Yamaha YZF-R1

Last year Yamaha wowed us with its awesomely-different take on the classic Inline Four engine configuration with its new-from-the-wheels-up YZF-R1. Its fresh character and friendlier power delivery made an immediate impression during the 2009 Yamaha YZF-R1 First Ride test from Australia. We spent more time with it on the street last summer during the 2009 Yamaha YZF-R1 Touring Ride and learned how great a machine it can be for sportbike touring. Now for ’10 we’re back in the R1’s saddle for the MotoUSA Superbike Smackdown. And other than new colors and a slight bump in price, the R1 remains unchanged.


Like the rest of bikes from Japan it features a liquid-cooled Inline Four engine. Bore/stroke measurements are 78.0 x 52.2mm, nearly identical to the RSV4R, and equate to 998cc. Dual-stage fuel injection and a 16-valve cylinder head are also employed like the other four-cylinders. Intake charge is compressed to a ratio of 12.7:1, which is identical to the Ducati but toward the low end of the pack.

Thumb the starter button and the R1 rumbles to life with a roar unlike any of the other machines. It sounds more like a small block V-8 than a motorcycle. The reason for its awesome sound and soulful performance is the incorporation of crossplane crankshaft technology and an uneven engine firing order founded by Valentino Rossi’s MotoGP team. Learn all the juicy technical details in our 2009 Yamaha YZF-R1 First Ride.

At idle the R1 registers a decibel reading of 79, making it the second-quietest bike in this group, demonstrating the effectiveness of its two huge titanium undertail mufflers. At speed the levels of noise increase but also remain on the low side of the decibel spectrum cranking out 94 dB at 6750 rpm (half of maximum engine speed). While the measured sound level is modest, inside the cockpit you can still hear a good deal of mechanical sound, which adds to the thrill of the ride.

While the engine’s bottom-end performance feels in the same league as the other liter-bikes, looking at the dyno chart proves otherwise. Right off idle performance is decent but then it falls off at 5000 rpm, lagging behind the rest of the field before catching up and eventually topping the Kawi @ 10,300 rpm with 76.55 lb-ft of torque for a moment, before all the bikes surpass it once again.

Maximum horsepower is achieved 1200 revs later with 150.89 hp @ 11,500 rpm. Despite having another 2000 rpm left in the rev range, power trails off immediately, steadily dropping to the mid-130s before the rev limiter comes in.

While outright power isn’t that outstanding, the engine’s character is. Simply put, the R1’s engine sounds like no other motorcycle on earth— well, besides the Fiat and Tech3 Yamaha MotoGP bikes. Throttle response is also excellent and delivers a more intimate feel of what’s happening at the working end of its Dunlop rear tire. It’s also perfectly balanced and virtually vibration free at all rpm, making it a choice motorcycle for extended time in the saddle.

“Without question the R1 engine is an excellent street bike motor,” says Atlas. “It’s got a smooth power curve, the engine doesn’t vibrate, it sounds cool, and it still provides enough get-up-and-go to get the blood pumping. But in this group it just lacks that sheer outright power—especially up top.”

Blame it on our heavy throttle hand, but the R1 also registered the poorest fuel mileage of the Inline Fours while trying to keep up with the competition. Good thing the Yamaha has the largest fuel tank of the bunch at 4.8-gallons, because you’re going to need every last drop of gas, the R1 registering only 29.3 mpg, which equates to a range of 140 miles.


The R1’s clutch and transmission ranked high on our rider’s note pads. The 6-speed gearbox feels precise offering a short throw and no vague sloppy feel between gears and neutral is easy to find at a stop. Clutch lever pull is light and at a comparable level to all the bikes with the exception of the heavier clutch pull of the BMW and Ducati.

Despite utilizing relatively short 17/47 sprockets, the R1’s first gear is still on the tall side necessitating more clutch slippage than the rest of the bikes with exception of the Ducati. In the quarter mile acceleration test the R1 posted a 10.22-second pass with a trap speed of 138.40 mph. Although the time was the slowest of this group, in the grand scheme it’s just over 0.5-seconds slower than the quick-shifter equipped Beemer.

Of all the motorcycles tested,  the one that offers the least amount of engine braking is the R1. Its slipper clutch is well calibrated and feels similar to the Aprilia, Honda, and Suzuki, offering a good balance between available engine braking and free-wheeling effect.


Hop into the saddle and you’ll notice that the R-Uno is wider than the rest of the bikes. Seat height measures 32.8-inches off the floor, which is on the high side but still 0.5 inches lower than the Aprilia.

The cockpit is much more open than previous generation R1s and is more aligned with the relaxed controls of the Honda and Suzuki than the racy position of the Ducati and Kawi. The mirrors offer good field of vision and due to the smooth, vibration-free character of the engine they actually work!

