Carole Nash
Content Writer
Published: 14th December 2017

Even with a new replica 20th year anniversary R1 shown at Motorcycle Live a couple of weeks ago, it’s hard to believe that Yamaha’s iconic YZF-R1 superbike is 20 years old in 2018.


Launched in 1998, the R1 created a new class. Up to that point, 1000cc sports bikes had been bigger, comfier, tools like the Honda CBR1000F and Yamaha’s own Thunder Ace, while the sportiest bikes were 750cc race replicas designed to compete in superbike racing.


Even Honda’s iconic FireBlade had to give second best to Yamaha’s finest. With more power and less weight, the R1 took the concept of a superbike on the road to a new level. Its success led to the introduction of the Suzuki GSX-R1000 and Kawasaki ZX-10R, while Honda eventually evolved the FireBlade into the full 1000cc CBR1000RR in 2004.


Such was the success of the R1 and its competitors, the 750cc class soon became obsolete and 1000cc fours were adopted as the standard for international production racing classes.


To celebrate the success of this icon, we take a look back at a model-by-model history of the R1, from its roots in 1998 to today’s MotoGP replica machines.


1998-99 Yamaha YZF-R1 (4XV)

With 150bhp and a 177kg dry weight, the original R1 was like nothing that had gone beforehand.


Developed with the factory codename 4XV, Yamaha’s new flagship retained the YZF designation that the company traditionally applied to its sportiest bikes, as well as the five-valve heads that were Yamaha’s ‘thing’ for so long.

Yamaha R1 98

The R1 project (as well as the R6 and the limited edition R7) was led by Kunihiko Miwa, who rewrote the sports bike rulebook. One of the key pieces of engineering innovation was the introduction of a ‘stacked’ gearbox. By placing the gearbox above the crankshaft, rather than above it, the engine was lighter and more compact than any litre unit that had gone before it. The setup not only benefitted performance, but also handling too. The compact nature of the engine allowed the use of a longer swingarm to improve traction without increasing the wheelbase.


These early R1s are bona fide modern classics, with the red and white liveried bikes in particular proving very collectable.


Although the R1 was never developed to be a race bike (superbike rules mandated a 750cc capacity limit at the time) the first R1s enjoyed some success in superstock championships and at the Isle of Man TT, where David Jefferies enjoyed considerable success.


4XV specifications

Engine:  998cc, inline four, 20v, DOHC

Bore x stroke: 74 x 58mm

Power: 150bhp @ 10,000rpm

Torque: 79ftlb @ 8,500rpm

Weight: 177kg


2000/2001 Yamaha YZF-R1 (5JJ)

The sports bike market was hugely competitive at the turn of the millennium and manufacturers updated their bikes every two years in a bid to stay ahead of the pack.


Yamaha made over 150 changes to the 2000 R1, all of which contributed to a more refined ride, even if power remained at 150bhp. In truth, the 4XV had been a bit of an animal and while the 5JJ was still on the savage side the frame had revised castings to make the chassis stiffer, while the suspension was updated and the weight distribution tweaked to give more front bias.

Yamaha R1 2000

The engine, gearbox and carburetors were all subtly revised and a new titanium silencer saved 2kg. In terms of looks, it was pretty much a spit of the earlier bikes, although the paintwork was more subtle than before – marking a trend that was to continue for years to come.


5JJ specifications

Engine:  998cc, inline four, 20v, DOHC

Bore x stroke: 74 x 58mm

Power: 150bhp @ 10,000rpm

Torque: 79ftlb @ 8,500rpm

Weight: 175kg


2002/03 Yamaha YZF-R1 (5PW)

The first real update for the R1 came in 2002, with the 5PW.


While it wasn’t an all-new bike, the chassis and engine both got an overhaul, while the styling was completely revised and traded aggression for elegance.

Yamaha R1 2002

The engine was repositioned in the chassis and the geometry made less extreme. The big change was a switch to fuel injection, with Yamaha adopting a hybrid ‘suction piston’ system which gave the analogue response of a carburetor with the precision of electronic fuel injection.


