2020 Yamaha YZF-R1 And YZF-R1M First Ride Review

The most confidence-inspiring and technologically advanced YZF-R1 to date.

The YZF-R1's prosperity as a production superbike is strongly linked to Yamaha's MotoGP and World Superbike pedigree, never mind its success as an on-road model. In fact, we loved the balance of raw performance and rideability of the previous R1 that debuted in '15 so much that we named it Best Open Class Streetbike in 2015 and 2017, and Best Superbike in 2016 in Cycle World's Ten Best awards.

So, while the previous YZF-R1 has enjoyed an abundance of race victories and achievements, the ever-advancing and cutthroat literbike market has accelerated the aging process. Yamaha has since responded, strategically evolutionizing the forthcoming 2020-model R1 with a host of racetrack-focused updates to the already-proven platform.

2020 Yamaha YZF-R1
Visually much the same, but the 2020 Yamaha YZF-R1 is claimed to be 5.3 percent more aerodynamically efficient, reducing buffeting and increasing straight-line speed.Courtesy of Yamaha

Cycle World sampled the 2020 YZF-R1 at Circuito de Jerez—a regular stop on the MotoGP and WSBK calendars—alongside Pata Yamaha World Superbike front-runners Alex Lowes and Michael van der Mark. Each motorcycle's Bridgestone RS11 tires were swapped out with Battlax R11 race rubber and were cut loose for three 20-minute evaluation sessions.

2020 YZF-R1 static
Yamaha chose an evolution over revolution design philosophy when updating the 2020 YZF-R1. The revised model sees revised suspension components, a Euro 5-complying powerplant, optimized electronic rider aids, and more aerodynamic bodywork.Courtesy of Yamaha

Influenced by Euro 5 emissions standards, Yamaha continues on with its 998cc inline-four with the crossplane crankshaft technology and uneven firing order (270°, 180°, 90°, 180°), but updated the R1 with a new cylinder head, intake layout, fuel injectors, and airbox aimed at improving efficiency. Intake ports have been shortened and decreased in volume by 12 percent, new 10-hole (reduced from 12) Bosch injectors spray fuel directly at the intake valve for improved atomization, and the rocker-arm valve train and camshaft profiles have been tweaked to reduce friction and increase stability at high rpm.

The Yamaha YZF-R1 continues to utilize its six-axis Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU) as a cornerstone for its electronic rider-aids package, but new for 2020 is a cableless ride-by-wire throttle system, dubbed Accelerator Position Sensor with Grip (APSG). The new throttle eliminates cables entirely, relying on magnetic sensors at the throttle grip to detect movement and relay the information to throttle bodies.

YZF-R1 on track
The KYB front end of the YZF-R1 receives redesigned fork internals and softer spring rates, which results in increased rider confidence from corner entry to exit.Courtesy of Yamaha

After sampling each of the four selectable power modes, I am relieved to report that the 2020 YZF-R1 retains the same emotion-stirring power delivery and inspiring crossplane pitch that made the outgoing model so entertaining. Even more impressive: The new cableless throttle eliminates the overly sensitive initial throttle response of the outgoing model, most significantly in the most-aggressive Power Mode A.

In fact, the Yamaha’s initial power delivery and corner exiting abilities are best described as uncannily quick and controlled, now ushered by a recalibrated Traction Control System (TCS), Slide Control System (SCS), and Lift Control System (LIF). Tailoring the package to my liking, I settled TCS level 1 and SCS level 2. Here, the YZF-R1 paints long slide marks MotoGP-style while exiting Jerez’s fast third-gear sweepers. Awesomeness.

If there’s a gripe, it would be the system’s minor inconsistency in controlling the initial rear-end slide, pitching the motorcycle sideways quicker than anticipated before settling into its flat-track-like slide. Without carefulness, the issue could result in more than just a puckering moment. It’s something I only experienced when riding the YZF-R1 in fury, and it’s a reminder that electronic rider aids aren’t foolproof.

cable-less ride-by-wire throttle
The YZF-R1’s new cable-less ride-by-wire throttle has a traditional feel, but eliminates the overly sensitive touch of the outgoing model.Courtesy of Yamaha

Yamaha also implemented a new Engine Brake Management (EBM) function on the 2020 YZF-R1, which allows adjustability of off-throttle engine response in three selectable modes based on gear position, rpm, throttle position, and throttle valve opening. With EBM level 1 being the same character as the outgoing model, I settled on the less aggressive and more freewheeling EBM 2. The middle setting lessened engine-braking enough to maintain off-throttle momentum entering fast sweeping corners, while still providing enough rpm to ensure confidence at the front tire’s contact patch under the courage-testing hard braking at the end of the Jerez’s fifth-gear back straightaway.

