Living with a MotoGP refugee

2015 yamaha yzf-r1 on-track action
2015 Yamaha YZF-R1Cycle World

Of all the latest sportbikes, the new-generation Yamaha YZF-R1 released in 2015 was the one I was most curious about. While the Japanese manufac­turers continued to clean up in MotoGP racing, proving they had the technology, they were seemingly lollygagging behind the higher-tech production offerings from BMW, Ducati, et al. Then came this R1—and the even racier R1M—which promised to right that wrong.

Unfortunately my chance to spend time with the R1 came at the expense of Blake Conner. Just as I had inherited Blake's long-term Triumph Tiger when he broke his leg, I took over his long-term R1 when he left the magazine to return to his native Colorado. The contrast between the R1 and the Tiger couldn't seem greater, but the two bikes actually have a couple of things in common: They're both blue and they both sound amazing, the Triumph due to its three-cylinder engine and the Yamaha because of its crossplane crankshaft. Both growl down low and howl up high, but the bigger four's basso profundo is so sinister that if you didn't know better, you'd swear it was a Ducati twin.

yamaha yzf-r1 being prepped behind the van
2015 Yamaha YZF-R1Cycle World

It’s also about as comfortable as a Ducati superbike, and while I would like to have installed a set of higher handlebars, Helibars hadn’t gotten around to making any yet. But after a few weeks “assuming the position,” my core strength improved and the riding position wasn’t so hard on my wrists anymore. Except when braking, which you do a lot while riding this MotoGP-derived rocket ship on public roads. Blake and Mark Hoyer both had high praise for the R1’s racetrack performance, but I stuck to the street (my invitation to the annual “Hack Day” trackday must have gotten lost in the mail) and still greatly enjoyed my time on the bike.

2015 Yamaha R1
The only aftermarket parts I tried were C5 levers from ASV Inventions ($250, asvinventions.com) in both standard and "shorty" lengths. I liked the shorty brake lever but preferred the standard length for the clutch lever.Brian Catterson

My only real complaint had to do with the suspension. Talk about a harsh ride: Blake remarked that hitting a square-edged bump “felt like running over a two-by-four,” and I couldn’t agree more. So after checking the sag, I reduced all of the damping adjusters to the minimum and dialed it in from that end of the spectrum. The shock’s low-speed compression damping needed a few turns to keep the back end from squatting under acceleration, but the rest didn’t need much to achieve a supple-yet-controlled street ride. Sporty riders often forget how important it is to keep the tires in contact with the road, and having too much damping just causes the suspension to pack up or down, resulting in a jarring ride.

2015 yamaha yzf-r1 track action
2015 Yamaha YZF-R1Cycle World

Speaking of tires, I got ahold of the R1 with around 3,000 miles on the odometer and returned it with just over 6,500. That whole time I ran the same set of Pirelli Diablo Rosso Corsas, and while the rear tire was worn down to the cord in the end, that literally happened the day before I was scheduled to return the bike. Thirty-five-hundred miles is pretty good for racetrack-sticky rubber.

Owing to Blake having re-flashed the ECU with Flash Tune's hardware and software (ftecu.com), I never experienced the abrupt throttle response that he and Don Canet complained about initially. I ran Power Level 1 the whole time I had the bike, and aside from a lean surge around 4,500 rpm, throttle response was nigh-on perfect. The space-age dash and the tiny thumbwheel take a little time to get accustomed to, but once you do, adjusting the various parameters becomes second nature. On the street I only ever noticed the Traction and Slide Control systems cutting in when I hit sand or gravel. Otherwise, all of the electronic rider aids are transparent—if you didn't know the R1 had them, you would never guess that it did.

yamaha yzf-r1 clogged fuel filter
When a bad batch of fuel clogged the fuel filter, I was dismayed to learn that those aren’t sold separately and a replacement fuel pump costs $310.Brian Catterson
yamaha yzf-r1 new fuel filter
I found a filter for just $6 from Quantum Fuel Systems.Brian Catterson

We only had one mechanical issue, which occurred after I got a bad batch of gas at a sketchy-looking service station in the Southern California desert (the one brand-name station in the area was closed due to construction). Thirty miles down the road the bike began bucking and surging, and after limping it home I discovered the fuel filter was clogged. Turns out Yamaha doesn't sell the filter separately—you have to buy the whole pump for $310—but I found a Quantum Fuel Systems replacement filter online ($6, highflowfuel.com). Unfortunately, by that point the damage had been done—the pump had burned up and still needed to be replaced.

Aside from that one glitch, the Yamaha was a joy to live with. Once upon a time I got to ride Valentino Rossi’s YZR-M1 MotoGP racer, and riding this R1 made me feel that same way every day. You can’t put a price on that, but if you had to, $16,490 would seem pretty reasonable.

Total miles 6503
Next service 12,000 mi.
Maintenance costs (incl. tires) $476
Repair costs $316
Average fuel mileage 31 mpg
Price as tested (2016) $16,490


I can't imagine owning this latest R1 and sticking strictly to the street without the occasional track foray. Few bikes offer as much flat-out on-track performance while still possessing a civil side. Credit electronics with menu-based tuning for allowing us to have it all in one machine.

Man, I've gotta say this R1 is crazy! The dash looks like something off the Starship Enterprise, and I don't know that I'll ever figure out all the electronics. Not a good idea to do that on the fly, either, as this thing tends to fold space and time.

We've had this long-term bike longer than most, but the riding experience never stops feeling special. Engine sound and a completely buttoned-down chassis make street riding this sportbike wonderful, and it is currently my favorite trackbike. An all-new Suzuki GSX-R1000 returns, though, and I'm off to ride it next!