The frame was new and the styling went down the sleek and stylish route, with grown up colours and discrete graphics.

Yamaha R1 2003

It was a great bike but, unfortunately for Yamaha, the 1000cc sports bike market wasn’t about refinement. Buyers wanted bonkers and Suzuki’s GSX-R1000 had that in spades and, as a result, the 5PW couldn’t quite restore Yamaha’s place as the king of the superbikes.


5PW specifications

Engine:  998cc, inline four, 20v, DOHC

Bore x stroke: 74 x 58mm

Power: 152bhp @ 10,500rpm

Torque: 80ftlb @ 8,500rpm

Weight: 174kg


2004/05 Yamaha YZF-R1 (5VY)

If the 2002 R1 had been a little underwhelming, there was no such worry with the 5VY of 2004.


Not only did Yamaha’s engineers find 20bhp with an all-new engine, the 2004 R1 looked a million dollars too. With swooping lines, underseat exhausts, projector headlights, radially mounted brakes and classy colour options, the 5VY was gorgeous to look at and packed a punch that knocked out the opposition, including Kawasaki’s deranged new-for-2004 ZX-10R.


Yamaha claimed 172bhp from the 2004 R1 (180bhp at speed with the ram air operating) and with 172kg to haul around, it was able to make the magic 1:1 power-to-weight ratio. The rest of the spec was top notch, with radially mounted brakes


Fast and powerful as it was, the 2004 R1 tall gearing made it feel much more civilized than the competition from Kawasaki and Suzuki. In 2006, Yamaha gave the bike a very minor update with changes to the valve gear extracting 3bhp and some chassis tweaks, including a 20mm longer swingarm, to redistribute weight forward slightly. These later bikes can be identified by their gold coloured fork tubes.

Yamaha R1

Also for 2006, was the YZF-R1SP, of which only 1000 units were produced worldwide. Although this bike did not make any more power than the standard model, it featured high end Ohlins suspension, forged aluminium wheels from Marchesini and a slipper clutch. These all came in the same matt black paintwork with gold wheels and generally command a good premium on the second hand market.


The 2004-2006 R1 was also one of the first R1s to be a serious threat on the race track. Upon introduction it was the bike to beat in superstock racing, while John McGuinness won the 2004 Senior TT on one, while Yamaha’s official team riders Noriyuki Haga and Andrew Pitt both won races in the world superbike championship with this iteration of the bike.


5VY specifications

Engine:  998cc, inline four, 20v, DOHC

Bore x stroke: 77 x 53.6mm

Power: 172bhp @ 10,500rpm (175bhp from 2006)

Torque: 81ftlb @ 10,500rpm

Weight: 172kg (170kg from 2006)


2007-2008 Yamaha YZF-R1 (4C8)

Something big happened with the fifth generation R1 but, in many ways, it was as much what the 2007 R1 didn’t have that got people talking.


The five valve concept had been Yamaha’s signature piece of engineering since the seminal FZ750 of 1984 but for 2007 the R1 dropped the extra intake valve and became a 16 valver like pretty much everything else on the market.

Yamaha R1 2007

It was no bad thing. Valentino Rossi had joined Yamaha in 2004 and his influence in developing the YZR-M1 MotoGP bike was now filtering down to the street product. Switching the M1 from five to four valves per cylinder had been just one factor in turning the racer from also ran to winner, with modern engineering advances eliminating any theoretical gain to be had from the extra valve.


It didn’t stop there. In a period when electronics were starting to become the buzz word in racing circles, the 2007 R1 gained a ride-by-wire throttle and variable length intake funnels, which was designed to improve performance throughout the rev range.


Unfortunately the market for big sports bikes was already going south, meaning that the 4C8 never really took off, but despite that Yamaha had something special on the horizon, that took the race-to-road concept a stage further.


