I’ve often wondered if vehicles have a soul. It’s a silly notion that inanimate objects can have a bearing and influence over one’s life, or indeed bestow it with love or fear or mediocrity. These things enter our lives as blank storyless books, empty pages waiting to be filled. Experiences you share together inscribing that story with joy, support and sadly sometimes pain. These things we call bikes are just parts, created by nameless assembly lines. And yet, when these parts come together you get something else, something intangible that won’t show up on a graph or dreary Powerpoint presentations. Energy is created. A soul.
I believe it’s this soul that is the deciding factor on the bikes and vehicles, and houses, and people we choose to share our lives with. Why am I waffling on about this hippy rubbish, I hear you crying into your iPads? Well, the R1M’s soul is different. Very different.
If I may… it’s like the guy on your sports team who is excellent at what he does. You know as soon as he gets the ball, he will score. But when you try to talk and congratulate him in the changing rooms, he’s an utter prick. But he’s so irritatingly good at his job, that you couldn’t care less about his prickness and the fact he blanks you at every post-game beer. He’s making you win.
The Yamaha R1M is that guy. And this is that story.
We managed to wangle the R1M for a generous two-week loan from Yamaha UK: something pretty special considering there are only 60 or so currently residing in the UK. Two days beforehand, a lovely mature lady inserted her front-end into my rear-end so I was vanless. I took the trusty GSX-R1000 for a Yammy holiday (which Yamaha staff instantly covered up in the Iron Man-esque workshops). Once inside the clinically clean Yamaha works, I’m introduced to the bike. A set of parts that happens to have been arranged in the R1M configuration resides in front of me. From the twinge inside my testes, one can already tell this is something special. Handshakes, run through, let me talk you through it, this is how…I’ll figure it out. I just want to get on it and leave at exceptional speeds. “Wait, you forgot the tablet…” Yes, indeed, more on that later.
What’s it like to ride on the UK’s finest potholed and forgotten road network? It’s a pig. Well, actually, that’s not a fair assessment without some back-up stories. Yamaha have firmly aimed the laser-guided crosshairs at the sportiest end of the sportsbike market. I wouldn’t say its a no compromise track bike, but its pretty close.
Jumping aboard, the bars are aggressive, the seat is little more than a foam wafer, the dash is pointing down at your todger, and for the vertically challenged, it’s not the easiest to straddle. But then you see the delicious ally tank nestled into your crotch and instantly forget the above.
Turn the key, and JJ Abrams has directed an intro animation of some flashing zeros on the beautifully crisp TFT dash. Why flashing zeros I’m not quite sure, but the quality of this display is easily compared to high-end smartphone devices. I am a fan of the traditional analogue needles, well, I was a fan until I saw this. Right up to date and adds to the technological experience of this bike.
Somewhat overwhelming is the array of information, that a little bit of bewilderment came over me but was quickly back in the comfort zone after 20 seconds of fiddling and realising it’s only one main push wheel that easily and clearly cycles through your options, of which there are many… many many many. But for now, the simple B mode looks warm and inviting. Let’s start her up.
The R1 labours into life, akin to the reluctance of a 90’s Ducati, it eventually finds the time to be bothered to fire. It’s highly strung for sure, another hint of what this bikes purpose is.
Finally out in the sunshine. ‘What the hell is wrong with this throttle,’ was the first thing that went through my mind but a little time spent here will pay off later. It’s a funny feeling, super aggressive at low RPM yet seems a touch delayed when you clutch in and give it a blip. A little disconnection is happening here, the ride-by-wire trickery is doing its thing and for just rambling around the back streets, that trickery is not particularly welcomed.
However, as soon as the roads open up a little and you start climbing the rev range, it starts to make a little more sense. As the revs and speed increase, you finally realise what this bike is: 100% track weapon. Nothing less than 99.9% focused on speed (0.1% focused on jizzy carbon glamour). The ride is certainly on the firm side, particularly for suburban curb crawling, but again, this bike doesn’t live here.
I will say at this point that in an ironic twist, the track targeted M version is actually a better road bike than the standard due to the top-notch electrickery Öhlins ironing out the common malformations which litter our tired asphalt. So a quick mode select into C softens up the ride with no need for spanners. Again, rather irritatingly you will need to come to a complete stop before you can change the mode as the wheel speed sensors need to clear their browser history of unwanted pornography. Actually, the M bike is simply better all round.
The steering is reasonably light, very stable and the overall feeling I have riding this bike is that it’s way more capable than I am. Anything I do, excluding a purposeful excursion off the road into a field, will be tidied up by the bike. The other way to crash it is, of course, just keep leaning and leaning until you run off the tyre. Apart from those two events and excluding external God factos, like a dragon from Game of Thrones airlifting you to the Wall, you are probably the safest you will ever be on any superbike out there thanks the supreme electronics package included in the R1.
