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- Written by Carole Nash Editor
- Created: 08 August 2008
Who doesn’t want something special, a bit better than the run-of-the-mill motorcycle that the world and his wife own?
Well, if you have the cash, put your name down for the Yamaha R7, an exclusive racer for the road, based on Nori Haga´s awesome WSB machine.
As close to a handbuilt special as any factory can produce, the R7 simply drips with state-of-the-art, racetrack tested, technology to allow the lucky owner the fastest fun that money can buy.
Exotica doesn´t come much better than this.
Awesome. That word is bandied around with casual abandon in every superbike press release. But the R7 more than justifies the tag. Hours after jumping off the Yam at its 1999 launch, Roland Brown was still wired, having been left totally in awe of the its ability and speed.
The day’s testing is over, and the three YZF-R7s are safely locked away in a pit garage at the Jerez circuit in southern Spain. Their fairing noses are spotted with flies, their slick tyres scuffed to their edges, their engines by now cold. We six riders are showered and dressed for dinner, and now it’s time to unwind with a guided tour of a local wine bodega, where celebrities from Orson Welles to Alex Criville have signed their names on dusty barrels of sherry.
But I’m not really taking it in at all. My mind is still back at the track, my body coursing with adrenalin, and my pulse rate taking a little leap every time I recall the thrill of firing the R7 onto the start-finish straight with its front wheel lifting off the track. Or the precision with which it sliced through the two fast right-handers at the back of the circuit. Or the way the sublime front brake shed speed as I sat up and squeezed the lever at the end of the main straight.
Jerez is a popular launch location, and I’ve been here several times before over the years, but I’ve never known a buzz like the one I’m feeling after riding the Yamaha YZF-R7. None of the bikes I’ve tested here before has compared to the machine that is code-named the OW02. None has left me as totally in awe at its ability and sheer speed as the 750cc four that is surely the most sophisticated, singleminded production motorcycle that Yamaha or any other firm has ever built. (And, at almost three times the price of the R1, one of the most expensive.)
Despite a shape and layout that are obviously shared with the R1 and R6. you don’t have to look too closely even at the basic roadgoing R7 to realise that this bike is something special. But even features such as the gold Ohlins front forks, the black-finished frame and the single seat only hint at the significant differences between Yamaha’s mass-produced fours and the R7, whose production is limited to just 500, and which has been created specifically to form the basis of Yamaha’s assault on the World Superbike championship.
’At the start of this project my bosses asked me to make a 750cc version of the R1,’ Kunihiko Miwa, the brilliant engineer who created the Thunderace as well as all three R-series models, had told us the previous evening. ’But I said no and there are many, many changes. Those bikes are built for the street. This is the ultimate track machine.’
He was not exaggerating. More than any other streetbike before it, including the likes of Honda’s RC45 and Ducati’s 916 SPS, the R7 is not simply a road bike that can be raced, but a competition motorcycle that happens to come with lights and a starter-motor. Its engine is crammed with titanium; its chassis is in a different league even to those of its fine-handling R-series siblings. In standard form the R7 produces just 106bhp, to facilitate worldwide homologation, but that figure leaps by more than 50 per cent with the addition of the minimal race-kit that is as integral a part of this bike as gas in the tank.
The OW02’s R-series roots are clear from the layout of its engine, which combines Yamaha’s traditional five-valves-per-cylinder arrangement with the one-piece cylinder-and-crankcase design plus the vertically stacked gearbox that were introduced with the R1. Bore and stroke dimensions of 72 x 46mm are identical to those of the ageing YZF750SP on which Noriyuki Haga managed five race wins and a final position of sixth in last year’s championship.
Inside the motor, however, the numerous changes confirm just how serious Yamaha is about producing a bike good enough to go a step further and win the World Superbike title for the first time. Unlike the old YZF, the R7 is fuel-injected, with a sophisticated twin-injector system. The combustion dome and intake ports of its cylinder head are CNC machined, in Formula One racecar style, to ensure precise dimensions and perfect balance between cylinders.
