When the opportunity arose for me to write about the legend, the icon, the monster that is the Yamaha YZF R1 I couldn’t resist, I mean any motorcycle loving writer would be daft to turn down the chance.
The Yamaha R1 has been in existence since 1998 and continues to develop, to push the limits of what a motorcycle should be able to do and with each model year demands continued attention.
Throughout this article we are going to go on a journey, right back to the very first version of the R1; through it’s spec sheet; how it performed and what competition it was faced with; to a buying and restoration guide for the original 1998 Yamaha R1 version and a brief look at how the bike has evolved over the years to present day.
With no further delay, as I am probably more excited than you to take you on this journey, let’s look at the magnificent Yamaha R1.
1998 – The Birth of an Icon
Leading up to the release of the Yamaha R1 everything was kept very quiet and under the radar of press and public. Yamaha leaked no information to suggest they were working on a new superbike that was being built from the ground up rather than reworking an existing model such as the ‘96 Thunderace.
The project was run by a young designer called Kunihiko Miwa who had studied the bikes in World Superbikes in terms of what was working well or not; as well as making full use of the R&D department which was historically useful to keep the engineering side of things up with the innovation of Yamaha’s design team.
Miwa’s only real directive passed down from the top and then from him to the team, was that the Yamaha YZF R1 needed to be a better bike than the Honda Fireblade. It was this directive that prompted Miwa to be revolutionary in his thinking and start from the ground up, the chassis and the engine design took place side by side.
As plans were in motion and things were starting to come together the chassis was developing to be a super lightweight design and compact which at the finished result would end up in the bike weighing 177kg. This was on par with some of the 600cc supersport motorcycles.
The Genesis had first been designed in the YZF 750 Genesis but Miwa sought to redesign the engine to meet even more specific requirements for the new project. This redesign meant it was now a more compact motor which was created by the gearbox input and output shaft being stacked on top of each other.
As a result and despite the bigger displacement than the 750 the wheelbase could now be shortened and the swingarm could be longer without compromising the new wheelbase.
The long swingarm meant that the bike would be stable at all speeds and could drive more power through the rear wheel; it was the longest swingarm of any road bike, ironic given the shortened wheelbase.
The Deltabox II frame carried the weight of the engine in the frame which meant the centre of gravity was absolutely optimal. A direct consequence of the design was that handling was quick and exceptional compared to all previous road and race bikes.
The Yamaha R1 upon its release had the best power-weight ratio of any motorcycle at the time, it was built to be top dog.
Aluminium handlebars were fitted, not only as they were lighter but were claimed to absorb some of the vibrations, as a result this would increase rider comfort.
Superbike Magazine from 1998 claims that design on the R1 would have even started before the release of the Thunderace as Yamaha would have known that it was no match for the competition from Honda with the Fireblade.
The same article refers to the ergonomics of the R1 which Miwa and his team had paid much attention to. “The engineers have tried hard to keep the tank and frame leg-area as narrow as possible. With your legs less splayed, you’re in a more natural position, one that offers a higher level of control both at a trickle and flat out. The bar position is high enough to keep excess weight off your wrists, while low enough to afford control and keep you reasonably close to a full tuck.”
The angular pointy-nose fairing was built to give an aggressive stance and to be the first clear indication to the world the Yamaha R1 wasn’t coming to just play superbike but to be the best example of a supersport bike on the market.
A lot of work went into the new Yamaha and every detail contributed something that elevated the new superbike into a new realm compared to anything else available on the market.
In this next section we will look at the specs in detail and the components that were pulled together to make this bike the legend it became.
1998 Yamaha R1 Specs
Liquid cooled, 998cc, four stroke, inline four cylinder engine with DOHC, 5 valves per cylinder (20 Valves total).
Four 40mm Keihin Carbs fed fuel to the engine, it wasn’t until 2002 that the R1 received a fuel injection system.
The bore and stroke of the engine was 74mm x 58mm and it had a compression ratio of 11.8:1.
Yamaha claimed the horsepower to be 150hp at the crank and 129.4 at the rear wheel. Max torque was said to be 98Nm.
Final Drive was O-ring Chain Drive and transmission was a six speed with a wet, multi-plate clutch.
As mentioned earlier the gearbox input shaft was raised so the output shaft could sit underneath creating what became known as a stacked gearbox which meant the engine was shortened significantly and more compact.
