March 28, 2009

Yamaha R1

While Yamaha is naturally tight-lipped about its upcoming new bikes, we’re confident we’ll be seeing the debut of an all-new R1 flagship this fall. Not surprisingly, Yamaha wants to keep this news confidential, so we don’t yet have official pictures of such a machine, but we’ve come up with some images that suggest what the ground-up redo of the new R1 might look like.

In 2008, Yamaha’s YZF-R1 reached the 10-year anniversary of its introduction. In 1998 the 150-horsepower R1 was nothing less than revolution. While being more vicious than the rest, it left the 143-horsepower 1998 Kawasaki ZX-9R for dead. Honda and Suzuki were nowhere near and got caught with their pants down. It took three full years for the others to catch up, and only Suzuki managed to take away the literbike crown with the all-new GSX-R1000 in 2001.

Product cycles for Japanese sportbikes usually follow a two-year pattern. The ’98 R1 was followed with a revised version in 2000, then with another revamp in ’02. An all-new R1 debuted in 2004, boasting a more oversquare (77.0 x 53.6mm bore/stroke) engine architecture and sexy new styling. It was such a successful design that Yamaha kept with the same platform until its update in 2007 that saw the introduction of a slipper clutch, variable-length intakes and a new four-valve cylinder head.

This meant that the 2008 R1 was basically a five-year-old design, so it shouldn’t be much of a shocker that the R1 finished in last place in our recent Literbike Shootout, in which we predicted Yamaha might have an answer in a new offering we should see this September.

To counter the current R1’s relative dearth of midrange and top-end power, Yamaha may reduce the bore of its new engine to somewhere close to its CBR and ZX-10R rivals’ 76.0mm, or perhaps even smaller to something approaching the Gixxer Thou’s 73.4mm bore. It will surely have the YCC-I variable intakes and YCC-T ride-by-wire throttle. We expect a claim of something near 190 crankshaft horsepower, which would put it above 160 ponies at the rear wheel.

The current R1’s undertail exhaust looked trick in 2004, but the tides are changing with regard to optimal exhaust designs. We predict Yamaha will fit an under-engine exhaust like the 2008 R6 and CBR1000RR, which places a heavy muffler and its required catalysts in a low location that has minimal negative effect on handling. Radial-mount brake calipers and master cylinder are a given, as is a refined version of its slipper clutch.

In addition to this new R1, Yamaha is expected to debut its long-awaited redesign of the iconic VMax. We showed you a concept of such a bike at our IMS event report, and we’re expecting to see a production version in the flesh sometime soon. It will continue with a V-4 engine, but we’re expecting a big boost in power to rival Suzuki’s Hayabusa-engined B-King.

Stay tuned! The tuning-fork company is going to be one to watch in ’09!


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