September 9. 2008 Yamaha's superstar MotoGP team, including Valentino Rossi, Jorge Lorenzo, Colin Edwards and James Toseland, have assembled to throw their star power behind a completely reworked 2009 R1 launch in Vegas - but the magnificent machine barely needs any help to stand out on its own. The first of the bleeding-edge litrebikes to experiment with an uneven firing order for huge low-end torque and maximum corner exit grip, the Yamaha has been completely redesigned as a major model upgrade for 2009. One hundred and eighty two horsepower (before ram air kicks in) and 206 kilgorams dripping wet, for less than US$15,000 - aren't these magnificent times for motorcycle fans to live in?

While the 2007-8 R1 was already the technophile's dream of the superbike class, with its fly-by-wire electronic throttle management and variable length air intakes, the bike has received a major model overhaul for 2009, redesigned from the engine out. At the heart of the new R1 is an all-new engine, which is the first of the roadgoing superbikes to use an uneven firing order at 270-180-90-180 degrees as opposed to the 180-180-180-180 degree firing order used by the rest of the field.

Unevenly spaced power pulses were a hot topic in MotoGP at the dawn of the 990cc era, when it was found that by staggering the power pulses into uneven groupings, the rear tyre would seem to grip better out of corners as the gap between pulses allowed the rubber to grab the road a little better. Top-end power might drop, and the bikes didn't feel as fast as the evenly spaced models, but the additional traction out of corners made for better lap times.

The 2009 R1's engine doesn't seem to lose out on top-end power - peaking at a claimed 182 horsepower before ram-air even gets started - but the big bang-lite firing order should make for a more urgent low-end and midrange. Coupled with the variable length intakes and intricate electronic throttle management, the new bike should be an animal right through the rev range, and a much better roadbike for it.

Despite the completely new frame and bodywork, Yamaha has chosen to retain the underseat exhausts of the R1 even as other manufacturers move to a more compact stubby side-exit system. Bulky and uncomfortably hot for pillions, Yamaha openly admits the underseat pipes have been retained primarily for looks - and this is a category in which the R1 has always excelled.

Availability is yet to be announced, but the R1 will sell for US$12,390 in its traditional blue, or US$12,490 in white, yellow and black. More expensive than its Japanese competitors, perhaps, but then it carries more MotoGP technology than any of them - and its looks have always placed it as an item of desire.

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Loz Blain

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