Change – Verb: To make (someone or something) different; alter or modify.
Last fall Yamaha officially condemned the venerable R6 to the great tarmac in the sky. That rather abrupt, but seemingly inevitable announcement led to no shortage of discourse around the presumptive demise of the middleweight supersport segment.
What a difference a few short months make. With the recent release of the Aprilia RS660, the updated Ducati Supersport, and now the new R7, the middleweight supersport segment feels positively effervescent. These new models come with an altered intent that makes these bikes much better to live with where they will spend the majority of their time—on the street.
Enter the R7
- CP2 Engine and its torquey, linear power delivery
- Suspension and chassis improvements
- $8,999.00 feels like a great deal
- Could use just a touch more power
- Non-switchable ABS
- I wish it came in some additional colors – Ice Fluo anyone?
Yamaha invited me to Atlanta, Georgia, to give the newest YZF model a spin. So, off I went to experience travel in the time of COVID. It has been a while, but I managed to wedge myself into a seat in the back of a fully-loaded plane heading to the verdant hills of Georgia. During the lockdown, I have often remarked at how much I missed travel. Now, I am not so sure.
Arriving in Atlanta more or less unscathed, I met up with the other journalists, collected my bags, and headed to the hotel for the first glimpse of Team Blue’s all-new supersport.
Let’s just get this out of the way—Yamaha knew that naming this bike the R7 was going to earn some heat from the purists. The sheer number of text messages, DMs, and conversations I have had since the press announcement certainly confirms the weight of that decision. Yamaha even dedicated an entire slide in the media presentation to their rationale behind the decision.
To those who think the R7 name should be placed on a pedestal, I am sure Yamaha appreciates your passion. Remember, however, that the R7 was an unfettered superbike that cost over $40,000 in full race form. That is over $70k in today’s money! After a lot of research, Yamaha set about building a bike that consumers actually want. A bike that provides true supersport performance at an affordable price and with enough comfort to be rideable on a daily basis.
The MT-07 has long been a favorite for pure riding fun at a reasonable price. However, the less than stellar chassis and soft suspension are significant weak points. That said, it is still one of my favorite bikes for ripping around town and occasional forays into the canyons. This largely due to the smile-inducing characteristics of the surprisingly versatile CP2 powerplant. To that point, Yamaha has found success using that powerplant to create an entire family of middleweight bikes—The T700, XSR700, and MT-07. These are all fun, capable bikes, and the new R7 fits right in there.
Seeing the bike in the flesh for the first time, it is certainly pretty. It is well proportioned with the appropriate supersport cues. The “R” DNA is clearly present and feels well executed in this iteration. Throwing a leg over the display bike revealed a narrow perch with a surprising amount of room to maneuver. Yamaha states that this is the most aerodynamic “R” bike they have ever created. It is available in two colors—Team Yamaha Blue and Performance Black. The Yamaha blue livery has the most personality, and the photographer in me tends to prefer a little color over a black blob. I have to say, though, that this bike looks darn good in the all-black colorway.
My main takeaway from the press briefing was that much more time and effort went into the R7’s research and development than I realized. According to the information provided by Yamaha, this bike has been in development for over four years and is much more than just an MT-07 with fairings and clip-ons. The laundry list of changes that went into this bike is long and largely driven by research and customer feedback. With new aesthetic design, aerodynamics, suspension and chassis, brakes, clutch, and gearing, it is clear that a lot of effort went into making this bike a true supersport.
The riding part of the event was held at the rather impressive Atlanta Motorsports Park, a small, private track about an hour North of Atlanta. This track is crazy fun. Designed by Herman Tilke, the man behind basically every modern F1 track, this maniacal two miles of track keeps you working and learning the entire time. In short, this was the perfect track to test out the R7.
Once suited up, it was time for some orientation laps. For our testing purposes, Yamaha swapped out the stock Bridgestone Battlax Hypersport S22’s for the track-oriented Battlax Racing R11’s, which makes sense given the technical nature of today’s venue. Pulling out into the pitlane my first impression is that the bike feels sporty and the handling is lighter than I expected. The riding position is similar to the R6’s, but with a few concessions toward comfort. The biggest difference is how much more maneuverable the R7 feels than its predecessor. That maneuverability seems like it would be much appreciated when navigating the real-world demands of the street.
The exhaust note is subtle, but the Cross Plane 270 Crankshaft gives it some personality. A pipe would certainly help give the bike a more distinctive character fitting its sporting nature.
The orientation session is an open session, and I took it easy on the first few laps just learning the track and getting used to the feel of the bike. The CP2 plant performed as expected, and the Optional Quick Shift System allowed for smooth upshifts. Though an option, it is reasonably priced at $199, and I would recommend spending the extra cash. The ECU is pre-programmed for the quick shifter so it is an easy bolt-on addition should you opt out but change your mind later. What struck me most during these first laps is that the R7 inspires confidence. Rarely have I felt so comfortable on a bike so quickly.
