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Motorcycles: Hot to Handle

Barry Winfield

Yamaha’s YZF-R1 rarely has disappointed since beginning its fast-paced life nearly a decade ago. It might seem surprising then that the 2007 edition, priced at $11,700, represents such an extensive overhaul of last year’s model. Nevertheless, Yamaha asserts that it is giving riders what they want. “When asked which they [would] prefer, R1 riders put more emphasis on handling than on power,” says Yamaha’s product planning manager, Derek Brooks.

 

The R1 already had plenty of power. The motorcycle produced 175 hp and reached 100 mph in first gear. The new model has more or less the same capabilities, but in response to the requests for better handling, Yamaha gave the R1 a new chassis, with revised flex characteristics that provide better feedback to the rider. The company also added a back-torque-limiting slipper clutch that eliminates wheel hop during fast downshifts, and lighter front disc rotors, with six-pad calipers, that improve braking. In addition, Pirelli made Diablo Corsa tires specifically for the new R1 chassis.

The retuned chassis is easier to turn and more responsive. The front-wheel push that inhibited the previous model’s cornering speed has been tamed, allowing earlier and heartier applications of the electronic fly-by-wire throttle system. Also new this year is a variable-length intake system, and the R1 now has four-valve heads instead of the five-valve system that Yamaha has favored since the late 1980s.This new system produces a 5 hp improvement in peak output and more torque at midrange.

Some aspects of the R1 remain unchanged. Motorcycle novices still should be able to operate this 180 mph superbike with relative ease. Its fuel-injection technology makes starting and idling simple, and you can pull the clutch and shift the lever with minimal effort. The bike pulls away easily at moderate revs, although its tall first gear ratio still demands a lot of engine speed and some clutch slip for fast starts. Once on the move, the R1 possesses more than enough midrange power for conventional street riding, requiring no more than 5,000 rpm to move briskly.

But be warned: If you drop the hammer on this machine, the acceleration will recalibrate your concepts of time and space. Yamaha reports that the typical R1 owner is more experienced than those of other makes, and beginners would do well to consider such information before attempting mischief on this bike. For the experts, however, this is a great tool for honing one’s track skills. The high-rev power is mind-boggling, enough to lift the front wheel in the three lower gears despite your best efforts to hold it down.

As the saying goes, the throttle goes both ways, and the beauty of this machine is its wide operating envelope. You can expect docile cooperation from the R1, if that is what you want, along with excellent build quality and the likelihood of a long ownership experience.

Yamaha Motor Corp.
www.yamaha-motor.com

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