All of this led to a claimed top speed of 172.2 mph and a standing quarter mile completed in 10.3 seconds.
Suspension – On the front end the early Yamaha R1 was equipped with KYB upside down 41mm front forks and the rear shock had an adjustable system from the aluminum swing arm with 130mm of travel.
Brakes – Stopping power came from two 298mm semi-floating discs at the front and single 256mm disc on the back.
Weight – The R1 dry weight was 177kg and 192kg wet. To show just how light the new bike was the YZF-750 Genesis dry weight was 196kg; the Honda Fireblade had a dry weight of 185kg and the current largest Yamaha the Thunderace weighed 197kg dry.
Other Specs –
- Wheelbase – 55”
- Overall Length – 80.1”
- Height – 43.1”
- Seat Height – 32.3”
- Rake – 23°
- Fuel Capacity – 18 Litres
- Ground Clearance – 5.5”
- Electric Ignition
- NGK Spark Plugs
- Engine Weight – 65.3kg
- Electric instrument panel with digital self-diagnostics and digital speedo.
The alloy exhaust system used Yamaha’s Exhaust Ultimate Power Valve (EXUP).
In short the EXUP controlled the exhaust gas flow to maximise power production across the entire rev range. This combined with the redesigned engine meant the model was high powered with high torque, the best combination for a new superbike.
Yamaha, they devised a system that would open and close a series of valves in a section of exhaust. Operating this system were a series of butterfly valves which were opened and closed at the correct RPM by a servo motor controlled by the ECU. On a big litre-class machine, the valve is almost closed at very low RPM and fully open from around 6000rpm up to the top-end of the rev range.Classic Motorbikes
How did the R1 Perform on the Sales Floor?
On its release in 1998 dealers were selling R1’s from catalogs and the demo bikes were passed around from showroom to showroom as there simply weren’t enough to go around, they were selling that quick.
The bike sold phenomenally well worldwide but there were more R1’s sold in the UK than anywhere else as a direct and deliberate move by Yamaha to challenge the Honda Fireblade.
They did just that with Fireblade owners trading in and switching teams due to the undeniable spec sheet the R1 laid out. It was faster, lighter and technically more advanced.
Superbike Magazine wrote “Yamaha’s new challenge for the supremacy of the supersports class has been more successful than even they could have imagined. They’ve gone from being totally out of the game, from not being able to get close to the Honda, to completely decimating it. No modern superbike can match the Rl either in terms of statistics, or on the road”
The one thing notable about the Yamaha R1 was its tendency to lift the front wheel, so owners quickly started to make the simple modification of adding a steering damper to tone that down a little bit.
In 1997 Honda had released the CBR1100XX (AKA Super Blackbird) in an attempt to knock the Kawasaki ZX-11 off the top spot for the World’s Fastest Production Motorcycle and while they did that; it was a different monster to the 1998 Yamaha and therefore not real competition for it either, rather parallel in a different lane for a different consumer.
In 1998 and 1999 respectively Suzuki released two models that would prove somewhat competitive for the world’s attention away from the R1. The first being the TL1000R and the second of course the Hayabusa which swiftly knocked the Super Blackbird off the top spot for the best hypersport motorcycle in the world.
The TL1000R had been released to challenge track dominating Ducati, but it fell short with its intention and never made much of a mark neither competing with Ducati or indeed with the Yamaha.
Much like the Blackbird, the Busa wasn’t competition for the R1 because it was two different horses for different courses. The release of these models however, did make the 1990s a very exciting time for motorcyclists and broadened the choices of what was available.
The 1994 Ducati 916 however, was proving to be competition for the R1 alongside the Fireblade. The Ducati was granted the title by Motorcycle News “the most beautiful bike of the last 50 years.” and it had performance specs to match with 114hp.
Ducati were having great success on the track in the 90’s and this was generating sales. However, the Yamaha R1 performed well on road and when it hit the scene it also held reign over the 916, the success likely thanks to its winning power-weight ratio.
Since the return to racing in 2015 Yamaha has had great success with R1 in the Suzuka endurance races, the British and American Superbike Championships, the FIM Endurance Championships, and the FIM Superbike World Championships.
Buying & Restoration Guide for an Original R1
Given the magnitude the Yamaha R1 had on the motorcycle world it will surprise some that to get your hands on an original model isn’t all that hard to do or all that expensive either.
