A weekend with a Yamaha YZF-R1 – my review

Yamaha YZF-R1

I’ve just spent the weekend with a Yamaha YZF-R1 in my care. I’ve ridden a number of motorbikes now including most often a CBRE 600, but also a Honda Blackbird, a VFR 800 and, some time ago, a distant relative of the R1, the Fazer FZ6 600, but this is the first time I’ve taken one of the really top-of-the-range sports bikes out.

Initially I was nervous about opening the throttle anything more than a quarter of an inch. This thing has a lot of power all the way through the rev counter and I don’t think I went above 4000rpm for the whole journey out of London, but the first time I did venture the throttle open a bit more on the open road I felt just how much power there is there to be used. For the whole three days I had the bike I never did find how far it went, though. It’s just ticking over at motorway speeds in fourth gear, and any lower gear has so much power it’s a struggle to hold on if you open the throttle. (The feeling is worth the effort, though.) I can say one thing: you’ll never feel like you need more acceleration to get past something. I can’t see that it’s even possible to accelerate any quicker than this on two wheels, and still hang on (and change gear).

Stability felt pretty good to me, although I still prefer the smaller 600cc sports bikes for agility. Sometimes it felt like a bit of an effort to coax the thing into a corner. It also seemed quite easy to lock the back wheel up but that could just have been me getting tired. I also prefer something a bit shorter so I’m nearer the front wheel, although with this amount of torque there’s no way the front wheel isn’t going to be trying to get off the ground most of the time anyway.

The faring was surprisingly good as I wasn’t really expecting much and even an hour or so at decent speeds on the motorway wasn’t as tiring as I find it on smaller bikes. It’s also not revving very highly which makes it more comfortable than the CBR 600 which always leaves my arms vibrating inside for hours afterwards. Other practicalities: I managed to get something like 150 miles out of a tank of petrol too, which isn’t too bad I don’t think. There’s no gauge but a warning light comes on when you’re on reserve, with about 20 miles (so I’m told) left.

There’s no real point writing anything about the speed of this bike. It’s just huge. Imagine the fastest thing you can, and then add a bit. I couldn’t find any shortage of power at any speed. I have a feeling it slows down a bit once you get past 150mph, but obviously there aren’t many opportunities to test that theory out.

In the end, though, there is just too much power. On the road you’re rarely using anything but a small percentage of the bike’s potential. The power band of 4th gear is hardly starting when you’re at the top of road legal speeds. I also found I could easily get lazy with overtaking – 6th gear is still more powerful than most things on the road at anything more than about 40mph. That said, I’d still change down to 3rd or 4th anyway to make it more fun… All in all, I can’t really see myself owning one of these because it’s just too big for the road. I think I’d rather stick with a 600cc that makes me work a bit harder but at least I’m more likely to be using more of what it’s got to give.

Brecon Cathedral: This is how far I got over the weekend. (Oh, and the road between Brecon and Llandovery is excellent.)
Brecon Cathedral

Honda comparison: CBR 600 vs Deuville vs VFR 800 vs Blackbird 1100

It may seem strange to compare a CBR 600 (small sports bike), a Deuville (small tourer), VFR 800 (sports tourer) and Blackbird 1100 (sports tourer) as they’re all quite different bikes. From the small and nimble CBR 600 to the big, super-fast Blackbird, and then the Deuville with its low revving, plodding engine. They do all have something in common from my point of view, however, and this must be something that makes Honda motorbikes so popular: you can go away for a weekend and take a pillion on each one. So, what are the differences?


Starting with the obvious: the 1100 is very fast with one or two people on it, the VFR is not quite so fast, and the 600 is still fast with one person and surprisingly good with two up. The Deuville lags a long way behind here; even with its 650cc engine it struggles to get past 100mph. The CBR 600 is the bike that gives you a real feeling of riding a racing bike, with its high revving engine, but the Blackbird is the only bike where you don’t notice the weight of a passenger. Add luggage and the difference in 5th or 6th gear is noticeable on the 600, although it’s still got a very decent pull in lower gears. The three sportier bikes are all quite fast enough even loaded down, although on the 600 you’ll end up having to work the gears a bit harder (a riding style which I personally enjoy). Out of the four bikes, the Deuville is the only one where you won’t be passing traffic with impunity.


