Johannesburg - Back in 1998, when Yamaha created the “stacked gearbox” by raising the gearbox input shaft and allowing the output shaft to be placed beneath it, they effectively redefined the superbike category.
To make the most of this radical invention, they designed a new bike around the redesigned Genesis engine and called it the YZF-R1.
time marched on, and other manufacturers caught up to and eventually surpassed the R1 as the king of the heap.
Throwing down the gauntlet
When I tested the ‘big-bang’ R1 some years ago, I found that it wasn’t as quick as its competitors, but it was close to the lead (at the time) in terms of electronic rider aids.
Then in 2015 Tuning Forks launched the latest iteration of the R1 and the message was clear: the gauntlet had been thrown down and Yamaha was back in the race.
Image gallery: 2016 Yamaha R1
When Yamaha recently offered me the latest R1 to test, I was keen to get closely acquainted with what, during 2015 Pirelli Bike of the Year test phase, promised to be a very exciting machine.
My first impression of the new R1 was that it is a handsome beast indeed. The two tiny projector headlights just above the radiator line leave the upper fairing clean and uncluttered, and do away with the awkward gaps the projectors left on its predecessor’s visage.
From there, the fairing swoops down to the belly pan where it integrates neatly with the exhaust pre-chamber and heat guard. Sculpted spoilers flank the vestigial pillion seat to complete the picture. Beautiful bikes nowadays are not exactly few and far between, but the R1 is definitely one of my favourites in the looks department.
The ergonomics are surprisingly good for a sport bike – it seems that the days when manufacturers thought their sport bikes were only bought by highly-trained contortionists are behind us.
Twists and turns
As expected from this category of bike, the forward-canted seating position places the bulk of you weight forward of the centre point, but it is possible to adopt a slightly more relaxing posture without letting go of the handle bars.
Likewise, the seat-to-footpeg ratio is not excessively close – while you still feel completely tucked-in, the R1 doesn’t force your body into twists that only a qualified chiropractor can unwind.
Of course, the proof of the pudding for sport bikes is in performance and handling, and on both these counts the new R1 comes to the party in no uncertain terms. It features a new frame with more rigid castings and a cross-member positioned just behind the airbox, which Yamaha says is meant to keep the frame spars from flexing under heavy load.
Yamaha has also managed to shave 7kg off the weight of the previous model, which accounts for the bike subjectively feeling and handling almost like a supersport. Added to that is a new KYB fork and rear shock, which endows the bike with considerably better handling than (I reluctantly have to admit) my skills allow me to explore.
The crossplane 998cm³ motor sounds very similar to its predecessor but it produces notably more power, especially around the top of the rev range. While its performance may not be a threat to some of its immediate competitors, what makes the R1 special is how much of that performance is accessible to average riders under normal riding conditions.
It is a bike that seems to invite you to ride hard and corner fast, and then awards you by letting you get away with it and making you feel like a champion racer.
A big part of the “getting away with it” bit is the fact that the rider aids are extremely unobtrusive, so instead of feeling as if the electronics are there to babysit you, they allow you to do your own thing, and almost imperceptibly intervene just enough to make sure things don’t go pear-shaped.
After a week of testing it, the verdict is clear: the new R1 is the very model of a modern sport bike – light, nimble and endowed with more performance and better handling than the average rider will ever ask for. In short, the R1 is a track-oriented missile that can actually be used as an everyday bike.
Type: Liquid-cooled, 4-stroke, DOHC, forward-inclined parallel 4-cylinder, 4-valves
Displacement: 998 cm³
Maximum Power: 147.1kW @ 13 500 rpm
Maximum Torque: 112.4Nm @ 11 500 rpm
Fuel supply system: Fuel Injection
Fuel type: Premium unleaded 95 octane RON
Fuel consumption: 7.1 L/100 Km
Type: Constant mesh, 6-speed
Final drive: Chaim
Overall length x width x height (mm): 2 055 X 690 X 1 150
Kerb weight: 199kg
Fuel tank: 17 L
Front: Hydraulic dual disc, 320 mm diameter
Rear: Hydraulic single disc, 220 mm diameter
Front: Telescopic forks, 43 mm diameter
Rear: Swingarm, (link suspension) with 120 mm travel
WHEELS & TYRES
Tyre, front: 120/70 ZR17M/C (58W)
Tyre, rear: 190/55 ZR17M/C (75W)