History of the Yamaha YZF-R1

Author: A. Nonymous Posted: 11 Nov 2014

Yamaha used the Milan Motorcycle Show last week to release a new and updated YZF-R1 for 2015. Factory Yamaha MotoGP riders Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo were on hand to unveil the two incarnations; R1 and R1M but we look back at the models that formed this great sports bike dynasty…


1998/99 Yamaha YZF-R1

 

The bike that redefined the sportsbike class

The bike that redefined the sportsbike class was launched in 1998 in a bold red and white paint scheme with a red seat and wild graphics. There was a subtler blue version but everyone remembers the red/white one…

The R1 was the brainchild of Kunihiko Miwa, who is now Senior Executive Officer for Yamaha Motorcycles. He oversaw three development teams and the YZF-R1, YZF-R7 and YZF-R6 were all under his umbrella – which isn’t a bad claim to fame. But it was the R1 that broke new ground.

While the R1’s five-valve head was nothing new, Miwa repositioned the gearbox mainshaft above rather than inline with the crankshaft, creating the world’s first ‘vertically stacked gearbox’. This revolutionary design allowed the R1’s motor to be not only light, but also short, meaning the chassis team could use a longer swingarm for greater traction while retaining a sportsbike wheelbase. When it arrived in 1998 the R1 not only blew the competition out of the water with its 150bhp, it ran rings around the porky FireBlade thanks to a 177kg dry weight and sharp geometry. The first modern sportsbike had arrived and it was very special indeed. Not to mention a touch lively on the handling…

Specs

Engine:  998cc, inline four, 20v, DOHC

Bore x stroke: 74 x 58mm

Power: 150bhp @ 10,000rpm

Torque: 79ftlb @ 8,500rpm

Weight: 177kg


2000/2001 Yamaha YZF-R1

2000/01 R1 with 150 modifications from the previous version

In its first update the YZF-R1 gained over 150 modifications, all aimed at taming the beast. After launching the bike, Yamaha discovered very quickly that the two-wheeled world wasn’t quite ready for a bike as violent as the 1998 model and it needed a bit of restraint. While the most obvious modifications were the toning down of the paint (no red seat, boo…)  and the replacement of the carbon exhaust end can with a titanium unit, under the skin this was a far more refined beast. The carb settings received a tweak, the engine had its friction losses reduced, the gearbox was improved and the R1 shed 2kg in weight. On paper these modifications seemed a little lacking, however Yamaha had also modified the R1’s chassis…

As well as beefing up the castings to make the chassis more rigid, the bottom yoke was stiffened up, the weight bias shifted more forward and the suspension overhauled, transforming the R1 from a slap-happy animal to a slightly less slap-happy creation that was at last rideable for the majority of riders. Although still a little bit scary…

Specs

Engine:  998cc, inline four, 20v, DOHC

Bore x stroke: 74 x 58mm

Power: 150bhp @ 10,000rpm

Torque: 79ftlb @ 8,500rpm

Weight: 175kg


2002/03 Yamaha YZF-R1

2002 R1:full of refinement

When Yamaha built the 2002 R1 they did it with a very clear philosophy. This was a bike designed to work with the rider, not fight against them as the previous incarnations tended to do. The R1 had grown up and as well as a classy new look, this generation was all about refinement and elegance. However it was also the most advanced.

For 2002 Yamaha gave the R1 a very clever fuel injection system that thought it was a set of carbs. It wasn’t, however by using a CV carb-style vacuum piston to regulate the flow of air into the engine, the R1 had the same beautiful throttle response as a set of carbs. In 2002 this slick fuelling was a far cry from the horrors Honda were producing on the likes of the SP-1 or FireBlade. And the R1’s refinement didn’t stop there.

