Yamaha R1

The new R1 is probably the best platform for an open class racebike on the market today. It’s small, it’s light, it’s very powerful and it has great suspension and excellent brakes. It could qualify for the Daytona 200 with a simple tire change (actually this speaks more to the declining prestige and influence of the Daytona 200 than to the competencies of the R1 but it sounds impressive none-the-less). The growing ranks of track day enthusiasts will find that this R1 needs virtually no modifications or upgrades to make a thoroughly capable and enjoyable track bike. The new R1 is substantially better than the 2003 in every single performance category where it counts and most of the styling categories where it doesn’t.

Yamaha says this bike is for experts only.

Now most of you who are racing open class in 2004 have already bought your bikes and have begun the laborious task of drilling, wiring, greasing and replacing bodywork, etc. For those of you who put down payments on ’04 R1 weeks ago and have taken delivery you made a good choice and you are going to be very happy with these bikes. After a day of riding a stock one on Eastern Creek Racetrack I was ready to email my local dealer and tell him to set one aside for me.

Pipes up, knee and calf down…

Australia has strict enforcement of speed limits that include cameras, patrols and zero tolerance. Riders can be, and are, ticketed for exceeding the posted limits by even two or three kph. Now, due to the time demands of contesting the WERA National Endurance series, working to pay for the aforementioned, flying around the globe to perform test rides for Roadracing World and trying to maintain some semblance of a circle of friends my street riding has been pretty much reduced to riding to and from work. The 180 miles ridden over bumpy Australian back roads was probably the longest street ride I had done since, well, probably since the last R1 press launch. While the first fifty miles of the ride was sort of amusing in that “Well, even if we can’t go faster than 60 mph on the highway without being arrested at least the R1 will easily pull throttle only wheelies in first gear while traveling at highway speeds to keep myself from falling asleep from the sixteen hour time change induced jet lag” sort of way the last 60 miles of the ride were absolute sheer torture. The R1’s suspension has abundant high speed compression damping that made every single pavement seam and ripple (of which there were plenty) feel like a wack across the back with a cricket bat that I started standing on the pegs to just get away from the punishment. I was so tired of being smacked by that hard flat seat that I could just barely bring myself to do a series of long rolling burnouts for the camera before handing the bike back to its support team.

The best time for 180bhp.

The next day I was down at one of Australia’s many stunning beaches and watched sport bike after sport bike roll down the traffic clogged access road with riders in sandles and shorts. While watching them rolling through the stop and go traffic I was thinking about how ridiculous the ’04 R1’s tall first gear would be in this context, the irrelevance of radial mounted calipers and how the under seat exhaust might prevent your passenger from burning her bare leg getting on and off but that the rider’s bare legs would slowly be roasted from the proximity of the catalytic converter in the up pipe.

And this is when I relish the freedom of writing for Roadracing World. That a bike completely focused for the race track is proportionally inappropriate for street riding is cause for celebration at RW, not lament.

Do you want this R1 because you are going to use the performance or do you want this R1 because
want the performance sitting in your garage?

Expert roadracers will find few faults with the ’04 R1, inexperienced roadracers may not be able to find its limits and for street riding the performance numbers are just part of the style of bike and almost completely irrelevant since there are scant opportunities on the street to explore the differences between 140bhp or 160bhp or between radial or conventional brake calipers. So the question is do you really need the level of performance that this bike delivers? For racers the answer is easy, for everyone else I suggest some serious truthful soul searching about the sort of riding you do before throwing down.

Maybe not the best time for 180bhp.

Aside from some of the basic styling similarities the ’04 R1 has virtually nothing in common with its predecessors in that the new one is faster, lighter, smaller and stops, goes and turns better. Whereas the GSX-R 1000 had relegated the R1 to a street poseur bike with few race track applications the 04 has the performance numbers to catapult it ahead of the entire open class supersport field and, backed by Yamaha’s generous contingency program, will be seeing podiums in many series across the country.

