I’m half impressed, half disappointed by Yamaha’s new R1

On one hand, the R1, and its fellow 2015 ultra-bikes like the Kawasaki H2 and the new Ducati Panigale are amazing feats of engineering that we should celebrate for pushing the boundarys of what’s possible. They’re exciting, make a lot of noise and go very fast…. So what disappoints me about them?

The first issue I have is that these bikes, particularly the R1 and most likely the H2 as well, are so powerful that they would be essentially uncontrollable without the extensive electronic rider aids. Some aids I think every bike should have. ABS and Traction Control are important. When you go too far beyond those, you wonder why you can’t just make a bike with less power, that you can actually ride without relying on electronics to keep you from crashing. I think you need to find a balance between rider aids and keeping the riding experience as pure as possible.

The second and more important issue I have is that motorcycle manufacturers are overly focused on one-upping each other in speed and performance. Taking their eyes off key matters such as pushing motorcycling as a real alternative to cars as a practical commuting solution for the masses, as well as improving their environmental credentials. The fact that most bikes still put out significantly more harmful gases than cars is unacceptable in my opinion, and something should be done. Electric bikes are on the way, and some of the current ones are already very nice machines. Motorcycle regulators have done a poor job in enforcing Euro regulations which has been much more aggressively done in the car industry. They are starting to catch up now, but it’s been far too long coming.

As far as marketing goes, Yamaha and others make great scooters, but they don’t talk about them enough. The bread and butter of the car industry is in practical hatchbacks, and the sports car market piggybacks off that success. Fiat sell a huge amount more cars than Ferrari do, and the motorcycle industry needs to take note, and fast.

Sports bikes can’t come first forever, or motorcycling will risk becoming irrelevant among the general public. Motorcycles account for around 1% of UK traffic, and that is simply nowhere near enough. As electric bikes and scooters come in and the battery technology improves, a big push should be made to get that percentage up to 5-10% in the medium to long term. It’s about time that motorcycling was marketed as something other than just a leisure pursuit.