I covered around 1000 kilometres astride the R1 on roads which included tight/slow corners, fast open bends & straight touring stretches. Road surface quality varied considerably throughout. I compare the R1 to the ZX9R a lot here because people who buy either of these bikes normally make a choice between them.
As soon as I took off on the R1 I was once again immediately impressed by the tractability of the engine and the strong mid range. The R1 is not in the Hayabusa league for mid range stomp, but then again – nothing else is either. (DYNO CHARTS HERE)
The R1 wants to wheelie off the throttle much earlier than anything this side of an RSV Mille Aprilia. This of course makes Trev a happy boy.
The ZX9R Kwaka feels slightly faster in the upper gears, probably because of the ram-air effects for which Kawasaki is famous for maximizing the potential of. This normally shows up in top speed tests that a lot of magazines around the world have conducted which give the Ninja a couple more mph on the top end and a faster quarter mile time. But this is of little consequence in the buying decision for most. They are both seriously fast.
I feel the faster quarter mile time of the ZX9 is probably down to the fact that it is easier to get off the line. It is nigh on impossible to keep the front wheel of the R1 on the deck. One of the times I tried for a quick getaway I found myself vertical before I had moved more than a couple of feet. I think it would take someone that is a bit more of a drag start star than myself (not hard), to get off the line quickly on the R1. I feel that a fair bit of wheelspin would have to be initiated in order to get a good launch.
The 4-piston brakes possess a similar level of power as the 6 potters that are fitted to both the TLR and ZX9R. The R1 stoppers do provide slightly better feel however.
The gearbox on the R1 has often been criticized but I experienced no great problems to speak of. It isn’t quite as slick as the Ninja’s but it is much better than the item on the RSV Mille I rode a few months back.
The seating position is quite reasonable, a little too much pressure is put on the wrists but the legroom for my wide 179cm frame was quite good. The Ninja possesses better ergonomics than the R1. Of course any comfort concerns are forgotten when the bends arrive….
The R1 has been regularly criticized for having a slightly vague front end and being a bit too twitchy. I found the bike a little twitchy but it was easily controllable and less flighty than some of the 600 class. I weigh more than most and can shift this not inconsiderable mass around a bike to counter this. Lighter riders may experience more instability than I.
The R1 is not hugely confidence inspiring when barrelling in to the bends, but it is definitely no worse than the 9 in this respect. On a few occasions I took a corner pretty quickly and then imagined I had run a bit wide and applied the front brakes to see how the R1 responded. It passed this test with flying colours. I always managed to tighten my line even with some front brake on. I would not normally do this of course – but in this case I did provoke the situation in order to gauge how safe the bike was for someone who makes a few more mistakes than they should. If you are accustomed to riding powerful bikes then the R1 will definitely not scare you.
Mid-corner the Yamaha felt rock solid – nearly as good as the current crop of 600 sportsters. I felt that I could definitely carry a lot more mid-corner speed on the R1 than on the ZX9R. Given a reasonably smooth road surface I would be faster on the R1. If the road turns bumpy however – I am confident that I would be faster on the Ninja. The R1 would make for a better track-day weapon.
If good bends are not too far from your house the R1 has the goods over the 9. If you have a couple of hundred kilometres to commute before you get to your favourite stretch, and you are no track-day guru, then you may be happier on the Ninja.
The Kwaka would make long distances a more pleasurable experience and is also easier to strap luggage too. Commuting in the summer months would also see you having a better time of it than on the R1.
A magnetic tankbag sits well on the Yamaha. But like any sportsbike, this robs you of any chance of the screen deflecting the windblast from your head. Not that the little bubble on the R1 is going to do much of that even without a tankbag.
The Yamaha’s temperature climbs rapidly when sitting at a set of lights. The fact that it seems to cook your legs more than any other modern sportsbike I have ridden doesn’t help either. The R1 seems to put a few more vibes through your hands too. This could be down to the fact that the R1’s grips seem to be harder and thinner-skinned.
The R1 is a quicker bike on smooth twisties – of that there is no doubt in my mind. The instrumentation is as good as that of the Ninja. The engine has more torque/power through the lower and mid-ranges than that of the Kwaka, it also carburates better in this area of the rev range.
Quality of finish is a close run thing. In my humble opinion the R1 possesses a higher level of aesthetic design in the components that bolt to its chassis – I am talking here of things like the swingarm, pegs etc. In the paintwork and graphics department I think the ZX-9R holds the edge.
Of course this is all from my personal perspective and I think that you should definitely ride both bikes before making a decision to purchase. If you have the readies and approach both a Kwaka and a Yamaha dealer that have one of these models available to test, and explain your dilemma, you should have no problems scoring a test ride.
It is a close run thing – you should ride before you decide.
And maybe wait until the new ‘blade comes out too.