There are some general buying tips that we will get into, that you can follow to make sure you find an example that does the bike justice.
In the UK you can find a very good 1998 Yamaha R1 for around £3,000 and in the US, on average prices seem to be around $4,000.
There are several 1998 R1 examples listed on Smart Cycle Guide across the US.
This one on Iconic Motorcycle Auctions sold for just over $10,000 but it was in immaculate condition with just over 5,000 miles on the clock, with just two previous owners.
There is a very nice red and white paint scheme example on Gumtree going for £7,695 with the only thing missing being the original reflector bracket which is now discontinued.
What there seems to be when looking for an original R1 are two different tiers of quality. The first being a very good working example, most things in order, age-related and use-related scuff’s, marks etc, after-market parts like exhausts and bubble screens.
This tier makes up the majority of the bikes that are available today on the market, which is fine for those that just want an original R1 to ride and to get use out of.
The second tier is made up of machines that the collectors will want to get hold of. These will have few previous owners, all original, low miles, no scuffs or marks, will have been serviced regularly and cleaned meticulously, and the only miles the bike will have really seen will be those on a sunny Sunday when it gets taken to a show.
Now in this tier of R1 you will expect to pay above the average prices and you can also expect these machines to be harder to find. The best thing to do is be patient, know that the right bike will come up and just be ready when it does.
Auction houses such as Bonhams are good places to keep an eye on for the best of the best R1’s and online spaces such as eBay, Car and Classic, Gumtree, Autotrader and Cycle Guide etc are all solid places to look for both trade and private listings for a good example.
Whether looking for an investment or looking for a bike to ride that can keep up with today’s machines, there are some things to watch out for that will make your R1 purchase pretty seamless. Let’s take a look.
What To Look Out For:
- Look at the plastics, look for cracks, scratches, fractures all over the bodywork paying particular attention to the sides and mirrors where the bike could have been laid down. The amount of imperfections you are willing to accept will be down to how immaculate you want your R1 to be.
- Original Parts. Original parts are going to be key if you are making this purchase as an investment. The very nature of supersports lend them to be customised with aftermarket exhausts etc. people want to get the absolute maximum performance out of them. Be sure to check if the listing suggests that everything is original.
- Service history and paperwork. Has the current owner got all their paperwork in order? Collectors will be keen to have as many receipts as possible for everything that has gone into the bike from the moment it rolled off the factory line. At the bare minimum it is a good idea to look for a bike with a decent amount of service history so you know it has been taken care of during its lifetime.
- The first year R1 was subject to a worldwide recall for a clutch issue, did this work get done?
- If low-down torque isn’t flowing in abundance then the EXUP valve needs looking at.
- Check all the electrics are in working order and doing what they should.
- Always take a look at the tires and chain, if the tires are in good condition and the chain is oiled that is a pretty good sign that the bike hasn’t been neglected.
- If you are adding an early Yamaha R1 to a motorcycle collection then a low miles, one-owner bike is what you want. One that has been sat for a while and looked after. However, if you plan on riding the bike, from a mechanical standpoint it is always better to go for a bike that has been running and in use up until the point you make your purchase. If a bike has been running it is likely that there are no major engine issues that have been overlooked and it has been taken care of.
If the bike was purchased off Billy that rode it for 300 miles and Pete has had it sat in his garage ever since, it might look perfect, but there is no way of knowing that mechanically it is sound until it is too late.
Restoring an Early R1
On the whole there shouldn’t be too many issues with restoring an early R1 as there are plenty of parts to choose from, some more expensive than others mind. The average price of a pretty good condition bike to start off your project isn’t too bad either.
Original parts are available and there is also a fairly respectable replica parts scene that can fill the gaps for those who don’t need 100% authenticity.
In the UK a good site to look for original parts that will search on your behalf dealers across the UK and some abroad is www.partfinder.co.uk. You just email your parts list and they work their magic.
Complete original fairings can cost upwards of £1,000 but the same replica kits from China cost £250 so it all depends on your desired outcome and what you want to achieve with your build.
eBay is a good source and so is Motorcycle Spare Parts in Europe.
Here is a sample of some original parts prices gathered from US and UK based sources:
- $106 Water Pump
- $212 Cylinder Head
- $350 Engine Crankshaft and Connecting Rods
- $1018 Racing Muffler
- $130 Bolts Set
- £180 Front Fender
- £115 Front Fork Spring
- £210 Mirror Set
- £72 Side Stand
Is an Early R1 a Good Investment?
