Throttle to the stop, heading up the hill toward the corkscrew at Laguna Seca Raceway, the dashboard light blinking triggers my right wrist to back off a hair and my left foot to rise. Slipping effortlessly into the next gear the transition between ratios is mechanical perfection as we hurtle toward the blind rise. Topping 200kph, front wheel climbing and bars dancing in my hands, there is nothing but a tarmac lip and blue sky on the radar. Looking about as large as a double garage door, it is time to take my finger off the fast forward button. Bringing the twelve brake pistons into the act, heartbeat rising to the red line, all I can think of is what in the world must it be like when the MotoGP riders come in here side by side at speeds that make it seem like I am out for a Sunday stroll.
Stripping off enough speed to slam the big Yamaha on its side for the downward descent, the rear wheel is wagging and I am fighting to divert my vision from what looks like the end of the world. Looking down through the corkscrew and as soon as we are bouncing off my left knee puck it is time to get rowdy on the bars and manhandle the R1 over onto the right hand side, hitting my knee puck with an even harder bang as my stomach feels the drop. Twisting the throttle back open the back end of the bike jackhammers for a few seconds over the rough pavement as the next leap of faith presents itself.
Down hill, and looking slicker than a drug rep’s expensive suit, Rainey corner is almost as intimidating as the corkscrew. I am obviously lacking the needed equipment to hold the throttle more than a hair off the stop until I am on my knee again, and seeing the exit in full Technicolour I give a huge sigh of relief. Riding the new 2007 R1 at Laguna Seca is a totally surreal experience from so many perspectives. By the time I climb off the R1 at the end of my session, sweating in the cool afternoon air, my head is spinning.
Fly by wire throttle, more horsepower, revised chassis, six-piston caliper brakes, and an even sleeker bodywork package, Yamaha has completely gone through their iconic litre bike and come out with a totally new machine. Not wanting to lose its distinctive look, the changes to the bodywork are subtle and result in a much sharper look. With the side fairings styled in the same manner as the R6, somehow the Yamaha designers have made the bike look even more modern without losing its identity.
Exiting turn 12 and launching onto the front straight is the only place on the fairly short Laguna circuit to properly get the throttle to the stops through three gears. This means that by the time the gearbox is sliding into fourth gear it is time to tip the bike over the blind rise that leads to turn two. Massive speed, serious lean angle and a wish to not question my mortality accompany me over the rise. I can’t do it without rolling off, and getting back on the gas I am lifted out of the seat for a moment by the blast of wind. Protected by the elevation coming up the straight, it only adds to the experience as my brain fights with the notion that I have left the braking too late. Squeezing firmly on the thick lever there is no delay as the pads bite down, and banging down two gears is worry free thanks to a new slipper clutch. The required speed is removed in plenty of time to flick into the double apex turn two. Marvelling at the level of calm as the bike glides through on a smooth arc, the perfect fuelling allows me to feed in just enough throttle to keep momentum before it is time to nail it for turn three.
It seems like yesterday that we were hauling tail around Eastern Creek, hurling all sorts of positive expletives at the new 2005 R1. With monster power, phenomenal handling and brakes that would stop a truck, it is hard to imagine how the manufacturers can keep improving these bikes every two years. So for 2007 another new and improved R1 rolls out. For regular punters who ride on the street with the occasional track day thrown in, the good news is: life is going to be even better on Yamaha’s new open class monster.
In the US the average R1 rider is at least 33 years of age with 13 years of riding experience. Riding more miles every year than the average cruiser rider, it does a lot to dispel the myth that these bikes are mostly bought by irresponsible teenagers with little to no riding experience.
The big news for 2007 is the move to four valves per cylinder from Yamaha’s trademark five. Reading like a new miracle drug ad on television without the side affects, low, mid and top end power is all miraculously improved. New higher lift camshafts allow increased air intake volume while a new piston shape and improved combustion efficiency conspire to give the new engine an increase of five horsepower. It is interesting to note that the current M1 MotoGP bikes went to four valves per cylinder a couple of years ago and now the R1 is following suit. The new pistons use a higher compression ratio and the connecting rods are produced with split fracture design. This makes the match up between the pieces more precise and adds strength to the rods.
Some people might argue that the real news is the Yamaha chip controlled throttle which is the same basic system as we tested on the R6. Either way, the changes to the R1 are exciting and this new technology certainly makes the bike easier to ride. Reading changes in parameters every 1,000th of a second, when you crank open the throttle the butterflies in the throttle bodies don’t just immediately open. Responding to input from a large number of sensors, the ECU decides how much fuel and air the engine needs.
