Curious case of 2022 Yamaha R7
No clue what hit us!
May 2021, Yamaha Motors announced a new middleweight Sports bike and they decided, of all the names out there, to call it the R7! Heart rates across the globe elevated, blood pressures rose, palms became sweaty and knees weak, the legendary R7 moniker is back! But then the details started pouring in and then there was a silence followed by an uproar. How dare Yamaha call a bare basic parallel twin mundane motorcycle an R7? They yelled.
Understandable? Yes, because the original YZF-R7 in question is not just another Yamaha motorcycle. It is a LEGEND. No, it was not a bored out R6 on steroids or a watered down R1. What it was was a homologation special by Yamaha. Also known as the Ow-02, the R7 was a limited run special. Only 500 of them were ever made and that too just because Yamaha wanted to compete in the Superbike World Championship and Suzuka 8 Hour Endurance races. That’s what a homologation special is, a model with a limited production run made for the public before the manufacturer can take it to the tracks and it is usually where a manufacturer could flaunt their technological expertise with a motorcycle that can be ridden off a showroom floor. It is the closest the public could get to a full blown race motorcycle. The Ow02 R7 was a whole different motorcycle from the ground up. And every bit of the motorcycle was exquisite and exotic. Only the best of the best materials and technology went in. Though R6 and R1 were still in production at the same time, R7 was produced only in the year 1999 and then never made again, until now, making it one of the rarest of the rare motorcycles around. There are only a handful of surviving examples today and most of them rest in big collector’s garages.
Although the OW-02 never made any victories at the tracks, it sure as hell made one of the most exotic motorcycles to roam the street. Priced at $32000 back in the year 1999, it was a lot of money, even by today's or any day’s standards for a motorcycle. It was hand built in Japan just like any other race bikes from Yamaha. The R7 was powered by a 769cc 20 valve DOHC inline four, having 5 valves per cylinder (3 and 2 on the intake and exhaust sides respectively) and equipped with titanium valves and valve retainers. Both H-section connecting rods and the crank were made of titanium. The pistons were forged with incredibly short skirts making it very light and strong. The piston crowns were nickel coated too to protect from corrosion and abrasion. The list of exotic technology does not end there. The crank case was a single piece unit and the cylinder head was machined from a single block of aluminum. The gearbox was vertically stacked, which helped the engine to be compact front to back , and was a closed ratio race box paired to a slipper clutch unit. Outside of the engine there was this beautiful looking exhaust muffler in carbon finish.
The OW02's DeltaBox frame was shorter and twice as sturdier as a contemporary R1’s frame and used the motor as the stressed member. Only the most exotic components went in the R7 which included top of the line Ohlins 43mm USD front fork and a piggy back monoshock rear suspension. The fork stanchions were coated in Titanium Nitrate which is a hard ceramic material which hardens and protects sliding surfaces. This gives the stanchions the golden finish. Moreover, the frame had the steering geometry and swingarm pivots as adjustable! All these made the Ow-02 weigh just 189Kgs DRY and one of the best handling motorcycles ever. Not to mention that it looked drop dead gorgeous.
As briefly mentioned before, The Ow-02 was not a success as far as its intended purpose was concerned. It did not win any titles. Even with all the exotic ingredients, the engine of the road going version was massively detuned and pumped out only 106bhp@11000rpm. Yamaha did provide racing upgrades to take the power up to 135Bhp and then another upgrade pack to take the power to the full blown 162Bhp. There were pre programmed race maps from the factory which can be used once the upgrade kits are installed. The racing upgrades came with a hefty price tag of its own! The upgrade kits were priced so high that the small time racing teams simply couldn't afford them. The upgrades were available to the public too, but there was a teeny tiny problem. Thanks to a manufacturing defect, an upgrade kit guaranteed a complete destruction of the titanium crankshaft. Yamaha eventually recalled all the units to fix this crankshaft problem. Post recall, the engine was just as reliable as any other Japanese motorcycles even with the upgrade kit.
