Talk about timing. When Yamaha launched the YZF-R1 in 1998 it immediately carved a significant market share for two reasons: it introduced its flagship sportsbike during a seismic shift in consumer tastes towards larger-capacity machines and it did so when lighter, smaller componentry was becoming the mainstay. The bike’s compact nature was achieved via a redesign of Yamaha’s Genesis engine (the crankshaft, mainshaft and countershaft were no longer arranged in a horizontal line), which resulted in greatly reduced powerplant length, thus allowing for a significantly shortened wheelbase.
The 998cc, liquid-cooled, 20-valve, inline four-cylinder was good for 112kW (150hp) with dry weight a meagre 177kg. The YZF-R1 has undergone several model incarnations since its release including further cosmetic updates.
The original 1998/99 YZF-R1 was subject to a series of recalls for clutch basket, sprocket carrier and cush drive issues, in addition to loose radiator hoses. It’s true that the spigot from the thermostat is short, which doesn’t allow a lot of purchase for the clamp, so check this one closely.
Gearboxes can become a little reluctant to change with wear as second gear can become an issue due to gear selector dogs being rounded off. Pay particular attention that gears ‘hold’ both up and down the ’box. The EXUP valve needs to be cleaned during regular servicing to prevent seizing.
The R1 came in for major revision in 2000 with more than 150 changes. Central to this was the introduction of Yamaha’s Air Induction System, which used crankcase pressure and a bladder-type device to pump air into the exhaust port post-combustion.
A taller first gear got the nod to lighten the stresses placed on second gear, which had been a bugbear on the original model. The gearshift shaft was also modified, and another roller bearing was added to the shaft to help smooth out the action.
Carbs were also rejetted in an effort to improve throttle response off the bottom.
It seems all this was aimed at flattening the prodigious ‘snap acceleration’ of the first bike.
Minor recalls on the 2000/01 bike included sidestand fixing screws that could come loose and a hefty batch of crook brake pads got through. Many owners report the fitting of a steering damper improves this model immensely.
RATTLE AND HUM
The 2000/01 engine is noisy at idle with a distinct ‘ticking’ sound. This is due to soft valve-guide material and they can flog out.
If the sound resembles a ‘rattle’ however, you could need valves or the less-complicated replacement of the camchain tensioner.
In 2002, the R1 received fuel injection, employing a ‘suction-piston-type’ EFI, to allow better air/fuel mixture at low revs.
A new two-stage EXUP valve contributed to the resultant torque-boost. The ‘Deltabox 3’ frame was all-new and was claimed to be three times stiffer.
Owners suggest the bike was demonstrably more comfortable than previous offerings, giving the bike a thumbs up as a touring weapon. Hmmm…
Also in the plus ledger is the fact that mechanics report that this is the pick of the bunch for a used-bike purchase with very few recurring problems.
BALANCE OF POWER
Another completely new model was released in 2004 boasting a power-to-weight ratio of 1:1 – 172hp (128kW) and 172kg dry weight.
Dual mufflers now ran under the seat and the exhaust was made entirely of titanium.
Things to look for on a prospective 2004 model purchase include plastic fairing screws that can loosen and fall out as well as radiator hoses that soften at the clamps and leak – investigate beneath the plastics for a white and powdery residue.
The rear brake reservoir is heated by the exhaust. In fact, just about everything is heated by the exhaust, including the rider’s backside. Change rear brake fluid regularly as a consequence.
There was a recall for the throttle position sensor, which was reading incorrectly and sending false messages to the ECU. This could cause the engine to cut out at very inopportune moments.
The fifth generation of the R1 arrived in 2007 with a new frame, new swingarm and fork, and six-piston calipers. It also featured a fly-by-wire throttle lifted from MotoGP (YCC-T) as well as a variable intake that switched from long to short intake funnels at higher rpm, dubbed ‘YCC-I’.
This new setup wasn’t without its problems, with owners reporting a ‘lag’ in power delivery at 100km/h in top gear.
Check by accelerating hard at around 100km/h in sixth. The response should be close to instantaneous. In 2009, Yamaha took a huge technological leap with the introduction of an ‘irregular firing order’ engine fitted with a cross-plane crankshaft which, according to the factory, was designed to improve traction through corners.
The chassis was an all-new design and the cylinders were canted forward at 31 degrees. Reports suggest the new firing order revolutionised the bike’s tractability. There has been a problem with the projector headlights melting fairings, however.
This was a warranty item and fixed at the first service, but check the headlight housing.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Given the narrow focus of the R1, used examples have often been ridden with little sympathy. Wheelies are regularly the cause of steering head bearing wear, so look hard at this area. A bike that has been dropped on its back will almost certainly have twisted the subframe. Check under the seat for witness marks that indicate straightening.
Look for signs of road rash such as newer fairings, frame scrapes (especially at the rear of the swingarm) as well as new indicators, instruments and ancillaries. If the odometer reading doesn’t ring true when weighed against the condition of the bike then trust your instincts.
The first three models offer great appeal – the first because of its ground-breaking nature, the second (2000) due to its user-friendliness and the third (2002) based on its fabulous reliability record. The R1 has stood the test of time very well and a well-researched purchase will reward the rider for some time.
YAMAHA YZF-R1 PRICES
Source: Glass’s Guide – Motorcycles, 1990-2014. Prices are a guide only, and will be affected by a bike’s mileage, condition and accessories. Private sales will have lower values than retail sales.