Yamaha R1 REVISITED
Can the father of modern superbikes still cut it?
What we said then
“Yamaha’s staggering R1 is the most outrageous bike you’ll get to ride until the next century. It’s twice as good as all the hype and takes supersports bikes to a new level! Forget Honda Fireblades, Kawasaki ZX-9RS and even Ducati’s 916SPS, the new 1000cc Yamaha will chew them up and spit them into the hedge without breaking into a sweat. It has everything needed in a modern sports bike – and more.” MCN launch report – November 5, 1997
But what is it like now?
Fifteen years ago I had a poster of the 1998 R1 – red and white of course – on my wall, and my ’98 R1 model was on the front row of my vast collection of bike miniatures. They were the bee’s knees according to the motorcycling press and I badly wanted my dad to get one.
He got a Thunderace instead. Close enough.
Since then sportsbikes and motorcycle technology as a whole has moved on incredibly fast. Superbikes now boast 200bhp and space-age electronics. Compared to these modern-day missiles, which seem to get smaller each year, the R1 feels relatively roomy, with plenty of space for my lanky legs and not too much weight on the wrists.
Directly beneath my head is a lovely smooth metal tank. No angular plastic covers here, the lines of the bike are simple and all the better for it.
This example is standard and emits a quiet, almost stealthy hum at tick over. The dash is clean, basic and easy to read. The big analogue rev counter sits next to the digital speedo which also includes odo or trip readings.
The clutch has a reassuring weight to it and the bike slots into first gear effortlessly. The 20-valve, 998cc inline-four is silky smooth – one of those engines that makes riding fast seem much easier than it should be.
Torque is spread evenly across the entire rev range, but things really come alive at 10,000rpm all the way to the redline at 11,500rpm. Despite the known problems, the gearbox on this example feels slick and effortless. It’s a bike that certainly doesn’t feel almost 20 years old.
Everything feels smooth and progressive. The brakes need at least two fingers, but they offer great feel. The suspension is well-suited to fast, smooth A-roads, but on undulating B-roads has a tendency to get a bit out of shape and shake its head under acceleration over bumps. Keep your wits about you or it could bite.
They say you shouldn’t meet your heroes, and I’m not a fan of sportsbikes, but the R1 just makes everything so easy. There are no vibes, knee ache or surprises that mar the experience of riding it, and there’s even a huge space under the pillion seat for a couple of my favourite avocado sandwiches.
Common faults explored
The most common problem on this model relates to first and second gear. The gearbox is weak and either changing gear too slowly or abusing the gearbox too much can cause issues. Thankfully it’s not an overly expensive or complicated fix.
EXUP valves can seize. If this has happened the tacho needle will swing round to 7000rpm on start up before returning to the correct position.
This example is standard – just as you’d want it if you were looking to make a profit when you came to sell it. Most bikes of this age and era will come with plenty of extras; aftermarket exhausts, tinted screens, tail tidies, race rep paint schemes. The more standard the better.
‘One of those engines that makes riding fast seem much easier than it should be’
Is there a finer R1 paintscheme than red and white?
Underseat storage Capacious. You could easily fit some spare gloves and waterproofs under here.
Subframe This is welded to the frame and in a crash can twist the chassis. Check it’s straight.
Rear shock Will probably need replacing at this stage. Try aftermarket firms such as Nitron.