The all-new MotoGP-style R1 outclasses its rivals in the toughest ever track test. Find out how…


‘This is a bike so full of contradictions but it’s so damn good’



Yamaha’s epic new R1 is the unanimous, hands-down winner of our 1000cc superbike track test. It easily beats the competition, but it has to be said from the off that it takes time to appreciate the R1’s brilliance. That’s down to the Yamaha’s unique MotoGP-inspired crossplane crank motor with its irregular firing intervals. It’s so different to anything anyone – except Valentino Rossi and his mates – have ridden before, it takes time for it all to sink in.

When fellow road tester Bruce Dunn rode it briefly for straight-line performance testing at our test strip, he wasn’t jumping for joy. When I rode it against the more familiar Fireblade in France, I was initially convinced it wasn’t as good as the Honda. Already there have been magazine articles saying it’s all hype.

But all these opinions come from lack of quality time in the saddle. The more you ride the R1, the more you’ll fall in love with its unbelievably vibe-free engine, glassy-smooth power delivery, gruff factory YZR-M1 engine note and ability to let you get on the throttle sooner than you ever thought possible. Jump off the R1 and on to any of the other four-cylinder 1000s here, and they lack the Yamaha’s instant burst of acceleration as soon as you pick up the throttle out of a corner. They all feel a bit gutless and vibey.

All of us on this test were bowled over by the R1, including James Haydon, who was almost speechless after riding it.


Inspired by MotoGP

Back in 2004, Yamaha gave Rossi’s M1 a crossplane crank and irregular firing order so he could get in and out of corners as fast as possible. The same applies to the new R1. It’s like there’s an electric motor in the big red Deltabox chassis, not a big inline four-cylinder internal combustion engine.

Unlike the others, the engine won’t try to twist the chassis and pump the tyre under hard acceleration, causing it to be unstable. It just drives you forward with sublime feel for the rear tyre, so you can get on the throttle sooner and harder from the middle of the corner.

You almost have to ride the R1 like a twin – using the grunt, not the revs – so a lot of the corners at Cartagena can be taken a gear higher than on the Blade, for example, which makes the Yamaha less frantic to ride fast. Ironically, the slower corners have to be taken in first, though, as it has a very tall bottom gear.


Worn tyres don’t faze it

The R1 is also easiest of all the bikes here to ride on worn tyres. You can feel the exact moment the tyre starts to lose grip and you can control it from there. When the ZX-10R goes, it snaps sideways violently. The Blade and the K9 have lots of natural grip thanks to their long swing-

arms, but still don’t offer the sublime feel of the Yamaha. The electronically-aided Ducati just splutters on its traction control when the tyre starts to spin, which is cool, but you have to wait too long for the power to come back in again, by which time the R1 has buggered off along the next straight.

With its lack of crank inertia, when you throttle-off the R1 freewheels, almost silently like a two-stroke. This keeps the R1 stable on the way into corners and gives you the confidence to run in faster with more control. But this lack of engine braking can make the R1 ‘back in’ slightly, especially if you use the back brake, so you have to ride accordingly.


Like three bikes in one

The R1 is three bikes in one: a twin or V4 on the throttle, a two-stroke off it and an inline four at high revs.

This is the key to the R1’s speed around the track or through a set of corners on the road, but none of it shows up on paper, testing it by conventional means. Its power and torque figures aren’t particularly impressive (it’s the least powerful inline four) and the straight-line performance is on a par with the competition. Where you feel it is through the seat of your pants and, of course, on a stop watch around a track.

The ZX-10R has 13bhp more power, but it still laps over a second slower than the R1. And the Yamaha is two and a half seconds faster than the more powerful new K9. It’s nearly a second quicker than the Ducati 1198S – and that has full Ohlins suspension and traction control!

It’s hard to see how the competition is going to catch up in the future. The ZX-10R proves that throwing big bhp at a bike doesn’t make it fast from A to B. The Ducati shows that top-shelf suspension, a big engine and advanced electronics can’t quite close the gap on the R1. It’s going to take some Yamaha-style ‘out of the box’ thinking to catch the R1.

While the engine dominates the R1, it also handles beautifully – once it’s properly set up for the track. Get it on its nose – by taking off front preload, adding more rear and tightening up the damping at each end – and it ‘floats’ around the track.

A fast lap is completely effortless. The suspension is plush, giving lots of feel, and flip-flop chicanes can be taken with ease. The brakes have more feel and power than any R1 I’ve ever ridden and the lack of engine vibes and useable power make riding the R1 as fast and easy as playing a computer game.