Muted Blue

Roadracing World was invited to ride the ’04 R1 at Eastern Creek Australia on February 7th. Eastern Creek is a billiard table smooth flowing track that rises and falls across hills. The long sweeping turns are broken up by two awkward slow turns, one with a double apex and one with an entrance which requires running across the outside concrete curbing. On the day we tested on the track it was also pretty warm with temperatures of about 95F with 95 percent humidity. Although the bikes will be sold in the USA with Dunlops the test bikes were fitted with street construction Michelin tires for the two morning sessions and Michelin race construction DOT for the three afternoon sessions.

Subtle Silver

The R1 has always felt small and the new one continues this tradition. Although the bike is small the ergonomics are roomy enough to provide a roomy feel such that knee and elbow clearance and tank clearance are not much of a problem when hanging off the bike one way or the other. The diminutive windshield and low gas tank are surprisingly effective at creating a bubble for straights. Not that you will have much time to relax on the straights because the motor shortens them rather dramatically and the new R1, despite being fitted with a speed sensitive steering damper, retains its slightly nervous head shaking ways when the rider really gets into the throttle.

Understated Burgundy

When carefully going over the specifications for the new motor it is a little hard to figure out where they got the huge increase of power but there is no question of its presence. This motor gives nothing away to the competition and has prodigious power and acceleration. Yamaha engineers claim to have taken great pains to lighten the rotating mass of engine internals to deliver a light throttled and rev happy engine. Coupled with fine tuned fuel injection the result is a power plant that is so well mannered that it can make a rider forget exactly how much power is available in the right wrist.

Cat eyed headlights, now with a viper’s nostrils.

The R1 does not have a slipper clutch (engineers claim they choose to forego the slipper clutch to save weight) but is fitted with a very tall first gear and close ratio gearbox. The tall first gear is a bit of a mixed blessing. It is actually tall enough to require a little bit of extra throttle and clutch slip to pull away from a dead stop without stalling. This would be miserable with a passenger on the back in stop and go traffic. On the track the tall first gear meant actually having to use first gear for some of the slowest turns. This might be the first bike I’ve ridden on a track that required the use of first gear. The downside to this is the necessity to shift past neutral. Two or three times I would exit a first gear turn, dip the throttle, and lift my left toe only to find myself going nowhere fast with the bike in neutral. After recognizing this tendency I started using the clutch for that shift (as if I don’t have enough to do without having to use the clutch as well) but for most track duties or race applications I think I would put a front sprocket on the bike with one fewer teeth and use 2nd-6th instead of 1st-5th as we were doing at Eastern Creek. The rest of the time the gear box worked flawlessly and the clutch action was smooth and predictable making it easy to initiate and modulate rear wheel slide-versus-chatter behavior at the entrances to turns.

It is hard to imagine brakes much better than the ones on the R1. The R1 has a genuine Brembo radial master cylinder plumbed to calipers that are not only radial mounted but are single piece castings. Since they didn’t skimp on the friction material for the pads the R1 ends up with powerful hydraulics connected to rigid calipers all of which multiply, and then effectively conduct, the rider’s right hand strength into tremendous stopping power. I think I spent more energy trying to withstand the G-forces of the brakes with my upper arms than I did producing the Gs with my right forearm. The low effort required to produce great deceleration does not make the brakes intimidating, instead, it allows the rider to be more precise with the use of the brakes in the same way that it is easier to sign your name with a fine pen than with a paint roller. The R1 typically retained its neutral steering feel even when trail braking.

The R1 steers with low effort and the front end provides great feedback both when turning in (on or off the brakes) and mid corner. Eastern Creek has a couple of tricky slow speed dual apex turns with elevation changes. As I was learning the track I had the opportunity to find out how the R1 handled turning in too early, too late and just right. No matter what I asked the R1 to do the only steering limitation I found was the cornering clearance once my knee, shin, boot and peg where all on the ground.