Following the orientation session, we split into two groups and started our sessions. The plan was simple— 30 minutes on, 30 minutes off, all day long. With only four riders in my group, I almost never got caught in traffic and that meant a whole lot of laps ridden basically at my personal limit.
As the day progressed, the pace naturally quickened, During my first session after lunch, my connection to the R7 was clearly complete. Everything just smoothed out and I fell into a state of flow where I was able to forget about the bike and just focus on entry points, sightlines, making smooth transitions, and braking.
Braking is an area of personal weaknesses, and I made it a point to focus on braking later and harder. This is especially true on the straight, which has a surprisingly short braking area after crossing the finish line. Up front, the R7 is equipped with a new Brembo radial brake master cylinder. The calipers sport 30mm and 27mm pistons clamping down on dual 298mm rotors. The rear Nissin caliper is also fed by a Brembo master cylinder. They are up to the job if perhaps a little unremarkable. The hard braking at the end of the straight was the only place the ABS was truly noticeable and slightly unnerving as you are trying to bleed off speed before entering the very tight left-hander at turn one. This corner also demonstrated the benefit of the slipper clutch. It did its job and eliminated any theatrics when slamming down the gears from fifth or sixth into second.
The turn 2-4 complex begins with a really fun little left-right-left chicane that flows into the long left of turn 4. The R7 is flickable and remains composed during the quick weight transfers of the chicane. Once aggressively leaned over, it stays planted while navigating the long sweeping left of the turn 4 carousel. Fun fact, this corner is styled after the famous Carousel of the Nürbugring.
My favorite sequence on the track was probably turns 9-10-11. At first intimidating, entry is fast thanks to what amounts to a back straight. Coming in fast and wide off turn 9’s gentle right and descending downhill to set up for the hard 90-ish-degree left at turn 10 required a bit of nerves to maintain speed. T10 is followed quickly by a big drop into another nearly 90-degree right at turn 11. Increased front end rigidity thanks to the new 41mm KYB USD forks (adjustable for preload, compression, and rebound) translates to excellent front end feel while aggressively navigating these corners. That confidence, combined with the right line selection, meant that you could carry an impressive amount of speed through this corner.
Turn 11 featured a big g-out before climbing up a steep hill. The sequence is technical and pushed the chassis and suspension to the max. Again, the improvements to both are apparent and the R7 just plain handled it. Color me impressed. Bonus fun fact, this sequence is styled after the Eau Rouge/Raidillon corner at Spa.
A note on Suspension. In addition to the adjustable forks, the rear KYB shock is adjustable for preload and rebound. My setting was essentially stock with an extra three clicks of preload in the rear and one in the front. For reference, I clock in at 5’11, and with full track gear on, I weigh about 220lbs. I was impressed that the R7s suspension was more than capable of slinging me around the track without so much of a hint of complaint, which is not something I can say about the MT-07
Entering the final sequence of the track, turns 13, 14, and 15 basically make for one extremely long (.4mi) left that is complicated by the need to get from third to fourth gear as quickly as possible. You need that fast shift in order to carry enough speed to get into the higher gears and set up your run at the straight. The standard shift pattern means you needed to stand the bike up a bit to get the shift in and that required a bit of thinking. Luckily, Yamaha brought along Josh Hayes to help us navigate the track and his advice was helpful.
Basically, cut the entry corner a little sharper and allow inertia to pull you wide as you approach turn 14. Pop it into fourth. Hold it wide open while screaming through 14 and then grab fifth still wide open (thanks Quick shifter) as you approach turn 15. The world starts to blur as you head up the hill to the blind crest of turn 16’s gentle right and now hold sixth gear wide open as you careen down the straight. Cross the line and bang down the gears while grabbing every bit of breaking the R7 will give you. Rinse and repeat. It sounded easy when Josh said it.
You really had to concentrate and nail your marks to maximize your speed into the back straight. This is where I found myself wanting just a little more power. However, I also know that extra power would have made me lazy. The R7 has enough grunt on tap that when you put everything together, you can really feel the reward. That makes it an excellent platform for learning.
Wrapping up the day, I kept thinking about how this bike would be as a daily on the street. There is no getting around the aggressive riding position, but its narrow width and light steering mean it should be easy to navigate through traffic. Combine that with the CP2 engine’s linear power delivery and this bike has the makings of a very capable daily.
I feel like Yamaha has done something remarkable with this bike. It is rewarding to ride and provides a great platform for learning and improvement as a rider. The liter-class modern supersports are so capable, and the rider aids so effective, that it makes it relatively easy for an inexperienced rider to get into big trouble out on the track or in the twisties.
The only nanny on the R7 is the non-switchable ABS, and the result is a bike that keeps you honest. However, thanks to its excellent chassis and capable suspension, the R7 never really stepped out of line. Only towards the end of the day, and on thoroughly thrashed tires, did I get the slightest wheel slip. That is a testament to how forgiving this bike really is and forgiveness is something that beginner and intermediate riders will truly benefit from.
You see, “change” can be good and for $8999.00 Yamaha has created one of the best values in the market today.