When I got into motorcycling at a relatively advanced age — for motorcycling, anyway — the biggest inspiration for the first and only bike I ever bought was the late, great Steve McQueen. With visions of The Great Escape dancing in my head, I had no choice but to snag a gently used, classic-looking Triumph cafe racer.
While I have alternately loved and hated my 2014 Bonneville T-100 over the past six years, I’ve never dreamt of riding a sport bike. Yet, when the opportunity arose to test-ride one — on a race track no less — I couldn’t resist.
What follows is a rather unique review: field notes from the first two days I ever spent on a proverbial crotch rocket, learning pro-level technique as a student at the Yamaha Champions Riding School. I guess viewing my riding through the Steve McQueen lens is fitting; dude loved to race, after all.
Is the Yamaha YZF-R7 new?
Not brand-new. It rolled out in the latter half of last year. Nonetheless, I was stoked to put it to the ultimate test: two days of tight turns on the track at New Jersey Motorsports Park.
What makes the YZF-R7 special?
The R7 plate has a bit of history: the original R7 appeared in 1999, just 500 units created to compete in endurance races such as the Superbike World Championship and Suzuka 8 Hours. Super Streetbikes once listed it as one of “The 10 Most Exotic Bikes Ever,” but in reality, it proved to be kind of a cruddy, underpowered race bike.
The new R7 has a different focus: it’s a $1,300 step-up from Yamaha’s $7,700 MT-07 Hyper Naked Motorcycle — and a more cuddly successor to the brand’s legendary R6, a fantastic race-ready bike that’s rather uncomfortable on the streets. Shooting the gap between those two models, the R7 aims to be a fun, flexible street bike that can tear up the track without tearing up your wallet.
How does this Yamaha ride?
So here’s the part where you should probably get out a salt shaker and set a few grains aside. Having never ridden a sport bike before — not counting Zero electric motorcycles, which are a different kind of beast — I have little basis for comparison. All I can share are my experiences on this one, trying my best to follow the YCRS coaches’ advice to “ride the motorcycle as it was designed to be ridden.”
Which, in all honesty, worked out pretty damn well. While I was initially apprehensive about the battle between the nearly 33-inch seat height and my 29-inch inseam, the R7 is incredibly well balanced — and, at 414 pounds wet, light enough to one-foot with relative ease.
The YCRS instruction is incredibly dialed-in, with an emphasis on getting in the right state of mind, understanding the physics of your body and the bike, respecting the power of braking and making moves smoothly, rather than abruptly. With such guidelines in my head, I found the R7 to be super-responsive to all the acceleration, slowing, leaning and turning required to navigate a serpentine 12-turn racetrack.
My laps were a mess at first, but that owed entirely to rider incompetence — and actually made for good testing, as I could see how well the bike responded when I totally f’ed up, which happened a lot.
The R7 proved to be a real champ at bailing me out of mistakes, be it hitting a straightaway in the wrong gear, entering a turn too slowly, or missing an apex at high speed and nearly running off the course. Every time I goofed, the bike was capable enough to help me avert anything catastrophic.
I attribute such a feat to the R7’s logical ergonomics, well-calibrated suspension, shockingly smooth six-speed transmission — and, perhaps most critically, a hyper-responsive front brake highlighted by a radial-pull Brembo master cylinder. One of the drills we did was flooring it before smoothly squeezing the brake to see how effective it is, and damn did I go from 60 to zero pretty quickly.
By the afternoon of the second day, when all the coaching finally started to click, I was whipping around the course at a decent pace, passing other students here — and there and, while not yet dragging a knee like our Lord and savior Valentino Rossi, hitting the apexes at a semi-respectable lean angle. Perhaps more importantly, I spent that second day on the track simply having a hell of a lot of fun.
Anything else stand out about this sport bike?
Now it’s time for another caveat: as much time as I spent on the R7 in two days, all of it took place on the track, not on the street. (Hell, the bikes they had set up for us to ride even eschewed turn signals and mirrors.) That is bound to give one a skewed perspective of a consumer motorcycle, and an incomplete one.
With that in mind, I do have one beef, which applies less to everyday street riding and more to the highway. Starting the first lap of each session, I was pretty happy with the R7’s 0 to 60 speed, which has been clocked at 3.27 seconds. However, on that big straightaway that passes through the finish line on the way to the next lap, I wished the acceleration after 60 mph was a bit more lively. Yes, it’s still gonna be plenty zippy enough to get around just about every four-wheeled vehicle you’ll encounter on the open road, but I felt like I could use a bit more oomph than this 689-cc jackrabbit could deliver.
One other, more positive observation: I found the relatively aggressive posture of the bike to be surprisingly forgiving. I rode for the better part of two days without ever feeling my back or legs tighten up, or my neck hurting from leaning forward with my eyes up.
All of which leads to this conclusion: I’ve long been wary of sport bikes for fear of being uncomfortable, uncertain and unsafe. But if the joy, speed and confidence I experienced on the R7 is any indication, the right sport bike can rise above all those gripes — and at a nice price to boot.
How much does the Yamaha YZF-R7 cost?
The base price is $8,999 for both colorways: Team Yamaha Blue and Performance Black. Featured accessories include a Fender Eliminator, GYTR Quick Shifter Kit, Frame Shifters, Radiator Guards and Seat Cowl.
2022 Yamaha YZF-R7
Engine: 689cc liquid-cooled, 4-stroke, DOHC inline twin-cylinder
Seat height: 32.9 inches
Wet weight: 414 pounds
0 to 60: 3.27 seconds
Top speed: 139 mph
EPA Fuel Economy: 58 mpg
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