It is fairly safe to acknowledge that the value of the early R1 is on the up. The harder completely original models are to find, the more people seem to want them and so this drives up the value.
These early Yamaha R1’s have Icon status and are on the fringe of being called Classics in 5-10 years time. They will sit firmly in the Iconic Classic realm and from an investment stance that is a good place to be.
Evolution of the R1 to Present Day
1998 – 99 – The R1 largely remained the same in its second model year aside from paint and graphics.
2000 – The 2000 Yamaha R1 saw a review from the ground up with over 250 parts changed from the engine and chassis. New bodywork was added to be more aerodynamic and a titanium muffler reduced the bikes weight even further.
2002 – 2003 – The YZF R1 became the first mass production motorcycle to receive free-piston fuel injection. The free pistons delivered linear throttle response while the electronic control maintained reliability and smooth, superior response.
The bike received the new Deltabox III frame which again reduced weight, increased rigidity, improved cornering performance and ensured full advantage was made of the bike’s dimensions.
This model was the last R1 Miwa headed the design team of, here after it was handed on to Yoshikazu Koike, who would design the first underseat-pipe R1.
It was 2003 when the R1 headed up by Wataru Yoshikawa won its first Suzuka 8 Hour race.
2004 -The 4th Generation R1 came to the world’s attention with underseat pipes, bigger bore and shorter stroke, Deltabox V frame inspired by the YZR-M1 GP machine and designed with 3D CAD technology.
According to Yamaha Motor Group History the 2004 “R1 model was the first Yamaha motorcycle to use fracture-split (FS) connecting rods and the fuel-injection system featured sub-throttle valves”
2007 – The 5th Generation R1 came in 2007 with a new 4 valve design, higher compression ratio, new all-aluminium frame, ride by wire throttle system and another first for a mass-produced motorcycle the YCC-I/ Electronically controlled variable air-intake funnels. The design and styling had an overhaul too but not straying too far from the roots of where it began.
Improvements that had been made up until 2007 maintained the 1st Generations from 1998 excellent handling and performance for the road but increased the bikes capabilities for performance on the track too.
2009 – 6th Generation introduced, with an all new crossplane crankshaft, known as the ‘Big Bang’. The bike had two different riding settings with Mode B being the most powerful.
2012 – 7th Generation the R1 gained a traction control system for the crossplane engine and an update on the exterior styling to gain attention to the evolution of Yamaha’s flagship supersport model.
2015 – 2019 – 8th Generation produced with the sole intention of dominating performance on the racetrack and taking no hostages in the process.
It was also the first big overhaul since 2009 and really it was the year of tech with advanced electrics being thrown at the bike: Traction Control, Slide Control System, Anti-Wheelie System, Anti-Lock Linked Brakes, Launch Control System, Quick Shift System and more Power Modes.
By this time the R1 was producing a max power of 197hp and 124Nm of Torque.
2020 – To Present
The R1 continues to evolve and get better year in, year out. A limited run of YZF-R1M models were released with a higher grade spec than the standard model with components like Ohlins pressurised forks, carbon parts, multiple modes on multiple systems such as brake modes and launch controls.
To date Yamaha doesn’t seem to be slowing down with the R1 and why should they when it continues to blaze a trail, set standards, and put pressure on the industry to make sure all manufacturers up their game.
It remains popular with press and public, on the road and on the track and likely will for a lot longer yet.
From the beginning of this article it was probably pretty clear how I felt about the Yamaha R1 and it is safe to say after many hours of research (more than necessary), my appreciation and love for this motorcycle is stronger than ever.
I’m a big Indian Motorcycle fan from the 1920’s Scout’s to the new Chief, but whenever I see a Yamaha R1, I get that excited feeling that I’m seeing something pretty special.
Is it the sexiest bike in the world, or even the fastest anymore? No, but it has an awesome backstory, a strong legacy, and turns heads even to this day, especially in the 90’s colorways.
My savings for the warehouse I need for my motorcycle collection are slowly growing and you can bet your bottom dollar that an R1 will be in there; and an R6, Oh and maybe one of the rare original R7’s if I can hunt one down.
The featured image at the top of the page is a 1998 – 1999 Yamaha YZF-R1 taken by 70_musclecar_RT+6 and kindly licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0