Here's How The Yamaha YZF-R1 Took Sports Bikes To The Next Level

You don't need to know the complex differences between a wide variety of types of motorcycles to have a grasp of one key thing: Sports bikes are speed machines. It's a generalization to say that they're strictly for racing only, but you'll certainly see the best of the best sports bikes represented out on high-profile tracks.

There'll often be at least one Yamaha model racing as well. The Japanese brand has a long history with racing bikes, first competing in July 1955's Mt. Fuji Ascent Race — the very same month that Yamaha Motor Co., Ltd was officially created. Of the many sports bikes Yamaha has developed over its long history, one of the most important would be the YZF-R1.

These bikes need something more than just speed. More than performance, or style, as important as these factors are. In addition, it would be easier, and surely safer, to just iterate slightly on an existing model's specs and declare the result the "fastest yet," but the only way to really change the game is to try something new. 

The YZF-R1 was an attempt to combine all of these factors, and it was one of the most intriguing sports bikes in the company's (and the industry's) history. Let's take a closer look, starting with the context for its creation. It may not be an ideal ride for beginners, but it's certainly powerful.

Setting the scene for Yamaha's YZF-R1

In 2001's "Performance Motorcycles," Mick Walker states that 1969's Honda CB750 was the first superbike. That model, Walker goes on, "was responsible for a whole new market sector in the motorcycle industry; the age of the multi-cylinder bike with a deluxe specification had arrived." It was a new market, of course, that industry heavyweights such as Yamaha were quick to jump on board with.

In the years that followed, Yamaha set its sights on diversifying its range to appeal to more than just a new breed of superbike enthusiasts. 1970's HT-1, for instance, was a 6.3kW single-cylinder trail model, designed more for modest comfort on a range of terrain than screaming around tracks. Yamaha would then establish something of a blueprint for its superbikes, only to go on to promptly rewrite it with the YZF-R1.

The 1984 FJ1100 could be seen as the piece that defined the direction of Yamaha's sports bikes of the era. It boasted 125 horsepower and a quite astonishing top speed of around 146 mph. At up to 555.5 lbs, too, it wasn't a huge or impractical pain to ride; being rather modest in dimensions and equipped with side-mounted tubes rather than top-mounted, positioned to keep its size and heft low. The model could be summarized as sporting performance belied by its size. What Yamaha then did with the YZF-R1 in the late 1990s was take these virtues and elevate them further.

[Featured image by Dr. Fiero via Wikimedia Commons | Cropped and scaled | Public Domain]