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Yamaha YZF1000 R1 – future collectible

Yamaha R1 1999

Generation One

(by Guy 'Guido' Allen, June 2020, updated Sept 2021)

Is it too early to be eyeing off nineties collectibles? Not if it’s an early R1

It was a few years ago now, when a Motorcycle Trader reader and I were standing back a little from the noise of the wonderful Broadford Bonanza, talking about collecting bikes. We agreed that some desirable models out there were just getting too expensive, even stuff from the seventies that was almost free a couple of decades ago.

“I’ve started putting away stuff from the nineties,” he announced, “just bought a first model R1 the other day.” It was then I confessed to having just bought a Ducati 916 – another hero bike from the era.

Hero or not, doesn’t it seem a little hasty rating collectibles from the mid-nineties? Err, no. Here’s what UK Motor Cycle News had to say about the R1: “The third and final great sports bike of the nineties. The FireBlade set the agenda, the 916 added finesse and the Yamaha YZF-R1 (1998) topped them off with extra power and madness. Even today the original Yamaha YZF-R1 is a sports tool to be reckoned with.”

I must confess to keeping half an eye out for an R1 myself, since the other two were already in the shed.

This kinda begs the question of what makes a collectible. The basics are a premium model, preferably with some race success. Rarity on its own doesn’t make the grade, though it helps, as does popularity. If it can be seen as a design that influenced others, and happens to be a first edition of a long-lasting series, so much the better.

Of course this is anything but a science. Tastes change over time and it takes a very long while for a model to establish gold-standard collectability, which is when the prices may stop climbing but rarely if ever go down. The R1 is nowhere near that stage – we’re talking the likes of a Vincent Rapide for that status.

Yamaha R1

Let’s take a gander at what makes an R1. About the time its predecessor the Thunderace (essentially a final model FZR1000) was being launched, work had begun on sketching out Yamaha’s next-generation track weapon. While the Thunderace was and remains a great ride, it somehow didn’t quite cut it against the smaller and more sports-focussed competitors.

Enter Kunihiko Miwa, the young lead designer on the R1 project. Now a very senior exec with the company, he is said to have laid down the basic goal posts for the R1: 150hp, under 180kg dry weight and 600-class handling.

The fact is, they pretty well hit the nail on the head. The bike produced within a whisker of 150 horses at the crank, claimed a 177 kilo dry weight (closer to 200 wet) and ran an incredibly short wheelbase for the class at 1385mm, compared to 1405 for a first-model FireBlade and 1410 for Ducati 916.

To achieve that, the powerplant in particular featured a number of weight and size reduction features. Iron liners for the cylinders were ditched, instead gaining ceramic coating in a design where the cylinders and upper crankcase were cast as one piece. This and a host of other refinements claimed a 10 kilo reduction in the weight of the power unit.

Size was also a focus, and Yamaha developed what came to be referred to as a stacked gearbox, where the input and output shafts were located vertically instead of horizontally in relation to each other. It may not sound like much, but again the company managed to pull the numbers back, in this case reducing the length of the powerplant by 81mm. That in turn gave the designers the freedom to locate the mass a little further forward and design a longer swingarm. The advantage of the latter was said to be improved traction.

Surprisingly, Yamaha wasn’t quite ready to stick its neck out with fuel injection on this one – that had to wait until the third series in 2002.

Yamaha R1
                1999 engine components

There’s no doubt the R1 was a significant step forward for sports bikes at the time. I recall their launch and rode several examples in a short space of time. They felt little, steered quickly, with decent suspension and particularly good brakes. Those monoblocs up front were the pick of what was available at the time.

All up, R1s were fast, and very capable. Over time they copped criticism on two fronts: comfort and being light in the front end.

Some complained the R1 understeered, which was questionable. I think you could very easily get in over your proverbial head in a corner, and that’s when people freaked out and ran wide. Get over the front end and keep your nerve and they were fine.

They could get light up front when you got into them with the throttle and Yamaha did tweak the geometry for a little more weight over the front wheel in the second series (2000). That model also had some bodywork changes for more comfortable seating and a touch more wind protection.

Don Stafford of Stafford Motorcycles in Melbourne used to retail Yamaha and remembers the first R1 very fondly. “I think they were fantastic,” he says, “When it came to a race or sports bike you probably couldn’t do better. They were bulletproof – a bloody good motor.” He added the wheelie hounds would sometimes chew out second gear but that was it for dramas.

A wealth of aftermarket gear – including race kits – was available for these things. And that is where your problem will be when it comes to picking up a potential collectible. The market values originality and finding an unmolested R1 will be a real challenge.

When it comes to buying, some evidence of regular servicing (these engines are super strong) and a moderately quiet motor will suffice. Wheelie-induced gear issues will become apparent when the bike is under load – if it drops out of second for no reason, it needs work. A general check, particularly of the steering head bearings, may also reveal signs of rough handling. These days, I reckon the owner’s Facebook page could be even more revealing!

If the seller comes across as halfway sane and the bike has its factory gear, you’re well on the way. As always, it’s worth paying a premium for a good original, as it’s nearly always much, much, cheaper than a restoration.

Prices? The big issue at the moment is finding a first model. It seems they either went to the wrecker, having been put up a tree, or are being hoarded. If you find a clean and healthy original example for anywhere around the Au$10k mark, buy it.

There’s no guarantee first model R1s will go up in value, but it’s a fair bet they eventually will (and I suspect already are). In any case you’re not gambling millions and will have a motorcycle that is still a thoroughly entertaining ride.

Postscript Sept 2021: We first heard of people quietly putting these away a couple of years ago and are now hearing of collectors actively looking for them. This has inevitably led to rising prices for a good one. At the moment expect to pay mid teens (Au$) for a good one and perhaps as much as Au$20,000 (US$15,000, GB£11,000) for an exceptional example in showroom condition and with ultra-low miles.

See the Bikesales story on buying 1990s classics

Yamaha R1
                1999 engine

Yamaha YZF 1000 R1 1998-2000


TYPE: Liquid-cooled, four-valves-per-cylinder, inline four

BORE & STROKE: 74 x 58mm


FUEL SYSTEM: 4 x 40mm Mikuni downdraft carburettors


TYPE: Six-speed, constant-mesh, 



FRAME TYPE: twin spar alloy
FRONT SUSPENSION: 41mm inverted forks, 135mm travel
REAR SUSPENSION: alloy swingarm, monoshock with 130mm travel
FRONT BRAKE: 2 x 298 discs with four-piston monobloc calipers
REAR BRAKE: 256mm disc with 2-piston caliper




FRONT: 3.50-17 CAST ALLOY, 120/70-ZR17
REAR: 6.00-17, 190/50-ZR17


POWER: 110KW @10,000rpm
TORQUE: 108Nm @ 8500rpm
TOP SPEED: 275km/h



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