Every once in a while, a motorcycle comes along that changes things. A bike that doesn’t need to have its worth justified or qualified - a bike that’s just plain good. The 2015 Yamaha YZF-R1 is one of those bikes.
(Full Disclosure: Yamaha wanted me to ride the new R1 so badly that they let me Uber to their headquarters to pick one up, ride it around for several weeks and then, several days after I’d given it back, brought one for my track riders to test at Buttonwillow Raceway along with a new R1M.)
The 2015 Yamaha R1 took six years for Yamaha to develop. The previous iteration was so long in the tooth, those supersport shootouts that never seem to pick a winner couldn’t even find nice things to say. Yamaha released the FZ-09 in 2014 and had just announced the FZ-07 for 2015, and it seemed like they were content to come in above Honda’s entry level offerings as the “mid-level” company.
Kawasaki’s ZX-10R was the only Japanese bike worth including in the shootouts and, even then, it was always followed with the qualification of being the “cheap” option next to Panigales, S1000RRs, and RSV4s.
Then, the teasers came. Yamaha claimed they had something different, something special. They used names like Rossi and Hayes. They promised they’d done something different.
And then they did it.
The 2015 R1 uses an all-new Deltabox-style, aluminum frame. It’s smaller and lighter than the previous iteration (which felt sort of like riding an old Cadillac) but also quite a bit stronger and stiffer. Yamaha used more rigid castings, engine mounting bolts that are 2mm larger, and positioned the crossmember directly behind the airbox to increase rigidity and keep the frame spars from flexing under extreme loads (like maximum braking).
The result? Increased chassis feel, especially when entering a corner, and substantially more feedback.
Yamaha went to great lengths to make the new R1 as light as possible. The fuel tank is now aluminum, which shaves 3.5 pounds. The wheels are now magnesium, along with the subframe, which saves another 1.9 pounds of unsprung weight. The new engine cuts another 9. At 436 pounds, the 2015 is over 20 pounds lighter than the previous iteration.
The new 43 mm KYB fork and KYB shock is adjustable for preload, rebound, and compression. Yamaha use damping circuits they claim were tuned more for the track, which translates to a more controlled feel and far more feedback from the a fork that is also more adjustable.
The new R1 gets 10 mm larger, dual discs (320 mm), and new ADVICS four-piston brake calipers which are fed through steel braided brake lines from a new Nissin master cylinder. The R1 comes with ABS standard, as well as a Unified Braking System (UBS) which activates both brakes when heavy pressure is applied to either.
The real stars of the show here are the new engine and the electronics package.
The all new, 998 cc inline-four, cross-plane crankshaft motor is simply a gem. With a bore and stroke of 79 mm by 50.9 mm, it’s slightly more oversquare than the 78 mm by 52.2 mm one it replaces. The new variable intake system shortened the high RPM intake funnel by 20 percent, and the new airbox is now 24 percent larger. The intake and exhaust valves have also grown to 33 mm and 26.5 mm, and the rocker arms which open and close them now open and shut more aggressively.
To help the engine spin up faster, crankshaft inertia has been reduced by 20 percent. Yamaha went through every piece of this bike to find room for improvement, and each of the changes above help make the bike faster, lighter, and easier to control.
The Cycleworld dyno puts its real world power at 167 horsepower at 12,270 rpm and 77 foot-pounds of torque at 8,810 rpm. Adding the Circuit ECU, which unlocks restrictions put in place for sound emissions laws and eliminates the top-speed limiter, applies a more aggressive algorithm for the ABS system, and unlinks the UBS, pumps power up to 173 horsepower. Not that these numbers matter to 99 percent of people riding them, but the Panigale 1299S makes 175, the RSV4 176, and the S1000RR puts down 185.
The 2015 Yamaha R1 has a smattering of electronics systems which modify the riding experience and can be changed by the rider on the fly.
Yamaha Ride Control (YRC) is Yamaha’s version of fuel maps. It has four different settings, which modify the throttle valve opening rate based on how far you open the throttle with the grip. Race setting options open the throttle more for the amount of throttle applied at the grip, while low traction conditions call for less throttle than the amount applied at the grip so you don’t put too much power down accidentally.
