Yamaha did not pull any punches
in developing the YZF-R7, codenamed the OW02. The 749cc four was created as
the basis for a challenger in the World Superbike championship, and was the
most sophisticated and purposeful production motorcycle that Yamaha had ever
built. With only 500 units being produced, it was also one of the rarest.
And at almost three times the price of the firm's open-class flagship the
YZF-R1, it was one of the most expensive.
More than any streetbike before
it, the R7 was not simply a roadgoing machine that could be raced, but a
competition motorcycle with lights and a starter-motor. The Yamaha's roots
were clear from the layout of its engine, which shared the Rl 's
five-valves-per-cylinder arrangement, one-piece cylinder-and-crankcase
design, and vertically stacked gearbox.
Engine dimensions were identical
to those of the YZF750SP, Yamaha's previous Superbike challenger. Unlike
that bike the R7 was fuel-injected. Cylinder head parts were CNC (computer
numeric control) machined, in Formula One racecar
style, to ensure precise
dimensions and perfect balance between cylinders. The lightweight internals
included titanium valves and conrods, plus forged pistons with nickel-plated
tops for high-revving durability. The chassis was equally exotic.
The frame's black finish hinted that its design owed more to Yamaha's 500cc
GP racers than to previous streetbike.
Those main frame spars incorporated
an additional layer of aluminium, which helped give torsional stiffness
twice that of the R1. Front forks were sophisticated 43mm upside-down units
from Öhlins, who also supplied the rear shock. Steering geometry and
swingarm pivot location were adjustable.
The R7 was designed to be fitted
with a race-kit, although this was small because the bike required a minimum
of modification to be competitive on the track. (Peak output without the kit
was just lOObhp, to simplify worldwide homologation.) The most important
component was the large carbon-fibre airbox, which transformed the intake
set-up to provide a ram-air system. Other kit parts included a competition
carbon-fibre exhaust muffler.
Low clip-on handlebars, rearset
footrests and a single seat confirmed the R7's racy intent. The engine's
reasonable flexibility made the bike easy to ride at modest speeds, but it
was at high revs that those lightweight internals came into their own,
sending the Yamaha howling forward with breathtaking force. In race-kitted
form, the R7 produced roughly 160bhp at 13,700rpm; enough for a top speed of
The R7's rigid, ultra-adjustable
chassis combined razor-sharp steering with amazing stability and precision.
Every detail about road or track surface and traction was transmitted
straight to the rider, allowing cornering control far in excess of a normal
sports bike. Much credit went to the sublime Öhlins suspension. Large twin
front disc brakes gave fierce stopping power, too.
Riding the R7 was a uniquely
thrilling experience, but this bike was not built for ordinary roads or
riders. Like its predecessor the OW01, a similarly exotic 750cc four of ten
years earlier, the YZF-R7 was designed to bring World Superbike glory. The
OW01 had won races but never the title. For the YZF-R7, only the delivery of
Yamaha's first World Superbike championship would suffice.
The YZF-R7 was designed for just
one thing, and ultimately it failed to achieve it. After a disappointing
learning year with the new bike in 1999, factory star Noriyuki Haga came
close to lifting the World Superbike crown in 2000. But by the end of a
season that was marred by a positive drug test following his use of a
slimming aid during pre-season training, the Japanese ace finished second in
the title race behind Honda's Colin Edwards. Yamaha then disbanded its World
Superbike team. The R7's challenge was over.
Yamaha R7 Review
At the end of 2000 Yamaha pulled their sublime
pairing of Noriyuki Haga and the R7 superbike out of the World Superbike
Championship. Haga stepped up to the 500 GPs and the R7 was left to handle
domestic series like the Japanese and British Superbike championships. Ever
since I first saw the Yamaha R7 I knew I would do almost anything to get a ride
on it. As I am not a professional racer I’m never going to get offered a
contract to ride one in the British Superbike championship so I was forced to
get on the phone to Devil Contracts Inc. to ask if my soul was worth enough for
a ride on an R7.
Some while later, with the help of the Beelzebub
himself, Yamaha UK’s press officer, I became one of the first mere mortals ever
to ride the R7 superbike both on the road and on the track.
The Yamaha R7 OW-O2 has just one purpose in life,
to win races. It might be in the Yamaha catalogue with lights and road gear but
these have only been added to gain homologate the bike within F.I.M.
regulations. Only 500 are being made making it one of the rarest production
bikes ever to leave a Japanese factory, and nearly every one of them will end up
The R7 is fuel injected but without any ram air
ducting. The engine bristles with racer-tech, including ultra-strong,
ultra-light short-skirt forged pistons, with plated crowns, 24 titanium valves,
an ion-nitrified crankshaft and ‘H’ section titanium con-rods.
The wet multi-plate clutch features a back torque
limiter to prevent to prevent lock up during aggressive down-changes. The
tri-axis gearbox is a six-speed close-ratio racing set up. Yamaha claim to have
based the R7 chassis as closely as possible to the two-stroke GP bike’s own
On the road
I had a brief ride on the 105bhp road legal
version before the track test. To say my appetite was whetted would be an
understatement. The bike was faster than a ‘restricted’ bike should be and
pulled hard in any gear at any speed, like a tourer. The handling was sublime,
though a little hard for the bumpy country road we were riding on. Even without
a damper and on brand-new road tires the bike felt very stable. I came away from
my few miles aboard the standard bike thinking one thing: Get me on the race
On the Track
If I thought the standard road version was good,
what would I make of Virgin Yamahas British Superbike version? In the paddock,
as the mechanic warmed up the multi-thousand pound machine, my knees must have
been visibly knocking. Was I capable of doing this bike justice? As the mechanic
peeled off the tyre warmers I realised I was about to find out.
Out on the track I had to take it easy for a few
laps, partly to get some more heat into the tyres but mainly because I was
feeling light headed at my good fortune. Was I really riding this fantastic
motorcycle or was I dreaming? The bike was just so easy to get around the
corners. My skills, or more likely my courage, ran out long before the R7 was
out of tricks.
Whatever lean angle I achieved it seemed to laugh
at me and dare me to lean five more degrees. No matter how hard I used the
incredible race-specification brakes the bike stayed absolutely stable and just
stopped. Into or out of corners the bike was ready with just as much traction as
I wanted. Even trailing the brakes clumsily into a tightening right hander after
missing my braking point didn’t threaten any drama. The bike just shed speed and
stayed firmly on line.
The engine on the R7 is an absolute gem. Just the
intake sound it makes at lower revs made it worth signing that contract with Old
Nick. Then, when the revs build - and they build fast, it starts screaming at
you - I think it was saying “I’m faster than you, I’m faster than you...”
The motor happily picked up from as low as
3,000rpm and screamed it’s way onto the rev-limiter at 14,800 like a demented
rocket. The surge of power is relentless with just a small step at around
8,000rpm, no doubt there to warn you that things are about to go mental. The
only thing more impressive than its speed was its tractability. Mr Miwa San,
designer of this engine, you are a genius and Mr Honda wants a word with you.
The Devil, on the other hand, wants a word with me. Gulp!
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