This bike’s titanium valves are 46 per cent lighter than those of its predecessor; the valves’ aluminium retainers are 60 per cent lighter. New H-section titanium conrods weigh 30 per cent less than the SP rods; forged pistons feature nickel-plated tops for high-rev durability. The lightweight crankshaft is ion nitrified. The close-ratio gearbox drives through a wet clutch that features a back-torque limiter to help prevent the rear wheel locking during down-changes.
The R7’s chassis is arguably even more exotic than its engine. The frame’s black finish is irrelevant in itself, but hints that this chassis owes much more to Yamaha’s 500cc GP racers than to previous streetbikes. Those main frame spars incorporate an additional layer of aluminium, which helps give the frame a torsional stiffness literally twice that of the R1, and almost 50 per cent greater than the YZF-SP racer. The long swing-arm, also black finished, shows almost as big an increase in torsional stiffness.
As a racebike the R7 has been designed with 53 per cent of its weight over the front wheel, compared to the R1 roadster’s 50/50 split. Dry weight of the standard R7 is 176kg, just one kilo lighter than the R1, but with unnecessary road parts removed the bike is close to the 160kg Superbike minimum.
Front forks are 43mm upside-down units from Ohlins, featuring a low-friction titanium coating on the sliders. The rear shock is also made by the Yamaha-owned Swedish firm, and can be adjusted for ride height as well as preload and damping. In racebike fashion the R7 offers huge potential for chassis tuning. Race kit parts allow adjustment not only of rake and trail (using alternative steering head inserts), but also of the swing-arm pivot, which can be moved up or down by 2 or 4mm.
The R7’s race-kit is small, as this bike is designed to require a minimum of modification to be competitive on the track. The most important engine-related kit part is the large-capacity carbon-fibre airbox, which transforms the intake set-up to provide a ram-air system. This is fed by a duct that exits below the steering head above either the larger of the twin standard radiators, or the thicker race-kit radiator that can be fitted in their place for extra cooling.
Other kit parts include the competition carbon-fibre exhaust can (most of the standard system is retained), a regulator that almost doubles the fuel-injection pressure, a bigger fuel pump to suit, and stiffer clutch springs to cope with the extra power. The trio of R7s assembled in Jerez for this small-scale launch also incorporated a few other engine-related mods including a thinner head gasket, to increase compression ratio slightly from the standard 11.4:1, and a quicker-action throttle.
The launch bikes also had some non-standard chassis parts, notably Marchesini wheels, six-piston Nissin racing calipers instead of the R1-style four-piston units fitted as standard, and an Ohlins steering damper. A new upper fairing panel, narrower lock-stops and revised gearing were also fitted, and to suit my long legs the adjustable footrests were set as far back and down as possible. The riding position is pure racer, with clip-ons slightly lower and further forward than the R1’s.
Starter-motors had been removed, too, so my first impression of the R7 came as mechanic Jesse pushed me down the Jerez pit-lane, and I let out the light hydraulic clutch to crank the motor into life. Even when blipping the throttle at a standstill it was obvious that the titanium-filled engine was remarkably quick-revving, as a twitch of my wrist sent the tach needle shooting enthusiastically round the dial.
Jerez grand prix circuit on a sunny spring day should have been perfect, but water rising through cracks in the track surface meant that the first session was marred by a couple of damp patches on the racing line. Not that this fazed the Yamaha. Even lapping slowly behind the photographer’s car gave the bike an opportunity to show that it pulled cleanly, if not exactly urgently, from very low revs, picking up at about 8000rpm and getting stronger again as it hit double-figures.
Throttle response was superbly clean, with none of the jerkiness of some injection systems. That and the engine’s flexibility made the R7 easy to ride. But it was at high revs that all those lightweight internals really came into their own, sending the Yamaha hurtling forward with breathtaking force.
The motor’s crisp, quick-revving power made the bike a blast everywhere on the track, especially on the back straight, which is preceded by a long, slightly uphill third-gear right-hander with a late, blind apex. When I got it right, it was magic. The bike swept back to the apex with my knee brushing the ground, rear Michelin slick just sliding a little as the camber dropped away, and exhaust note rising as the motor pulled smoothly and phenomenally hard from about 11,000rpm to catapult the Yamaha out onto the straight.