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Yamaha Chip Controlled Intake Multimedia (High-Res 15MB)
This makes for very smooth power delivery across the range and makes me feel more comfortable cranking open the throttle exiting lower speed corners. I felt like I had less chance to spin the rear wheel and, whether or not this is the case, there were no spinning or sliding moments to report.
Opening the throttle slowly and deliberately exiting pit lane I was surprised at the bump in power at 4500 rpm. Suddenly becoming more urgent it was the last real noticeable spike until the rev limiter kicked in. Later in the day when I was more familiar with the daunting Laguna Seca racetrack I did find that exiting corners at 7000 rpm wasn’t cutting it for me and to get more drive I needed to be higher in the revs. Once up into the double figures though everything is going by with such a blur you had better be hanging on. Over the course of the test there really were very few places I actually had the throttle all the way to the stop for anything other than a brief moment. There is just so much power everywhere and the bike definitely feels faster than the previous model.
Not content with fly by wire throttle and new four valve heads; Yamaha has added another interesting system to their new technological masterpiece. Known as YCC-I (Yamaha chip controlled intake), variable length intake stacks give the bike 140mm intakes to boost low-end power. Then when the revs rise to 10400 the funnels separate cutting the length to 65mm. Rising a total of 28mm, the throttle needs to be open more than 57% at 10400 rpm for the system to engage. Shutting the throttle just releases the stacks, and you have a long system in place until you get the throttle and engine revs back up to this set point. For the racetrack the variable length system will not be used as the system is to benefit the road rider and general punter rather than an ‘A’ Grade Superbike pilot.
Gear ratios are long with first gear good for close to, or around, 160kph. The only time I spent any significant time at the red line in first gear was approaching turn 12 and I was far too busy watching where I was heading to check the speedo. Coming into the other tight corners from warp speed and dropping gears, the slipper clutch did its job without complaint and it was comforting to know it is there. Laguna Seca has a couple of places where the R1 can collect some serious speed before needing to lose it for tight corners, and once used to this clutch system I think it would be difficult to go back.
Keeping the new, more powerful lump under control is a freshly engineered chassis. Where it is cast around the pivot points it has increased rigidity, whereas the extruded parts all now have more flex built in. As another direct trickle down from what I learned from the MotoGP engineers while talking about the M1 last year, I am sure actual physical changes are more a direct result of Yamaha’s experiences in World Superbike, it is clear the ideas are shared between departments. These changes have been made to give the rider more feel from the front wheel, and out on the Laguna circuit I wasn’t about to argue. There are a number of bumpy sections and talking with Mike Ulrich from Yamaha confirmed it wasn’t just my terrible riding style as he identified the same trouble areas as I found. On the smooth sections the R1 noticeably turned in a lot better than its predecessor and it also exhibited a lesser tendency to run wide on the exit.
Some of this quicker turn in can be credited to the new braking system. Over the years we have seen bigger, smaller or thinner discs almost yearly and whatever combination of pistons you can imagine in the calipers. For 2007 we are back to six piston calipers and slimmer discs for less reciprocating mass. The Pirelli Tech also told us the R1 specific Pirelli Diablo Corsa tyres have lost some weight to further help the handling. On the subject of the tyres, I have got to admit to not being thrilled about testing such a fire-breathing monster on street tyres. Parking at the end of the day though, noticing how little damage I had been able to inflict on the sticky black round objects and how predictable they had been with superb grip to boot, I was forced to eat my thoughts.
Braking power from the new six piston caliper set up is as expected. The lever is easily adjustable with a small wheel to suit the size of your digits, and then it is just a matter of bravery when it comes to how hard you pull it toward the lever. Instantly retarding progress, without being abrupt, the more you pull the faster you stop with very little movement needed to perform the hardest braking manoeuvres. The rear brake is an afterthought on the track but it has some useful stopping power before smoke starts coming off the rear Pirelli.
It is no surprise to find the suspension hasn’t been left alone and the new 43mm KYB fork now runs 25mm of offset, compared to 30mm. Increasing the trail to 102mm has been done to compliment the weight reduction down at the front wheel to get the bike to turn quicker. All the fork internals are changed with lighter components, and rigidity has been increased. Apart from some weird experiences over the bumps, the forks did a wonderful job and gave no trouble under some of the hardest braking I have done on a racetrack. I was lifting the rear wheel slightly into turn 12 and a little extra compression would have helped but nothing to complain about for sure.
