Used Bike Review: Yamaha YZF R1 (1998 – 1999)

Used Bike Review: Yamaha YZF R1 (1998 – 1999)
1998 Yamaha R1 Review (1998 – 1999)

The original version of the iconic YZF R1

Back in the late 90’s the, Honda and Ducati were leading the charge in terms of having the fastest and most desirable bikes, it seemed that none of the other manufacturers were even interested in competing until, in 1998, Yamaha set loose something that would shake up superbike market, the mighty R1.

Many an eye brow was raised when the bike was released, this bike wasn’t just a race trimmed Thunderace or a supped up 750 Genesis, Yamaha went right back to basics with the R1 and designed everything from the ground up with a single purpose, and that purpose was to beat the Honda Fireblade.

The R1 brought with it no shortage of original ideas, things such as its stacked gearbox, this basically means the gearboxes main shaft was moved above the crank, rather than being inline with it. The idea here was to shorten the length of the engine itself in order to achieve a longer swing arm but at the same shortening the wheelbase to give the bike a more race orientated stance and allowing harsher acceleration while keeping the front wheel on the ground. Back in 1998 this configuration was revolutionary and an absolute game changer for the industry.

Yamaha were also very proud of the fact the R1 came with a claimed 150 bhp and a dry weight of just 177kg, this made the R1 the fastest production bike of its time.

Other notable mentions are the brakes, which are single castings for increased strength and my personal favorite, the gear linkage which passes through a hole in the back of the frame.

Yamaha took the world by storm with this bike, it was faster, shorter and lighter than all of its competition. The really crazy thing is this bike is still a force to be reckoned with, even almost 25 years after its release.

On the road:

The first thing you notice when getting on the bike for the first time is how modern everything feels. The only give away that your on an older machine is the choke on the left hand handlebar, something we don’t see any more on superbikes since the mass adoption of fuel injection.

A couple of minute to get warmed up and we’re away, it’s instantly obvious that the R1 just wants to go. All of the time. While riding the bike I struggled to find a word to best describe it, in the end I settled for angry. It feels very raw and aggressive, no matter what your doing with it. The low RPM’s are quite snatchy and it’s quite the handful when negotiating around time.

Get the bike on an open A road (or even better the track!) and the R1 transforms into a totally different beast. The handling is crisp and sharp, tipping into corners is effortless and the bike holds its position on the road effortlessly. 

The R1 is more than capable and I honestly feel that in the right hands this bike would run rings around an amateur on a modern superbike. With that in mind and considering the price of these original R1’s are only set to increase over the coming years – the original R1 really is an ideal choice if your looking at buying a classic superbike. It still looks and rides fantastic, even almost 25 years after its release. 

It was interesting to ride this bike and draw the comparison between the 2002 R1 and the 2004 R1 I reviewed last year.


In all honesty, putting together this review and getting to spend time with such an iconic piece of machinery was an absolute privilege. If you were to ride this bike without knowing what it is, you would never even consider the fact that it is almost 25 years old.

The handling is so sharp and light, though to get the best from it you really need to be on track. Some of the bad condition roads we’re blessed with here in the UK made it a bit of a handful at times, you’ll find the front end fighting you fairly often, for that reason you will find many original R1 owners install aftermarket steering dampers. It’s funny because the second you get onto a road of any quality it becomes a whole different experience and you get to feel a little bit of what the R1 was built to do.

The engine is phenomenal, wind it on and it will pull harder and harder all the way to the red line. Even by today’s standards it’s an incredibly impressive bike, you can only imagine what it must have been like to ride on back in the late 90’s.

If your thinking of getting an original R1, there are a few points I would suggest you look at. Back in the day this model R1 was one of the most commonly stolen bikes, especially here in the UK, so it’s worth checking your engine numbers against what’s on the bikes documents. There was also an issue with gearboxes that you should be aware of, some bikes would develop problems where they would jump out of second gear when under load…this was only really in bikes that had been abused and for the most part the engine and gearbox are fairly bullet proof if they’ve been looked after, but its definitely worth arranging a test ride to make sure that’s not an issue on the bike your looking at. Other than that, go for it! This is a classic bike in its own right and still ticks all of the boxes, even today. If you still need an excuse to buy one then consider it as a fantastic investment opportunity as prices of this original spec R1 will only increase over the coming years.

Engine: 4.5

A fantastic combination, good for a claimed 150 BHP with an even spread of torque right across the rev range, though things do seem to liven up at around 10,000 rpm. 

Suspension: 4.0

Fully adjustable forks, rear shock and steering damper. The bike is definitely geared more towards fast A roads or track riding. Bumpy B roads or town riding isn’t the R1’s strong point (and never Yamaha never claimed it to be, the R1 was built to do one job…go fast).

Brakes: 4.0

4 piston calipers with 298mm Discs up front with a dual piston caliper and 256mm disc on the rear. A very decent set up.

Build Quality: 4.5

Being Japanese, everything was built to last as you would expect. The only major issue was the aforementioned gearbox issue, though this was more down to the user rather than a direct issue with the bike.

Overall: 4.5

Modern day looks and performance with the running costs of a classic bike. A fantastic bike, whether you’re looking to ride it or keep it as an investment. 

This 1998 Yamaha R1 is currently being offered for sale by our good friends at JD Motors, many thanks to them as always for their continued support.

1998 Yamaha R1 Review (1998 – 1999)