That’s not to say the Yamaha isn’t fun and involving. A screaming four-cylinder Blade or ZX-10R certainly gets the juices flowing, but there’s nothing more fun than reducing following riders to a speck in your mirrors as you leave them for dust out of corners and pull a huge gap. Here at Cartagena there must have been a lot of red-faced slick-shod race bike riders wondering ‘what the hell was that growling bike with a numberplate, indicators and mirrors’ flying past them.



Yamaha has shown its crossplane crank engine and irregular firing order works at MotoGP; Ben Spies has proved it works at WSB and it has demolished the competition in our 1000cc superbikes shootout. Here is a bike so full of contradictions and so different to anything out there, but just so damn good. Most impressively, our R1 had only 322km on the clock when we tested it – the motor was still tight and it still whupped ass!


Riders View Turn 10: ‘Midway through this second-gear hairpin you can give the R1 more throttle than usual as there’s a steep camber in your favour.’



62 Laps of the Cartagena circuit completed on this test

234.24 Km/h at the end of the straight

1.03 Seconds quicker than the second placed bike

2.26 Seconds quicker than the bike with slowest lap time


Tester’s second opinions

“It looks like an old French Endurance racer, but what a bike”


Wow, what a bike! What a motor, it’s really impressive. I really love that engine, it sounds amazing. I can’t stop smiling, I so enjoyed riding that. It’s nimble with a lovely front end – I can really feel what the front end is doing.



Braking into the slow speed turn 2, Ben Neeves is about to flick right




Engine and gearbox 100%

Suspension 95%

Cornering 98%

Braking 97%

Overall 98%



Kawasaki ZX-10R

Best lap: 1:48.41, max 238.94km/h



The Kawasaki was our early favourite here. It steers beautifully, holds a line, is agile in the chicanes and has a storming amount of power. If we had left all the bikes on standard suspension settings, there’s a good chance the Kawasaki could have taken the victory in this track test.

All the other bikes here are set up to be stable and reassuring on the road, with relatively soft set-ups and slow steering. It’s not until you adjust them – speed up the steering and stiffen them up – that they become useful on the track.

The ZX-10R needs hardly any tweaking for it to work straight away. That’s why it’s such an unstable, scary monster on the road when you accelerate over bumps at speed. But on a smooth race track there are no such problems. The Kawasaki is razor-sharp, stable and massive fun. It has the perfect riding position for the track – roomy yet

aggressive. It’s a good half-second faster than the Ducati and Honda, and a second and a half quicker than the Suzuki, but for all its power and nimbleness, it can’t match the R1 – it’s nearly a second slower than the Yamaha.

Despite huge reserves of power at the top end to play with, the ZX-10R’s brilliant chassis makes it a pussycat around Cartagena. The brakes on our test bike were strong (though we’ve heard of fading issues before on track).

If the new R1 didn’t exist, you’d think the ZX-10R accelerates out of corners like a guided missile; it certainly has the speed on the straights, and is faster than the R1. But compared to the Yamaha you have to wait too long for the power to chime in when you get on the throttle, so it feels slower coming off a corner. Taking the corner in a lower gear won’t catch the R1, either – the lower gear slows you down too much going into and through the corner.


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This is a spectacular track machine straight out of the crate – and ironically it’s less scary on the circuit than on the road. It’s devilishly quick, but not quick enough to challenge the R1.

Stick a cross plane crank in the ZX-10R, change its firing intervals and Yamaha will have a fight on its hands.



Engine and gearbox 98%

Suspension 97%

Cornering 97%

Braking 94%

Overall feel 97%


On a smooth race track the Kawasaki is razor-sharp, stable and massive fun. It’s a spectacular track machine





Ducati 1198S

Best lap: 1:48.93, max 227.21km/h



Just like the R1, the Ducati takes a lot of setting up to get it to work around the track. You need to get it on its nose so it’ll steer well enough to change direction and hold a line. It also needs lots more damping to control the weaves and wobbles initiated by the instant power delivery of the 1198cc

V-twin engine and provide the stability to control the dive caused by the fierce Brembo Monobloc brakes. Properly

set up it’s a wonderful track bike.

You feel perched up high and it’s a long way down to get your knee down. It’s still slow-steering, too – especially compared to the R1, Blade and ZX-10R.

At first the Ducati feels clumsy and unnatural around such a tight track and the instant power delivery too snatchy, but when you’re hard-charging trying to chase someone, the 1198S changes completely. Ridden by the scruff of its neck the Ducati is amazing.

The 1198s is happiest at full lean, where it’s so stable. It loves high-speed corners and punches out of slow ones in a bass-happy frenzy of mono-wheeling majesty. At full throttle it’s a cacophony of induction roar and hot metallic violence.

With traction control set on the middle level four, it kicks in coming out of slow-speed corners, especially on cold or worn tyres. It lets you get on with it on the faster sections of the track, but because you know your electronic friend is there to help you, you tease the throttle more than you would do normally to run breath-taking corner speeds.



