The 1000cc Supersports class is where the ’big four’ Japanese manufacturers like to play hard and fast, with flagship four cylinder machines battling it out for supremacy.
Back in the Jurassic era, Kawasaki ruled the roost with the GPZ900R, until bikes like the GSXR1100 Suzuki and Yamaha FZR1000 EXUP moved the stakes higher. In the 90s, Honda had it all their own way for half a decade with the 899/918cc Fireblade series, then along came the Yamaha R1 – bye bye Blade…
And now a new challenger, the GSXR1000 looks set to put Suzuki at the top of the hill for a few years – faster, lighter, smoother than all the rest. But is it really that good? insidebikes.com took the Gixer 1000, `Blade, R1 and the Kawasaki ZX9R for a windswept and interesting day out at Darley Moor race circuit to find out.
Yamaha YZF1000R1; Spirit of the tuning fork
Yamaha´s corporate logo, the tuning fork, used to feature on all their motorcycles, back when I was a spotty youth and dreamed of riding an RD400, whilst committing at least 17 traffic law offences on my way to college. The fork symbolized both Yamaha´s musical instrument heritage and its serious belief in road racing improving the bikes that they manufactured, and in the shape of the R1, they still have a single-minded, sharply focused tool for anyone interested in racing.
The success of the V & M R1 race machines, at purist, old fashioned road race events like the NW200 and IOM TT, demonstrate what the bike is capable of, in the right hands. It remains a devastatingly fast machine out of a corner, or going hard on the brakes into a turn for that matter.
But for me, the Yamaha finishes second – just – in this comparison, precisely because it so honed for track use. Fact is, the roads aren´t like the track in any way, except that black tarmac coats them both. Once you accept that lower speeds, grids, traffic, diesel, police revenue cameras and all the rest of the obstacles in your way, conspire to dilute the biking experience, the R1 cannot quite compete with roomier bikes like the Suzuki, or the Kawasaki ZX9R, as all round, everyday, sportsbike heaven.
Yes, I can hear some of you sniggering at the mention of the Kawasaki, but the big ZX9R has acres of space to move your body around, thus preventing severe aches and pains cutting short your riding, or just making it a chore, rather than sheer fun. That´s what biking is you see; Fun. Whereas visiting a chiropractor weekly when you´re 50-something, is not fun!
The R1 is however, a barrel of laughs on the track of course, so if you have any sense at all, you will book yourself in for every trackday going on the Yam and begin to learn the art of truly going fast, not just posing in front of cameras, like most of us sad journos do on a regular basis.
Despite being a few kilos heavier than the Gixer, the R1 felt more inclined to get the front wheel up than the Suzuki, probably because its power delivery is slightly more biased towards the top end of the rev range. There isn´t the definite ’step’ that the ZX9R has around 7,000rpm, but the R1 is that touch peakier somehow.
Although the R1 retains carbs, rather than the fuel injection systems on the Suzy and Honda, it still feels light years smoother than the Kawasaki too, all the way from tickover to around 10,000rpm. A lovely gearbox, now cured of early model gremlins, plus a light action clutch, also aid your progress on the R1. You don´t have to think too hard about getting gearchanges spot-on, which is great for road use, but once you do work the Yam harder, its overall transmission precision is perfectly suited for cutting down lap times.
For this is a bike which makes you aware of speed, both on the straights and carrying momentum into a corner, with a very sharp steering chassis that lets you brake very deep into a turn before chucking it onto its side. Actually, chucking is the wrong word – all it needs a little waggle of the knees to point the R1 onto your chosen line, nothing more.
Sharp dressed yam
In terms of handling, the R1´s closest competitor for me was the Fireblade, which is now a much tighter, more track orientated package that its mid 1990s incarnation. Both the Yamaha and the Honda compress their pilots inside the chassis somehow, letting you concentrate on something serious fast riding, but the downside is that it can be a bit harder to relax at slow speeds on both of them.
Another feature that reminds you constantly how much the Yamaha is designed for race use, is the brakes, which may only be four pot calipers at the front, but stood out for me at Darley as the most precise, most controllable stoppers. I could leave the braking from 140-ish mph a few metres later on the main straight on the R1 than on all the others, which I guess is why so many trackday addicts want a R1 (or have recently binned one).
It also scores top marks in another important area; styling. It still looks like a fast bike, even when it is parked, with aggressive, angular lines that haven´t dated since the R1 appeared backing 1998. The Suzy looks nice, especially in blue and white, but the R1, especially in the blue/white paint option, is superb. For me, only the ZX9R in its electric blue paint rivals the Yamaha.
So the R1 is very much on the pace. Not surprising, since it has taken a substantial effort on the part of Suzuki to beat its combination of low weight, and high power. The differences in performance between these two are so minimal, that it comes down to rider ability, whether on track, or public road, as to which is the `best bike.´
That leaves the vague stuff, like styling, exhaust note, or the basic physical fit of the R1 to consider, which is always difficult to gauge on a short demo run, or a day at Darley in the drizzle, which is all we had to work on. Even though I´m only about 5 foot 9 ins tall, the R1 feels like an import 400 to me after just a few miles, which is the primary reason I wouldn´t buy one. I´m old enough to value comfort above a little extra speed, which is something my Dad would say – but there y´go.
Another good reason for not buying an R1 is that the Yamaha R6 somehow feels slightly roomier, with almost as much speed, power and razor sharp handling. Obviously it is also cheaper. When the smaller rival motorcycle within your own company feels like a better bike, there´s something no quite right. It´s a shame, but the R1 doesn´t seem the `must have´ bike that it once was and it isn´t just the Gixer 1000 that has made me reach that conclusion. The RSV1000 Mille, Triumph 955 and Honda SP-1 all seem to ’fit’ me better in some way – they all sound better too.
Biking is ultimately a personal thing, a way of weekend escape that unravels all the stress of the working week, so it really does matter how good something with two wheels and an engine makes you feel. The truth is, the Suzuki made me feel just that little bit more like the demented teenager I once was, when my dream bike was a yellow and black RD400, with `ace´ bars and a set of Dunlop race compound tyres.
Get Yamaha motorcycle insurance for the yamaha supersports yzf1000r1.
Engine Liquid cooled, four cylinder, four stroke, DOHC, 20 valves
Claimed power (bhp) 170bhp
Compression ratio 11.8:1
Transmission 6 speed
Chassis; Twin spar aluminium type frame
Front suspension; 43mm upside down forks, multi adjustable
Rear suspension; Ohlins monoshock, multi adjustable
Brakes; Twin 298mm front discs, four piston calipers, single 245mm rear disc, twin piston caliper
Wheels/Tyres; 120/70 ZR 17 inch front, 190/50 ZR 17 inch rear
Top speed 175mph
fuel capacity 18 litres
dry weight 175kg
Current price £9,000