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2009 Yamaha R1 Review: Big Bang for the Road

About.com Rating 3 Star Rating


Yamaha R1
Photo © Brian J. Nelson

The Bottom Line

An extremely capable but far from perfect superbike whose greatest asset is its innovative crossplane crankshaft design.
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  • Crossplane crankshaft dramatically alters the bike's exhaust note, power delivery
  • Low end torque powerband makes proper use of all that displacement
  • Chassis and suspension improvements help it turn better than the ’08 model


  • Heat from underseat exhaust gets tiresome, even on cold days
  • At 454 pounds wet, rather heavy for its class
  • Stretched-out riding position can make long rides punishing


  • Price: Starting at $12,390 in blue & white, ($13,290 for 2010 model)
  • 998cc, liquid-cooled titanium-valved powerplant with new forged aluminum pistons
  • Crossplane crankshaft shifts each connecting rod 90° from the next (270°-180°-90°-180°), creating "Big Bang" firing order
  • D-Mode allows rider-selectable “A” or “B” throttle mapping modes
  • Six-speed transmission with slipper type, back-torque limiting clutch
  • All new aluminum frame with rear die-cast magnesium section
  • New, fully-adjustable 43mm SOQI shocks use independent damping: compression on left, rebound on right
  • Four-way adjustable single rear shock
  • 32.8 inch seat height
  • Wet weight: 454 pounds

Guide Review - 2009 Yamaha R1 Review: Big Bang for the Road

It hits you the first time you rev the 2009 Yamaha R1: a growly, Italianate exhaust note that’s more exotic than typical Japanese fare, terminating at an indicated 13,750 rpm. Acceleration reveals another characteristic that separates this literbike from a majority of its competition (save twin-powered offerings from Buell and Ducati): immediate, robust torque that pulls from low rpms.

The difference between the ’09 R1 and the ’08 model is dramatic, with the crossplane-equipped version coming across as a v-twin or a v-four, rather than a peaky inline-4. The broad powerband feels linear, in an uneventfully predictable way that’s further masked by the relatively low pitch of the exhaust note. In fact, it’s easy to significantly underestimate the engine rpms, since 9,000 rpm sounds more like 6,000 rpm. Though peak power output seems comparable to the ’08 model’s, the ’09 delivers torque in such a way that it inspires more confident wrist-twisting, making it more fun in stop-and-go riding.

But the engine’s alluring power delivery characteristics are marred by one pesky side-effect: heat. The 998cc powerplant and the underseat exhaust runs so hot that aboard the R1’s thin saddle, you’ll squirm on cold days and roast on warm ones-- unlike the R6’s stubby, mass-centralized unit and the Honda CBR1000 RR’s similar setup.

In other news, the latest R1 boasts noticeably easier turn-in than the outgoing model, and high speed stability is excellent thanks in part to the electronic steering damper-- though its agility feels hampered by its not insubstantial 454 pound curb weight. Initial brake bite is strong, and stopping power is immense. But more time spent in the saddle reveals ergonomics that can get challenging, with wrist strain making itself glaringly apparent.

Whether or not the crossplane-equipped Yamaha R1 is right for you depends on your needs; at Spring Mountain Motorsports Ranch in Nevada, the R1 was a bit too much bike for the track’s tight, technical turns (as were essentially all other 1,000cc sportbikes in attendance.) But back on public roads, the R1’s generous torque and broad powerband were appreciated, even if engine heat and ergonomics during long rides proved pesky. And while the R1’s engine and chassis may not work together as harmoniously as the Honda CBR1000RR’s or the Suzuki GSX-R1000’s, this class produces more performance than anyone should probably use on the streets—at least anyone in their right mind.

At the end of the day, the battle of street-legal literbikes shouldn’t be dictated by which MotoGP, AMA, or World Superbike nameplate vanquishes the competition by fractions of a second, but rather by the personal preference of the purchaser. Given that parameter alone, the crossplane-equipped Yamaha R1’s unique engine characteristics are enough of a draw to earn it plenty of fans who can appreciate its gutsy power, sexy exhaust note, and ultra-competent performance.

>>Click here for a 2009 Yamaha R1 Photo Gallery
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