All four bikes are actually quite comfortable but over time the differences are magnified. As might be expected, the Deuville is very comfortable both for rider and passenger. A five hour journey in a day isn’t exactly a ride in the park, but it won’t leave you crippled the next day. The Blackbird is pretty much equal and has a good faring which keeps the wind off and neck strain down. The CBR 600 comes in last place with its small faring, slightly more hunched riding position and, most noticeably over a long distance, the high revving engine: my arms were still vibrating for half an hour after a 180 mile journey. Still, it’s quite impressive to be able to do this distance (with a short stop of two) on a small sports bike. I think I would consider 3 hours in the saddle to be the limit of the 600, though, whereas the Deuville can give you another hour or two more; in these cases, boredom is more likely to be an issue than cramp.

Although the VFR 800 is a comfortable bike for the rider, my passenger didn’t find the grab rail (that doesn’t go all the way round the back) to be optimal, resulting in holding on too tightly and getting extra tired. This combined with the slightly more upright riding position make holding on more of a chore than on any of the other bikes, including even the power-pulling Blackbird. The good thing about all the Hondas, from a pillion’s point of view, is that the seat is one piece and just as comfortable as the rider’s.


The biggest issue with the CBR 600 is its range: only around 120 miles in the tank. The Deuville and the VFR go a bit further (around 150) and the Blackbird even further at around 170. (This is all with two passengers and luggage.) The difference may not seem big, but the small (20 odd mile) reserve tank on the CBR means that where the petrol is going to come from is always on your mind; at 100 miles, it’s time to look for somewhere to refuel, whereas on the Blackbird you don’t have to think about it for another 50 miles or so. The VFR provides the most help here with a real fuel gauge rather than just a reserve indicator.


The other thing that makes all these Hondas good all-rounders, despite their speed differences, is the lower exhaust pipes which allow soft luggage to be slung over them. With a tank bag too it’s easy enough to pack away a weekend’s worth of luggage. The Deuville has built-in side-pods which, although not as big as full panniers, are fairly handy for stashing gear once you reach your destination. With a top-box there’s enough space for a full week away. For this, the Deuville wins hands down here. There’s no real difference between the other three bikes as soft panniers can be hooked on without interfering too much with the pillion pegs or the exhaust pipe (something that rules out an R6, R1 or GSXR for me).


I know I’ve done speed once already, but it’s such a good reason for riding a bike. The CBR 600 can still reach 140mp in 5th gear with a pillion, which is pretty impressive, and the VFR and Blackbird more of the same. On a Blackbird you’ll hardly notice the extra weight which is a good feeling.


For me, the 600 wins outright here. I like the riding position and it’s very reactive. Great for darting in and out of traffic (just watch out for the panniers, and your passenger’s knees). The bike also feels light when stationery, but then it is a lot lighter than the other two.

Close behind in handling is the Blackbird. The other three bikes actually all weigh a similar amount but the 1100 feels the lightest. The VFR always felt quite top-heavy to me, and the Deuville sometimes feels like a tank. With both the Blackbird and the VFR I never felt quite as sure of the front wheel as with the 600. The Blackbird is still very solid, however, and even feels light moving through the traffic.

The Deuville, on the other hand, feels like a tank. There’s no escaping it.


For a weekend away: a 150 mile journey to get there and them so riding around country roads. I’d go for a CBR 600. It’s comfortable enough for that distance, you can take some luggage, and then it’s great fun on the open roads.

A week away: a 250 mile journey and then open roads would tip the balance in favour of the Blackbird. Even more so if you’re planning a longer journey with stop-overs. The extra faring and lower revs make the long distance much easier.