To go with the new engine, Yamaha updated the (now black) Deltabox chassis on the 2002 R1, creating one of the most neutral and sweet handling R1s to date. The engine’s position within the frame was altered, the trail increased and the suspension overhauled. The result was a bike that on one hand was as civilised as a W.I. tea party, but was more than happy to go glow stick waving crazy at the drop of a hat. The quintessential R1 had arrived, but sadly for Yamaha, Suzuki had released the insane GSX-R1000 and the whole sportsbike world wanted thrills rather than refinement…

Specs

Engine:  998cc, inline four, 20v, DOHC

Bore x stroke: 74 x 58mm

Power: 152bhp @ 10,500rpm

Torque: 80ftlb @ 8,500rpm

Weight: 174kg


2004/05 Yamaha YZF-R1

New for 2005 - under seat exhausts

With the litre bike market now creating all the headlines, Yamaha went back to the drawing board for the fourth update of the R1 and completely re-invented the bike. In doing so they created arguably the most beautiful Japanese bike to date…

Following the current trends, the R1 gained underseat exhaust pipes, radial brakes and a simply stunning swoopy style fairing that even had projector lights. In 2004 this really was something else and it even made the underseat pipe Honda Fireblade seem bland. Ok, the R1’s paint schemes were a bit muted, but there was nothing restrained about the engine. Or was there?

Claiming 172bhp from a brand new big bore/short stroke 998cc inline four with the firm’s traditional five-valve head design, the R1 was the first litre bike to hit the magic 1:1 power to weight ratio thanks to a 172kg dry weight. And when you factored in the forced airbox Yamaha claimed the R1 actually produced 180bhp! However there was a problem, the R1 just wasn’t exciting and the motor was so tall geared it felt flat and lethargic.

Despite a total revamp, Yamaha followed its previous philosophy of refinement with the 2004 R1 and where the Kawasaki ZX-10R was a total animal, the R1 was, well, a little dull. The build quality was excellent, and the look stylish, but it fell in the middle ground between the mad Kawasaki and practical Blade. Sales were ok, but the 2004/05 bike failed to excite riders in the same way as the 1998 model had.

Specs

Engine:  998cc, inline four, 20v, DOHC

Bore x stroke: 77 x 53.6mm

Power: 172bhp @ 10,500rpm

Torque: 81ftlb @ 10,500rpm

Weight: 172kg


2006 Yamaha YZF-R1

King Kenny replica R1 from 2006

The 2006 update to the R1 was far more of a stop-gap tweak than a major over-haul. In an effort to appease struggling racers, Yamaha altered the stiffness of the chassis by ‘fine tuning its rigidity’ and adding a 20mm longer swingarm, shoving the bike’s weight 1% more forward. Aside from a gained 3bhp and a few cosmetic alterations that included gold fork legs, if you weren’t a world class racer, you probably wouldn’t spot the updates. However if you were a racer, then in 2006 Yamaha had something very special for you…

Specs

Engine:  998cc, inline four, 20v, DOHC

Bore x stroke: 77 x 53.6mm

Power: 175bhp @ 10,500rpm

Torque: 81ftlb @ 10,500rpm

Weight: 172kg


2006 Yamaha YZF-R1 SP

The limited edition specced-up R1-SP from 2006

The very first R1 SP appeared in 2006, causing die-hard fans to go weak at the knees. Despite being very closely based on the 2006 bike, the SP was designed to assist superstock racers and as such came with a slipper clutch, Ohlins suspension and forged aluminum Marchesini wheels. Not to mention a price tag that reflected this exclusivity.

Limited to just 500 units in Europe, and another 500 in America, the SP was meant to bring race glory however it failed in this task as most impoverish racers couldn’t afford a spare pair of Marchesini wheels let alone the SP’s £14,000 price tag. Instead of a life on track, most SPs ended up in garages destined to a life of sunny Sunday blasts…

Specs

Engine:  998cc, inline four, 20v, DOHC

Bore x stroke: 77 x 53.6mm

Power: 175bhp @ 10,500rpm

Torque: 81ftlb @ 10,500rpm

Weight: 170kg


2007 Yamaha YZF-R1

The iconic red and white paint scheme re-appeared in 2007

Alerted to the fact the R1 simply wasn’t thrilling enough, Yamaha took a radical (for them) step in 2007 and abandoned the traditional five-valve head in favour of a more conventional four-valve design while leaving most of the engine’s bottom end untouched. And the innovations didn’t stop there.

