Excellence in motorcycling isn’t hard to find. From the bottom rung of the ladder to the top, motorcycles are arguably better than ever, bristling with genuinely useful technology and delivering unprecedented levels of power and refinement. What’s more, we’re just now witnessing the birth of a new generation of bikes influenced by the economic collapse of 2008 and informed by a truly global marketplace—modest, high-value motorcycles equally suitable for Boston, Birmingham, or Bangalore.
Against this backdrop of technical excellence, increasing performance, and exceptional value, a few motorcycles still stand out. Scroll down to see the one bike we think is the most significant of 2015—a machine that portends great things for a category we thought was lost and a potent reminder that R&D doesn’t only happen in a laboratory. Then CLICK HERE to find our individual picks in categories ranging from cruiser to touring to adventure bike and more, along with noteworthy new technology and a superhero of the sport, too, and see if you agree that there’s never been a better time than now to be a motorcycle enthusiast.
2015 Motorcycle of the Year: YAMAHA YZF-R1
If there was any theme to our annual MOTY award it might be that the prize has often gone to a motorcycle that was, among other things, unexpected at the time—whether its performance was unrivaled or its versatility broke new ground or the machine simply came from a company or sector we didn’t anticipate. Not so in 2015.
With new sport-tourers, scooters, and naked bikes popping out of the tuning-fork factory left and right but no fresh supersports, it was easy to identify the missing element in Yamaha’s recent product line. Rumors bounced around the industry like a terrier wanting to be let out of a car, and by the time the new R1 was shown to the world it felt like it was machined from a solid block of anticipation.
The brochure copy promised everything we had dreamed of, with a new version of the MotoGP-derived crossplane engine, mass-centralization, magnesium components, and race-grade electronic rider aids. Our hopes were spurred by the design theme, which had track-focused riders licking their chops—namely the obscured headlights and passenger accommodations that seemed like an afterthought. It looked like the R1 we all wanted, from every angle.
Then we rode it, and much to our delight it felt like the bike we all wanted too. There’s nothing quite like riding a motorcycle that, with one update, discernibly advances two-wheeled performance. The R1 is that bike, and it accomplishes that feat in an unusual way. Other bikes have more than 167 hp, weigh less than 450 pounds, and possess equal, if not better, electronic amenities. So how can this bike be so good? This is one way Yamaha has advanced motorcycle technology, by improving the interface and symbiosis of electronic rider aids. In other words not more electronics but better electronics.
Yes, the R1 is one of the most advanced motorcycles ever created, with an Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU) measuring six axes of movement, using lean-angle and acceleration data to control traction, brake pressure, lateral slides, and wheelies. But it’s how smoothly those systems interact with each other, and with the geometry of the motorcycle, that is unprecedented. The R1 is so calm and stable at speed it almost feels like time slows down. You feel like you can focus on exactly what matters in performance riding because the steering is superb, traction is perfectly controlled leaving corners, and your wheelie is always an exact height. It makes you feel like a better rider piloting a less powerful machine.
To show that European brands shouldn’t soak up the entire superbike spotlight, Yamaha took the R1 a step further with the up-spec “M” version, which wears semi-active, electronic Öhlins suspension (also informed by IMU data) and carbon bodywork. The $22,000 R1M does one other trick, too, one that catalyzes the entire 2015 R1 experience. A GPS unit mounted in the tail along with a Communication Control Unit (CCU) records all ride data (street or track) and allows the rider to download everything to a mobile device. This means all CCU data, from throttle input and brake pressure to lean angle and TC intervention, is viewable on a tablet. Making you feel like a better rider is one thing, but the R1 actually allows you to study your own riding in order to learn what you can do better next time.
That the 2015 YZF-R1 manages to set itself apart from, and above, a competitive class of motorcycles is notable, but the fact that it has a base price of $16,490 brings us back to expectations. When it comes to flagship supersport machines Japan has hardly been on the map in the past few years, still struggling to break free of the austerity brought on by global economic woes. This new R1 shatters those shackles and waves the rising sun higher than ever in the superbike battle.