The brakes could possibly do with a set of high performance pads as this is probably the weakest area of the bike. Not just bite and power, but braking seems to unsettle the rear and anything over a 10 degree lean on braking induces a little tail slide on down shifts which means you have to adjust the way you reengage the clutch, feathering it back out like a manual slipper clutch. This is further compounded by the gutting lack of an auto-blipper. However, these are available as aftermarket purchases if you really miss one (yes, I would install one).
But these things only really become apparent on a circuit it’s barely noticeable on the roads and easily outperforms requirement.
Power. Nuclear Power (possibly funded by the Chinese) is what is at your disposal from 7000 rpm onwards, but it’s the way that power is delivered that helps you understand the character of this bike. It needs electronics. The beauty of it is that those electronic aids are there to make you go faster not to make the bike go slower and ‘safer’. 100% application of full throttle in 1st gear which is completely acceptable on this technological marvel the ‘lif’ control is so accurate, it will hold the front at a constant height of your choosing until you change up. Beware however of throttling out of a wheelie it doesn’t respond well and the result being a kangarooing buckeroo ride.
You HAVE to commit on this bike, trust in its ability and it won’t let you down. And that’s where the ultimate issue I have with this bike lays.
To get anywhere close to getting the most out of this bike, you need to have the confidence and big ball skills to commit fully to everything you ask of it, which on the road is a bit silly. It’s a pro tool a serious piece of kit which needs either to be in the hands of a skilled helmsman at Jerez, or a condemned ham-fisted yobo outside KFC. But in the same paragraph, a new trackday goer would ultimately be far ‘safer’ and quicker on this than the entry level and disposable 8-year-old R6 with bust up track fairings.
Surely that means that it’s an excellent bike for all abilities? And here is the paradox. How can it be that a professional race-focused superbike is also the safest for beginner track riders? I know not what this voodoo is but I’m all for it.
In part this is down to something we’ve not seen before on a production motorcycle and is somewhat being disregarded and overlooked in the other publications I’ve seen. Slide Control.
Slide control is the next big thing. Anti-highside I hear you say? Well, yes in part it is that, but that sounds too close to the ‘soooo 2008’ traction control systems. It’s understating what I regard to be the best feature of this bike. Any new superbike without it will struggle to keep up with the R1 on corner exit. You can literally fully open the throttle mid-corner and the bike responds by leaving a 100 metre black line from the rear as you murder anyone close to you and sod off up the road. It’s the first bike I’ve ridden which allowed me to even contemplate spinning the rear to induce oversteer which actually brings you back to the apex. It’s really that good and I’m no hardcore racer. In the days of trackdays past I would be constantly anxious about the rear tyre wear getting to a dangerous level. Well now, people, you can forget about that worry. This bike actually gets more fun the shitter your tyres get. All joking aside, it’s the most inspiring and heroic I have ever looked or felt on the circuit. You need slide control in your life. Look at this picture of an instructor’s R1 at Silverstone. He was still lapping FAST and this is the state of the tyre. The system is that good.
Going into the datalogger, will most people touch it? No, probably not. But the technology at play here is the exact same system Yamaha uses on its GP bikes, albeit with a lower spec GPS system. It’s the same data and for the post trackday beer and debrief with your besties, this is an awesome thing to have on your phone. Download an app for your tablet or phone and not only examine the nerdiest of data such as wheel speeds, throttle application, lap times etc, but you can actually set-up the suspension and rider modes for your journey home… via your telephone.. via your TELEPHONE… Screwdrivers and tape measures? Nah, I have an iPhone thanks.
So back to the hippy stuff from the start of this article. How does this machine really feel? The intangible, the inexplicable, the things that dataloggers can’t tell you the human point of view. How do those microscopic atoms bouncing around inside steel and aluminum translate into the vibrations we feel in the bikes presence?
It’s the darkest bike I’ve ever ridden. Cool but not cold, it’s Iceman from Top Gun, it’s Blade, it’s bloody Batman with Alfred and Mr Fox tucked up in the ECU to help you with the most wonderful toys. Yes, Batman sometimes lacks humility and warmth but you can’t deny the skill and expertise he possesses over others. I know I’d want him on my team, even if he can be a bit of a dick sometimes, I know its for the best.
Technology will always introduce an element of mystique and detachment. A picture is never as good as being there, yet a world without pictures is a world worse off. The time is now, stop moaning about electronics ruining the ride and detracting from ‘real riders’. It’s a load of shit. And the fact is, you can always go build an old skool bike if that’s what you want. This is arguably the biggest game-changing bike since the introduction of BMW’s S1000RR.
For the first time in a long time, I’m excited about what else lays in store for us in the future. I was a sceptic about electronics, now I’m a preacher.