Cape Town – Used to be that when judging motorcycle power, lots was good, more was better and too much was just about right. With the all-new 2015 Yamaha R1, too much is standard equipment.
They may have said it with a smile but the Yamaha staffers at this week’s SA launch in Cape Town weren’t kidding when they said the only parts the new R1 had in common with its predecessor were its handlebar grips.
And even more important than the all-new 998cc cross-plane engine with its way-oversquare 79 x 50.9mm bore and stroke, 13:1 compression ration and rated outputs of 147.1kW (200 horsepower in the old language) at 13 500 revs and 112.4Nm at 11 500rpm, is the electronics package, derived from that of Yamaha’s M1 MotoGP machine - because without it this bike would be lethal.
It’s six-axis inertial measurement unit measures both rotation and acceleration in all three axes, allowing it to modulate traction control and rear-wheel slide according to the bike’s lean angle, and control wheelies (the front wheel will lift, but not much), while also distributing brake force between front and rear brake dependent on the lean angle of the bike and what the ABS system is doing (i.e. whether or not the rear wheel is sliding or, indeed, on the ground).
In the flagship R1M it even resets the Ohlins electronic suspension mapping more than 40 times a lap, dependent on lean angle and acceleration, for optimum stability through corners - which means you can not only brake insanely late, you can get on the gas earlier, and harder, than you’d believe possible.
ENOUGH WITH THE GIZMOTRONICS – LET’S RIDE
The first impression on a sighting lap of Cape Town’s Killarney circuit is that the bike is eminently rideable. Power comes on strong, but progressively, from about 4000rpm in the second-softest “C” engine power setting, the ride is stiff (let’s be honest – it’s harsh) but absolutely without patter even on this notoriously bumpy circuit, the steering pin-point accurate and the MotoGP-style radial brakes as sensitive as a virgin bride.
Then you wind it on down the back straight and suddenly this is no longer a nice bike - it’s a howling, vibratious monster that accelerates hard enough to warp your perception of space and time. The fast double-apex Malmesbury Sweep (turn it off, turn it in, turn it on) now needs a brake marker for the first time and unless you come out of Turn 5 insanely hard you’ll hit the brake marker at the end of the main straight before you reach the shift point in fifth.
By my last session on the R1 I was running in “A” mode with the “race face” dashboard graphics - simpler and clearer, with a bar-graph rev counter that doesn’t even register until 8000rpm - and concentrating hard to cope with the engine’s hair-trigger responses; the new R1, like all race-derived machines, repays being ridden with finesse.
Then I was granted four magical laps on the only R1M in South Africa - with aluminium fuel-tank, electronic Ohlins, carbon-fibre body panels and 200mm rear tyre - and learned just what the extra R80 000 buys you. The M flattens out Killarney’s bumps and glues the tyres to the tar, to the point where your comfort zone gets pushed way up the scale.
Given more track time I could have gone significantly smoother – and quicker – on the M than on the R1, and I wasn’t the only rider who said so.
Nevertheless, whether in R1 or R1M guise, Yamaha’s new litre-class contender is not a relaxing ride. Anywhere above 8000rpm it vibrates intrusively and its acceleration is, frankly, intimidating - but it’s also incredibly addictive. The 2015 R1 draws a line in the sand and dares you to step up to the challenge; for those few with the skill and nerve to do so, it’s a rush like no other.
You had to ask. The first customer bikes are expected towards the end of April; indicative pricing at this stage is about R260 000 for the R1 and R340 000 for the R1M.
Yamaha R1 (R1M in brackets)
Engine: 998cc liquid-cooled four.
Bore x stroke: 79 x 50.9mm.
Compression ratio: 13.0:1.
Valvegear: DOHC with four overhead valves per cylinder.
Power: 147.1kW at 13 500rpm.
Torque: 112.4Nm at 1 500rpm.
Induction: Ride-by-wire digital electronic fuel-injection with variable-length intake tracts .
Ignition: Digital electronic.
Clutch: Cable-operated multiplate wet clutch.
Transmission: Six-speed constant-mesh gearbox with final drive by chain.
Front Suspension: 43mm KYB (Ohlins electronic) inverted cartridge forks adjustable for preload, compression and rebound damping.
Rear Suspension: KYB (Ohlins electronic) gas-charged monoshock adjustable for preload, compression and rebound damping.
Front brakes: Dual 320mm discs with four-piston radial-mount monobloc callipers and ABS.
Rear brake: 220mm disc with single-piston floating calliper and ABS.
Front tyre: 120/70 - 17 tubeless.
Rear tyre: 190/55 (200/55) - 17 tubeless.
Seat height: 860mm.
Kerb weight: 199 (200) kg.
Fuel tank: 17 litres.
Indicative price: R260 000 (R340 000).