Fast forward to the present day, it is this ultra rare and legendary motorcycle after which Yamaha has decided to name its new middleweight sportsbike. Did Yamaha dig the new R7’s grave even before it was born? Or have they become vastly overconfident?
The 600cc Super Sports category has been going through a very tough time lately. These motorcycles which were fire breathing beasts once are now inching towards extinction. Stricter emission norms and rising production costs place the retail price of the 600 supersports pretty close to their litre class siblings thus putting them at a clear disadvantage. Also, there are so many 600cc motorcycles in the used market at dirt cheap prices which makes purchasing a brand new 600 with price tag close to a litre class motorcycle feel stupid and the sales are plummeting. Are the days when these hardcore 600s used to tingle us with the most commited perch and stratospheric powerband, revlimiter kick at 17000 - 19000RPM and top of the line components from tyre to tyre long gone? The fact that there is no longer a road legal Yamaha R6, a dead Triumph Daytona 675 and barely surviving Honda CBR600RR and Suzuki GSXR600, among many others, seem to suggest so. Many manufacturers moved away from the 600cc inline 4 engines and went on to use slightly bigger engines south of 700cc and tried to add more usable power to the engine while remaining competitive in the market.
The only way out for manufacturers is to reinvent the supersport category to something less extreme and more approachable i.e. less intimidating. Cheaper retail price, respectable components, improved practicality and a non intimidating package is the way to appeal to a wider audience scooping up novice riders and also bringing in more intermediate and expert riders in the process. Yamaha did a market study on this and found out that a big majority of the riders using the R6 mostly rode it in the midrange and most of them want a more approachable and affordable sporty motorcycle with a usable power band.
Yamaha already had just the right motorcycle to be the base of their new middleweight supersport, the MT-07. Kawasaki was vastly successful in this with their 650 platform which spawned the Z650, Ninja 650, Versys and even the Vulcan. This platform sharing is exactly what Yamaha had in their sights when they came up with their middleweight platform. Especially the gem of a 689cc CP2 engine!
MT-07 became everyone’s sweetheart instantly when it debuted in 2014. The combination was just perfect. The engine, on paper, was a humble 689cc DOHC 8 valve parallel twin putting out a modest 73Bhp at 9000rpm. Yamaha spiced things up by giving it a 270 degree cross plane crank thus making the engine lively and exciting instantly compared to a rather lazy power delivery of the 650cc unit of the Kawasaki. It sounded better too, almost like v-twin, unlike the single cylinder ish sound of the kawasaki’s 650 equipped with a 180 degree crank. Yamaha called the engine the CP-2 denoting the crossplane crank 2 cylinder engine. The CP2 was an instant hit! It was lively, playful and had ample low and midrange pull to keep the rider entertained and pull impromptu wheelies in the narrow urban environments and had enough oomph to keep the excitement going at higher RPMs at freeway speeds. Like I mentioned, a sweetheart. But the MT07 was not just about the engine, it was the package. The weight was low at around 175kgs. Chassis was well sorted and had just enough flex to smoothen out the urban roads. Suspension was on the softer side and was good for the intended use, the brakes too were capable of keeping up with the rest of the bike. Electronic wizardry was limited to just the ABS and even the throttle was cable actuated keeping the experience as raw as possible. The combination was just perfect. Yamaha went on to use the same platform for the Tracer 700 and the drool worthy uber cool Tenere' 700 with minor alteration to the chassis and gearing.
The 2022 R7
Circling back to the 2022 R7 and the controversy it got itself into just because of the name, Yamaha was clearly cornered to reuse the R7 moniker. The R7, based on the MT-07, clearly needed a name that is inline with the naming convention of the rest of the motorcycle in the lineup. Calling it the R-07 or R-68 or anything of that sort could have left the YZF lineup consisting of R3, R6 and R1 confused. Yamaha clearly wanted the R7 to be along the same DNA as that of its other YZF siblings and not invent a new (sub)class for it.
