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The price tag may make you weak at the knees, but given the stars on show, the salubrious surroundings and you get a free Yamaha YZF-R1M thrown in for good measure it’s all starting to sound quite reasonable! Welcome to the R1M Racing Experience!

Source: Fastbikes Magazine (September 2016)
Words: Rootsy, Images: Adrian Myers, Philippa Gedge, Neil Jones, Jeff Turner

The excitement of buying a new Yamaha YZF-R1M is naturally all encompassing – so perhaps it’s understandable that the little baubles that come with the bike are forgotten about when you’ve got a shiny new machine to play with. For a start, the process of buying an R1 with the subtle suffix is a little out of the ordinary. To order one you had to go onto a special website to register your interest, before your local dealer rolled out the red carpet and invited you to come in and sign on the dotted line. That’s what 85 or so customers did in the UK last year, within hours of the website going live, easily fulfilling the UK’s quota of bikes – and leaving many of Yamaha’s more minted fans disappointed with no R1M to show for their efforts. So for 2016 Yamaha changed the system, and all of Europe’s allocation was put in a pot with the bikes being dished out on a first come, first served basis. 

The results were staggering, with nearly two and a half times more bikes sold to Brits – a total of 175 – meeting the pent up demand for the bike and eschewing any notion that people won’t pay close to 20 grand for a Japanese sportsbike. Over the course of spring, these bikes were delivered to some very happy and proud owners – a massively diverse group of people as it turned out. The usual procedure of riding, polishing and aftermarket part procurement then began in earnest, with little thought of an envelope from Yamaha dropping on the doormat.

There was too much to take in trying to understand how to get the best from the sublime Öhlins Electronics Racing Suspension (ERS), the clever Communication Control Unit (CCU), the apps that accompany the bike and trying to engage the slide control system to worry about what might come in the post.

Within that letter was an invitation to the Yamaha Racing Experience – what you could easily dismiss as an R1M trackday – either at Mugello or Silverstone, which most owners thought was a nice gesture, but little more than that. So arrangements began to get the time off work, buy new tyres and to get race faces on. The invite also offered a night’s accommodation, some track instruction and a free t-shirt. 

But few thought that this day would turn into the best event on track you could ever imagine – because that’s exactly what happened. We pretended to be that customer (it wasn’t the toughest job we’ve ever had…) and met up with an R1M for our sole use at Silverstone on the eve of the hottest day of the year; a mouth watering prospect for the next 36 hours. 

It became blatantly obvious as soon as we rolled through to Silverstone’s fancy Wing complex just after lunchtime that this was no ordinary trackday. Before us was Crescent Yamaha’s WSB race truck, flanked by artics from Bridgestone and Öhlins, and behind these trailers were 120 R1Ms nestling nicely into the magnificent orifice that is Silverstone’s pit facility – yes, even with an invite like this I was still late to the party… Looking at the assembled ranks of R1Ms, many had ridden to the event and most had their road accoutrements still on, pointing to the fact that those with race fairings were in the minority. There were a few fancy paintjobs, some sumptuous upgrades, and a smattering of extra carbon, but many were bog stock – well, still extremely special, but as Yamaha originally intended. But this wasn’t the time to dwell on drooling over nearly £2.5m worth of metal, because we had some workshops to go to. The first afternoon of the Yamaha Racing Experience was a time to learn all about the machine, the track and the best way to prepare for what we were about to receive – and amen to that. 

The R1M is a very sophisticated bit of kit, and Yamaha is very enthusiastic that owners get the most out of their machines. The breakthrough technology of the bike’s wireless communications system is difficult to get to grips with, and while dealer training is extensive, when a new owner picks up their new precious new steed the dealer explaining the functionality of the bike may as well be your wife talking about what’s to go on the shopping list considering the amount of information that’s going to go in. Similarly, learning processes and understanding the extent of adjustability is difficult to comprehend from the manual alone.

I was on the launch of the bike and the lucky recipient of a standard R1 longtermer last year, but I still struggled for fuel stop after fuel stop just to zero the trip. Buttons and toggles can bamboozle, and it’s all too easy to settle into a prescribed mode and not venture beyond the settings with which it came. 

But today was the day that was going to change all this. 

