Introduced back in 1996, the Thunderace 1000 is regarded by many bikers as something of a stopgap model, linking the FZR1000 models to the awesome R1.
True, it seems a little heavy, a bit slow steering compared to the R1, which is undoubtedly the Number One sportsbike in 2000. But the `Ace has a storming engine,
with real lowdown guts in its crankcases, fantastic brakes and a reasonable level of rider comfort too.
Don’t write off the Thunderace before you’ve ridden it in for some, this will be all the bike you´ll ever need and then some.
South Africa, January 1996 and Roland Brown is having fun. It’s the launch of Yamaha’s YZF1000F Thunderace and the Killarney circuit proved an ideal testing ground for a ’potent, fine-handling, rider-friendly super-sports bike.’
Half a minute at speed says it all about Yamaha’s latest challenger in the nutter-bike war. Flat out on the Killarney circuit’s short pit straight, I’ve reached about 150mph (no time to check) before hitting the anchors for the second-gear horseshoe. The YZF1000R slows as fiercely as any production bike on earth before swooping into the left-hand turn. Note one: mega front brake.
There are bumps near the edge of the track on the way out, and the Thunderace twitches momentarily as I clamber across the bike for the next right-hander, the front end light under full-bore acceleration. Then it’s another brief, violent squeeze of brakes before flicking effortlessly in to the bend and powering out again, the slightly hot-’n’-bothered rear Dunlop squirming nicely as I wind open the throttle. Note two: monster midrange torque.
And it’s through the next flat-out left-hand kink that the YZF is truly Ace. Over a horrendous series of tarmac ripples that would have many a rival sportsbike spitting you into the South African bush (you really wouldn’t want to cross ’em on a GSX-R or a FireBlade, you wouldn’t), the Yamaha flaps its bars in brief protest and then it’s back under control and motoring on towards the next bend. Note three: manoeuvrability and stability combined.
The stopping power, grunt and stable handling of the Thunderace are what stick in the mind following the launch of this bike and the YZF600R Thundercat near Cape Town in South Africa. Two days’ riding on road and track were enough to show that the Thunderace has some distinct advantages over its FZR1000R predecessor and that both new Yams, for all their fancy names and styling, are very much developments of the old.
South Africa is a stonking place to ride a big fast motorcycle, particularly in the middle of an icy British winter and even more particularly if someone has arranged for you to spend a morning strafing the local racetrack. The bumpy Killarney circuit could almost have been hand-picked by Yamaha (maybe it was) to highlight the Thunderace’s compliant, well-controlled suspension and its ability to keep cool under pressure.
That made for a great time at the track, although it was hard work in the hot sun (save the sympathy) ’cos the Yam’s phenomenal grunt and braking power meant that the rider never got much time for a rest. Even on the longish back straight I was too busy trying to clock my braking point for the fiendishly deceptive right-hander that followed.
Here the Ace’s awesome anchors combined with a helpful camber entering the turn to mean that you could brake later than seemed possible, making it a real bottle job at 150mph-plus. Then the tightening turn sometimes made you wish you’d entered a bit more slowly after all, to get better drive onto the next straight.
The camber, grippy track and sticky Dunlop Sportmax radials made grounding the footrests a regular occurrence, and occasionally the silencer touched down too, which is not so clever. But the front end always felt planted, and the big motor has so much grunt that it would get you out of jail from 3000rpm, let alone six grand.
Top speed is likely to be a bit higher than the FZR Thou’s thanks to more slippery aerodynamics (somewhere around 170mph depending on conditions), but the drawback is the rider gets less wind protection from the screen. That was slightly annoying on the road, but for a sports bike the Thunderace was pretty comfortable thanks to a roomy riding position, not-too-radical clip-ons and a decent seat (there’s no grab-rail, so a pillion would disagree).
