Yamaha's R1 is one of the most iconic and recognized names in motorcycling. For a while there in the 2000s, it became more or less synonymous with "faired sportsbike" in the minds of the bike-curious but uneducated: "nice bike there mate, is that a Suzuki R1?" For nearly 22 years now, it's been Yamaha's flagship high-performance superbike and one of the greatest and wildest rides on the road and track. And since it's been five years since the last major upgrade, Yamaha's bringing out a new model for 2020.
The 2020 Yamaha YZF-R1 has taken steps forward in its revised, Euro V-compliant engine, its suspension, its beefed-up electronics, and its aerodynamic performance thanks to revised bodywork.
Mind you, it's not what you'd call an earth-shattering overhaul in looks; I'll admit I sat here scratching my chin for a decent while trying to work out how the heck to tell it apart from the old model. Here's what I came away with: not a ton. The easiest way to spot it is probably the new bike's ... epicanthal folds? You know, the bit of skin running down the inside edge of the eye. The new R1's got bits of plastic extending down from the front cowl on the inside edges of the headlights, surrounding the front air intake. The old one didn't.
The new bike's side plastics also extend back further than the old one, with a color-matched panel at the bottom of the tank and black plastic around the M1 MotoGP-inspired gills at the front of the tank. But you'd have to be a bit of a boffin to pick the new bike from the old, to be honest. It retains the same cool-looking tailpiece with its flatulence-extracting openings behind the seat cowl, which also serve to eliminate any chance you ever had of fitting things underneath the seat. But this is a razor-edged superbike, so discussions of practicality are misplaced. There is around a 5 percent increase in aerodynamic efficiency, though.
Let's discuss the engine, then. There's no leap in power this year, but honestly, if 200 pferdestärke (that's German for metric horsepower), or 197 regular old analog horsepower, isn't enough for you, people should be paying to you write their business names across the backside of your leathers.
Instead, this year's engine is about refinement, and taking a penitent knee toward our Euro emissions overlords, whose Euro V restrictions wrap their green, leafy tendrils around the motorcycle industry from New Year's Eve onwards. From 2020 bikes will need to emit roughly 10 percent less carbon and nitrous oxides than the Euro IV models, with particulate matter limits also coming in for the first time.
The new R1 retains the previous bike's inline four architecture with its famous crossplane crankshaft for perfect primary and secondary balance. It remains a 998cc, and delivers peak power at a roaring 13,000 rpm. Yamaha says it's smoother and more efficient, particularly at high revs, thanks to new finger-follower rocker arms and new cam lobe profiles.
The cylinder head and intakes have been redesigned, with new 10-hole Bosch injectors relocated above the 45-mm intake throttle bodies. They spray wider into a reduced intake volume, again to boost efficiency and combustion stability. The exhaust now has no fewer than four catalyzers – two in front of the exhaust chamber and two behind – and there's additional noise damping in there as well.
The crankshaft now gets more oil thanks to bigger lubrication holes – again helping to boost efficiency – and the drivetrain also helps reduce power losses through a wider second gear pinion and thicker plates on the chain.
The new R1's electronic systems have gone under the microscope for 2020, right down to the ride-by-wire throttle sensor in the twistgrip. Yamaha has bestowed the new system with a spring, slider and gear to help this digital throttle maintain some of the feel that mechanically actuated throttles once had. There's also a new engine braking management setting that lets you choose how much you want the bike to drag on a closed throttle, and some minor modifications to the launch control system's settings.
A new six-axis IMU feeds data on the bike's movements to the central computer 125 times per second, enabling a new cornering ABS system that Yamaha says is clever enough to prevent wheel lock-ups rather than just responding to them. The BC, or Brake Control system, has two modes, one which is lean angle-sensitive, one that's not. I'm not sure why you'd want to put your traction control back in caveman mode, but hey, the option's there. I can't, on the other hand, find an "off" setting in the R1's intimidating new settings menu, so the old fuse box might end up being the answer if you wish to play slidey-slideys or throw up an endo.
It's evolution over revolution in the front forks. The 43-mm Kayaba upside-down jobbies get new inner valving, a reduced spring rate and a revised fork oil level for better rider feedback on road surface changes, and more "direct and natural" handling. The steering damper has been lightly modified, and the rear shock ships with new settings to match the front.
The monoblock brake, by Japanese company Advics, gets new higher-friction pads for even harder stopping potential, and the new R1 will ship with Bridgestone's latest Battlax RS11 supersports road/track tires.
2020 Yamaha YZF-R1M
Is there also a new fancy-pants R1M version dripping with carbon and Swedish gold? Yes, yes there is. The new R1M replicates the new body shape in carbon, including the tailpiece, which used to be plastic, and carries over the engine and electronics upgrades. It gets fancy electronic active Ohlins ERS NPX forks to match its fancy electronic active Ohlins shock. The forks are gas pressurized to reduce cavitation in the fork oil and provide a more consistent damping force. Yamaha says it's more agile and controlled as a result, and you should be able to go faster around a track on it.
It's got a Y-TRAC datalogger, which collects and presents a wide range of performance tracking data through a pair of apps, one allowing you to control settings, another allowing you to view your ride overlaid on a Google Maps image of a racetrack, tracking everything from throttle inputs and lean angles through to ABS and traction control intervention and acceleration and cornering g-forces.
The regular R1 will be available from this September, and the R1Ms availability will be announced in 2020. Pricing for both bikes is yet to be announced. Watch them going hog-wild on a racetrack in the video below.
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