The first session was held with Paul Denning, Yamaha’s WSB team boss, who gave an overview of the bike, how close it was to his race machinery, and some of the principles he abides by which we could follow. Given his vast experience in the race game, he marvelled at the technology packed into the M version of the R1, claiming it to be, “far too cheap given what’s included.” He wasn’t joking either. “The last time I had to buy sensors for a race bike it cost me €6,500, and they’re included as standard here. Our race bike doesn’t even have slide control, as this is a very difficult sensation to program and control. And this is all directly dripped down from the M1 in MotoGP – from the crossplane crank in 2004 to the traction control, wheelie control and launch control systems in 2006, to the extra ECU, like the IMU in the R1, in 2008 – these systems have all been honed in racing and then fed into production. The launch control system is close to what we use in World Superbike, the level of technology in the bike is amazing.”

Next up was a session with Byron Draper from Öhlins, a man with nearly a dozen years of experience in the WSB paddock. After settling on some suspension basics and pressing home that the first thing to sort out was the bike’s sag figures (and later helping scores of owners to sort this), he then went into detail about how the ERS system works, how Öhlins is still developing the system, and how a rider can get the best out of it. The principle of the system is that in its active modes it offers lightning fast reactions to provide damping support that enables a rider to exploit the best grip available. “You leave it in the manual modes and all you’ve got is an expensive screwdriver. It’s the active modes that offers a rider the most benefit,” he extolled, leaving everyone to hurry back to their bikes to check to see what ERS mode their bike was in.

The sessions with Bridgestone and Dainese were short and sweet, and the tyre talk was one which could probably have been expanded on a bit more, but the session with Yamaha France’s Phillipe Bigot on the CCU system was a godsend (that was held the next morning). Connecting the bike up to the available apps is the key to the bike, and the datalogger contained within can offer huge revelations to a rider. It’s not a particularly simple process to get each device talking to each other, but Phillipe was on hand to not only ask questions, but to get everyone fully acquainted with how their bike works – he was hardly seen without someone’s phone or tablet in his hands, hooking another rider up with the world of possibility that lies within the clever systems. So with a fresh injection of knowledge, my steed ready, fuelled and more than able, and a stellar cast of instructors ready to guide me round Silverstone’s 3.6 miles of MotoGP madness I was ready to turn in early to get some rest at the digs Yamaha had sorted, after a quick burger and chips. However, we were whisked away to Whittlebury Hall, a fancy four star hotel, to enjoy a drinks reception and gala dinner, with some of the next day’s star attractions giving great insights into their rarefied worlds. Paul Denning and Yamaha’s MotoGP boss, Lin Jarvis, were hugely entertaining in this relaxed atmosphere offering a great insight into the cauldron of racing management. Bradley Smith took a few jibes about his difficult season on the chin, while sat around on tables chatting with owners were the likes of Alex Lowes, Sylvain Guintoli, Andrew Pitt, Niall Mackenzie and Steve Plater – to name but a few.

Yup, the big guns were out, and by the time coffee had come round most owners were still pinching themselves that this was all happening – and we hadn’t even set out on track yet.

We awoke to what would be the hottest day of the year – by far. But in the air conditioned climes out in the Silverstone Wing, the day’s programme was revealed to us. This wasn’t to be a common-or-garden trackday, rather a guest instructor would lead a group of four or five riders out, dragging us round on the same machinery as us ‘owners’ were on. If they can do it, we can do it, was the gist of the day. Owner’s names were then read out to be attributed to a star instructor. Hoping to get any of the Mackenzies, Andrew Pitt or Steve Plater, I was a bit disappointed to get Florian Alt, until my mind eventually made the connection and I realised that he was a former Moto3 rider and a Moto2 rider last year (and a previous Red Bull Rookies champ) – and is currently campaigning for Yamaha in the German IDM championship. Being only 20, he was one of the youngest instructors – which also meant he was one of the most enthusiastic, quickly proved in the first session by wheelieing out of pitlane and then getting his elbow down at Vale on the second lap. It turned out that he wasn’t particularly conscientious when it came to ensuring that the whole group stayed together, rather he teased the rider immediately behind him into going as quickly as possible and then slowed up on Silverstone’s long straights to let the rest of the group catch up. That was fine with me, as there were a few pacey riders in my group, and with only 25 or so riders on the longest track on the MotoGP calendar we were free to enjoy every inch of the circuit. Each session finished with a debrief, where we could quiz Florian on gear selection, lines and settings on the R1M.