Overall the bike feels wide at the rider’s knees and when you consider its tall seat, short riders could have difficulty getting comfortable on the Yammie. One nice touch is the adjustable footpegs—with the R1 one of the only bikes to offer that feature along with the Suzuki and KTM.

One of the benefits of being so wide is the large area of the front fairing. This works with the windscreen to better protect the rider from the elements, making the R1 the bike of choice for those longer rides. While the seat is wide, it’s thin and feels about the same as the Honda’s, which wore us out quicker than the excellent seat employed on the Suzuki.


From the moment you lift the R1 off its side stand it’s obvious that it’s a heavy bike. And though at speed its heft doesn’t vanish, as long as you’re not flicking it from side-to-side in a tight series of corners you’ll be hard pressed to notice it. One of our favorite things is how smoothly the R1 rides. Even on rough road the suspension does a fantastic job of soaking up the big bumps and rough, cracked pavement. It does transfer weight fore and aft faster than the other bikes, but once you get used to the feeling it isn’t bad at all.

Considering its 474-lb fully-fueled curb weight (highest of the group), the R1 takes a bit more muscle at turn-in, making it the laziest turning motorcycle of the lot. But once leaned over on the side of the Dunlop Sportmax Qualifier rubber the R1 is surefooted and feels like an old friend.

Despite its weight-transfer issue it gets off the corner well, no doubt aided by the excellent connection fostered between engine, throttle, and rear tire. While the tires provide average levels of grip they are nowhere close to the awesome Pirellis seen on some of the other machines or even the OE Bridgestones used on the Ninja and GSX-R.

“I really enjoyed the way the Yamaha rides,” noted Gauger. “It felt similar to the Suzuki. The suspension felt soft but it just made it absorb bumps better. I guess it did take more effort to turn than the Honda or KTM but still I’m not Ricky-racer. I just like to ride around and have fun and the R1 is a great bike for that.”


In the braking test the Yamaha was at the back of the field recording a stopping distance of 133 feet during a simulated emergency stop from 60 mph. Three factors play into this. First is the extra mass it carries; second is the sum of its braking components; and third is the suspension balance front-to-back.

The front brakes are comprised of a pair of gargantuan six-piston Sumitomo brake calipers that pinch a set of 310mm diameter rotors. The front binders are powered by a radial master cylinder through rubber brake hoses. Rear braking is taken care of by a 220mm disc with a twin-piston caliper.

Lean on the front brake lever and the stoppers lack initial bite as compared to the rest of the bikes. As you pull back deeper on the lever the brakes are effective at slowing the bike down but it’s hard to get that necessary level of feel to really use them assertively. Lastly, as we mentioned previously the chassis balance of the bike isn’t perfect, making it transfer weight forward or rearward aggressively, which restricts how hard you can load the front brake.


The R1 uses a snazzy white-backlit instrument display with a huge swept tachometer and big LCD speedo that is bright and easy to read. It gives the rider everything he needs to know and nothing he doesn’t. Plus it offers instant and average MPG figures and the programmable shift-light is massive and easy to notice even if your eyes aren’t staring directly at it.

In term of electronics the R1 offers a neat throttle adjustment system they term D-MODE. This allows the rider to select between three different throttle-response settings via a right-side handlebar-mounted switch.

Unlike Suzuki’s S-DMS system and BMW’s DTC, both which limit actual power production, the R1’s system merely modifies the sensitivity of the throttle. When you start the R1 it defaults in standard mode. By selecting A-mode the engine becomes more responsive to throttle input. Conversely, B-mode reduces engine response.

The difference between each of the modes is noticeable. Most of our testers settled on standard mode but I preferred B-mode as it allows for a greater margin of error during delicate throttle application scenarios such as lane-splitting in heavy traffic or when thrashing around your favorite twisty back road.

Overall the R1’s instruments and electronics were well received by our testers with it ranking toward the front of the group. But in the end it was bested by the $25,000 Ducati and its 8-stage traction control system and the sophisticated multi-mode traction control and ABS of the Beemer.


Make no mistake: the $13,290 Yamaha R1 is a fantastic street bike. Sure, its styling didn’t receive unanimous praise like the Aprilia, Ducati and KTM, nor could it match the acceleration, braking and handling performance of the other bikes. But what it does deliver is heaps of character and real world comfort. And as long as you’re not riding the bike at the absolute limit you’d never really notice its performance deficiencies anyway. Still if Yamaha could infuse 10% more outright performance there is no doubt in my mind that they would have a winner. But until they do, the Yamaha R1 will be relegated to fifth position.