Despite its excellent handling characteristics the big appeal to liter bikes is when you get the opportunity to get the bike pointed in a straight line out of the turn. At this moment the R1 delivers the goods. Although it was difficult to determine if the root cause was the tires (Michelin street tires in the morning and race tires in the afternoon), the superb track surface or the rear suspension but the R1’s rear traction was excellent given the amount of power the rear tire is forced to accommodate. With the rear gripping so well the bike really had only two options: accelerate and wheelie with the accent on the former.

With this sort of power and this lack of weight the front end is often getting very light. At a track with elevation changes this can result in the front wheel losing touch with the tarmac and allowing the R1 to give a quick but low intensity shake of the bars. This headshake tendency has been with the R1 since its inception and the headshake doesn’t amplify, it just reminds the rider that it would be best if the rider puts the front wheel back onto the ground on the other side of the crest in the track with it pointed in a straight line. The head shakes were never violent enough to cause alarm or to knock the pads back in the brake calipers.

The R1 has been engineered to have more of a sonic edge. The induction noise has a nice howl and the shriek from the exhaust pipes made me wonder how Yamaha was able to get this bike through noise tests although the answer probably lies with the EXUP valve. Racer will ditch the catalytic converter in the mid pipe and replace the mufflers with lighter ones with less back pressure, sensible street riders may decide to just leave well enough alone since the stock system is already light, loud and powerful.


The R1 has always been one of the best looking sportbikes in the world, with new version Yamaha has improved upon the aggressive styling while providing the performance to back it up. Although Yamaha did not introduce any ground breaking new technology with this bike it applied its bike building craft to produce an excellent open class track bike.

Far from BNG

When they say “all new” they mean all new. It still has the five valves per cylinder and cat-eyed headlights but that is about all that remains of the original R1 concept.

The new bike has a new engine including head, cases, bore, stroke, cylinders, exhaust and it has now picked up a forced air intake. This is bolted into a new Deltabox V frame with 5 spoke wheels and a new underslung braced swingarm.

Catalyst in pipe makes for a hot calf in traffic. Cutaway swingarm reveals extensive internal bracing.

The forced air set up is not exactly the most efficient arrangement ever used since the intakes are far from the nose of the fairing but they do avoid any huge direction changes. The intake runners feed into the bottom of the massive 5.9 liter airbox which uses the front frame rail as the front and bottom of the airbox. The air then flows through a filter before reaching the velocity stacks of the fuel injection throttle bodies.

Yamaha has reluctantly followed suit to Kawasaki and Suzuki and has now fitted the R1 with electronically controlled dual butterfly throttle bodies instead of the vacuum controlled throttle bodies on last year’s bike. The reasoning offered was a little vague and the skeptic in me is guessing that they needed to use the electronic control of the intake to be able to quiet down the motor at certain RPMs to get the bike through noise testing.

The 45mm throttle bodies (up from 40mm in ’03) are bolted to an all new head which carries that 5mm increase in diameter to the intake port and the exhaust port. Yamaha’s triple intake valve design makes for some complicated head arrangements and it’s tough to have really straight ports but Yamaha has decreased the valve angle .75 degrees for two of the valves and 1 degree for the odd intake valve (two of which are now 8.75 and one of which is 15.75). Yamaha has also tightened up the squish in the combustion chamber to get more of the mixture into the center near the spark plug. The exhaust valves have had their angle decreased from 11.5 to 11 degrees. All of the valves have been made .5mm larger so each cylinder is fed through three 23.5mm valves and exhausted by two 25mm valves. Due to the tighter combustion chamber the ’04 uses the dual electrode CR9EK spark plug for increased piston clearance.

