A History of the Yamaha YZF R1

The 2015 Yamaha YZF R1 will be unveiled later this year and all indications are that it’s going to be a massive leap forward. So before that happens, let’s take the opportunity to go back and look at one of Yamaha’s most potent and popular machines which was first released back in 1998. This was a time when 1,000 cc superbikes weren’t the default size for the category as is the case today. In fact, the original Yamaha R1 was made as a competitor to Honda’s class leading Fireblade which at the time had a capacity of 919c and weighed 180kg dry.

A young designer by the name of Kunihkho Miwa was tasked with the creation of a brand new large capacity bike for Yamaha. And instead of repurposing or redesigning an existing engine, Miwa wanted something radical and new. He also wanted the entire bike to be designed at once with everything integrated together to make the lightest, most compact bike in its class.  The goal was a circa 1,000cc bike that handled as good as a 600cc bike with a minimum of 150hp and a maximum dry weight of 180 kg.

Probably the most revolutionary thing about that first Yamaha R1 is the engine. Even today, it’s regarded as one of the best engines designed and built for motorcycles. The YZF R1 screamed willingly to it’s 11,750 rpm redline and features smooth fueling. It has a unique stacked gearbox directly behind engine making the unit far more compact. This enabled a longer than normal swing arm combined with a short wheelbase which gave it excellent handling.

The engine itself was a stressed member of the frame which provided increased rigidity and also lowered weight. Yamaha used bonded aluminum on the handlebars instead of welded ones which provided a 46 per cent saving in weight from that part alone. Miwa designed the bike so that the rider was positioned as close to the center of it as possible to ensure even weight distribution.

Yamaha and Kunihkho Miwa’s team delivered on their objectives with the YZF R1 – the bike reached their stated target of 150 bhp and a dry weight of 177kg. That gave it a power to weight ratio of 0.84hp/kg. That compared to the current model Fireblade at 0.71hp/kg. In fact, the power to weight ratio of the R1 was the best ever for a production bike at the time. Not only did this make the Yamaha YZF R1 the quicker machine, it handled a hell of a lot better than the Fireblade, too.

Not that you could call the R1 a perfect machine, at least by today’s standards.  It was raw and unforgiving. That brilliant power to weight ratio was just a bit too much for the chassis at the time and the suspension was rather poor. The front end wasn’t the most compliant either. But that’s comparing then and now. At the time this was a class leader. Even today, an original R1 would be considered an exceptionally quick bike in a straight line and a competent track bike with upgraded suspension.

Regardless, the YZF R1 was a huge success and is why the model still continues today. Overall reliability was good and remains so to this day, despite a recall for clutch problems early on. The 1999 model had minor modifications relating to the gear change linkage and slightly reduced fuel tank reserve capacity.

Model Years1998-99
0 to 60mph2.96 seconds
0 to 100 mph5.93 seconds
Quarter Mile10.19 seconds
Top Speed168 mph


The first real upgrade occurred in 2000 with the aim to improve the Yamaha R1’s handling. Taking over from Miwa was Yoshikazu Koike who instead of trying to be revolutionary focused on improving the few negatives of the original bike. Weight reduction was also on the cards and the new model managed to shed nearly 4.5 pounds.  Settings on the carburetor were adjusted along with modifications to the gearbox to create a more linear response when twisting the throttle.

Much time and investment were also spent on the exhaust management system to both comply with new strict EU2 emission standards but also improving the power delivery of the bike, especially at low rpm. Cosmetically the bike also received an upgrade which still looks classy and modern today.

What They Said:

Motorcycle Daily:  The bike is, by its very nature, an aggressive machine yet must be respected… In addition to greater stability mid-turn, this means that the rider feels more in control of the machine.
Motorcycle News:  The third and final great sports bike of the nineties. The FireBlade set the agenda, the 916 added finesse and the Yamaha YZF-R1 topped them off with extra power and madness.
Motorcycle.com:  We could write this review in one sentence: The Year 2000 Yamaha YZF-R1 is an awesome motorcycle.

Model Years2000-01
0 to 60mph2.99 seconds
0 to 100 mph5.79 seconds
Quarter Mile10.17 seconds
Top Speed173 mph



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