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Yamaha R1 big bang review

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Blue motorcycle at Starbucks

2018 was an exciting year. I bought the bike I had dreamt about since its release back in 2015. I thought it time to do a write up about the R1, with me being a Yamaha R1 owner for the past year.

The word game changer, I hate it. I find it an overused term. Everything new gets brandished a game-changer.  However describing the Yamaha R1, as a game-changer is the correct term. It has repeatedly changed the game with each evolution since its initial debut in 1998.

Original Yamaha R1
1998 Yamaha YZF-R1. – image from Rainmaker47 on Wikipedia

Yamaha needed something new to take on the class-leading Honda Fireblade. The Thunderace was the closest offering in the Yamaha range. Sadly the ace was too heavy to develop into a fully-fledged sports bike. Yamaha developed both a new engine and new chassis simultaneously to cut down the development time. The new creation only had one goal, to beat the pesky Fireblade. This sparked the 1000cc superbike craze we know today.

2015 was the biggest update to the R1 ever

The launch of the latest variant, the 2CR in 2015 featured an updated Moto GP inspired Big Bang engine, unique styling and the most advanced electronics package on the market. I had to have this bike, and I told myself I would have one.

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3 years later, after growing bored and frustrated with the GSXR, I went for a test ride on the revised BX4, the 2018 model. The old adage says never meet your idols. If you do, you will be disappointed when your idol disappoints or doesn’t live up to expectation. The R1 didn’t and still does not disappoint me. From the first moment, I knew it was right.

2018 Yamaha R1
Test ride fun!

It made me think that new bike salesmen and women must genuinely have the easiest job in the world.

I still remember the sensation of cracking the throttle open and subsequently almost falling off the back. That test ride was mental. I had ridden 1000cc bikes before, but none spec’d as highly as the R1. It made me think that new bike salesmen must genuinely have the easiest job in the world. Waving a piece of paper and a pen under the nose of a chap that has just had the time of his life, along with the words to the effect of ‘that could be yours’. Done deal surely?

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2018 saw a new blue and black colour scheme which I instantly fell in love with. The other colour available was black with white touches, but this did nothing for me. I thought there was too much black. With a black swing arm, frames and engine cases. Decision made on the blue and black, I signed on the dotted line and awaited delivery day.

I use it lots!

Since then, I have covered just under 4500 miles, which for me riding my own bike is quite a lot. An interesting mix, including IAM assessments and observed rides, some spirited riding and the occasional commute to work. Every single mile has been fun. It has had 2 months off duty during winter avoiding the ice, but I have still been out in -3 which was interesting, to say the least.

Yamaha R1
Making IAM observed rides fun!

If you haven’t experienced a Yamaha R1, go see the previously mentioned salesperson and try it for yourself, but leave your chequebook at home.

The R1 is an experience to ride. If you have ridden one, particularly a later spec model, you will understand what I mean. If you haven’t you, have to go see the previously mentioned salesman and try it for yourself, but leave your chequebook at home*.

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*If you do decide to and you walk out the showroom with a shiny new bike we take no responsibility.

Benefiting from pinpoint accuracy and handling when travelling at speed it makes you feel like Rossi. It does seem to suffer at slower speeds. Car park speed manoeuvring suffers from lack of steering lock. However, this is standard practice on sportsbikes, so can’t fault it for that.

Cornering ABS as standard

The brakes will rip your face off, and it has the luxury of cornering ABS. I have only had ABS cut in once, and that was me actively trying my hardest to get it to cut in, which took some effort.

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As with all modern bikes using ride by wire throttles, it can be a tad snatchy. For me, this is a common problem on all modern motorbikes, not just the Yamaha R1. I tend to run in B mode, which seems to make it a little less snatchy compared to A.

Carbon becomes an expensive habit

I haven’t done many modifications, the bike really doesn’t need much extra. I’ve fitted a tail tidy to get rid of the hideous standard plate holder, some R&G crash protection, knee traction pads and their clearcoat treatment for the front end. Fitting of a rear seat cowl and removing the pillion pegs adds to the sporty look. Installing some carbon fibre swingarm covers, but a word of warning, carbon becomes an expensive habit.

R&G R1
A few R&G goodies. Check out R&G R1 products here!

I frequently get asked when am I de-catting and replacing stock can for a slip-on. I find this immensely annoying. The stock can is lightweight thanks to its titanium construction, it flows well, and I don’t think it looks or sounds terrible. De-catting, and replacing the can just amplify the noise, unnecessarily.

Just ride the thing!