Much of the new bike’s power increase (from 152bhp to 180) is due to higher RPMs (from 11,750 to 13,750) so many of the engine changes are to accommodate the forces involved in spinning faster. This includes decreasing the stroke from 58mm to 53.6mm and increasing the bore from 74mm to 77mm. The change in the bore and stroke accomplish two purposes: decreasing the stroke reduces the forces on the pistons at high RPM while the bigger bore makes for more room for bigger valves in the head. Opening and closing valves more times a second required the fitment of stiffer valve springs to keep the followers on the cam profiles.

Hotrod 201. Big valves, big ports, big bore, short stroke, high RPM. Note the gear driven alternator up
and behind the crank.

The cams themselves have been revised to boost power and reduce weight. With three intake valves Yamaha does not need as much lift on the intake as with a conventional four valve motor to get the same bhp but Yamaha has increased the lift on the intake from 7.3mm to 7.6 and decreased the lift on the exhaust from 7.75 to 7.5mm. Duration (good for high RPM power) has been increased by a huge percentage from 268 to 292 on the intake and 276 to 284 on the exhaust. Don’t think about retrofitting the cams from the ’04 into your ’03 because the ‘04 has smaller bearing journals on the cams. To reduce the spinning weight of the cams 4% the cam journals have been reduced 2mm from 24.5 to 22.5mm. The ’04 also has a new hydraulic cam chain tensioner and very comprehensive tensioner rails to keep the cam timing close to where the Yamaha engineers intended it to be.

It is actually pretty tricky to keep the cams where they are supposed to be in relation to the crankshaft.
Yamaha uses lots of cam chain tensioner rails and a hydraulic tensioner to try to keep everything in the
right place most of the time.

Taking the brunt of all that more efficiently introduce fuel/air mixture is the all new short block. The pistons are 3% lighter but have been braced up a bit to take the additional forces of more RPM and more power. The crank have been lightened by 16% by making all the journals 2mm smaller (mains are now 34mm, rods are now 34mm) and reducing the overall width 23.7mm down to 371 mm. The rods are shorter and are of the fractured split design. Ask any machinist and they will tell you there is a big difference between round and ROUND. Connecting rods bearings are tough to keep ROUND because tightening the bolts on the rod can cause distortion in the dimension of the rod. There are lots of ways of trying to reduce this tendency but the fracture design means that instead of having two smooth surfaces which mate when bolted together, you have a tremendous amount of nocks and crannies which are fitting together ensuring a perfect fit. I think BMW did it first on motorcycles about ten years ago or so, of course BMW had aluminum gas tanks on some of their bikes twenty years ago as well.

The cylinders have been separated from the crankcases and are now of closed deck design. Basically a closed deck means that the tops of the cylinders are connected to the outside of the water jacket. It provides support for the top of the cylinder where the pressure is greatest inside the combustion chamber. These pressures can be great enough to flex the top of the cylinder making it no longer round (see round and ROUND) and allowing blow by on the rings and power losses. As a complete digression but interesting non-the-less, on diesel engines (which can run up to 25:1 compression ratios) the cylinder wall flex can be so bad that microscopic bubbles form in the coolant when the cylinder wall springs back from an expansion. These bubbles are then compressed again by the coolant pressure. The dynamic is so violent and rapid that the cylinder walls are actually etched away permanently ruining the crank cases. Neat huh? The new cylinders only have 5mm of metal between the coated aluminum liners so there is not much chance of big bore kits becoming available for these motors.

All this new power is pumped through a beefed up clutch that still manages to be 5% lighter than earlier designs. Early R1s had a problem with the clutch baskets exploding but this piece looks plenty stout with its strong external brace and careful attention to detail with an extra steel and an extra friction plate. Yamaha put a lot of thought into the feel of the engagement of the clutch and has spaced paper and cork friction plates throughout the pack to disperse heat and have 3 types of damping springs in the primary drive gear for a progressive engagement. Since the first gear is so tall you will plenty of opportunities to slip the clutch.

This one isn’t going to come apart. Note the huge outer brace on basket.

