at Borrego Springs in the Palomar mountains, CA instead of a race track, I bitched and moaned. More specifically I moaned and bitched. I even threw dried fruit and heckled them during the technical briefing at the press intro. Being the spoilt brat that I am, I really wanted to go play on a nice open race track and I felt confined in a street ride. I sulked for a whole month prior to the event.
In retrospect, Yamaha knew what they were doing. The fact is, this bike will be ridden on the street by most and raced by a few. We all live in Real Street not Racer Row and to this end it was perfectly fitting that they got to show of the bike in its natural environment. Canyon City. The venue, the Palomar Mountains, are a pretty decent set of roads, going up around and through a large hill (a mountain?) It’s a mixture of tarmac ranging from seamless perfection to dramatically bumpy patched and quilted asphalt. It’s reasonably safe, but it can bite too, so I had to mind my P’s and Q’s.
So, here we are, at a svelte 379lbs, it’s a bike we’ve been waiting for a couple of months now. Yamaha looked to be late in the game with the release of the “one” but with the set back in production dates for both the Honda and the Kawi, the Yamaha arrives to the 2004 release party late but leaves with the spoils, and early. Especially as these Yamaha bikes are being delivered as I sit here and hype…err, I mean type.
Nothing on this bike compares to that “crappy old” 02/03 model – nothing. I know there’s a faction (based on my inbox enquiries) that likes to shoehorn this engine into that frame and vice versa, but as has been the trend lately, the angle of the dangles, on this new bike is vastly different of yore. How’s that? For starters the motor’s skinnier and canted forward ala’ YZF-M1 so everything from that point out is all new. If you don’t want to feel completely alienated, Mr. Spanner-man, the oil filter’s the same.
Saddling up you’re immediately conscious of how skinny and un intimidating this thing is. Seemingly similar to the Kawasaki in dimensions this is another example of walking softly and carrying a big stick. With that revised and canted forward motor it allows a Kawasaki-like frame going over, rather than around the motor, the subsequent result is a 3″ narrower Deltabox V frame. All good, and heading off towards a Ducati-esque style stature. Talking of Italian bikes, this does remind you of an MV Agusta, nice lines and nice to sit back and look at too.
The motor enjoys a narrower and lighter crank and with a repositioning of the starter motor it’s narrow right where you need it, by your feet. This is a two-fold benefit as lean angles can be increased due to the additional clearance and the pegs are lower for streetable comfort. The crank will offer less rotational mass too, especially with its lightened clutch, So the bike feels like a true 600 size sporty with all the extra beans that an open class delivers.
The power delivery was very linear, and due to its oversquare bore, very revvy. The compression ration is higher, from 11.8:1 to 12.4:1 and both exhaust and intakes are larger with tighter valve angles. Those valves are also shorter and lighter as are the piston’s and the consequent redline is 2,000rpm more than last years model, now set at 13750. The fuel injection has twin butterfly valves one controlled by you and the secondary set controlled by Mr. ECU. The Fi was absolutely, unequivocally the finest I’ve ever felt, no hesitation, high, low or otherwise. This is perfect for sniffing out traction, pulling silly wheelies or with any situation that needed fine throttle inputs. It’s a happy mixture of mechanical and electronic trickery… it makes more power too. Sweet.
Controls fall to hand quite neatly for my 6’1″ frame and Yamaha has too stepped up with a neato Brembo radial front master cylinder that’s infinitely adjustable for span. The bike also has a noticeable sitting in, rather than a sitting on, feel to it. The tank protrudes into your beer belly area somewhat, it fit me, but then I’m not a big beer drinker [sic]. The seat is long and provided enough room for me to make some attempt at a race squat although the low screen’s not going to cooperate with my C2/C3 vertebrae, which I’m sure works just like yours. Aftermarket screen Sir? Yes, please, make that a smoked double-bubble, will you old chap? Seat storage suffers due to that lovely rear exhaust set-up, however, I could still fit a cell phone in there – best make sure you don’t still use one of those big Motorola house brick size jobbies though.
Once seated, you’re immediately looking down onto a nice fat tach, with the familiar looking (for Yamaha) digi’ speedometer. A white tach would be my only wish (as opposed to black) to help with my peripheral vision when searching for clues at speed. There is also a Suzi’ style steering damper tucked low under this tidy work area, but with a kicker. 2004 might well go down as the year of the steering damper. Honda with the electronically aided HESD and now the Yamaha with a variable unit that senses high and low speed loading with a mechanical system that’s light in feel and can take the hit if need be. Necessary? I didn’t think so, the bike didn’t do anything daft and let’s face it here, I’m daft. I landed a 147mph fifth gear wheelie (on a gated private road with a helicopter and a fully trained EMT on standby, of course) with no drama and a surprisingly low pucker factor. The bike’s lively, like they all should be, but not unstable in any way.
In normal two wheel riding, the Yamaha R1 has always had a wonderful urgency right off idle for an easy take off and with a nice bit of low rpm get-up-and-go. This bike is just the same but with an enormously long first gear. Being the curiosity-killed-the-cat type, I just had to go see how long – (Answer – 104mph at the limiter). This long first gear needs some clutch coaxing from a standstill and if I owned an 04′ I might well be tempted to shorten up the gearing a tad. Settling in comfort-wise, the pegs are a little lower, making the seat seem a little taller than last years, so the bike has quite decent streetable ergonomics considering the performance premise that this bike offers.
Due to that long first gear, third gear always seems to offer the best compromise in tight twisties. In third gear at 50 mph and with 5000RPM showing, you always had everything ready to go at a whiff of more gas. In this aspect the bike felt much like the Gixxer thou’ but with less of an angry power spike, so instead of wheelie-ing out of slower corners you were more likely to be treated to good solid and predictable drive… fffast too.
