2012 Yamaha R1 – From Zero to Hero

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2012 Yamaha R1 - From Zero to Hero

So far as mind bending performance goes, the stock Yamaha R1 is a long way from ideal. It’s fast, sure, but it lacks feel, smoothness, grip and ability in stock form. Somewhere beneath those bug eyed lights and angular plastics, though, is a genuine transcendental two-wheeled experience just waiting to be unleashed. Our buddy Adey found it and now uses this bike to beat Porsches and squids every Sunday at The Snake and plenty of other days at Willow Springs. Here’s how. — Ed.

Photos: Sean Smith

Flashback to fall, 2009 and $13,000 was burning a hole in my pocket. I wanted a new bike and I wanted it before that money went on something less exciting. I’ve been on R1s since 2004; an ’02 silver/black to an ’04 to an ’05. Yamaha junkie? Maybe, but I’d always dreamed of owning a piece of Italian craftsmanship. Something built to win both races and best dressed awards. That thirteen grand was bringing me oh so close to a leftover Ducati 1198 S, but there was a problem. Yamaha chose the same year to release the M1-inspired crossplane crankshaft and I just had to have one.

European liter bike shootouts had the R1 either on top or within the top three. But, for some reason US reviews were the exact opposite, putting the new Yamaha in damn near last place. The biggest problem was apparently a lack of top end power on North American bikes, a restriction put in place to meet stringent EPA regs. The mags were impressed with the new motor’s tractable delivery, but it was getting beat down every single straight!

Thank god I don’t believe all the hype I read in those shootouts. Instead, I did my homework and found out the source of the power restriction. I was confident I could get that power back easily and that’s all it took to open my wallet. Maybe I’ll get a Ducati in 2012.


My first ride on the R1 was on a road I know all too well. The infamous Snake. That first time out, I wanted to see how different the new D-modes delivered by the ride-by-wire system really were. B-mode is suggested for times when you need sensitive throttle input. It sort of makes the R1 feel like a 600, which I find handy when breaking in new DOT rubber on the street during LA winters. Standard Mode is supposed to be just that. I didn’t feel it delivered Yamaha’s claim of “optimum overall performance, but it was the smoothest of the three modes. A-mode sharpens throttle response in the low and mid range. It does help the bike accelerate more instantaneously, but the delivery is just too abrupt to be of much use. It’s like an on/off switch. Roll on the throttle and that’s not a huge problem. Roll off and you’ll smash your nuts on the tank.

It didn’t take too many passes on the Snake to find all the stock bike’s shortcomings. The stock forks were too heavily sprung and too lightly damped, meaning they failed to deliver good feedback and struggled to keep the front wheel in contact with the road over bumps. The stock exhaust weighed as much as an entire R6. To top it off, the stock D204s sapped any confidence I might have otherwise had. Really, these tires are garbage, there’s no grip and no feel. Why Yamaha chose to fit them to their flagship performance bike, totally blunting that performance, is beyond me.

So, what to do first? I decided to put the R1 on a slim fast diet by installing the Akrapovic Evolution full exhaust system. This not only shed weight, but bumped my rear wheel dyno readings up from 161 to 166.2hp. At low RPMs, the exhaust makes the R1 sound like a V8 muscle car. Open it up fully, close your eyes and pretend you’re on an M1, they sound identical.

Next step was to find that power Yamaha chose to hide from US customers and work on smoothing the throttle response. Some smart guy by the name of Beau Braunberger from Garage Endeavors had just started promoting his ECUnleashed for this bike. A mutual friend introduced us and I allowed Beau to use my bike as a guinea pig to perfect his software. He was happy to tailor the reflash to my personal riding style too.

I pulled up at Beau’s house, removed the left fairing, pulled out the ECU and plugged it into his laptop. 15 minutes later, I was back on the bike.

Continue Reading: From Zero to Hero >>

  • dux

    These are the kind of articles I relish. Gettin’ shit done. Any details on shim stack setup for your suspension?

  • nick2ny

    Holy smokes, now that’s an attractive bike. Really smart list of changes you’ve done there–I’m jealous.

  • Thom

    Yeah sure , you could of gotten the Aprilla or the Duc for the same amount of $$$ , but then they wouldn’t be tailor made for YOU like the R1 now is , instead just being another stock OTC OEM ( albeit exotic ones )

    ” Stock is a can of beans on a shelf ”

    Words to live by .

    And seriously , how much more fun is it kicking some Eurosnob tail with your Hot rodded R1 than it would be aboard another Eurosnob ?

    Should I tell you about my C6 experience kicking the crap out of a GT3 ? Nahhh this is a M/C site , but you get the idea .

