The Yamaha R1 rests at the top of that food chain, serving as the street-legal version of the fearsome MotoGP machine that has won countless world championships. That level of overachievement leaves some room to dial it back a notch or so. After all, unless your last name is Rossi or you spend your weekends grinding down knee pucks at the track, you probably aren't using a large portion of your superbike's stratospheric capabilities. If you don't need every last ounce of fast, Yamaha offers a less extreme, more affordable spinoff: the 2016 Yamaha YZF-R1S, which brings with it a $1,500 discount over the top-dog R1.
Purists, take note: Yamaha did dilute the R1 slightly to achieve those savings. The R1S trades metallurgical pornography for heavier but less costly parts, like fracture-split titanium con rods replaced by plain ol' steel, magnesium engine covers swapped for aluminum parts, and exhaust headers that downgrade from titanium to stainless steel, plus the magnesium wheels are swapped out for aluminum units. Different valve springs contribute to a slightly lower redline, and though there's a slight sacrifice in overall engine output (Yamaha won't give exact numbers), a horsepower graph of the two tunes reveals that the peak figure isn't far off from the R1's (which is a staggering 200 horsepower at the crank in Euro spec). The R1's super-sticky Bridgestone Battlax RS10 rubber – basically a DOT-approved race slick – is supplanted by Hypersport-grade Battlax S20s of the same size. All of the changes add nine pounds, bringing total curb weight to 448.
And yet the R1S retains the R1's electronic systems, items that make it one of the most advanced motorcycles on the planet. There's a six-axis gyro that monitors acceleration 125 times a second, lean-angle-sensitive traction control, wheelie control, slide control, launch control, and ABS. Oddly enough, there's no "S" on the badges or stickers, which makes it even easier to confuse this with a standard-issue R1.
Swing a leg over the R1S's tall saddle (which sits 33.7 inches above tarmac), and you'll find a gauge package that's virtually identical to the R1's. Front and center is a contrasty color TFT screen that communicates loads of data points with two display modes: street and track. In the street setting, a small bike diagram depicts braking/acceleration input and fore/aft G forces; traction control, engine output, and slide control settings are displayed along the bottom and controlled via a toggle on the left switchgear, while a big, bar graph-style tachometer runs along the top. Track mode is dominated by a large lap-time display. As digital instrumentation goes in the two-wheeled world, this is among the most complex, but also one of the most well-executed examples.
Stir the 998-cc inline-four to life, and a slick animation fills the dash. The sense of occasion is fitting, for this, despite its mildly compromised bits, is still a special and fierce machine. Tap the shifter into first and goose it, and the engine's power is nothing short of stunning. In fact, there's so much grunt on tap (and first gear is so long), that you'll be able to reach 85 mph – 85 stinkin' miles per hour – before redlining at an indicated 12,500 rpm. (For the record, the R1 tops out at 14,000.)
With wheelie control engaged and at its most invasive setting, hard acceleration still allows the front wheel to lift ever so slightly, a sensation that can be alarming if you're not used to handling a high-horsepower bike. The system can be set from 1 (big lift) to 3 (keeping the wheel close to the ground), or switched off entirely.
When you're ready to further endanger your driving privileges, shifting to second reveals even more breathtaking acceleration, as though the machine has caught its breath and is ready to light the afterburners again. At speed, it's easy to lose track of the engine's elevated revs due to the deceptively low pitch of the exhaust note, which is a hallmark of the powerplant's crossplane crankshaft. Despite the curious pitch-to-speed differential, the engine's racket is deliciously raucous, enough to draw attention for miles.
In the most aggressive power setting (the scale runs from 1 to 4, with 4 limiting output the most), the throttle response is so twitchy it's almost annoying, especially at tip-in. Set it to 2, and modulating power becomes far easier. Incidentally, Yamaha's engine heat issues of yore also appear to be solved, as the R1S never got uncomfortably hot despite high ambient temps and a combination of city crawling and aggressive riding.
Should you require rapid stops – whether to avoid an obstacle or a potentially damning law enforcement encounter – the linked braking system is phenomenally good at keeping the bike stable. The system calculates the brake bias based on the bike's attitude and lean angle, but operates imperceptibly – which is great, because the last thing you want to be thinking about during a panic stop is how you should be dividing your braking effort front and rear.
The prevailing feeling on curvy roads is one of stability, despite the slightly short wheelbase (an attribute that has a tendency to make bikes turn quicker). Attacking the famously zig-zaggy Angeles Crest Highway requires some effort at turn-in, but when the R1S settles into a corner, it feels planted and determined to cut a clean arc. On a 93-degree day, the Bridgestones felt grippy enough despite their less-than-top-shelf compound. I can't speak to their cold- or wet-weather performance, but under these ideal conditions they gripped enough for high entry speeds and even quicker exits. Compared to the R1, there was a tad less bite in corners and very slightly compromised agility, but these differences were observed between the R1S on a street ride and an R1 on the track. Not exactly an apples-to-apples comparison, but it certainly paints the more affordable model in a favorable light.
Though the R1S isn't technically Yamaha's flagship, you'd be hard pressed to spot the differences between it and the R1 during most day-to-day riding, and it will definitely satisfy a massive swath of sport riders. For those who crave more firepower than they'd ever use, the R1S delivers a heavy dose of sweet excess. And it's almost indistinguishable from the R1 unless you're keen on wringing out the engine all the way to redline, an act that's hoontastic enough to get you imprisoned in most states. In fact, it's not until you ride the $21,990 R1M, with its remarkably smooth and responsive electronic Öhlins suspension, that the differences between R1 models become obvious.
At $14,990, the R1S's cost of entry brings it incrementally closer to bikes like the BMW S1000RR ($15,695), Honda CBR1000RR ($13,999), Kawasaki ZX-10R ABS ($15,999), and Suzuki GSX-R1000 ABS ($14,399). Yamaha hopes that positioning will draw a bigger slice of superbike enthusiasts who want most of the top model's power at a slight discount.
The best part? The R1S's handling is still plenty extreme if you're inclined to occasional track days, though you'll likely miss the R1's sticky rubber when you're leaned over. You probably won't notice the downgraded redline unless you're on a big straight at a fast circuit like Willow Springs, Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, or Road America. If anything, the R1S's versatility makes us hope other manufacturers jump on the bandwagon and build more-affordable versions of their flagships. After all, who wouldn't love a discount on a two-wheeled land missile?