I understand if you are a modern-day café racer, only coming out for bike night once a week and sitting there all night, but that’s not me. I like to go out for full-day rides, my mileage is high, but that’s because I enjoy riding. Having a loud pipe is cool and loud pipes save lives and all that, but after the GSXR and its megaphone, I’m glad to have some peace and quiet.

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It is expensive too, for a circa £1000 spend for some extra noise and a few extra ponies (I don’t actually need) its an expensive spend for minimal benefit.

For me, the single best modification I have done was also the cheapest.

I see many people from the ‘loud can and small plate’ brigade. They live in constant fear of getting pulled and fined from the police. So much so they don’t actually ride, or enjoy riding anymore. In my opinion, my money is better spent elsewhere on worthwhile things.

Yamaha R1

For me, the single best modification I have done was also the cheapest. I had the suspension set up correctly to my weight and riding style, at a measly cost of a few quid. I popped to see a good friend of mine, suspension guru Mark, at SSR suspension (Check out his website here) to get mine set up.

Yamaha R1 suspension
Mark at SSR. A suspension Guru.

Standard from the factory the Yamaha R1 seems to be very squat at the rear or at least mine was.  Calculating the front and rear sags, and putting those in the Goldilocks zone meant jacking the back end up. Slightly inconvenient to add to the already high seat height and my lack of tallness. Sorting out the pre-load, rebound and compression.

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After getting it set up, the difference was remarkable. It’s a must for any R1 owner. I found the stock suspension very stiff and unforgiving. With it softened up and more balanced the turn in feels much sharper and pinpoint precise. The rear feels just as planted before, in all conditions.

MPG fluctuates, the worst I have seen was 12.

R1 ownership has been great fun, but there are a few downsides. It’s a thirsty beast with a small tank. Combined with the fact there is no fuel gauge, this means a constant game of fuel light paranoia. Normal range from a tank with a mix of riding can be anywhere up to 120 miles, but this is highly variable. According to the trip computer I am averaging 38MPG.

Yamaha R1 screen
Changed the screen background from light to dark. I find it easier to read.

Superbikes aren’t known for their tyre longevity. If high mileage is paramount, then some sporty touring tyres would undoubtedly get an increase overusing a hypersport. With Bridgestone’s fantastic RS10, I managed 2500 miles out of the first rear. There were many motorway and dual carriageway miles on the tyre, so it’s understandable that the rear was squared off.  Grip levels are superb, in the wet and the dry. I think next time I might try a different tyre to see how others will fare.

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The only problem with the bike has been a mirror failure. The joint had some excessive play, causing the mirror to flap.  Some mirrors have a bolt and nut which allow you to take the slack up however on this shape Yamaha R1 it is a sealed unit which wouldn’t allow me to disassemble. Warranty replacement from a local dealer sorted it no problem.

Standard chain is poor quality!

My only other gripe is the standard chain. It is DID or at least stamped as one. When the bike sat over winter it corroded horribly. The bike was thoroughly washed and cleaned, before sitting in a dry garage for a month. The chain still corroded despite being cleaned and protected properly.

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I am not sure why it corroded the way it did. Warranty does not cover ‘consumable’ items either so for the time being, I have cleaned it up with a brass brush and applied some ACF50 to the side plates to try to stop it happening again. The seals and rollers are fine, so it is purely cosmetic, but rust on an 8-month-old bike is frustrating. Come service time I will replace the chain.

R1 chain rust

Even with the above points, every time I saddle up, I still think I made the right choice in buying the Yamaha R1

Sometimes the weight on the wrists is horrible, particularly if carrying a rucksack. There are more comfortable bikes. There are bikes with room to move things, and motorcycles which have more fuel range. The Yamaha R1 isn’t the best when put like that. However, you swiftly overlook the uncomfortable riding position, poor fuel range and lack of any storage space for the sheer thrill it gives. After all, comfort and practicality are overrated. Deep deep down I know I made the right choice and this past year has been a blast. I love every second riding it.

Still loving it!

2020 Yamaha R1 update

I gave in. The allure of a cross-plane crank, with a straight-through pipe, was to much to refuse. However, I didn’t want the same full titanium system as everybody else gets, I had to wait for something special. It came in the form of the full Akrapovic carbon fibre race system. If you know your Akra’s you will know the cost and the rarity but it just had to be done. The soundtrack now is just unbelievable, and I genuinely wish I had done it sooner.

Carbon/Titanium full system

Overall now I’m rapidly closing in on 10k miles now the Corona lockdown is over. The second service has been done along with some warranty work to the left-hand switchgear after a button fell out. (thanks to JT’s motorcycles, Swansea for helping!)

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