With its fat band of midrange torque and only five gears instead of six to play with, the Yam is both easier to ride fast than most of its rivals, and also more pleasant to ride fairly slowly. But if that sounds as though the big Yam has gone soft, forget it. This ain’t no sports-tourer. Like every FZR1000 since the line began in 1987, it’s a potent, fine-handling, rider-friendly super-sports bike. Only more so.
So What’s New Then? Most obvious bit is the bodywork. The Ace’s twin-headlamp fairing is designed primarily to improve high-speed aerodynamics, and reduces CdA to 0.290 from the FZR1000’s figure of 0.304 (for what that’s worth). The two-piece seat is also new.
The YZF750 kindly donated its aluminium Deltabox frame to the Thunderace. Yamaha say it’s 5kg lighter and five per cent stiffer than the FZR Thou’s. Steering geometry is identical to the 750’s (24 degree rake, 97mm trail) although the bigger bike’s wheelbase is 10mm longer at 1430mm.
Forks are real scaffold-poles at 48mm in diameter, a record, and the shock is also new. Both can be fiddled with for preload, compression and rebound damping. The four-pot front brake calipers have a one-piece construction that Yamaha says makes ’em more rigid as well as lighter than conventional calipers with bolted-together halves. Changes in the 17-inch wheels add up to a further weight saving of over 3kg.
There’s not much new inside the motor, just forged pistons (stronger than cast, and lighter by 5g apiece) and a reworked crank that saves another kilo. Otherwise it’s the same old 1002cc, 20-valve EXUP motor as before.
The bank of 38mm downdraft Mikuni carbs has a throttle position sensor, which lets the ignition and EXUP know what’s going on. Silencer of the four-into-one exhaust is also new, and the rad is now curved with dual fans. Claimed peak power output remains 145bhp at 10,000rpm, with the torque max of 108N.m arriving at 8500rpm.
How does It Compare to a FireBlade?
Basically it’s gruntier, less revvy, more stable, less quick-steering and a bit heavier. Not by a huge amount, but by enough that you’d notice the difference straight away.
The difference in dry weight is only 15kg, less than a tankful of gas, and steering angle is an identical 24 degrees. But the Thunderace doesn’t quite have that same so-sharp-it-cuts-on-sight feel and on the other hand it’s likely to be more forgiving of bad surfaces and cack-handed riding.
Of the two the Honda is the bike for headbangers (either that or the even more barking GSX-R750), and the Yam’s for those who prefer to unleash big dollops of roll-on grunt from a slightly more predictable platform.
On paper the YZF also has a 19bhp peak power advantage, though the bikes feel much more closely matched than that. One area where there’s no doubt is price: the Yamaha costs £270 less, at £8995.
How does it compare to the FZR Though?
You know what it’s like when your bike’s just been serviced, when they’ve cleaned the filters, changed the plugs, replaced the knackered tyres and pads? The feel of the bike is familiar but the engine is more responsive, the handling’s magically better, the brakes have more bite.
That’s what it’s like riding the Thunderace and that’s compared to a tip-top new FZR1000 rather than some tired old hound. At 6500rpm there’s an extra 10bhp: not enough to blow your mind, but enough to make a difference on the road. There’s five brake more everywhere between five and eight grand, right where it’s handy for maximum speed with minimum fuss.
Handling may not be quite as knife-edge as some, but the YZF is decidedly more agile than the FZR. The new bike weighs 16kg less, is 40mm shorter, its forks are a significant 2.4 degrees steeper. Compared to the FZR, the Ace handles like a 750 which, when you think about it, is hardly surprising.
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|ENGINE||Inline DOHC four, 20 valve, water cooled|
|CLAIMED POWER (BHP)||145bhp at 10,000rpm|
|TYRES||Front: 120/60 ZR17 Dunlop Sportmax. Rear: 180/55 ZR17 Dunlop Sportmax|
|SUSPENSION||Front: 48mm forks, adj preload, compression and rebound. Rear: Single shock; preload, compression and rebound damping|
|FRAME||twin spar aluminium|
|TOP SPEED||170 mph|
|FUEL CAPACITY||20 litres|