The top end on the Ninja is definitely better and when we were drag racing “under controlled conditions” last October, the Kaw was there first two times out of three. Mind you at 200 kph, you can throw a blanket over the two bikes!
As to the brakes I think the standard feel on the R1 is slightly better but both are brilliant.
After I changed the OEM pads with the best EBC ones at 32000km, the Ninja felt & stopped better than the R1 standard.
I think both gearboxes are excellent.
Ergonomically and for the pillion the Ninja is better but on the twisties and at over 100kph, the R1 feels perfect, whilst the Ninja feels great in traffic as well as scratching. For both bikes luggage wise, a Ventura Rack & twin bags allow huge capacity for one person but for two, soft saddle bags are necessary as high luggage with pillion put both bikes on the back wheel (and therefore unstable) even on careful throttle.
The R1 came with 207’s and my first ride indicated to me twitchiness of the front end. Later with some suspension adjustments and Avon Super Sports on both bikes, the front of the R1 felt great and more planted than the Ninja at 10/10ths. The E1 Kaw feels very similar to the R1 in the front end.
Both bikes are very good on trailing front brakes on the corners and don’t tend to stand up (and run wide). I didn’t have any trouble with bumps on either bike although the Ninja is more “limo” like.
On the track they are both awesome although I have passed Rob a few times (straights & corners) but not vice versa YET.
The only problem I see on the R1 is sore wrists down mountains, pillion accommodation and VORACIOUS appetite for rear tyres. I get 50 to 100% more wear out of the same tyres on the Ninja riding in the same manner. Fronts on both last heaps.
A courier client says R1 not practical for courier work and another guy sold it due to ergonomics and bought a R1100GS!
I love them both but then I love nearly everything sporty on two wheels.
Thanks for the opportunity to respond on this often asked but rarely answered (unbiased answer anyway) question. Trev has explained the R1 perfectly in his test.
I currently own the red white & black 99 R1 and love it. Mark owns the ZX9R C1 in (pansy) blue. I love that bike too. See girls, it is possible to love two at once!!!!
I have had the opportunity to ride the ZX9R many times, it was actually the second bike over 250cc I ever rode. I had my heart set on one……until the R1 came out and those evil Satan eyes staring at me from the corner of the bike shop mesmerised me and possibly used mind control to force me into purchasing it.
The ZX9R is a great bike….The R1 is a great bike….. I would have either of them without a moments thought.
My Girlfriend would insist that the ZX9R is better, she would…the ZX9 is a very fast sports bike which just happens to have a very comfortable pillion seat and position. The R1 is not a two-up tourer.
The R1’s ability to wheelie brings a new dimension to the term uni-cycle- the front wheel rarely touches the ground. The R1 lifts the wheel without clutch, without throttle violence or any other purposeful action. This power makes Rob a very happy boy too!!! The ZX9R needs a bit of throttle violence to get there but don’t be fooled guys, the ZX9R will get there in too much hurry if you give it too much curry.
The front end of the R1 started out very twitchy and continuously wiggled. I considered selling the bike in the first two weeks I owned it due to this wiggle but I got used to it. The wiggle was worrying at first but then I found it never tank slapped. The ZX9R has no wiggles under any operating conditions however give it the right combination of bumps and throttle and it slaps harder than anything I have ever felt. Since putting a softer tyre on the front of the R1 and adjusting the suspension properly, The R1 has become very stable with no wiggles. It will give a mild tank slapper under the same conditions as the ZX9R.
Both the bikes are reasonably comfortable over long distances (Sydney to Phillip Island was fine on both bikes) The ZX9R just wins out with wider & higher bars and larger fairing. The R1’s seat is a little wider and softer.
Yes…..It’s true, the ZX9 will win a drag race against an R1!! Even when I sat on the tank and extended my body past the front wheel, I still couldn’t keep my front wheel anywhere near the ground. I have to short shift 1st and have to spend the rest of the ¼ mile catching up again. By the end of the ¼ mile the bikes are very close.
Tyre wear is very violent on the R1, probably due to the massive mid-range torque. The ZX9 is much nicer on tyres as it produces most of it’s power in the high rev ranges. The longer I own the R1, I use less throttle, I go faster and I get much less tyre wear.
Power wise, the bikes are very similar. They do however make it in totally different ways. The R1 has masses of torque down low and heaps of power up top. You rarely use full revs because you don’t need to. In comparison the ZX9R is lacking in torque down low but makes up for it with a rev-happy, peaky top end. Don’t get me wrong about the torque, you can still ride the ZX9R in 6th gear everywhere if you want to.
Looks…….need I say more……Those headlights!!!! R1 wins on this one hands down.
As I’ve said, I love both these bikes and would recommend them to anyone (except people who have just finished their ‘P’ plates- it was only self control that has kept me on the R1) Go ahead and try them. You will never look back!