Then it was head behind the bubble and flick-flick-flick up through the gearbox, normally changing on the exhaust sound, occasionally finding time to glance down at the R1-style instrument panel. The blue headlamp main beam warning light was wired to flash at a pre-selected rev limit, in this case 14,300rpm, but was too dim to see out of the corner of my eye. (For track use the digital speedo can be set to show water temperature.) And I’d know when I’d got that last bend right, because then the bike would be into top and revving hard before I flashed under the bridge and hit the brakes at the end of the straight.
Even designer Miwa wouldn’t give a precise figure for how much power the R7 was making in this spec, but it was very close to the output of last year’s works bike, so an estimate of 160bhp at 13,700rpm wouldn’t be far off. Jerez is too twisty to get a true test of top speed, but the old YZF works racer was good for over 185mph on Hockenheim’s long straights, and in this fully kitted form the more aerodynamic production R7 should be every bit as fast.
The R7’s rigid, ultra-adjustable chassis should also make this year’s factory bikes handle better than the machine on which Haga produced so many cornering heroics last season. At my rather less spectacular pace at Jerez the bike was magnificent. It combined razor-sharp steering (thanks to a steep rake of just under 23 degrees, in the standard position) with amazing stability and precision. Every detail about track surface and traction was transmitted straight into my brain, allowing cornering control far in excess of a normal sports bike.
Much credit for that goes to the sublime Ohlins suspension, not least the forks whose 120mm of travel is 10mm less than that of the R1’s units. In contrast this bike has slightly more rear wheel travel than the roadster, to allow its shock to work properly when compressed under hard acceleration. When exiting a couple of bends this tended to make the bike sit slightly at the rear, generating a slight wobble. Adding a few clicks of shock compression damping improved things, but the answer was to keep my weight over the front wheel not easy on a bike that accelerates as hard as this one does.
Conversely, at points of maximum braking it was essential to sit back in the seat and lock my arms to prevent being thrown forward, otherwise the rear wheel came off the ground with consequent loss of balance. The front brake blend of race-spec Nissin six-pot calipers and fully-floating 320mm discs (the R1’s are only 300mm) was totally awesome, giving a vast amount of feel at the lever, while stopping the bike hard enough to pin me to the bars and dig a trench in the track with the hard-worked front Michelin slick.
All that means that riding the R7 is a very physical experience, as well as a totally thrilling one, and at least if you’re planning to win World Superbike races on it a very mentally demanding one too. ’The new bike is fantastic but there are so many things in the chassis to change that it’s very complicated, much more so than on the Supersport bike I raced last year,’ said Vittoriano Guareschi who, after finishing second in last year’s (1998) Supersport championship on a YZF600R, is stepping up a class to become Haga’s team-mate this year.
Of course it is how Haga and Guareschi get on this season, and not how the bike felt to the likes of me, that will determine whether the OW02 is a success or not. Yamaha do not need reminding that exactly ten years ago they introduced the OW01: an exotic 750cc, 20-valve four with titanium engine parts and Ohlins rear suspension, created as the basis for a World Superbike racer.
The OW01 won races but never the title. For the YZF-R7, that bike’s supremely singleminded and hugely capable successor, only the delivery of Yamaha’s first World Superbike championship will be good enough.
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|Engine||Liquid-cooled transverse four|
|Claimed power (bhp)||106bhp|
|Transmission||Six speed close ratio|
|Tyres Front||120/60 x 17in Michelin slick. Rear: 180/67 x 17in Michelin slick|
|Wheels Front||3.50 x 17in; Marchesini magnesium. Rear: 6.00 x 17in; Marchesini magnesium.|
|Suspension||Front: 43mm Ohlins usd telescopic, 120mm travel, adjustment for preload, compression and rebound damping. Rear: One Ohlins damper, 138mm wheel travel, adjustment for preload, compression and rebound damping|
|Brakes||Front: 2, six-piston Nissin calipers, 320mm discs (four-piston standard). Rear: Double-action caliper, 245mm disc|
|Top speed||185 mph|
|Fuel capacity||24 litres