2015 Yamaha R1 on the Road: The Seat of the Pants Review

Riding Yamaha's MotoGP-inspired ride on the road

The 2015 Yamaha R1.
The 2015 Yamaha R1. Photo © Yamaha

I’ve waxed poetic about the Yamaha R1 and R1 M’s technical capabilities, and covered a lot of jargon-ridden ground about the new superbike’s high-revving engine, sophisticated suspension, and innovative chassis (not to mention its smartphone-based telemetry system), which is summed up in my recent track test review. But what is it like, from a seat-of-the-pants perspective, to ride the Yamaha R1 on the road?

Let’s saddle up for a virtual test of this all-new bad boy where it will (arguably) see way more action: on public streets.

Saddle Up

Like any proper MotoGP-derived superbike, the R1 has some undeniably unfriendly ergonomics: a relatively tall seat height of 33.7 inches, clip-on handlebars that require a serious arm stretch, and footpegs that set your legs dramatically rearward. It’s a committed posture, for sure, but one that’s also fitting for the task of piloting this high-powered land missile; after all, you wouldn’t want your MotoGP-inspired machine to have laid-back cruiser ergos, would you?

The sense of occasion is heightened by the instrument panel, which displays a plethora of information via an easy-to-read TFT screen. The screen layout changes with ride mode settings, and the display is bright, clear and kind of addicting to look at—especially since everything from brake lever input to fore/aft g-forces is displayed. When track mode is in play, the upper registers of the bar graph tachometer become visible while ride mode sub-settings are made more prominent.

… And You’re Off!

Flip the kickstand up and click into gear, and the R1’s kinetic capabilities take over. There’s a strong pull from the lower rpms, and while not quite as insistent as something as bonkers as the supercharged Kawasaki H2, that tug is still significant enough to make you feel like you’re strapped to something with enough thrust to inflict some serious damage.

The engine sound is throaty and voluminous—especially when revving into the middle and upper registers—and the decibel level is so strong that it was enough to trigger the sound meter and cause me to flagged at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.

On the street, that exhaust note can be intoxicating and awesomely un-stock sounding, or, depending on your perspective, conspicuous enough to garner unwanted attention from law enforcement. During my time on the bike I felt like a badass road racer trapped in the body (and riding gear) of a civilian. The feeling is intoxicating and raw, especially within the context of urban riding: what could be more outlaw than outpacing speed limits by several orders of magnitude while aboard a steed that’s more appropriate for the race track than the road?

The R1’s electronic reigns seem especially seamless on the road, namely because it’s virtually impossible to trigger them under normal conditions. You will feel the anti-wheelie action keeping the front wheel earthbound during hard acceleration, but traction control and ABS are particularly difficult to instigate when the tarmac is dry and the surface is smooth. Cornering feels secure, with good front end grip, but doesn't quite reveal the full breadth of the R1’s capabilities because it’s that much more difficult to tap into the bike’s potential when it’s ridden with an awareness of changing traffic patterns and potentially iffy surface conditions.

Bottom Line

If you’re sensing a trend in this narrative thread, it’s for good reason: the latest Yamaha R1 is one hell of a performance machine, a bike with considerable bandwidth that’s challenging to tap into on the track, let alone within the limitations of public roads. Sure, it may be easier than you might expect to ride fast, but it’s harder than you might expect to touch the upper edges of its limits. Not only is it a shame that its ass hauling, body leaning, tire scrubbing capabilities are almost impossible to plumb on the road, it’s even difficult to see what it can do on the track unless you take an extra bold approach (peppered with appropriate inspection and analysis of the electronic data paper trail). But such is the state of the modern superbike: sophisticated, capable, and complex as ever, capable of challenging the most seasoned riders into sharpening their skills while tempting them towards those increasingly elusive limits.