The R7 is much more than an MT-07 with fairings. Yamaha was clear with their intentions with the R7. It was meant to be a basic and fun motorcycle for daily use as well as hitting the track when need be. They wanted it to sit right between the R3 and R6 from rider friendliness to sportiness. But there are many small details on which Yamaha has worked on to get the R7 right as an everyday/trackday motorcycle.
R7 is the slimmest bike in the YZF lineup even compared to the R3! They wanted this to be reflected in the nature of the R7 too. Yamaha gave R7 superfast turn-ins into the corners by making the rake steeper to 23.7 degrees from the MT-07’s 24.8 degree thus reducing the trail by 2mm. The fork triple clamp offset is reduced to 35mm from 40mm. These changes helped to bring down the wheelbase of the R7 down by 5mm while keeping the swingarm length same hence the superfast turn-ins while keeping the stability intact. The swingarm and frame are almost the same as the MT-07’s tubular backbone and not a DeltaBox setup like the R6 or R1 but is reinforced with aluminum bits to increase the torsional rigidity and improve the feedback from the tarmac. The CP2 engine internals remain largely untouched from the MT-07 except the addition of a slipper clutch unit resulting in 20% reduction in the lever pull effort as per Yamaha. R7, on the suspension front, gets a 41mm KYB fully adjustable USD unit up front and a KYB rear link type shock unit which is bolted directly to the rear of the engine crankcase horizontally. The switch to USD forks provides excellent rigidity and improves the front end feel. Braking duties are taken care of by a double 4 piston Advics radial caliper up front clamping down 298mm discs and actuated by a Brembo radial master cylinder. Rear is a standard 1 piston Nissin caliper. As a final topping, R7 has a $200 optional one way quickshifter as an optional extra.
On the R7 the rear sprocket is smaller by 1 tooth at 42T compared to MT-07, precisely for those final straights of the tracks. This whole package weighs just 187kgs WET! The low weight combined with the sporty perch which is a tad bit less extreme compared to the R6, and usable power makes the R7 be possibly the only motorcycle in the garage for a newbie and intermediate riders. Even the experts can have their fair share of fun on this more relaxed sibling of the highly strung R6 by concentrating more on the lines and other techniques rather than worrying about the motorcycle’s plan to kill you at the next available moment. Maybe only when you are right on the edge of the tyres with that throttle cracked open, the chassis difference with the R6 makes itself evident. That is where the DeltaBox clearly shines.
A brief note on the styling too. I think Yamaha has absolutely nailed the styling of the R7. Personally, it took me a lot of time to start appreciating the current design language of the YZF motorcycles starting from the 2015 R1. I loved the previous generation bug eyed CrossPlane. But now we are on the same page, happily and I can appreciate the looks of the R7. Particularly liked how Yamaha paid tribute to the MT-07 with a single projector headlamp tucked away in the central air dam. The rest of the fairings and tailpiece design follows the trail laid by the R1’s design. Which is a good thing.
Relevance and competition
More and more manufacturers are joining the small accessible supersports bandwagon. Aprilia RS660 and Ducati Supersports is bang on the same lines as the R7. But a basic and cheaper R7 has a definite upper hand here. Competition is always good for us, customers. Sincerely hope that Triumph will take note of this trend and bring on a baby Daytona based on the Trident platform. Hey, it's doable and there will be takers!
In the context of the Indian market Aprilia has priced the RS660 starting from ₹13.4 Lakhs. The Ducati Supersports too is in the same territory. I don't think the R7 needs to compete with the Ninja 650 or CBR650R since it is a much more focused product. Yamaha might have a real winner on their hands if the R7 makes it to the Indian market with a pricing that sits between the beginner friendly Ninja and CBR 650s and the more exotic RS660 and SuperSports.
Oh and about the whole name thing, I hope that we all can leave the nostalgia of the old one behind and move on to enjoy the R7 for what it is in this age.