    • http://www.youtube.com/user/Adeysworld adeysworld

      I agree with you totally, it is a blast showing off with my up-to-euro-par R1. BUT if the Yami came with all the power readily accessible I’d have a bit more respect for it in stock trim.

      • Dan

        Any examples come to mind for bikes you’ve thought were properly sorted in stock form?

        I’ve always thoight it was strange that we talk about suspension/pipe/ecu/controls/etc as “necessary” upgrades for road bikes when that stuff could’ve/should’ve been done right at the factory.

        Also, its probably no consolation, but I bet you would’ve poured a pile of money into the Duc, too – so that MSRP comparison isn’t fair to yourself :)

        • Sean Smith

          Duc has Ohlins front and back and they’re plenty adjustable. That saves a pretty hefty chunk of change.

          • http://www.youtube.com/user/Adeysworld adeysworld

            I’d still change the internals. But it’s nice to have the cool external hardware in place already;)

          • Dan

            Agreed, although I wasn’t thinking so much about top-of-the-range models with all the bling (since they’re priced accordingly). I just remembered reading in your review of the griso something about not needing to change much. Anything else that you really liked out of the box?

            • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

              There’s not one of us that wouldn’t change some stuff on any bike we owned. Difference is on something high-end like the Griso that’d be rearsets and handlebars for a total of what, $500?. On the R1 it’s everything detailed above.

  • Rick

    There’s alot to be said for truly making a motorcycle your own- it’s never cheap but it can be satisfying!

    I’m hoping Yamaha’s next R1 replicates the elegantly crisp and taut lines of their M1. With motorbikes as with women, slimmer is better!

  • HammSammich

    I know it’s a funny detail for me to be so excited about, but those rearsets are really gorgeous.

    • Wereweazle

      I thought the same thing. I found myself staring at that picture for a long time and thinking, “Huh… those are pretty.” I think it’s the way they swoop out.

  • http://www.firstgenerationmotors.blogspot.com Emmet

    could we get a price breakdown for the aftermarket parts? just want to understand what went into the bike in terms of each component

    • http://www.youtube.com/user/Adeysworld adeysworld

      These are ballpark figures…
      Suspension – $2,300
      Rims – $1,800
      Exhaust – $2,300
      Misc(Rearsets,Damper..etc) – $1,500

  • http://ridingthereverend.blogspot.com reverend_rider

    Cool article! This real-life stuff is more important to me than any number of Stupidbike Shootouts trying to guesstimate what my relationship with a bike might be. It also reminds me that, should I choose, I could take the same approach with my 21yo POS Honda and have a lark on a bike built for ME.

    Oh, and Adey, thanks for my first ever Yamaboner. I’m off to enjoy it.

    • http://www.youtube.com/user/Adeysworld adeysworld

      Where’s my cab fare?

  • Steve

    Impressive, sir. Agreed with previous posts, though- the journey to make a bike your own carries greater rewards than just buying someone else’s idea of perfect- including the respect of your peers.

  • http://www.faster-faster.com fasterfaster

    How’s it compare to your previous gen R1s?

    • http://www.youtube.com/user/Adeysworld adeysworld

      Engine-wise…the best so far.

      • http://www.faster-faster.com fasterfaster

        And the chassis? Did you go full bore Ohlins/Marchesini on any of the old ones?

        • http://www.youtube.com/user/Adeysworld adeysworld

          The 02′-03′ felt great out the crate. Then Yamaha went the Cadillac route with the 04′-05′. Once sorted out it was fine, but it was the spongiest bike I ever rode stock.
          I feel the R1 has improved with each model in terms of handling. Some will disagree like a friend of mine who swore up and down the 04′-’05 out handles the 09′. The fact that he was trying to sell me this said bike hurt his argument.lol

          The 09′ is the first bike to receive the full-makeover treatment.

  • BuellDoc

    The “Stock” Quote is going above my work bench!
    I always like getting the True potential out of any bike,you just got to remember HP cost $$$$ and don’t let the wife know!

  • Alex

    fantastic article! did the reflash affect b mode at all?

    • http://www.youtube.com/user/Adeysworld adeysworld

      The reflash lifts restrictions and smoothes power delivery in all modes.

  • alang

    really nice write up; good job

  • Patrick

    I think I’m with everyone when I say It’s the nicest R1 I’ve seen. 6 large tho ouch!

    I like the fact that the bike world is starting to catch up to the car world when it comes to ECU flashing. You now no longer really need TRE’s, Powercommanders, igition modules or any number of other often crapply constructed addons, just to get a ridable bike. I love it.

  • matt

    Great article. and what was the final tire selection?

    • http://www.youtube.com/user/Adeysworld adeysworld

      Thanks buddy. In this order…
      NTEC Slick
      NTEC GP
      NTEC GP-A
      Going back to Q2′s once they arrive today.