For the first time a road-going Ducati can compete with its Japanese 1000cc rivals on track – although it’s taken advanced electronics, an 1198cc motor, top-shelf suspension, lightweight wheels and a giddy price tag to achieve it. On a more flowing circuit with fewer tighter corners, the Ducati might have beaten the Kawasaki ZX-10R, but would still struggle against the Yamaha, which is 1.5 seconds faster here.


Engine and gearbox 97%

Suspension 94%

Cornering 96%

Braking 98%

Overall feel 96%


1198’s traction control gives you the confidence to hold high corner speeds and then get on the throttle hard




Honda Fireblade

Best lap: 1.48.99, max 242.61km/h


In the scrap for best of the rest after the R1, the Blade loses out to the ZX-10R and the 1198S – but only just. It trails the Ducati by just 0.06s, hitting the fastest top speed on the straight in the process, thanks to its useable grunt out of corners.

All the things which made the Fireblade the fastest around the track and our favourite 1000 superbike last year still ring true. The Honda is still impossibly easy to jump on and ride fast, being smooth, beautifully balanced and predictable, with superb handling.

It was another bike that needed lots of tweaking to get it to behave around the circuit, mainly through controlling the damping at each end to stabilise it under acceleration and braking. The only real limit to its cornering ability is the pegs, which go down easily with these sticky Michelin Power One tyres fitted.

The Fireblade is a very comforting bike to be on, once set up, and will make the perfect trackday bike. It never does anything nasty and is constantly re-assuring you, giving you lots of feedback and confidence. While the Ducati is a serious track tool and feels the most like a proper race machine out of all the bikes here, and the ZX-10R is a precision tool for carving out fast lap times, the Blade is just fun. You feel like riding round and round until the fuel runs out. And remember, it cleaned up in last year’s National

Superstock championship, too.

Fourth position in this test doesn’t really do the Blade justice, but the stop watch is a cruel mistress. Compared to the R1, it’s too slow out of corners to keep up and the engine feels too buzzy and frantic. National Superstock racer Steve Mercer is one or two seconds a lap faster than me around Cartagena, but when we were riding together, him on the Blade and me on the R1 for the on-board camera footage, he was having to scream the Blade a gear lower than me just to keep up with the Yamaha on acceleration.



It’s hard to believe the Honda is way down in fourth place, but by no means does that mean it’s become rubbish overnight, because it hasn’t. It’s still a gem of a motorcycle.


Engine and gearbox 97%

Suspension 95%

Cornering 94%

Braking 95%

Overall feel 95%


The Blade is fun, but lost out to the ZX-10R and 1198S by split seconds

Suzuki GSX-R1000 K9

Best lap: 1:49.63, max 237.74km/h


Suzuki’s new K9 GSX-R1000 struggled on the track. Ride it in isolation and it’s superb; fast, stable and thanks to its new Blade-esque short engine/long swingarm combination, it maximises rear tyre grip too. New Showa Big Piston Forks also work better the harder you push, giving great feel from the front tyre too.

The engine has been totally overhauled for the first time in the GSX-R1000’s eight-year history. It has a shorter stroke than before, so is eager to rev, but still has good grunt off the corners. The power delivery is smoother than the old K7/K8, too, but it’s down on power compard to the old model to the tune of 7bhp.

Unfortunately, although the K9 is lighter and more nimble than the old bike, it’s still not agile enough – and now it’s light years behind the new R1.

Two and a half seconds doesn’t really sound a lot, but every 10 laps around Cartegana, the R1 pulls a massive 25-second gap over the GSX-R1000…

The K9 also needed setting up. Like all GSX-Rs, the new K9 sits very flat compared to the more extreme, ‘nose down/tail up’ set-up of the ZX-10R or R1 and feels more like a big sports tourer in this company. It’s already been proved that in WSB trim it can kick butt around the track and, in testing, superstock K9s have been going really well, too – but as it is out of the crate, even with the suspension dialled in, it’s not as sharp as its rivals.

Its lack of agility means you have to be a bit steadier into the corners and have to wait longer for it to turn before you get on the power. The K9 has good grunt, as it still has the longest stroke of any of the Japanese 1000s, but it still feels flat from the middle of the corner on the throttle compared to the R1.



Every GSX-R1000 from the K1 to the K5 raised the 1000cc superbike bar, but for whatever reason the 2007 K7 lost the plot a bit. It was too heavy and clumsy around the track. That didn’t stop it selling by the bucketload, though, as it’s still a great road bike. The K9 is a big improvement – it’s lighter and friendlier, but still doesn’t capture the GSX-R spirit of old.


