2016 Yamaha YZF-R1S First Ride
Top-shelf superbikes are ballistic-grade speed machines. They pack MotoGP-derived hardware, bleeding-edge suspension technology, and energy-dense powerplants into improbably compact packages. Think of them as two-wheeled equivalents to hypercars like the 918 Spyder, LaFerrari, and P1 – except these bad boys cost about as much as a base Mitsubishi Mirage.
The Yamaha R1 rests at the top of that food chain, serving as the street-legal version of the fearsome MotoGP machine that has won countless world championships. That level of overachievement leaves some room to dial it back a notch or so. After all, unless your last name is Rossi or you spend your weekends grinding down knee pucks at the track, you probably aren’t using a large portion of your superbike’s stratospheric capabilities. If you don’t need every last ounce of fast, Yamaha offers a less extreme, more affordable spinoff: the 2016 Yamaha YZF-R1S, which brings with it a $1,500 discount over the top-dog R1.
Purists, take note: Yamaha did dilute the R1 slightly to achieve those savings. The R1S trades metallurgical pornography for heavier but less costly parts, like fracture-split titanium con rods replaced by plain ol’ steel, magnesium engine covers swapped for aluminum parts, and exhaust headers that downgrade from titanium to stainless steel, plus the magnesium wheels are swapped out for aluminum units.
With wheelie control engaged and at its most invasive setting, hard acceleration still allows the front wheel to lift ever so slightly, a sensation that can be alarming if you’re not used to handling a high-horsepower bike. The system can be set from 1 (big lift) to 3 (keeping the wheel close to the ground), or switched off entirely.
When you’re ready to further endanger your driving privileges, shifting to second reveals even more breathtaking acceleration, as though the machine has caught its breath and is ready to light the afterburners again. At speed, it’s easy to lose track of the engine’s elevated revs due to the deceptively low pitch of the exhaust note, which is a hallmark of the powerplant’s crossplane crankshaft. Despite the curious pitch-to-speed differential, the engine’s racket is deliciously raucous, enough to draw attention for miles.
In the most aggressive power setting (the scale runs from 1 to 4, with 4 limiting output the most), the throttle response is so twitchy it’s almost annoying, especially at tip-in. Set it to 2, and modulating power becomes far easier. Incidentally, Yamaha’s engine heat issues of yore also appear to be solved, as the R1S never got uncomfortably hot despite high ambient temps and a combination of city crawling and aggressive riding.
The best part? The R1S’s handling is still plenty extreme if you’re inclined to occasional track days, though you’ll likely miss the R1’s sticky rubber when you’re leaned over. You probably won’t notice the downgraded redline unless you’re on a big straight at a fast circuit like Willow Springs, Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, or Road America. If anything, the R1S’s versatility makes us hope other manufacturers jump on the bandwagon and build more-affordable versions of their flagships. After all, who wouldn’t love a discount on a two-wheeled land missile?