      • matt

        Love my Q2s. Kind of awesome how reasonable they are at the track despite being long wearing.

  • Skank NYCF

    Wanna race? :)

    • http://www.postpixel.com.au mugget

      Now there’s an article…

    • http://www.youtube.com/user/Adeysworld adeysworld


    • http://www.muthalovin.com the_doctor

      Gauntlet, laid down. Awesome.

  • http://www.postpixel.com.au mugget

    I have the same opinion about my next bike – I will just buy a Euro bike with all the good stuff (Brembo monoblocks, Marchesinis, Ohlins etc.) and leave it stock. So much you can do to a Jap bike as far as aftermarket upgrades, and it could have the same spec components (or better) than it’s Euro rivals and would it be a better ride? Well, it’s debatable…

    • Devin

      I hate buying bikes that feel like they need upgrades. I’d much rather pay cash upfront, have zero work to do and especially not have to run around town looking for the parts, ordering, shipping, haggling over prices.

      I only like working on my bike when I’ve broken it and it needs fixing, I guess.

      • Archer

        That’s why I bought an ’07 CBR 600 RR when it came out. Yes, you can spend a lot of stuff for it- but you don’t need to. It’s all pretty much there… even more than in this year’s iteration of basically the same bike, dumbed down on top end to meet the requirements of the noise Gestapo… the same issue as on the R1.

    • http://www.facebook.com/beastincarnate Ben Incarnate

      One issue comes in when the “good stuff” on the bikes is still not up to the same quality as the separate product lines. As an example, I recall many reviews of the Ducati Streetfighter S that complained about the Ohlins components.

      Beyond that, perhaps part of the advantage of doing upgrades separately, especially where suspension is concerned, is selecting everything to suit yourself.

      • http://www.postpixel.com.au mugget

        Yeah that is my other concern – some of the Euro bikes have “OEM spec” Ohlins, definitely not what you would see used on a race bike… But that is something to check when it comes to buy time.

        • Justin

          High end components that are valved for unskilled weekend warriors with big bank accounts still suck. If you don’t ride exactly as the OEM springs and valves you’re bike, you will be chafing. Almost every bike could use a revalve and a respring front and rear at least from the factory to be truly comfortable between your legs.

  • Barry

    Nicely done article Mr. Smith. Well considered, and well written. *golf clap*

    • Sean Smith

      I just did the photos here, check out the byline at the end of the story ;)

    • rohorn

      I think if Sean wrote it, there would be an explaination about piston ring lifespan when the surface speed goes from roughly 4260 FPM at the stock redline to over 5000 FPM with the raised redline.

      Not to mention crank, rod, valve spring, etc… MTBF with raised redlines.

      • Sean Smith

        Ha. This is exactly why I tell people it’s stupid to get into their motors or ride real supermoto bikes on the street.

  • nymoto

    Great story – and I thinks it’s awesome you still have the passenger pegs on it! Where else you going to put the “actresses”?!

  • Maxwell

    Quite a nice list of additions to that R1. I must say though, whats wrong with a damper feeling non-existant at low speeds? I love the flickability of a bike at low speeds and the added assurance it won’t tank slap me off should shit get hairy at higher speeds.
    Regardless, very nice bike. Any before and after dynographs of the ECU flash?

    • http://www.youtube.com/user/Adeysworld adeysworld

      I found the front-end too twitchy for my comfort in the canyons. With all the banked turns and bumps, the damper is a necessity.
      I just sent a pic of the dynograph to Wes, he’s prob out chasing some diry-tail. So expect it to be up when he recoups from the weekend.

  • http://pinkyracer.com pinkyracer

    damn. I really wish you’d written this before I replaced my 50,000 mile ’04 with an ’09. So true, but I reallllly wanted something new & shiny. Except now I’m paying $329/month just to own it, so I don’t have money for all the work it needs. And well, it didn’t take long for the new bike shine to get grimy in my hands.

  • http://pinkyracer.com pinkyracer

    oh, and I only use A mode these days. It’s only the 1st roll off of the morning that catches you by surprise. If you roll off by twisting the throttle instead of just letting it go, it’s fine. But still, I want that ECU flash so bad it hurts.

    • http://www.youtube.com/user/Adeysworld adeysworld

      You lack a sack, so A mode will suit you fine.

  • http://www.tripleclamp.net Sasha Pave

    Awesome job! It’s amazing what the right combination of components can do. The Italians might have gotten the style down, but there’s something to be said about building your own machine your way.

  • Adam

    Very nice, so what kind of power is it putting down now?

    • http://www.youtube.com/user/Adeysworld adeysworld

      You’ll see when Wes decides to upload the image I sent him last friday.