Rider Adaptive Technology, which I still wish would have been given the acronym RAT, pairs Yamaha’s six-axis Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU) with their catalog of electronic rider aides. It’s data feeds the 10-setting Traction Control System (TCS), 4-setting Slide Control System (SCS), 4-setting Lift Control System (LIF), and 3-setting Launch Control System (LCS) to keep the bike sliding, wheelieing, and launching within desired parameters. So many acronyms.
The entire Yamaha Rider Control System has 4 customizable presets that allow the rider to make four completely different setups for the bike - all of which is selected through the R1’s new TFT screen. If that wasn’t enough, the screen toggles between “street” and “track” mode, which swaps an emphasis on speed, odometer, and gas for an emphasis on gear position, revs, and lap times.
The 2015 Yamaha R1 has an MSRP of $16,490. The R1M will run you $21,990.
And oh, did we ever. The nice fellas at Yamaha let me have the R1 for several weeks and I took this thing everywhere. Sunrise rides, canyon rides, errands around town, the mall, and on the MX track known as the 5 freeway up to Los Angeles. One thing was evident from the first moment I picked up the bike - this thing is easy to ride.
Unlike other liter bikes, the R1 doesn’t bog or buck as you pull away from a stop. After spending a decent amount of time on the previous iteration, this 2015 model feels almost like a 600 due to its size, weight distribution, and nimble handling. Despite Yamaha’s claims that this bike was designed with far more emphasis on the track in mind, I found it the most streetable of the 1000s I’ve been on lately.
I spent the first few days of the loan riding around in Rider Mode B, which leaves most of the things turned up to 11 (which, actually means turned down to 2 or 3), and smoothes the throttle just slightly. Once my ego had sufficiently proven it could handle B (and A) on the street, I actually found C to be the most comfortable/appropriate for street riding. Still plenty of power, but none of the stress that normally accompanies riding a hyena with its ass on fire as is the case with most superbikes.
The real testing, for a bike both as impressive and as special as this, needed to happen on the track. For that, I solicited the help of my friends Dani Diaz and Lindsay Ross. Dani races a ZX-6R in the MotoAmerica 600 Superstock class, and Lindsay wants you to know he’s 31-going-on-17 moderately accomplished club racer, who lists his “sweet ass hair” as a skillset.
We went to Buttonwillow Raceway, with the lovely people from Let’s Ride Track Days, armed with the R1, R1m and two sets of Michelin Power Slick Evo tires. What’s more, because I care so much more about you, the reader, than my own personal happiness or fulfillment - I let Dani and Lindsay hog every session of the day to give them as much track time as possible. You dickheads owe me. Like, big time.
The following are their thoughts. One thing to keep in mind is that Lindsay is 6’2” and 170 pounds, while Dani is 5’2” and well, skinny (yes, I was too afraid of her to ask).
Lindsay Ross: This bike is unbelievably well balanced. It feels nimble, but not twitchy. It’s agile, but still feels planted. To me, it feels like an R6 that’s added a few pounds and a ton of power.
Dani Diaz: The R1 is easier to ride than most 1000’s, which often require a lot more wrestling given my size. I was impressed at how easy the transitions felt. I did notice the bike get a bit twitchy though, which usually started with the front feeling light, dancing a bit, and then translating through the rest of the chassis. Other than that, it was fairly predictable, and went wherever I wanted without my having to throw myself around too much.
LR: Backing it in with the front brakes is sublimely natural. This bike had to have been developed with a newer riding style (like Marquez or Rossi’s new style) in mind.
DD: The bike backs into corners a little too easily - it just felt excessive. The bike had a little more engine braking than I would like, and decreasing that would also alleviate how easily the back end stepped out coming into corners.
LR: Dani rides a little more like Lorenzo - she’s super smooth and carries more corner speed. Meanwhile, I’m out there with the thing crossed up, dangling off it like an asshole trying to get it in deep (hehe). Where I’m taking it easier is in my apex speed and throttle pickup coming out of a corner, using all that crazy 1000 cc power.
