FIRST RIDE REVIEW: Is the the 2020 Yamaha YZF-R1M practical?

The next step in the evolution of Yamaha’s flagship superbike is a natural born racer, but it is just as enjoyable off the track as it would be on it.



To be honest, when I took delivery of the 2020 Yamaha YZF-R1M, my initial thoughts were that the bike has no business on the streets. By the mere sum of all its parts, the bike is destined for closed course asphalt glory.

At this level in the R1M’s evolutionary process, the look shape and feel of the bike take a bit of a departure from the previous model years. It not only looks finished, but it also feels finished. Granted, Yamaha has 22 years developing the evolution of the YZF-R1, as the model made its debut in 1998. With the presentation of this 2020R1M model, there has been a considerable leap forward in the process. The amount of carbon fiber adorning the chassis alone is enough to lock your visual engagement. The front fender, upper cowl, side and tail fairings… all carbon fiber. It’s quite beautiful, to say the least.

2020 Yamaha YZF R1M

Feeling the effects of the lighter 450 pounds (wet), while harnessing the power of the 998cc crossplane crankshaft engine in the cockpit makes everything all too real, for all the right reasons. Pairing an aluminum frame and fuel tank with a magnesium subframe and wheels means lighter weight while not skipping out on the desired and required strength. Overall, the bike feels slimmer and the new tank section allows for improved rider connectivity. The new bodywork highlights the progressive styling and fluidity of the 2020 model when compared to the 2019 version.

In 2015, the revamped R1 design caught some flack from the R1 purist community and a portion of the jurors from the court of public opinion. Flack aside, the new aesthetic was a departure from the established fashion of the R1, further giving it a unique presentation that was undeniably R1. The 2020’s refinement of what began in 2015, puts a period on the progression. As said, it looks finished. It is the most attractive R1, since the bike’s inception.

The R1 has never suffered from lack of performance and over the years the platform has always been ready for a throwdown. The 2020’s engine continues to improve its output. The inline four-cylinder, crossplane crankshaft engine is laced with titanium connecting rods, shortened intake ports, and repositioned 10 hole injectors that spray directly toward the intake valve (previously 12 holes, relocated from the bottom of the throttle bodies, now on top). The new engine also features new cylinder heads, as well as new profiles for both the rocker arms and camshafts.

I noticed the R1M’s proper full-color TFT dash interface when I took delivery at the Yamaha warehouse and started her up. There is a lot of data that fits on the screen and you’ll easily pass 20 to 30 mins flipping through the menu, reviewing and adjusting settings. There are four riding modes, ten settings for traction control, four slide control settings, four lift or wheelie control settings, three settings for the quick shifter, two settings for the brake control and three settings for the engine brake management system. Catching my attention straight away was the acceleration and brake application meter, on the lower right corner. One small benefit of testing this bike on the street is that there are moments when you can look down at the dash and glance at what information or data is being presented to you. This would never happen on the track. The streets of Southern California and stretch of the Pacific Coastal Highway were not enough to really push the R1M to any degree of pressure. But it sure was fun as hell.

Perhaps, the feature that will receive the most praise is the entirely new cableless ride by wire Yamaha chip controlled throttle. It is exactly what it sounds like… The Accelerator Position with Sensor (ASPG) eliminates the need for throttle cables. It’s not as simple as “twist and go”, per se, but in the application for the rider, it is as “twist and go” as you can get. The ASPG operates as a magnetic sensor detects when the throttle is opened at the grip, then communicates with the throttle bodies. The result is consistent and a damn near effortless throttle response. You twist the throttle, she moves. The transaction is smooth and direct. At speed, quick-shifting through gears, there is a nuance of a different engagement with the throttle, but I chalked it up to memories and habits of riding with a standard cable throttle assembly. The application of ASPG for street riding is sheer enjoyment. But in a track environment, ASPG’s potential is massive.

Considering all of the 2020’s new or revamped components and elements, I thought to myself as I began my ride, that I had no business taking this weapon out on a street cruise. It just did not seem practical. I thought for sure that its performance would be hindered by low gears and mostly mid-range revs. Of course, I was hell-bent on finding some bits where I could let her stretch her legs and I was successful. But for the most part, I don’t think that I got her out of third gear. Regardless, I quickly learned that I was wrong to discredit the potential pleasure that R1M would provide in the streets.

I was pleasantly surprised by the performance output and above average, impressive level of comfort of the 2020 YZF-R1M while getting on with it around the streets of SoCal. The consistent delivery of smooth power when pulling away from the light… The non-biting, yet firm braking as I rolled to a stop at the intersections (the unified brake system from the prior model years is no longer)… This was an intimate engagement with the bike, that I often miss when on larger press outings. The opportunity to slow down and ascertain as much as I can from the product is overlooked and underrated.

2020 Yamaha YZF R1M

It was at the Bolsa Chica State Beach where I was slightly able to open her up, throw her into a few corners and give some consideration to the Ohlins ERS set up on what I will refer to an “access road.” I was by no means moving at a pace to effectively apply pressure to the R1M’s electronic front forks and rear shock but the components are proper race bits. The list of features that the R1M is composed of are plentiful, ranging from the effective application for the street to the competitive racer’s edge. The R1M has a WIFI communication control unit (CCU) that, when used in connection with Yamaha’s mobile phone applications (Y-TRAC and YRC Setting) allows you to make adjustments to several settings, in addition to tracking the bike’s position via GPS and log data using the recorded information from the IMU, ECU, and GPS.

The question of what is practical or where a bike, particularly a liter biker, should be ridden is all relative. The 2020 Yamaha YZF-R1M, while designed, and engineered for the track, is right at home in the streets, canyons, backroads, etc. After all, the R1M comes with turn signals, brake and LED headlights, not to mention mirrors. These DOT required components can quickly be removed so that the R1M can quickly be converted into its track appropriate persona, or alter ego.

That seems pretty damn practical to me.

2020 Yamaha YZF R1M
Images: Bad Beard

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