Interview: Josh Hayes Talks about the 2015 R1

The four-time AMA SuperBike Champion talks about helping to develop the 2015 R1, the bike's electronic rider aids, and his expectations moving forward

In his tenure at Yamaha, AMA SuperBike racer Josh Hayes has ridden the crossplane-crank R1 to a total of 48 race wins and four class championships. That success has not fallen on blind eyes at Yamaha Motor Corp, and early last year, landed Hayes’ a plane ticket to Japan, where he’d test the 2015 R1 alongside Valentino Rossi. Here, the current AMA SuperBike champion talks about his experience with the bike, its electronic rider aids, and his expectations moving forward.

Sport Rider: Have you had the chance to ride the R1M and R1, or just the standard model? And if both, did you notice any distinct differences between the two bikes?

Josh Hayes: Yeah I actually got to ride both. You know of course there is some different bodywork and different things like that, but the big difference quite honestly is the Ohlins electronic suspension on the M model and the larger special rear tire they put on it. I was pleasantly surprised. It was my first experience with electronic suspension, and I thought probably the coolest thing was being able to change the settings right from the handlebar switch. Being able to just click the button on the handlebar and have a more track oriented setup. If you're a trackday enthusiast and like to ride and commute to and from the racetrack with your motorcycle, I think it's pretty awesome.

Hayes says that it will be difficult to roll the 2015 R1 superbike out of the truck and match the speed of the previous bike, because of how well that bike was developed over the years. "But really, I don’t understand or see why this bike shouldn't win in its very first season, and maybe in the first race," says Hayes.

SR: You had the opportunity to race a Yamaha M1 at Valencia in 2011. How does the new R1 compare to the bike you rode? Do you see any similarities in the electronics or overall package?

JH: I do actually. And I think a big part of it is just the platform with which they're working from with this new IMU. You know, traction control based on wheel speeds has been pretty standard, and also using some other things like suspension potentiometers to decide how much lean you have, if the bike's wheelying, things like that. But now when you add this IMU, the computer can see things like side slip and fix that before you go over the handlebars. It's a pretty amazing thing, and I believe that yeah, that technology did come directly from the electronics that they developed in MotoGP racing. I think that they did a beautiful job integrating it into the motorcycle too. Heck, even for my superbike, it's beyond what we have in my superbike.

But the bike is actually much less intimidating than you think. I think that these are very practical and useful tools that really make the riding experience more fun. We want bigger and we want faster motorcycles all the time. So here, they’re giving it to us. They’re giving us a big, bad motorcycle, but you don’t have to be intimidated to get on and ride this motorcycle because they’re putting in these functions to make it less intimidating and more fun to ride.

Hayes relationship with Yamaha has always been nothing but great and actually led to the four-time AMA SuperBike champion getting to race an M1 during the final race of the 2011 MotoGP season, in Valencia. He finished 7th.

SR: Can you say whether or not Yamaha took into account the development that your team has done with the previous R1 over the past six years, and applied that to this new model?

JH: I actually remember, I just happened to swing by Yamaha when the project leaders for this new R1 were in the country and had come by the race shop. Our racebike was on the stand, and really they were just curious with what we'd done. They were always kind of in the loop on what we were doing for development, but it was a little different for them to actually put their hands on it, and then when I happened to be there it was neat because they got to ask questions of why. Everything from ergos—just sitting on the motorcycle, why we did certain things—and I could give answers on how it directly helped me ride the motorcycle better. There are a few things on the new motorcycle I can look at and go, "Wow this is very similar to our current racebike." I can't say this part or that part came directly from our racebike, but I like to think that some of the stuff did come from what we did here and the hard work we put in.

You know, a lot of the development stopped when the World Superbike team disappeared a few years back, but we continued development for ourselves here in the States, and I feel like we did a really good job. We made a motorcycle that was competitive, and not just competitive, but competitive for several different riders, like Ben Bostrom, myself, Chris Clark, Josh Herrin, and Cameron Beaubier. They all have different riding styles, but were all very competitive on this motorcycle so I think it said a lot about the motorcycle, and that was something that I was really proud of.

SR: What are your expectations for 2015 with the new R1?

JH: I think that expectations for the R1 are high. Of course because we have a new model, and in theory, it's better in every way than the previous model. The bike is definitely in standard form worlds ahead of the previous bike, but our current racebike is pretty well developed, and being able to pull this bike out of the truck and beat that bike…I don't think it's going to be a very easy task. When we pull this bike out, we're going to have pretty high expectations, but I believe that this bike is going to be a work in progress no different than the other bike was for years. We're going to go out, we're going to race it the best we can and we're going to continue to find things that we want to improve over time. The question is—well first we have to get it to where the current bike is—but then we've got to figure out how to exceed it and how far we can exceed it. One thing that I'm fortunate about is I have the same crew in place that I've been working with for the past 6 years, and we have a lot of data working together and a lot of success. Hopefully that can help us fastrack through the silly things and move forward quickly with this R1. But really, I don't understand or see why this bike shouldn't win in its very first season, and maybe in the first race.

When we did take the M model and put some race rubber on it, it did not twist it up in knots and become difficult to ride. As soon as you put some grippy tires on the previous one, I think it would, and it could make it kind of difficult to ride. I felt that with the new R1, you did not run into the same problems. The bike kept its composure and was still a fantastic motorcycle to ride, it just went a little bit faster. That’s a big step in the right direction for us. And so yeah, I think we have a fantastic machine. I don’t think that takes away from what a challenge we’re going to have in front of us. Hopefully it’s an unnecessary worry, and when we show first race at CoTA we absolutely just wipe the floor with everyone else and they’re like, “Man they came out with a ringer.”

Hayes says that one of the things he has going for him in 2015 is his team. "I have the same crew in place that I've been working with for the past 6 years, and we have a lot of data working together and a lot of success. Hopefully that can help us fastrack through the silly things and move forward quickly with this R1."Brian J Nelson

SR: And your thoughts on racing with MotoAmerica?

JH: I'm cautiously optimistic. I think that we have some good things going. I think we're all excited to try something a bit new. But I think people who think that all of a sudden the whole world is going to be better and there's going to be all these manufacturers and all of these teams, are probably, well, there's a lot of wishful thinking. It's not going to be easy for anybody, everybody's kind of got to see how this is going to go down. Any time there's big change it's difficult, and this is going to be a significant change. It's not going to be easy for anybody, everybody's kind of got to see how this is going to go down.

And for the KRAVE Group, I think that they have quite the challenge in front of them, and for it to run smoothly right off the bat is probably going to be difficult. I think we all have to work together. The riders, the teams…we’re all going to have to figure out how to work together if we want this to move forward. I have some high hopes for sure.