Along with many other teenage oiks of my era, the R1 truly ignited my love for modern sportsbikes. Obviously, there were other classics before the Yamaha, but not many tickled my erogenous zones like the R1 – not least because it was the first pukka litre bike I straddled. The 2000 model was a lightly refined version of the original, a bike that halted the FireBlade’s 1990s dominance in an overnight success story. If it ain’t broke, why fix it?
There’s no escaping the sheer size of the beast. Well, until I zipped my jeans up, but the same could be said about the R1. Today’s superbike pillion seats are an utter waste of time unless your girlfriend/wife enjoys climaxing on the back of your RSV4. At least with this R1, you’ll be able to pull fat birds without the risk of causing them discomfort. This’ll also test their bravery.
At tickover, you could hear an owl fart over the R1’s exhaust note, yet there’s a menacing resonance waiting to be unleashed, like a caged animal. Likewise, just dawdling around, it’s a cinch to ride with very little hesitation: the polished gearbox over the original’s clunkfest, instinctive controls and an innate balance to the bike equate to a bi-polar riding etiquette. Among today’s slender machinery, the 2001 R1’s comfort makes it seem more like a sports-tourer than superbike – until the throttle is pinned.
You often hear hooligan synonyms being chucked around willy-nilly when it comes to articulating these kinda bikes. No traction control, no rider aids or any other silly Yamaha acronyms to intrude, and simply opening the throttle provokes instant skulduggery in the R1’s saddle. There’s a beautifully crisp and responsive connection, and none of today’s fluffy ride-bywire guffery. You know exactly what you’re going to get with this carby, when you ask for it, and you’re rewarded with a smack-in-the-face delivery that never gets tiresome despite being far smoother than the ’98 model. A 140bhp peak power figure from the wheel is nothing to run to mummy for, but it’s the way in which it makes its power that enchants.
Ah, midrange. How modernday superbikes have missed you. It drives with intent from as low as 3,000rpm and continues with bounding linearity until the redline, although you’re rarely left chasing revs thanks to the internal magic. It took me a while to fathom how soon the 11,750rpm limiter halts proceedings and constantly brushed it for the first few miles.
The chassis is equally gratifying, and most of the 200+ changes over the original R1 were chassis-based. Telepathically fast steering at lesser lean angles and a lightweight elegance means you’ll have no worries meeting any apex, as it teeters on its springs primed for its next response. The balance is very neutral, which is surprising given how sharp it reacts, as is just how stable and planted the thing is – even the Lincolnshire TT’s swells and undulations couldn’t upset our relationship (I’d still like a steering damper though).
Jack, the owner, for that was his name, warned me of this bike’s front brake, which had a tendency to work when it wants, although I experienced nothing but sharp stopping power and suspension that provides plenty of dive. You’ve got to really offend the gearbox to aggravate corner entry, and higher gears can be utilised because of just how rampant the engine is.
Other than being a massive tart and wanting the latest and greatest, a day on an R1 will leave you questioning why you’d want anything else. Sure, it’ll lack outright pace on a trackday, but the ability is clearly evident on UK highways and there’s nowt like romping past a showroom-fresh ’17 plate…
A thoroughbred corner killer.