Yamaha YZF-R1

Fast Bikes - - CORE TEST -

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.

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