DD: The Yamaha tech softened the bike up for me right off the bat. After the first session, the bike felt a bit unstable in some of the faster/bumpier parts of the track, so added a little preload. That helped, but didn’t fix, the problem - so we adjusted the rebound damping after the second session which got the bike pretty close.
LR: The biggest difference between the R1 and R1M is that rear shock. Sweet Jesus, that Ohlins TTX rear shock is amazing. The mechanical grip they give the bike translates to feeling very planted and smooth, which gives you such great drive.
DD: Oh yeah, that thing is nuts. I don’t get to take advantage of the Ohlins as much because I’m so small, but even I can feel the difference.
LR: Since I’m a bit heavier than “standard” suspension settings, we added 1 or 2 mm to the front preload. I was binding the front a bit under heavy braking and it was diving too much. After we made the preload adjustment, the bike felt great and I could move more of my body mass forward to weight the bike better in corners.
DD: The other big thing that really impressed me was the way the electronics intervened. Traction control on medium felt less intrusive on this bike than the lowest setting on the stock ZX-6R. Most traction control systems feel like they’re a hinderance from going fast - like they mute your riding and try too hard to keep you safe (which, for the record, isn’t a terrible side to err on). I barely felt the Yamaha system working, and it never felt like it got in the way or made me slower.
LR: A-MAZ-ING! This bike is less “1000cc sportbike” and more “teleportation device from the future.” The electronics don’t turn the bike for you. They don’t stop the bike. They don’t (always) save your ass. They just combine seamlessly to make you faster.
LR: The slide control was the star of the show for me. I asked the Yamaha tech if the bike would allow you to go full throttle at lean coming out of a slow corner. Would the bike perform some sort of magic and make you go fast? Would it launch me to the moon? He responded that, if I trusted the bike and could let my mind force my body to try it, the bike would work for me. AND THEN I DID IT. The bike would start to slide a bit (based on which SC setting I had it on) but, once it found an appropriate level of slide, just maintained. Shit is nuts, man.
DD: The app that comes with the R1M was really neat. It really illustrated areas I could work on to find more speed, which then helped me keep those things at the front of my mind while riding during the sessions.
LR: The nerdy engineer/designer in me loved to see the difference between front and rear wheel speed, pitch, roll, yaw, and the ability to “see” how the bike was reacting when the electronic aides activated. The rider in me loved to compare the throttle opening with the electronic intervention, or lack thereof, to give me more confidence that I could push harder.
DD: The app showed me that I wasn’t being nearly as fluid and smooth on the throttle as I thought I was. I felt like I had to a little too much play in the throttle but, after we adjusted that, I actually made a mental note that this was the smoothest throttle I’d ridden. The difference between off and on throttle was almost unnoticable, and I’d even say it’s on par with my ZX-6R and its fantastic, and I do really mean fantastic, FlashTuned ECU setup. The proof was all shown in the app.
LR: There are two types of riders. One says, “Oh good, my throttle control is exactly where I want it, the electronic aides are not intervening.” The other says “Hmmm, the electronics aren’t intervening yet, I’ve got more room to push before getting close to the limit and I don’t need to be so timid with the gas.” These aides are so good, they pushed me well into the latter.
DD: The Michelin Power Slick Evos we used that day gave me tons of grip, which is part of why I don’t think I engaged the aides as much as I thought I might. I didn’t feel like they fell off at all during the day, and had plenty of sessions left in them when we called it quits for the day.
LR: The Evo Slicks worked really well on the R1. That rear had terrific edge grip at full lean and didn’t move around until your throttle hand decided to make it so. The front felt more like a Dunlop than previous Michelin slicks - it feels like a harder carcass with a rounder profile which let me brake deep and still turn in. I rate any tire I can put on a stock bike and still drag an elbow pretty high.
