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MD Ride Review: 2000 Yamaha R1 (Part Two)

Some of you have been wondering whether I would ever finish my review of the 2000 Yamaha R1 (Part 1 of the review was printed on June 28, 2000). Well, here it is.

I logged quite a few miles on the R1, and got to know the machine quite well. It’s hard to write about the R1, because so much has been written about this bike. Nevertheless, I try to give all of my reviews a unique perspective (mine, of course). I can’t help feeling, however, that much of what I am about to say has already been said. Maybe, for those of you who read MD frequently, having these statements come from me will mean something, nonetheless.

The thing that the R1 did in 1998 (its first year) that is of historical interest to motorcyclists is this. It put sportbike power, handling and light weight on a new plane. Just six or eight years ago, the World or AMA superbike rider twisting the throttle on a factory machine on the racetrack felt roughly the same acceleration, and the same level of control that Yamaha brought to the consumer in the form of the 1998 R1. I feel this when I ride the 2000 version, because several things stand out about this bike and remain in my memory as highlights of riding this machine.

The R1 has a tremendous motor. A motor that has power over an extremely broad rpm range — literally from above idle to redline. In that rpm range, the motor puts out huge amounts of power and torque, but in a benign way. The power is very useable and (if you are not stupid about it) will not get you into trouble.

Despite the smooth and controllable power delivery, the R1 always sounds angry, and feels angry. This is the way I want to describe it after riding the bike extensively. When you are riding the bike, the bike is talking to you (and the cages around you), saying: “I am the king of the road . . . don’t f*** with me!” The exhaust note says this, the vibration sent through the machine says this, and the look of the machine says this — everything about the machine says this! It sounds strange, but this is the best way I can express it.

I should make some specific comments about different aspects of the bike.

Ergonomically, the 2000 R1 is an improvement over the prior model. The handlebar positioning feels more comfortable, and the wind protection is slightly improved. The bike is not uncomfortable compared to many other sportbikes, and, indeed, has more comfortable ergonomics than Suzuki’s new GSX-R750, for example. Compared to the GSX-R750, the pegs are lower and the bars seem a bit higher and closer (though I am not sure if the statistics will bear out the latter point). The seating position is surely aggressive, but Yamaha got the ergonomics right — for this type of bike, those ergos put you exactly where you should be.

The transmission on the bike never gave me a problem. I do not recall a single missed shift and, although sometimes a bit notchy, the transmission never became a problem or even came to mind, particularly. That is good.

Compared to the prior model, it is my understanding the the 2000 R1 has better damping in the front fork. I have ridden the prior model, and I would agree with this. Overall, the feeling from the front end is excellent (as I discussed in part one of my review). The front wheel feels “planted” at all times (unless it is off the ground, of course). The front end can become nervous when accelerating hard over rippled or broken pavement, but with a good front tire (one that isn’t overly worn or “cupped”) you shouldn’t have a problem with head shake.

The suspension, overall, is reasonably compliant, although stiffly sprung (in keeping with the high performance nature of the machine). Frankly, you wouldn’t want a softer suspension with this much performance. Street riders shouldn’t need to revalve the suspension, although different spring rates would benefit those who are not within the “normal” weight range.

Both front and rear brakes are excellent, although I have ridden sport bikes recently that provided more feel and progression from the front brake. Yamaha made some changes to the front brake on the 2000 R1, and some riders think Yamaha took a step backwards in this regard. The rear brake is excellent, providing good power and feel.

The R1 will be used by many street riders for commuting. Not all of us can afford an R1 for weekend canyon carving only. Although not a sport tourer by any means, the R1 is adequately comfortable on the freeway (provided your skeleton is not overstressed by the sporting nature of the riding position). Although the fairing is fairly minimalist, while wearing proper street gear, a good helmet (and ear plugs), freeway rides were “reasonably” comfortable. Frankly, some of this has to do with the age of the rider. As we get older, our skeleton gets less flexible and stiffens up quicker. Younger, flexible riders will find the R1 comfortable enough for commuting. Many older riders (over 40) will find the bike just too uncomfortable for extended freeway travel.

Frankly, the R1 is a blast on the freeway, where the attitude it presents (see comments above) is even stronger. The ability to roll on the throttle and literally annihilate other traffic by accelerating into gaps is great fun and hard to get tired of.

I had no problems with the clutch on the R1. It was easy to feather the clutch while leaving stops, and matching rpms on downshifts was fairly easy, as well. Engine braking on the R1 is excellent for an in-line, four-cylinder machine and, coupled with the broad powerband, makes the R1 a “one gear bike”, if you want it to be, much of the time.

The headlights on the R1 are more than adequate (although, not the best I have seen this year). Night riding in cold weather can be annoying, however, due to the small fairing. Again, you will have to compensate by wearing leather riding gear.

I keep coming back to the engine performance, but I want to talk about how well carbureated this bike is. This bike has such good throttle response, and comes on throttle so smoothly and predictably, that fuel injection might be a step backward for Yamaha. You probably know that it is very difficult to get a fuel injected bike to come on the throttle smoothly. This is one of the superb attributes of the R1 — it “comes on to the throttle” as well as, or better than, any motorcycle I have ever ridden.

The styling of the R1 is purely a matter of personal opinion. I like the styling very much, myself, but it was much more striking two years ago when it was new. Overall, the motorcycle press has essentially labeled the R1 a styling icon of sorts — another benchmark. Not quite a Ducati 916 (996), but pretty damn impressive nonetheless. Make up your own mind.

The “fit and finish” of the R1 is quite good. Very close to Honda standards, in fact, and probably a step ahead of the other competition. The paint quality is excellent, and the parts fit together well and work well.

The R1’s instrumentation is adequate by today’s standards. The digital speedometer featured on the R1 is preferable, in my mind, to an analog speedometer. On bikes like the R1, it is simply easier to read. The R1 accelerates so quickly, an analog speedometer (which would probably read to 200 miles per hour, and feature bunched, tiny lines and mph numbers) would be almost useless under many conditions, because it could not quickly convey the precise speed of the motorcycle. Not all sportbikes have switched to digital speedometers, but they should. Fortunately, the R1 has done this.

Use of the turn signals and other motorcycle controls are easy and intuitive — like most modern Japanese motorcycles.

The passenger seat locks and unlocks — revealing a fairly small, but usable storage area. A bigger area than sportbikes have traditionally had, but smaller than Honda’s 929RR, for example.

What’s the bottom line with the 2000 Yamaha R1? It has the largest engine capacity in the hardcore sportbike field. It packs more motor and more attitude than just about any other bike in any category. It also talks to you and the cages around you while you ride.