The 1998 Yamaha R1 was to sportbikes what Michael Jordan was to the NBA—a game changer. In a time when 120 HP literbikes were the norm, Yamaha scrapped the playbook and jumped into the fray with a mighty warrior that handled like a 600 and wheelied off the throttle in third gear. Top-end power was impressive with 138 HP at the wheel, but it was the 71 LB-FT arriving at a low 7750 RPM that made for midrange twist so strong it put many inexperienced riders on their butts. Wrapped in a featherlight package with a stubby wheelbase, it was simply a vicious streetbike.
Never before had streetbike riders experienced such midrange stomp, racebike handling and brakes that could stop a freight train. The mighty first generation R1 ruled the roost for several years, but time forged on and eventually it was dethroned by the 2001 Suzuki GSX-R1000. Nevertheless, the early R1s are still revered as one of the most important sportbikes of the genre.
Expert to find dust, grime, spiders and other small critters on an old bike that's been sitting for the better part of a decade. The trick is to look beyond the filth for cracked fairings, weeping gaskets and other evidence of neglect. If the bike in question has a dead battery and the odometer is electronic, be sure to bring another battery and jumper cables so you can power the bike to verify the claimed mileage.
It’s been 14 years since the first R1 was introduced, so we decided to find the bike that left the industry awestruck and see if it still could offer a buzz. While the later models produced more peak power, many argue that the original R1 packed a midrange hit that no other bike has been able to rival since.
After scouring the Internet for the better part of six months we came to realize there are two types of old R1s left: the ratted-out crappers that are beat to hell and retail for a grand or two or the mint examples that only a bike collector could justify paying such exorbitant amounts for. This predicament leaves little for the average Joe, since the perfect examples were too expensive and buying a rattletrap is like sticking your hand in a bag of snakes.
Undeterred, our diligence paid off as a Craigslist ad finally appeared. It read, “Blue 1998 Yamaha for sale. Hasn’t run in years, received as payment for back rent and not sure if it runs. First $1500 takes it.” While most open-ended ads like these are scams (as we found out time and time again), occasionally it’s the real deal. A quick phone call revealed an actual person on the other end, and the nice fella immediately disclosed he hadn’t a clue other than it was a blue Yamaha “crotch rocket.” He was the owner of a rental property and had accepted the bike in trade (from a previous tenant who owed him back rent).
When the old garage door was lifted there it was—a 1998 R1 buried under blankets, boxes and all sorts of assorted packrat crap. It hadn’t run, let alone seen the light of day, for over a decade; but it was all there and seemed to be in good shape. After verifying the VIN against the paperwork, the cash traded hands and the bike was in the back of our truck.
The rotor had slight surface...
The rotor had slight surface rust, the tires were obviously shot and the rear end was also in need of a bath. Underneath all the dirt appears to be a gem, as no serious damage was immediately apparent.
The original chain and sprockets...
The original chain and sprockets have seen better days and the cables for the EXUP valve have been disconnected and routed into the open.
A Scotts steering damper has...
A Scotts steering damper has faded enough to look like it's silver instead of the original gold finish. This was installed long before the dampers received a UV coating to prevent fading.
The honeymoon was brief, however. Once the bike was unloaded and the bodywork removed the issues and work required to get it running became more obvious. Nothing can be overlooked when reviving a bike that’s over a decade old. Every wiring loom, hose, bolt, clamp and the like needs to be checked and then double-checked after the first ride. Before putting the cart before the horse, one must consider every possibility and have realistic goals. We’re already thinking about massive power wheelies, but we need to save that for motivation and focus first on getting the dusty steed cleaned, fired and idling. From there, we can concentrate on getting it moving under its own power.
Old bikes will need a full carburetor rebuild, so be prepared to shell out some funds for o-rings, jets, needles, diaphragms and gaskets. Also, it’s always a good idea to check the gas tank for rust. In the R1’s case, the tank was laden with the red stuff. On the outside it app-eared to be cherry, but inside it looked like the Titanic, the byproduct of old gas that had long ago turned to varnish and was also likely contaminated with water. The tricky bit about rusty tanks is removing the corrosion on the inside without destroying the paint on the outside—more on that procedure next month.
Checking things like the oil...
Checking things like the oil and brake fluid gives you a window into the bike's history. The oil checked out dark, but OK. The brake fluid was dark, but clean—not milky and contaminated as we expected.
Most older bikes have metal...
Most older bikes have metal gas tanks and are susceptible to rust. As gas ages it loses its volatility, separates and can become contaminated with water. The result is a varnish-type liquid that wreaks havoc on mental. Unfortunately our tank has fallen victim to contamination, as seen by the coral like build-up around the gas cap.
The front rotors and pads...
The front rotors and pads look to be OK, but we won't really know until the first ride.
It's easy to get discrouraged...
It's easy to get discrouraged by all the negative aspects, but the pristine Yoshimura full exhaust system helped ease the sting.
What Lies Ahead?
The real answer we’re after is whether or not someone is better off saving money upfront and buying a bike that hasn’t run in years or starting with something that’s ready to ride but just needs some TLC? Will we save a ton of money by starting cheap or is it better to pay a little now to save some later?
We’re unsure just how high our repair bill is going to climb, but follow along over the next few issues as we breathe new life (hopefully) into one of the sport’s most memorable bikes. It isn’t going to be easy, but we’ll do the legwork so you know if that online ad is the deal of the century or just an endless money pit. ssb
Next Month: We prep to fire it up for the first time in almost a decade.