Off the bike we were also free to consult with Bridgestone on their rubber, and ask the Öhlins guys how to set-up the bike for the track (riders could also try some Dainese airbag suits or an AGV lid, too). Because Silverstone has some fast, fast exits, it’s important for the rear not to capitulate under the R1’s 175bhp power. If the shock is too soft then the weight transfer to the rear means the front tyre can’t do its job of steering, so honing this within the ERS settings was a frequently asked question. We were also encouraged to experiment with the riding modes, and did so by starting off in the relatively tame Power Mode C, before graduating up to the big balls settings.

Playing with Traction and Slide Control was also encouraged to understand how the bike reacts, what it allows and doesn’t, and how it can be used to thoroughly enhance track riding. The datalogging system allows an easy inspection of their use, so not only do you have your subjective feelings to go on, there’s empirical evidence to back up any sensations. What I learned was that the Traction Control was barely kicking in on Level 3, while Slide Control was being activated – this is really clever stuff, the bike knowing that the lateral movement is all within tolerance without any sharp cuts from the TCS necessary.

I managed to get directly behind Florian on the session before lunch, and in short Florian pulled the pin and I went crazy trying to follow him. I thought we were absolutely balls to the wall flat out, but then Bradley Smith came past out of Woodcote at an angle I’d not imagined possible, but he was looking at his front tyre as if he were parked up at pitlane – it really was an incredible sight as he was honing his skills on a proddie bike as if he was back at the Suzuka 8 Hours. That was enough to kick Florian into action, and he gave chase, leaving me staggered at how much he was riding in reserve. That boy can ride. He hung back after half a lap in the wake of the sixth best MotoGP rider in the world last year, and then dragged me round to, for me, an astonishing lap. Seeing the data before this session let me put trust in every system the Yamaha owns, so I closed my eyes, braked later and opened the gas up earlier to stick in a lap five seconds quicker than one I’d done a month or two previously. I was trying, but it wasn’t a stupid balls out lap. I was riding happy in the knowledge that unless I did anything truly stupid the Yamaha’s brains were going to get me out of anything resembling brown and smelly.

I would have eaten a stale sandwich so long as it was in the air conditioning, but a lovely spread was put on for us all to enjoy, before being shepherded out to join everyone on track for a parade lap with all 120 riders on their pride and joy. Plodding round at 50mph doesn’t sound like much fun, but with over 20,000bhp gathered together in pitlane it was a spine tingling experience. The heat of the afternoon meant that things became very relaxed, with the star riders able to chat more rather than go out with owners whose eagerness to ride had largely been sweated out of them. They were a great bunch of people, far more down to earth than I gave them credit for, what with them being able to afford a near £20k bike. They ranged from city boys to builders, business owners to paramedics, all with a shared appreciation for the finer things in life when it comes to motorcycle ownership. Not everyone had bags of money, but what they did have was a real passion for their bikes, and poured what resources they did have into their two-wheeled dream machine. Some raced, others had never been on track before. For most it was their only bike, and almost all of them rode their machines on the road. But for their expensive investment, they were just like you or I – in fact many of them were readers, so that proves it! I gave it one more committed blast in the last session with the temperature topping out at 35 degrees and with just Florian and I going for it (well, one of us was) and matching my time from earlier (I’d be three seconds off qualifying in British superstock), albeit in traffic, to end the most memorable trackday ever in a sweaty, discombobulated heap. Happy, but utterly done in. Quizzing a few of the owners throughout the day, none had any idea that the event was going to be as special at it was – and it’s credit to Yamaha for throwing the kitchen sink at its Racing Experience. I’d wager that these owners will remain loyal to Yamaha for many years to come, while will be evangelical at the experience to anyone that’ll listen. All left with a far greater understanding of their bike’s abilities, a memorable day on track and time spent with the stars etched into their minds with selfies of them with Bradley Smith, Alex Lowes or Lin Jarvis there as evidence to show off the day to their non-R1M riding pals – not to mention the free riding pictures offered at the end of the day. No other manufacturer in the bike world, and only a few at the most expensive levels in the supercar industry offer an event like this. The £18,750 price tag is expensive, but at least you get a free bike at the end of it – and what a bike too…