Carole Nash
Content Writer
Published: 8th August 2008

One lap of Jerez aboard Noriyuki Haga’s smooth and sweet steering YZF-R7 is all it takes to confirm that swapping from one factory Yamaha to another has made things considerably easier.

And, more to the point, that the Japanese genius faces a big challenge as he moves in the opposite direction, from YZF-R7 Superbike to YZR500 grand prix machine, in the coming season.

My own change of bike is the more immediate, if inevitably the much shorter lived. I’ve jumped onto Haga´s R7 immediately after putting in a dozen laps of Jerez aboard Carlos Checa’s YZR500. And after the ultra-light, wheelie-happy, spitefully powerful two-stroke grand prix missile, the relatively controllable, almost docile yet still searingly fast four-stoke Superbike seems like a much more manageable proposition.

No wonder Nori-san was looking a bit down in the dumps in the pits earlier in the day, as he contemplated his recently commenced move from four- to two-stroke Yamaha power. If I’d been riding this R7 for the last couple of years and it had just been taken away from me, I’d be disappointed too, because it’s one of those rare and precious machines – even by the elevated standards of factory racebikes – that just feels wonderfully right from the moment you climb aboard.

Even the getting-to-know-you process that I normally experience when riding an exotic racebike for the first time seems somehow accelerated now. No doubt that’s partly because I rode a factory-kitted R7 at this track a year ago, and because the R7 is closely related to the straight-four streetbikes with which I’m most familiar. More than that, though, it’s simply that this is arguably the finest-handling, most agile bike of the last World Superbike season.

Whatever the reason, I’d barely started my second lap of Jerez before coming to the conclusion that the R7 that Haga rode to second place in last season’s World Superbike championship is about as close to two-wheeled perfection as anything I’ve ridden. Imagine a bike that somehow has more straight-line speed than a roadgoing R1, less weight and far better handling and braking than an R6, plus a free-revving smoothness and a near-flawless response to every rider input and you’re getting somewhere close.

Having watched Haga’s often breathtaking performances aboard this bike last season, I had expected its handling to be out of this world, so it’s perhaps the bike’s straight line performance than makes the most vivid impression. The 749cc, 20-valve straight-four’s willingness to rev is totally addictive, and in marked contrast to the Honda SP-1 V-twin of Colin Edwards, which of course beat this bike to the Superbike championship crown, and which I also rode recently.

The Honda V-twin’s big pistons limit peak revs to 11,000rpm and make the bike feel much like a roadster, albeit an extremely rapid one. But the Yamaha straight four, with its much smaller 46mm diameter forged pistons, and its titanium valves and conrods, revs to 15,000rpm in super-quick, gorgeously smooth fashion that is different and utterly .One area where the R7 is decidedly better is in its throttle response, which is notably smoother and more rider-friendly than that of Edwards’ SP-1. One of the few improvements that Yamaha made to the YZF’s power train this season was to substitute the standard Mikuni throttle bodies for larger ones from Keihin. These have made an already fairly glitch-free delivery better still, aiding the Sultan of Slide in his trademark rear-wheel-drifting cornering style.

For a highly tuned multi the Yamaha is pretty tractable too, making reasonable power from as low as 10,000rpm. A few times I come out of a turn in a gear too high, and the bike accelerates with notably less enthusiasm until it reaches the sweet zone at about 12,000rpm. The close-ratio gearbox and ultra-efficient power-shifter make it easy to keep the revs up, though, and the Yam feels just soooo good as it rockets down the straights, making a fairly restrained howl through its Akrapovic four-into-one pipe.

One R7 benefit that is very noticeable after jumping straight off the YZR500 is the value of the four-stroke’s engine braking, which makes it much easier to slow slightly without needing to touch the brake. Combined with the YZF’s remarkable agility that makes it almost ridiculously easy to change line even when cranked well over, which must have been a hugely useful asset for Haga in the heat of World Superbike battle.

Much of the R7’s sweet-steering feel is due to the way the bike is set up, with a lot of rear ride height, but that doesn’t seem to compromise its stability, which is generally excellent. Although the bike wags its handlebars a fair bit exiting the slow last left-hander – before lifting its front wheel in thrilling fashion through the first three gears on the following pit straight – that’s presumably because its rear Ohlins unit is set up too soft for my weight, allowing the bike to squat under power.

In corners the bike is superbly planted, and it doesn’t even wave about excessively on the brakes, even though the six-piston Nissin front calipers bite so hard that the rear wheel is often barely on the ground. No doubt the rigidity and sublime damping control of the ultra-exotic Ohlins front forks have much to do with that, along with the quality of the bike’s frame. The race-ready R7’s black-finished twin-spar aluminium cage has more than twice the torsional stiffness of the R1’s deceptively similar looking equivalent.

It all adds up to a bike that feels so fast yet controllable, so instantly responsive to every tiny command, that after ten or so laps I’m feeling more comfortable and dialled-in than I ever could have been aboard the R7´s GP sister – the more demanding YZR500.
The track has dried almost completely now, leaving just a few slightly damp patches that I can avoid without much trouble. It’s partly for this reason, but mainly because the R7 is so much easier to ride, that I’m lapping a couple of seconds faster than I did half an hour ago on the more powerful YZR, without pushing too hard or getting any Nori-like slides from the rear Dunlop slick.

The surface certainly looks dry now in the long, slightly uphill third-gear right-hander that leads onto the back straight. This is probably the fastest bend at Jerez, and one of the most enjoyable. It’s slightly bumpy in places near the apex, and the low winter sun is right in my face as, after tipping the Yamaha into the turn, I gradually wind back the throttle to dial in the all-important drive out onto the long straight.
And then it happens.

The moment that ends my test of one of the best and most valuable bikes I’ve ever ridden in the most spectacular and sudden fashion possible. Without any warning, the rear Dunlop slick, the famously forgiving, rider-friendly Dunlop that Nori trusts so much – steps out too quickly and too far for me to catch it, and the R7 highsides me into the gravel at roughly 100mph.

There’s no blame attached to the tyre or the bike. It’s just a rider error of too much speed on a bend that has a small damp crack in its surface. (I notice this, at the start of a long black skid-mark, only when being driven back the wrong way round the track, with the sun behind me.)

I’m just bruised, but the bike is badly damaged. Crashes get much more painful than this, but rarely more embarrassing. So much for ‘controllable´, ‘docile´ and ‘easy to ride´. My works-racer fantasy ends in disaster, having comprehensively proved that even one of the finest-handling and most responsive bikes in the world has very definite limits. Haga might regularly have made this YZF-R7 do things that no motorbike should be capable of, but for the rest of us the laws of physics still apply.

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Vital Statistics
ENGINE 4-stroke In line four
CC 749
CLAIMED POWER (BHP) 106 @ 11,000rpm
TORQUE 72.10 Nm (7.4 kgf-m or 53.2 ft·lbf) @ 9000 RPM
Cycle parts
BRAKES Front: 320 mm (12.6 inches) Dual disc. Rear: 245 mm (9.6 inches)Single disc
TYRES Front: 120/70-ZR17. Rear: 180/55-ZR17
WHEELBASE 1,400 mm (55.1 inches)
DIMENSIONS L 2,060 mm (81.1 inches) W 720 mm (28.3 inches)
SEAT HEIGHT 840 mm (33.1 inches)
WEIGHT 176.0 kg (388.0 pounds)