Attaching to the new truss style swingarm, which is 16mm longer, is a new Soqi rear shock. Featuring both high and low speed compression adjustment as well as the usual pre-load and rebound, it has a stronger spring rate and an easy nine step ramp system of adjustment for the pre-load. The bike was set up for my 80kg weight and the only other adjustment I made was to add some high-speed compression damping to help keep the front end down.
The sleek bodywork, styled somewhat after the R6, comes in a choice of three colours: Yamaha Blue, Midnight Black, or Competition White. The windshield is 10mm taller and uses no screws for attachment purposes for a cleaner look. Functional gauges live behind it with an analogue tacho and a digital speedometer. The shift light is bright and helpful when trying to make fast progress and all the usual functions are where you would expect them.
The previous generation R1 had some bum warming problems from the under tail exhausts but during a cool weather track test there was no chance to see if this had been addressed.
It doesn’t look as if there is much room to put your sandwiches under the seat as you head out to work either. The good news is that with a theoretical top speed nudging 300kph, a braking and technology package that has just taken litre bikes into new previously uncharted territory, with all the time you save getting to work early the overtime will pay for lunch.
While Neale enjoyed the new R1 at Laguna Seca I had a brief flirtation with Yamaha’s new sporting figurehead at the perhaps even more daunting 4.45km of snaking blacktop that is Phillip Island.
It was all but a fleeting and too brief affair with this sexy little blue number but it was enough to offer a small critique of her performance.
First impressions were excellent. There is plenty of room to move, the controls felt natural and with the engagement of first gear there was virtually no driveline lash. Exiting pitlane the selection of the next cogs were equally effortless with perhaps the shortest throw of any sportsbike shifter and the smoothest engagement I can remember. I really think this gearbox is the benchmark for not just sportsbikes but for all motorcycles, especially when teamed with the slipper clutch.
The engine pulls very smoothly throughout the rev range. During my time at the track I didn’t get to experiment with the lower end of the rev ranges so did not notice the 4500 rpm bump that Neale remarked on. In contrast to his experience however I could feel that extra surge in engine aggression as the throttle tubes shrunk to their shortest length for that final charge towards the 13750rpm (indicated) redline. Time on the street would really be needed to fully evaluate the engine’s true real world character but at this stage of the game I am comfortable to gauge the top end performance of the R1 as most probably the strongest on offer from any litre bike. The new intake technologies have certainly beefed up the middle but I still think the GSX-R1000 and perhaps also the Fireblade feel stronger through the mid-range. The moonshot gearing on the R1 could be a factor in that seat of the pants measure but I certainly don’t think your average R1 pilot is ever going to complain about not enough horsepower anywhere in the rev range. The R1 engine certainly feels the smoothest sportsbike engine yet made with very little mechanical noise heard or harmonics felt through the controls. Again, only real world time on the street will tell the full story but early indications are that the R1 will certainly make a wonderful streetbike.
That thinking follows through to the light and easy to use controls and a riding position that is far from cramped.
The brakes are progressively powerful through what feels like quite a large range of lever travel. There is no initial savage bite and it feels as though a firmer squeeze is needed on the lever than on some of its competitors to bring the full braking force to bear. For most riders I am sure that will make for a safer street ride under emergency circumstances and would also be most welcome when road conditions are far from perfect.
The bike turned easily on its Dunlop Qualifiers and was easy to keep on line. I did experience a little front end patter that I am sure could have easily been dialled out with some time to experiment with the settings. I think the front end cure would have come from a few adjustments to the rear suspension. So often such minor front end oscillation stem from the rear shock rather than the forks and I am confident that was the case here and a cure would only have been a few clicks away.
An 18 litre fuel tank, smooth engine and gearbox, plenty of room to move and controls that feel natural from first acquaintance certainly point to the fact that the 2007 R1 is the most polished sportsbike package ever to be shipped from Iwata. In Australia the R1 has thoroughly cemented its place at the top of the sportsbike sales charts and the arrival of the new machine in late January will no doubt serve to strengthen that stranglehold.
Bikebiz are expecting first stocks of the new machine next week and invite test ride bookings at their Sydney stores. Contact them on 02 88 300 555.