4C8 specifications

Engine:  998cc, inline four, 16v, DOHC

Bore x stroke: 77 x 53.6mm

Power: 180bhp @ 12,500rpm

Torque: 83ftlb @ 9,000rpm

Weight: 177kg


2009-2011 Yamaha YZF-R1 (14B)

Big sports bikes were really feeling the pain of the global financial crisis in 2009, but that didn’t stop Yamaha launching one of the most significant R1s in the 20 year history of the model.


Yamaha’s YZR-M1 had pioneered plenty of new technology on the MotoGP circuit, most notably with the ‘big bang’ engine that fired its pistons in pairs to smooth out power delivery and improve drive out of the corners.

Yamaha R1 2009

And so it came that the R1 road bike gained a ‘cross plane’ crankshaft. Sure, peak power dropped a fraction but the R1 now sounded and rode like a thundering twin than a screaming four. Styling was completely new, moving away from the sleek and elegant direction of previous versions to a more bulbous and aggressive design.
The red coloured frame on the white bikes wasn’t to everyone’s taste, but it certainly grabbed the attention.


Adding to the R1’s kudos, American rider Ben Spies utterly dominated the 2009 world superbike championship on a race version of the bike – remarkably the company’s first ever title win in the series – although the sheer decline in the motorcycle market meant that it never really sold in the massive numbers of the early models.


14B specifications

Engine:  998cc, inline four, 16v, DOHC

Bore x stroke: 78 x 52.2mm

Power: 179bhp @ 12,500rpm

Torque: 85ftlb @ 9,000rpm

Weight: 206kg (wet)


2012-2014 Yamaha YZF-R1 (14BE)

Despite the market for big sports bikes being on its knees, BMW came along and moved the game on to a whole new level with its S 1000 RR of 2009.


The German giants brought plenty of power to the party but harnessing that were the most sophisticated electronics ever seen on a production motorcycle.

Yamaha R1 2012

Yamaha fought back with some MotoGP inspired rider aids of their own, so the 2012 R1 (designated 14BE) came with six stage traction control and had some tiny tweaks (such as new footpegs and upper fairing) but otherwise it was the same as the 14B.


Aprilia, BMW and Ducati had all stolen a march on the Japanese, pushing the 200bhp mark with their own superbike contenders, and with the currency rates pushing prices up, the 179bhp R1 struggled in the showrooms – even if it remained a very competent all-round package.


14BE specifications

Engine:  998cc, inline four, 16v, DOHC

Bore x stroke: 78 x 52.2mm

Power: 179bhp @ 12,500rpm

Torque: 85ftlb @ 9,000rpm

Weight: 206kg (wet)


2015-2018 Yamaha YZF-R1 and YZF-R1M (2CR)

If Yamaha had spent around a decade as a relative poor relation in the superbike class, they were to hit back hard with the 2015 edition.


Launched at the 2014 EICMA Show in Milan, there was not one but two bikes – and both were pretty damned special!

Yamaha R1 2015

The headline was that Yamaha had joined the 200bhp club with a new, shorter stroke motor. Having been down on power for the previous five years, the power boost was welcomed, but the big news was the stellar electronics package that moved things on to a new level.


The design was heavily inspired by the world championship winning YZR-M1 MotoGP bike, with Valentino Rossi featuring in the bike’s launch publicity and riding it on stage at the press launch.

Yamaha R1 2015

The thing was that the bike lived up to the hype. Sure, it didn’t quite have the sheer top end power rush of some of the competition but the chassis and electronics were sublime. Using a new inertial measurement unit (IMU) to accurately track what the bike is doing at any given time, the 2015 R1 featured fully programmable riding modes, lean sensitive traction control, wheelie control and quick shifter.


Even more special, the YZF-R1M was a limited run, homologation special, that was the closest thing you could buy to a MotoGP bike at the time. With some carbon fibre to shed weight, the R1-M’s wow factor was the Ohlins electronic suspension and race style datalogging system, making it a more than fitting member of this most legendary family.


2CR specifications


Engine:  998cc, inline four, 16v, DOHC

Bore x stroke: 79 x 50.9mm

Power: 200bhp @ 13,500rpm

Torque: 83ftlb @ 11,500rpm

Weight: 200kg (wet)




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