The ’04 has finally received a curved radiator and has one of those nifty fans with the outer rings rotating with the blades. The cooling system seemed to be just barely adequate to cope with the high temperatures on the track. You might have to be a little careful with the temps on this in heavy traffic in summer and although it is possible to ride along on the highway in first gear at 90 miles an hour the bike will overheat doing this in 90 degree temperatures.

The exhaust pipe is titanium except for the stainless section where the catalytic converter is located. The under seat location for the mufflers is beautiful to look at but the pipes that run past your legs do radiate a fair amount of heat. To make room for those big free flowing mufflers the subframe has been extensively reworked and is made ala R6 with CF die casting. The 30% stiffer CF cast swingarm has an underslung brace to make room above the swingarm for the exhaust pipes. The EXUP valves is now titanium and has returned to a single axis design. The R1 gets a new and tidier air induction system to reduce emissions. The plumbing now feeds the air through the valve cover similar to the GSX-R.

Perhaps the only time when the stock mufflers are more stylish than the
aftermarket replacements.

The frame is a whopping 68.4mm narrower than the ’03 while increasing the rigidity of the frame 200% vertically, torsionally 30% and side to side by 50%. The engine is no longer used as much of a stressed member which is good because the cylinders are no longer part of the upper crankcase. The engine is tilted a bit further forward from 30 to 40 degrees and the top frame rails now pass over the motor instead of around it. The pegs are moved 2.5mm further forward and 7.5mm further down but since the bike is narrower, ground clearance is not compromised. The handlebars are a comfy 10mm higher.

Efficient use of frame braces form lower of airbox.

The forks are still 43mm Kayaba USD but have 9.0N/mm springs (just about track spec) up from 8.5 on the ’03. The triple trees have more offset to decrease trail from 103 to 97mm. A Soqi non-adjustable but speed sensitive steering damper is now installed at the front of the head stock. The damper only engages when the bars move quickly side to side so parking lot maneuvers are not affected by its installation. The rear shock is a Soqi and has a slightly stiffer spring.

The front brakes on the bike are class leading. The front calipers are single piece castings that are very stiff (compared to two piece designs which are bolted together) and are radially mounted to further reduce flex. The Brembo radial master cylinder has a 2mm larger bore but, since it is of radial design, the mechanical leverage at the lever is increased. This allows for powerful but very sensitive and low effort braking. The rear brake is lifted from the R6 and is smaller and lighter than the previous R1 caliper and rotor.

Honest to betsy Brembo radial master cylinder.

The five spoke rims look like R6 rims but they are different wheels. The front 3.5 X 17 is 10% lighter for faster steering and the rear 6.0 X 17 is 7.5% lighter. America gets Dunlops, the Europeans get Michelins as standard fitment.

A refreshing change from gold Tokicos.

The gas tank feels smaller but it is actually now 18 liters instead of 17 liters. Getting back to the future Yamaha has once again put the alternator behind the crank but now it is a rare earth set up that spins at 1.24 times engine speed to generate the same output. The battery is 25% lighter than the ’03.

Yamaha also has two accessory lines. GYT which keeps your bike under warranty and YEC which voids your warranty instantly. The GYT line has a comprehensive list of carbon stuff, muffler and lots of apparel, key fobs and stuff like that. GYT is all factory Yamaha and is very high quality plus you can further increase the tremendous trade deficit with Japan by financing all your GYT purchases when you finance the bike.

YEC has things like high compression head gasket (or you can just take the center layer out of a stock one like many engine builder do) and cams as well are really neat pieces like bigger radiators, lighter alternators and alternate gearboxes. Some of the stuff is pretty reasonable (lighter alternator) and some is sort of pricey (cams).

All this adds up to a bike that is four pounds lighter than the ’03 but has 28 more horsepower and a much stiffer chassis and great brakes. It looks, steers and sounds sharp.

It’s available now for a suggested $10,599 in your choice of the strangely muted and understated color choices of burgundy, blue or silver.




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