The biggest improvement of the 2020 YZF-R1? I’d confidently put my money on the increased feel and feedback through the KYB fork. Yamaha reworked the internals with a new piston design and shim stack layout, as well as slightly decreasing the spring rate. The result is a confidence-inspiring feedback in all areas of the racetrack without sacrificing stability under heavy braking loads. Every lap came with the realization that I could push deeper still into corners. Heck, I would compare the feelings to race kit suspension I’ve experienced on MotoAmerica-prepped racers. It’s that good.

upper-spec YZF-R1M
The upper-spec YZF-R1M sees changes for the 2020 model year as well, visually noticed in the full-carbon faired bodywork. The M will retail for $26,099 beginning in October 2019.Courtesy of Yamaha

Improvements To The 2020 Yamaha YZF-R1M

Along with the refinements given to the standard-model YZF-R1, Yamaha made significant changes aimed at improving pure racetrack ability to the carbon-faired up-spec YZF-R1M model. We had the opportunity to put the M through its paces during an additional three 20-minute outings on Bridgestone V02 racing slicks.

M-specific upgrades include the latest Ӧhlins NPX gas-charged fork with optimized Electronic Racing Suspension (ERS) function—the first-ever gas-charged, semi-active fork used on a production motorcycle. The use of the nitrogen-charged damping is said to nearly eliminate oil cavitation entirely, improving the consistency in damping characteristics and creating an unmatched front-end feel in comparison to the base-model units. Just like the standard model, spring rates have been decreased and the rear shock’s internal damping has been optimized to match front-end performance.

Ӧhlins NPX
The first-ever gas-charged semi-active Ӧhlins NPX with Electronic Racing Suspension (ERS) function with a carbon fiber background.Courtesy of Yamaha

To the point, I’m a believer in Yamaha’s work here. Having already noted that the standard-model YZF-R1’s KYB fork has made improvement in feedback to the rider, the Ӧhlins bits take it a step further. On the 165-mph approach to the tight, second-gear Dry Sack corner, the front end exhibits exceptional stability and performance. Truth be told, I have always shied away from the M-model for an inconsistency in the semi-active system, but updates to the 2020 model change that. The updated algorithms provide seamless damping in all areas of the track and hold up to the heaviest loads. Ask WSBK rider Alex Lowes, who blasted by me with rear wheel in low-trajectory flight, clearly demanding the most of the front end.

50 degree lean
According to the Y-Trac datalogging system, maximum lean angle achieved during the introduction ride was 50 degrees. Impressive stuff.Courtesy of Yamaha

A GPS datalogging system that comes standard on the up-spec M model (and an optional product on the standard YZF-R1), which can be viewed on Apple or Android devices through Yamaha’s Y-Trac app. Here, a user can overlay 16 different data channels—including gear position, lean angle, front and rear brake pressure, throttle percentage, rpm, speed, and more—from various laps to improve their performance. Furthermore, a separate YRC Settings app offers adjustability of the motorcycle’s suspension and electronic rider aids settings via an integrated Wi-Fi communicator. Find an ideal setup for your local track. Save it and then reload it the next time you return to that track.

Both models receive redesigned bodywork shapes that are claimed to improve aerodynamic efficiency by 5.3 percent, though the M gets stripped of any paint work and is finished in bare carbon fiber. The rear tailsection is now entirely carbon construction as well.

YZF-R1 and YZF-R1M
The YZF-R1 versus YZF-R1M. Take your pick.Courtesy of Yamaha

There’s no question the outgoing YZF-R1 and R1M models were proven motorcycles capable of conquering the local trackday, not to mention serving as a platform for Yamaha’s recent racing success. Now, they arrive updated for 2020 to take their performance a step further. Neither are exactly all-new, but old dogs with new tricks can still entertain and even win.

You can get your hands on both models as they hit Stateside in October 2019, provided you bring the required $17,399 for the YZF-R1 and $26,099 for the up-spec YZF-R1M.

2020 Yamaha YZF-R1 / YZF-R1M SPECS

MSRP: $17,399 / $26,099 (R1M)
ENGINE: 998cc, DOHC, liquid-cooled inline-four; 16-valve
BORE X STROKE: 79.0 x 50.9mm
TRANSMISSION/FINAL DRIVE: 6-speed/chain
FUEL SYSTEM: Electronic fuel injection w/ cableless RBW
CLUTCH: Multi-plate wet clutch w/ assist and slipper
FRAME: Aluminum Deltabox frame
FRONT SUSPENSION: 43mm KYB inverted fork, fully adjustable; 4.7-inch travel / 43mm Öhlins Electronic Racing Suspension NPX fork, fully adjustable; 4.7-inch travel (R1M)
REAR SUSPENSION: KYB monoshock, fully adjustable; 4.7-inch travel / Öhlins Electronic Racing Suspension monoshock, fully adjustable; 4.7-inch travel (R1M)
FRONT BRAKE: 4-piston radial-mounted calipers, dual floating 320mm discs, BCS and ABS
REAR BRAKE: Floating caliper, single 220mm disc, BCS and ABS
WHEELS, FRONT/ REAR: 10-spoke cast magnesium
TIRES, FRONT/ REAR: 120/70ZR-17 / 190/55ZR-17(R1), 200/55RZ-17 (R1M)
RAKE/TRAIL: 24.0°/ 4.0 in.
WHEELBASE: 55.3 in.
SEAT HEIGHT: 33.7 in. / 33.9 in. (R1M)
FUEL CAPACITY: 4.5 gal.
CLAIMED WET WEIGHT: 448 lb. / 450 lb. (R1M)
CONTACT: yamahamotorsports.com