The 2007 R1 was the first litre bike to gain a ‘ride-by-wire’ throttle (the R6 was the first bike to get this in 2006) and the first production motorcycle to have variable length intake funnels, a system that was meant to boost the R1’s bottom end while also helping it breathe high up in the revs. Unfortunately this didn’t quite prove the case…

Lacking the bottom end that riders expected from a litre bike, the 2007 R1 was certainly thrilling when it got into its stride, but sadly frustrating at low revs. Yamaha had succeeded in giving the R1 a bit of fighting spirit, but this was manifested in a four-stroke that was more like a two-stroke in its power characteristics and annoying to ride at slow speeds. Even a modern day version of the iconic 1998 red/white paint scheme, complete with red seat, wasn’t enough to pacify owners or secure sales from the competition. The R1 needed a unique selling point, something Yamaha gave it in 2009…

Specs

Engine:  998cc, inline four, 16v, DOHC

Bore x stroke: 77 x 53.6mm

Power: 180bhp @ 12,500rpm

Torque: 83ftlb @ 9,000rpm

Weight: 177kg


2009 Yamaha YZF-R1

Introducing the cross-plane crankshaft R1 in 2009

The 2009 Yamaha YZF-R1 is arguably the most significant litre bike to emerge since the original 1998 YZF-R1 redefined the class. Unlike every other litre bike, or inline four sportsbike for that matter, the R1 came with a truly unique motor – the cross-plane crankshaft.

Developed on Yamaha’s MotoGP winning M1 race bike, the cross-plane crank was claimed to help reduce inertial torque. Where a conventional inline four’s pistons move in pairs, the cross-plane’s pistons are spaced unevenly, creating a unique ‘long band’ firing order. The theory was that as the R1’s pistons weren’t ever all stationary at the same point as they are on a conventional inline four, the cross-plane smoothed out the power delivery, improving drive out of corners. Well, it worked for Mr Rossi on the GP scene anyway…

In 2009 the whole world went cross-plane crazy and despite a hefty price tag the R1 was an enormous sales success, helped in no small part by Ben Spies taking the firm’s first WSB title in his, and the bike’s, debut year. However there was a storm on the horizon and as clever as the R1’s engineering was, in 2010 it was no match for the BMW S1000RR’s brute force or highly advanced electronics package. The future had arrived and it involved wires and sensors rather than engineering prowess…

Specs

Engine:  998cc, inline four, 16v, DOHC

Bore x stroke: 78 x 52.2mm

Power: 179bhp @ 12,500rpm

Torque: 85ftlb @ 9,000rpm

Weight: 206kg (wet)


2012 Yamaha YZF-R1

Bennetts 2012 YZF-R1 with full carbon fibre bodywork

With the financial crisis effectively putting the brakes on the development of the Japanese motorcycle market, Yamaha’s backs were up against the wall. The BMW S1000RR had caught everyone napping and had stolen the march on the ‘Big Four’ when it came to electronic riders aids. Luckily for Yamaha they had a MotoGP team to call on for help…

The updated 2012 YZF-R1 featured the firm’s first sportsbike traction control system and…well that was about it. Aside from new footpegs, ECU tweaks and a new nose, the R1 was unchanged. Had Yamaha done enough? Despite the six-stage TC system being very good, faced not only with spiralling costs but also the onslaught from the strengthening European manufacturers such as Aprilia, BMW, KTM and Ducati, Yamaha’s R1 was in trouble. It still offered a unique riding experience thanks to the cross-plane motor, but against the high-tech European competition it cost too much and didn’t have the necessary bells and whistles to attract buyers. Hopefully the 2015 model will resolve this little problem…

Specs

Engine:  998cc, inline four, 16v, DOHC

Bore x stroke: 78 x 52.2mm

Power: 179bhp @ 12,500rpm

Torque: 85ftlb @ 9,000rpm

Weight: 206kg (wet)

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