The bike still maintains excellent stability even with 6mm less trail than last year. The frame is now 200 million gazillion percent stiffer, vertically, torsionally and any other ‘-ally’s you can think of. The subframe and beautifully formed swingarm are manufactured using Yamaha’s very own control filled die cast, light and strong and strong. Suspension was perfect up front with excellent feel from the 43mm Kayaba upside-downies. The rear suffered from too much high speed compression and I had to add some rebound adjustment to stop the thing kicking me out of the saddle on hard edged bumps. The rear is redesigned to accept the position of the exhaust and it might be getting hot from the fairly close proximity of the catalyzer, methinks.
That heat had an undesirable effect on my bum too, the extra heat made my cheeks itch. (Too much info?) The problem is the catalyzer gets quite warm and that filters up to bum territory and on a hot day is going to be a problem. That’s the price of stylish underseat exhausts, I’m afraid. It didn’t hurt the Ducati’s too bad, but my bum’s itching just thinking about it. A little birdy tells me that the cat is easily removed for racing applications, of course (that same birdy will deny all knowledge of this). The sound, by the way is rather decent, raspy, racy and not antiseptic in anyway.
Prolonged riding gave me ample opportunity to play with the stock Yamaha handling. The bike was very composed in all situations especially after a fiddle or three. After adding rebound to front and rear to cure some double-bumping, I upped the preload on the rear and also raised the forks 5mm to help sharpen up the steering. I was more than happy with mid-corner stability, especially after blitzing the same corner thirty times for my assigned photographer, but I felt that initial turn in could be better still. That simple adjustment made the bike tippier with no apparent effect on stability. I bet another 5mm would sharpen her up some more without turning it into a slapping fool. I’d like another opportunity to play with that, especially at a track.
All this playing around raised my personal comfort factor on the R1′s performance and it always helps to have decent brakes to bail you out, should prison time seem pending and when one gets too cocky (Who? Me?). Like a good attorney these Sumitomo radials delivered that get out of jail free card at the right time and every time. The brakes are very progressive and strong, but never grabby. They are bigger than last year’s by some 22mm (now 320mm) and a tad narrower to negate the potential extra weight. Not quite the strength of the ZX10R wave rotors but also less inclined to put you on your ear in a low speed, high panic (grab) situation. Constant stopping for U-turn photo sessions never saw an ounce of fade.
I must throw out a good word too for the Dunny 218′s fitted to this bike. The initial morning ride saw some rather chilly weather and the tires gripped well from cold with just a minimal amount of wheelspin (when getting hard on the throttle.) Once warm they stuck like glue and balled up like a GP spec tire. I’m not sure about longevity, but if fast Sunday blitzes’ are your thing these are the tires to keep you safe.
Cosmetically Yamaha has hit the target fair and square. The thing looks goy-geous in person. It just looks right, from the fairing to the five-spoke wheels, from the headlamps to the rear LED’s. The frame and swinger are blacked out and the bike looks agile, even at standstill. The more you look at it the more you pick out exquisite styling cues. This bike hits you like the old 916/996 Ducati did because it’s a looker. And, like the typical Yamaha range, can be ridden hard and hung up wet, with just gas and oil as a pacifier. The bike is quite obviously pointing at the racetrack but offers a riding position that was fine for my 250-mile day trip.
Power is quoted at 180-bhp at 12,500 with ram air and 172-bhp without. That will probably translate to about the mid buck fifties in rear wheel power. If you’re feeling brave enough, you can push the stock limits by adding some choice GYT-R or YEC competition parts. It seems to be helping Messrs Hacking and DiSalvo, and will surely help secure some Sunday AM bragging rights even if it’s just at the breakfast table. Oh, and you can fund those parts within your initial purchase price too, win, win.
Where the stock bike stacks up to the Kawi and Honda, is hard to tell. The ZX and CBR were pre-production and who knows how that will translate into the production units. What I do know, is that these Yamaha’s came off the boat and went straight to you, the paying customer – we just happened to be hanging around in Southern California with a hope of bagging a ride, which we did.
It’ll be nice to get these bikes together on the same day with the same tires but as it stands the R1 came in a little less than I expected. It looks the business but I just wish that I didn’t have to manhandle it so much to get my jollies. However, it does rank high atop my open class wish list and I think with a little tweaking it could find a happy home in the 2Dub garage.
2004 Yamaha R1 Specifications
Engine Type 998cc, liquid-cooled, 20-valve, DOHC, in-line four-cylinder
Bore x Stroke 77 x 53.6mm
Carburetion Fuel injection, dual-valve throttle bodies with motor-driven secondary valves
Ignition Digital TCI
Transmission 6-speed w/multi-plate clutch
Final Drive #530 O-ring chain
Suspension/Front 43mm inverted telescopic fork w/adjustable preload, compression and rebound damping; 4.7″ travel
Suspension/Rear Single shock w/piggyback reservoir and adjustable preload, compression and rebound damping; 5.1″ travel
Brakes/Front Dual 320mm discs; radial-mount forged 4-piston calipers
Brakes/Rear 220mm disc w/single-piston pin-slide caliper
Tires/Front/Rear 120/70-ZR17 – 190-50-ZR17
Seat Height 32.8″
Rake / Trail 24.0 /3.8″
Dry Weight 379 lbs.
Fuel Capacity 4.85 gallons
Color Team Yamaha Blue/White; Liquid Silver/Cerulean Silver; Shift Red
MSRP $10,599 Available from February 2004
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