Engine and gearbox 97%

Suspension 93%

Cornering 92%

Braking 92%

Overall feel 94%


Despite an overhaul and Haydon riding, the K9 isn’t agile enough on track





Second opinions


‘The GSX-R has a good engine, but the R1’s is better”



The Suzuki handles well; it has a different stance, but does not turn as well as the Yamaha. It’s a great bike, tractable, good engine, smooth but not as good as the Yamaha I’ve just ridden.”





“A few tweaks transformed the Ducati –

what a buzz”




I’m impressed by the Ducati – it’s got loads of grunt. When set up, it holds its line. It’s a little unstable at the end of the straight but a few suspension tweaks has transformed it – what a buzz.





“The ZX-10 still has most power and top-

end rush”



The ZX-10 still has the most power and top-end rush. It won’t stop wheelying and it’s hard work. It feels fast as it’s so lively and you need to wrestle it round, but I still love riding it on track.




“The Blade is easy to ride, but it’s a bit soft for

the track”



The Fireblade is quick down the straight and easy to ride. But it’s on the soft side – you need to play around with the set up, but I can’t get at the rear shock. Throttle response is soft for the track.




“The 1198’s fuelling is on/off compared

to the fours”



I found the Ducati the hardest to ride of all the bikes. The fuelling is on/off compared to the four-cylinder bikes. It’s a pig to ride fast – with the power delivery and brakes, it’s all or nothing .





Last year’s results

1st Honda Fireblade We said: “The Honda’s new shorter stroke engine is an epic powerhouse.”

2nd Kawasaki ZX-10R We said: “The ZX-10R is back to its wild, brutal and aggressive best.”

3rd Yamaha R1 We said: “The R1 lacks the engine to compete with the new ZX-10R and Blade.”

4th Suzuki GSX-R1000 K8 We said: “The GSX-R1000 isn’t the phenomenal track weapon it used to be.”






‘The R1 tears chunks out of the others in corner exits’



he 3.48km Cartagena race track is used for winter testing by WSB and BSB teams and proved the ideal location for our test. The 610m straight is long enough for the bikes to stretch their legs, while the 18 turns enable the bikes to be pushed to their handling limits.

Each bike was set up specifically for the track. We then used a Rs 3.96 lakh (UK) Microsat GPS datalogger to record every lap. Our test rat was Bruce Dunn, legendary bike tester with over 14 years experience. Bruce had all the time he needed to set a fast lap on fresh Michelin race rubber. Set under perfect conditions, the lap times speak volumes – clearly showing the new R1 as the overall winner.




Fast right-hander

Out of the tight chicane in second gear, you scream up to the top of third gear before braking for the tight right The ZX-10 is fastest here and feels the quickest through this section – its top end performance really shows.





Medium right-hander

The Yamaha’s is significantly faster here. Its lack of engine braking means you carry more corner speed. It also steers near-perfectly, with great chassis feedback in mid-corner.





Maximum speed achieved

The Yamaha is down on top end power compared to the other fours and it shows here – when they get the chance to stretch their legs, they start to pull away slightly. On a longer straight we’d expect an even greater gap.





Very fast left-hander

The Honda comes out on top through this section, despite finishing fourth overall. Its power delivery is smooth and it doesn’t wheelie too much over the crest. The Suzuki isn’t too far behind, its road manners shining in this section. The Kawasaki’s vicious power makes it hard to keep under control here. Again the Yamaha features highly, showing its driveability out of corners.





Tight hairpin

As you’d expect in a slow turn, the times are very close, but the Yamaha carries the most corner speed, followed by the ZX-10R and Duke – exactly the same order as the apex speeds on faster corners. The R1 always carries the most corner speed, despite the Ducati’s quality suspension. The Yamaha’s lack of engine braking, the way it allows you to attack corners and the great feedback it gives mean it was always on top.





Maximum acceleration

In this small section, the Yamaha makes almost a second or more on almost all the other bikes. It’s simply so easy to get on the power early and the new engine has the low-down grunt to fire the Yamaha down the straight. The Suzuki also scored well here, allowing the rider to get on the power sooner. The Honda was a real surprise as it has excellent feel from the rear, recording the highest speed at the end of the straight, but in this section it’s over a second slower than the Yamaha.




Overall track verdict: why the R1 wins

Yamaha’s new R1 completely dominated our track test. We’ve given every bike a fair chance to shine here. All our test riders, regardless of experience and ability, fell in love with the R1.

The R1’s brakes are sublime, its handling sharp, its suspension plush and, of course, that growling, electric motor of an engine lets you feel for rear tyre grip and get on the throttle sooner than anything else.

It’s neither the most powerful machine here, nor the fastest along the straights – but ait can get in, through and out the other side of a corner better than anything else.

To be a whole second clear of the next best machine is simply staggering and puts the competition in the shade.



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