NOW WITH ADDED ROSSI: An introduction to the 2009 R1 by The Doctor himself.

Yamaha took a bit of a gamble launching its 2009-spec R1 superbike in South Africa just a day after the opening round of the World Superbike championship at Phillip Island in Australia.

There would have been sheepish looks and embarrassed shuffling if the new steed had under-performed on its debut but, as it turned out, the planets were aligned in Yamaha's favour and American Ben Spies took his R1 to victory in the second of the day's races at Phillip Island (the first was won by Noriyuki Haga on a Ducati).

So the Yamaha crew were grinning from ear to ear at Monday's South African launch at Kyalami as they extolled the virtues of their latest fire-breathing superbike.

Track success is crucial to a machine such as the R1 when its advertising catch-phrase is "now with added Rossi". The reference is to a fancy new engine developed with the help of Doctor Val in the MotoGP racing melee. Like Rossi's M1, the road-going R1 has an engine with a crossplane crankshaft that gives an unusual firing interval.

While a conventional four-cylinder engine sees the four pistons and con rods move up and down in the cylinders as two pairs, each piston and con rod in a crossplane crankshaft has its own individual and separate movement.

If you want to trawl through the minutiae of how this is advantageous, complete with an explanation of composite and inertial torque, I suggest you take an afternoon off, pour yourself a Red Bull and read all about it on Yamaha's website.

What it boils down to is an engine with a more linear and controllable power delivery. Even though the R1's power and torque stay basically unchanged at 134kW and 115.5Nm, it's more forgiving to ride fast and should improve your lap times.

As before, there's a YCC-I (Yamaha chip-controlled intake) system that varies the length of the intake funnels to maximise power at low AND high engine speeds.

DIFFERENCES NEGLIGIBLE

I did a few laps of Kyalami on the new R1 just two weeks after I'd ridden Honda's Fireblade there. The differences for me were minor; ech has sphincter-tightening power and seems to defy the laws of physics in its agility and cornering.

It would take a stopwatch to determine which is the better track bike but I believe the differences would be negligible.

What I CAN confirm is that the R1 does have a linear power delivery with less of a sudden mid-range rush than its predecessor. It's fiendishly responsive when you select the sportiest of its three engine maps with a flick of a handlebar switch (the other two modes are a little gentler).

The crossplane crankshaft's most obvious difference is to the engine sound and the old R1's banshee wail has been replaced by a gruffer, almost vee twin-like roar. Even more so with aftermarket tailpipes with which a couple of the race-prepared bikes at the launch were fitted.

NEW DELTABOX CHASSIS

The standard exhaust cans - which exit from under the seat as before - are comically oversized due to ever more stringent emissions laws.

Apart from the new engine, changes to the R1 include a completely redesigned aluminium Deltabox chassis and aggressive new styling that have given the Yammie a radical new look.

The black unit I rode was like something out of "Star Wars" - all that was missing is a sheath for the light sabre.

The bike's put on a few kilos and now weighs 206kg when filled with fluids but it's not something you can feel around a circuit. It flits into corners with little effort, feeling very nimble and manageable and generally very confidence-inspiring.

In an article in February we warned that bike prices would go sky-high in 2009 due to exchange rates, and this has come to fruition - this R1 sells for R165 000!

That's a far cry from the R122 000 launch price of its predecessor two years ago. - Star Motoring

2009 Yamaha R1 specifications