The early Yamaha R1s are good used buys now. Here’s a comprehensive guide to get you a beauty from the first decade’s examples.
Yamaha’s flagship R1 arrived in 1998 to slot into an instant worldwide market share that existed due to a shift in consumer demand from 750 and 900cc configurations to larger capacities, coupled with the ability of manufacturers to deliver lighter and smaller componentry.
Fact is, it was a bike for its time and so it remains in 2020.
The bike’s compact nature was achieved via a redesign of Yamaha’s Genesis engine (the crankshaft, drive shaft and main shaft were not arranged in a horizontal line), which resulted in greatly reduced powerplant length and allowed 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 had undergone six model incarnations up until 2009 (there were also further minor cosmetic year updates over that period). Yep, Yammy was sticking true to the moniker that has become a major brand recogniser of note for it.
The 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 hose fitment.
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; second gear in particular 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 over 150 changes.
Central to this was the introduction of Yamaha’s Air Induction System (utilising 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 fitment of a steering damper improves this model immensely.
The 2000/01 engine is noisy at idle, you’ll notice 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 be needing valves or the lesser evil of a camchain tensioner.
In 2002 the R1 received fuel-injection for the first time, employing a “suction-piston-type” EFI, to allow better fuel/air mixture at low revs. A new two-stage EXUP valve contributed to the resultant torque-boost.
The Deltabox 3 frame was all new and claimed to be 300 per cent stiffer.
Owners suggest that 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.
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 of entirely titanium construction.
Things to look for on a prospective 2004 model purchase include:
Plastic fairing screws can loosen and fall out. Radiator hoses 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 bum. 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 (mapping etc). This could cause the engine to cut out at very inopportune moments.
The fifth generation of the YZF-R1 arrived in 2007 with a new frame, new swingarm and forks, and six-piston brake calipers.
The air intake featured YCC-T (‘fly-by-wire’ throttle technology from MotoGP) and YCC-I (a variable intake that switches from long to short intake funnels at higher rpm).
This new setup wasn’t without its problems, with owners reporting a ‘lag’ in power delivery at 100kmh in top gear.
Check by accelerating hard at around 100kmh in sixth. The response should be close to instantaneous.
2009 saw Yamaha take a huge technological leap; introducing an ‘irregular firing order’ engine (utilising a cross plane crankshaft). The idea was to improve traction through corners. The chassis was a completely new design, and the cylinders were canted at 31 degrees forward.
The new firing order revolutionised the bike in regard to tractability. There was a problem with the projector headlights melting fairings. This is a warranty claim item, fixed at the first service, but check the headlight housing. Time will tell on the reliability front.
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 (much newer fairings, frame scrapes (especially at the rear of the swingarm), new blinkers, instruments and ancillaries). If the odometer reading doesn’t ring true when weighed against the condition of the bike, trust your instincts.
The first three models offer great appeal – the first because of its ground-breaking nature, the second due to its user-friendliness and the third 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.
We’ve been burning the midnight oil in the editing room…
Yamaha Motor Australia
Snag’s career in motoring journalism spans 26 years with stints at major bike mags Australian Road Rider, Motorcycle Trader and AMCN along with contributions to just about every other outlet worth a hill of beans. He was editor of Unique Cars magazine and hosts his legendary podcast ‘Snag Says’ when he gets off his date.