Can the fa­ther of modern su­per­bikes still cut it?

Motorcycle News (UK) - - Garage - By Liam Mars­den MCN WEB PRO­DUCER

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.

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