Yamaha YZF-R1

MSRP: $11,299
(Raven: $11,399; Champions Edition: $11,599)
OEM Rubber: Dunlop 208
Valve adjustment interval: 26,600 miles
Average fuel mileage: 36.7 mpg

Okay, let’s get something out of the way up front – we think Yamaha’s best-selling R1 is a paragon of style among sportbikes. In one gorgeous whole, the R1 is at once sexy and wicked and dazzling and handsome.

Having the R1 around is like being at a dinner party with supermodel Gisele Bundchen – she may or may not be a good conversationalist, but your eyes will find her the most interesting person in the room. (Gisele, if you’re reading this, I’m sure I can also learn to love your mind.)

And so it is with the 2006 Yamaha YZF-R1, a bike we all really want to love. We may play coy while we’re busy jotting down objective notes in our journalist notepads, but much of the time we’re salivating over the Yamaha’s sensuous curves and tailor-sharp creases. Judged as moto art, the others have only second-place to fight over.

For R1 devotees, the news only gets worse from here. But it’s not as if this two-wheeled jewel doesn’t have other endearing qualities. It manufactures velocity quick enough to stop your heart, can stand on its nose on the brakes, and confidently rail around corners at elbow-dragging lean angles.

So what’s the problem, then? Well, as my grandpappy used to say, “If you’re not moving forward you’re falling behind.”

In 2004, the R1’s second-place showing in the street category of our original Superbike Smackdown bode well, although its third spot in the track rankings was a sign of things to come. A freshened Gixxer in 2005 helped drop the R1 to third place in street ratings, and its mediocre scores for engine, transmission and agility sank it to the bottom of the pack on the track.

So, with the R1’s minimal changes for 2006, it should come as no surprise that it has trouble treading water in the swirling sea of superbike soup.

The R1’s most obvious deficiency lies in the engine room. The R1’s short-stroke engine is clearly behind the other mega mills in this group. Torque is in short supply, and the dyno trace has more dips than a Dairy Queen. It wakes up slowly before revving out with the longest top-end rush.

“You have to spin the engine more than what should be required of a literbike,” Roderick says succinctly. Putter, meanwhile, likened its powerband to that of a 600. Some of our testers wanted to blame tall gearing for the lack of acceleration, but in fact its overall ratios are shorter than most, so blame falls solely on the engine.

“The bike is by no means slow,” Chamberlain says, “it just lacks that punch coming out of the corners that some of the other bikes have.”

“The motor makes an awesome intake howl,” Hutch enthuses, “and every time I got off of it I thought to myself, ‘Man, this bike is awesome.’ Then I would hop on one of the others and realize that it just doesn’t have the chutzpah that the other three now have.”

Also coming up a bit short this year is the R1’s handling, lacking the agility of the others. On the plus side, the added wheelbase from the longer swingarm makes the blue screamer the most stable platform in fast, bumpy corners.

“Last year, the Honda seemed to be the least intimidating and easiest to ride open-class bike,” Becklin remarks. “For 2006, the Yamaha takes that title.”

But, with the longest wheelbase, a rake tied for the laziest angle, and not much to choose from between trail figures, it’s no surprise the gangly R1 feels the most cumbersome in tighter corners. Again, the 180-section rear tire improved its transient response, but the other bikes also benefited similarly.

“It’s very stable, and the front end provides a lot of confidence,” BC allows. “But it doesn’t turn in or transition quickly.”

The Yamaha’s Kayaba/Soqi suspension generally performed well, earning points for having an easy-to-adjust ramped preload collar on the shock like the CBR, but losing some for its stiff overall feel and for having to remove a bodywork fastener to reach a damping adjuster on the shock.

“The suspension seemed right on par with the other bikes,” BC states. “It did a good job soaking up the big dip heading on to the back sweeper at Buttonwillow and glided pretty smoothly through the chatter in Turn 3. Overall, both the front and rear performed well, but didn’t do anything to make it stand out above the Gixxer.”

In general, the Yamaha's braking system is excellent, with tons of power and good control. But in this competitive group, their slightly wooden feel didn’t provide the stellar feedback of the others. Similarly, the R1’s transmission works well, but it was judged to be the notchiest and it makes due without a slipper clutch.

The R1 was panned by most of our testers for having the cruelest riding position, with the lowest bars, a tall seat and a long reach to the clutch lever. However, it has the most amount of legroom, so we heard less complaining from our taller riders.

“It’s ergonomically sound for my 6’0″ body,” submits MCUSA contributor Billy Bartels. “The seat feels like it would be uncomfortable, with a hard, steeply upswept surface, but actually I was pretty comfy.”

The cockpit of the R1 is highlighted by the most attractive instruments of the group, and the bike’s slim fuel tank feels narrow between the knees. Its wide-spaced mirrors offer a decent view behind (for a sportbike), but its short fairing supplies the least amount of wind protection. Also, the bike’s forged aluminum footpegs are no doubt strong and light, but they aren’t very grippy, causing the feet of a few of our testers to unexpectedly slip off.

So, you might wonder, does the comely 2006 Yamaha R1 suck? No way, not even a bit. Near the end of our day at Buttonwillow, having already made up my mind that it was my least favorite, I ended up running a very competitive lap time on it. It holds its line really well, is very stable in the high-speed sweeper, and the engine’s generous top-end pull is an asset on the racetrack.

Testers’ Note Pad

  • Seat cowl a $189.95 option
  • Throttle a bit abrupt upon reapplication
  • Best headlights, both high and low beams
  • Can feel heat coming off the engine and mufflers
  • “A competitive platform hurt by its lack of motor” -BC
  • “It doesn’t do any one thing outstanding (except the looks) but it does do everything pretty well and inspires confidence in the rider” -DB
  • “Truly a motorcycle I’d like to star in a porn with” -TR