No bike is one-size-fits-all and the R1 is no different. I felt like it fit me pretty well, but both Lindsay and Dani said adjustable clip ons would have been a huge help. Lindsay would move the rearsets higher as he was having issues hitting his inside peg/foot in several corners (though it should be noted that it says a lot about the bike that he was getting that much lean on a brand new, completely stock bike).
As with any supersport, a new exhaust and ecu reflash are on top of the list. Both riders said they’d add exhaust immediately, and that they had to pay more attention to the instrument panel because they couldn’t hear where the revs were well. Yamahas have been notorious for having a bit of a hollow low-end powerband and, while far better than the previous, the new R1 is the same. This is mostly for emissions and noise restraints, but a flashed ecu will really wake the bike up.
Lindsay felt the stock gearing was really tall. He found himself in first gear, or wanting to be between first and second, in several parts of the track, and that he would lower the gearing quite a bit unless he were riding tracks like Big Willow a lot.
Both Lindsay and I felt that brake feel felt a little wooden. Technically, they do a great job at stopping the bike - they just make you wonder if this is the time they aren’t going to get the job done each time. Swapping the master cylinder out for a Brembo RCS19 unit would do wonders for adding some feel.
The 2015 Yamaha R1 and R1M are a different breed of motorcycle, designed for a new rider - a job it does exceptionally well. From the discussions I’ve had with many of my peers (guys who write for sites like Cycleworld, Motorcyclist, MotoUSA, SportRider, and CycleNews), a lot of us feel that there might be other bikes which are a hair faster or better track machines, but that the R1 is by far the easiest and most fun bike to ride fast - and perhaps the best at making normal riders faster.
A source inside Yamaha said that their European riders (Rossi, Smith, etc) were impressed with just how much this bike felt like the M1 (the bike used in MotoGP). Meanwhile, some of the American guys (Hayes and Beaubier) first felt like it was a little odd and twitchy.
LR: In the end, the R1M just felt better (as it should) - but I was scraping pegs, got my elbow down in the Riverside corner, and was pushing the front tire so much it was sliding a bit on the regular R1. Part of that is due to them being someone else’s bikes and my feeling a little less bad about potentially binning a R1 over the R1M, but part of it is because the R1 really is that good. Part of me thinks I would get the R1 and then just add the upgrades mentioned above and the Ohlins TTX shock, but then you might as well get the electronics and, by that time, why not just get the R1M? It just feels special - like it has more of that character and soul typically only attributed to the European bikes.
DD: I noticed a big difference between my first and second session, when I went from the R1 to the R1M. But then, at the end of the day when I went back to the R1, I was struck by how similar the two bikes actually felt. A lot of that was just comfort and that the beginning of the day was literally my first experience with the bike. Both bikes felt super predictable, and both were really easy to hop one and ride at a solid pace basically stock. Obviously, the Ohlins and additional electronics on the R1M, plus that beautiful shiny finish, is going to make it my favorite of the two - but both really impressed me.
Supersports have long been divided into two categories. The exotic, beautiful, imperfect, character-filled European machines whose posters coat the walls of our childhood bedrooms - and the boring, purpose-built, dependable Japanese bikes for the rest of us.
The R1 is both of those things. It acquires its soul through its engineering. The exotic materials and electronics tug at the heart strings of the garage queen and club racer alike.
Whether you’re a street rider, a professional racer, or a motorcycle journalist, the 2015 Yamaha YZF-R1 is an amazing bike that will do anything you ask of it and make you feel like a hero. It’s just that good. All three of us, with our widely varied backgrounds and skill levels, were able to hop aboard and ride far closer to our normal pace than expected.
There may be other bikes that have a little more horsepower or that are technically slightly better in the right hands. The thing is, I don’t think most riders have time, desire, or finances to chase down the absolute fastest lap time their body is capable of.
I think most riders want to go fast, try to go faster, and have fun doing it. For that, I think the R1 is the king of the hill - and it isn’t close.
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Jacket: Aether Eclipse
Gloves: Racer Mickey
Pants: UglyBros Smith
Shoes: Dainese Motorshoe Air
Helmet: AGV Pista GP
Suit: Dainese Team Suit
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Gloves: Taichi GP-WRX
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