'07 Yamaha YZF-R1 Goes High-Tech

When Yamaha unveiled the 2007 YZF-R1 at Laguna Seca late last year the feedback from the media was extremely positive. The high-tech bike featured an all-new motor that hauls ass and a tuned-flex chassis that was right at home on the improved MotoGP circuit. A fly-by-wire throttle control system similar to that on the R6 was spot-on and the chip-controlled variable-length intake seemed to function as advertised. All of these key components and an array of additional electronic goodies combine to form one of the most technologically advanced motorcycles ever created. Yamaha has never shied away from taking risks in an effort to improve its position in the marketplace and this new R1 and the R6 before it, proves that theory is still a driving force.

Getting around the racetrack quickly and winning a Superbike championship is the impetus behind all of this state-of-the-art engineering and there is no doubt that the new R1 is a worthy adversary on the track. Just look at the recent success of Eric Bostrom in the AMA as well as the impressive run from Noriyuki Haga in World Superbike for proof that the R1 is a already a contender at the highest level of professional racing.

The latest generation of the Deltabox aluminum frame and new 23.5-inch long swingarm is suspended by a fully-adjustable 43mm inverted KYB fork and piggyback rear shock with high- and low-speed compression, rebound damping adjustability and a twist-style preload adjuster, which all complement the new chassis quite well. After burning up a couple sets of Pilot Power Race tires our hardest-charging test rider, Michael Earnest, confirms the R1 has elevated its game in the handling department.

“The handling and stability has improved considerably over the previous generation R1,” reports Earnest, owner of Pacific Track Time and former Buttonwillow track record holder. “Chassis feedback is good, offering great confidence, especially through the high-speed sections of the track.”

Not only does the R1 work well but it also feels small and light despite being third heaviest at 430.5 lbs without fuel. The aggressive riding position is well suited for the track and the narrow tank allows for a tight grip with your knees while hanging on for dear life between each turn. Rocking through Buttonwillow’s esses reveals a well balanced machine that is easy to manhandle, even under full acceleration. A typical response from the test crew after a session aboard the R1 included praise for its front-end feedback through the high-speed sections, especially the treacherous Lost Hills rise on the western end of the course, and some form of gushing about the brakes and the slipper clutch being damn good.

Connecting those corners is always a straightaway and the job of getting the bike slowed down is the responsibility of an all-new braking system. A pair of 310mm rotors and radial-mount six-piston calipers received high scores from all of our riders. They are an improvement over the previous units, which were already very good but didn’t offer the superb feel and power of this new six-pot system. This year the R1 is also equipped with a non-adjustable slipper clutch that received high marks from both Earnest and Duke in particular.

At the heart of the R1 is an all-new motor that utilizes a traditional four-valve per cylinder design rather than the five-valve per cylinder set-up Yamaha has employed since 1986. By abandoning the trademark five-valve configuration it allowed for the construction of a higher-revving motor and a broader power curve which the previous layout could not produce. In a vacuum the R1 motor is a bad-ass mo-fo once you get it spun up past 10K and it now has the big numbers to be competitive in this heavyweight battle. There’s an increase in peak-power output compared to ’06 but the ’07 R1 still finds itself at the bottom of dyno chart until the revs surpass 9,000 rpm. On the track this gap was not as apparent as it was on the street because it was easier to keep the revs up by paying close attention to which gear was selected from the slick-shifting 6-speed transmission.

On the street, however, the low bottom-end power output hampers the R1 the same way it holds back the R6, albeit a little less so since the big bore is making 100 hp between 7 and 8 grand. Compared to the other literbikes it feels down on power while trolling around town and if you keep the revs high the motor vibration becomes a distraction, so it requires downshift to tap into the meaty portion of the power. If you check out the way the horsepower lines interact, you can see that when the R1 starts making power it leaves the CBR in its dust at about 10,500 and nips the mighty ZX-10 at 12,000 as well. Only the GSX-R overshadows its now impressive top-end hit.

“Once the revs were up, the bike comes alive, accelerating strongly high into the rev range,” explains Earnest. “But I felt the engine performance came up short in comparison to the other bikes in this test. The lower end of the midrange is lacking with a very noticeable lag around 6,000 rpm under load with the throttle wide open, which made it difficult to launch hard off the slower corners. In an attempt to work around this I started riding a gear lower to increase revs which then made it difficult to get on the gas hard out of slower corners because the tire would spin with the bike still leaned over.”

It really is a curious scenario when we are talking about keeping these fire-breathers at 10,000 rpm in order to get the most out of ’em. It is a crazy notion but these bikes truly are not for the faint of heart. Fortunately, power delivery is very smooth and the Yamaha Chip Controlled Throttle (YCC-T) fly-by-wire system gives the sensation that it isn’t really a throttle at all, instead it simply feels like a control used to dial-in some speed as the need arises. The majority of our test riders like it, but others don’t.

“The motor was really strong on top but the ride-by-wire type throttle set-up was really weird to get used to,” says Moore of the YCC-T set-up. “It didn’t feel like your wrist was connected to the rear tire.”

This wouldn’t be the only complaint about the R1 throttle response either. During the course of our testing on both the track and the street the R1 exhibited a throttle-lag issue. When attempting to accelerate around 5,000-6,000 rpm in second gear is where the scenario comes into play and according to the amount of e-mail we have received on this topic it is not an issue exclusive to our test unit. Although this is not often the rpm range a track rider finds themselves riding at, on the street it’s common enough to be a concern for current owners. Only by backing off and slowly rolling on the gas would the bike then accelerate as usual. This is a unique issue and one that we are currently investigating. Just as with the R6 redline dilemma last year we expect that R1 owners will be well taken care of. The sad thing about all this is the bike runs great with the exception of that one performance gremlin.

Throttle issues aside, the R1 continues to be the looker of this quartet. Although it doesn’t have the flowing artistic lines that made it really stand out from the crowd that past few years it still retains select design features that help distinguish itself. It looks more like a race bike than a showpiece now that the swingarm has been beefed up, which required it to lose a bit of the curvy nature that made it a focal point of the previous bike. The latest evolution of the front cowling, headlights, tail section and dual underseat exhaust are gorgeous.

Once the lag issue is resolved the 2007 Yamaha R1 is going to make a lot of people happy. It has a combination of good looks, screaming motor that is at its best at the race track and there is no denying that it is the most technologically advanced motorcycle in the group. Is too much technology ever a bad thing?