Are there any circumstances in which I’d choose the Deuville or the VFR? For me, no. The VFR doesn’t seem distinctive enough and I didn’t enjoy the ride as much, whereas the Deuville just wasn’t exciting enough to ride. The main advantage is the built-in side-pods so you don’t have to carry your gear everywhere, but hard luggage on any of the bikes would fix that. They’re all good bikes in a lot of ways but it’s between the two CBRs for me and down to how far you’ve got to ride and where you like to be on the power/manouverability scale.

Motorbike hire in London (again)

I usually hire motorbikes from Raceways, Surrey Quays and they treat me pretty well. Now they know me and I obviously spend enough money with them they’re more likely to give me a good deal on hiring the extras at the same time as the bike, or making sure I get one of the newer models if I’ve booked in time.

Around busy times, though, they might be fully booked, so I’ve been pointed towards Riverside Motorbike Hire. Riverside are based in Bow, just off the Blackwall Tunnel Approach (East London) so are actually a bit nearer to me by road, but not so easy to get to by public transport. They seem to be about the same price as Raceways, and a similar range of bikes. It does look like you’re able to take all their models into Europe, though, so I think I may be trying them out sometime in the future.

Raceways motorbike hire, Surrey Quays
Riverside Motorbike Hire

A decent motorbiking road out of London

Hiring a motorbike in London always has the disadvantage that you have to go quite a way to find a decent road to ride down. Well, I’ve found one now with the route from north-east London to Saffron Walden. The ‘easy’ way would be to take the M11, since Saffron Walden is only a couple of miles from it, but that is distinctly not interesting on a motorbike. Instead I took the A113 (starting from Snaresbrook) through Chigwell, under the north circular, and then on to Chipping Ongar. This seemed like it would be quite a good place to stop off with some pubs and restaurants. Just north of Chipping Ongar is a roundabout and the route goes straight across this (passing the A414 exits on either side) and onto the B184. This is where the road starts getting more interesting.

The B184 eventually hits the A1060 (not signposted) and you need to turn right there and then left once you hit Leaden Roding about a mile down the road. Leaden Roding itself looks another good place for a stop. From there, it’s a case of following the B184 to Great Dunmow (signposted) and then through there to Thaxted and on to Saffron Walden (all signposted). There are a number of good looking pubs on the way so I’m sure I’ll be heading out there again.

The ride is good firstly because the roads are mostly of good quality with a few decent bends and not too many speed limits (bar through the towns and villages, as expected). It’s a bit lacking in good straights but you can’t have everything. The best thing, though, comes I think from the fact that it runs north to south along a route that’s much better served by the M11, meaning that it’s quite empty. There were a few Sunday drivers around but there are a reasonable number of spots to overtake (on a sports bike, anyway).

It’s about an hour to Saffron Walden from Leyton going this route, compared to around 35 minutes up the M11, and the ride is definitely worth it.

Review of Honda CBR600

I’ve ridden Honda CBR600’s quite a few times now and I have to say that I think for riding pleasure I enjoy this bike more than the others I’ve tried. After riding the Blackbird recently, which is an exceedingly well balanced bike for its size, the CBR600 felt extremely light. That is the real benefit of the 600’s – small size and excellent manouverability. I really like the riding position which feels like you’re right over the front wheel and is very stable.

The 600 has nowhere near as much low-end power as the Blackbird’s big 1100cc engine and to drop down takes a bit of getting used to. It all becomes a matter of picking the right gear, though. At around 50 to 60mph you really need to change down to 3rd gear to get some good power for overtaking and the bike responds instantly. At this speed in 4th there’s a bit of a lag and if you’re short of road you really don’t want to have to wait for the engine to catch up. The good news is that 3rd gear will then take you past 100 easily, which should be enough to get past most things.

I’m often riding with a pillion passenger, not something that’s possible (realistically) with an R6 or GSXR600, but Honda’s seem to consider versatility much more in their motorbike designs. As a result the bike handles exceptionally well although there is a noticeable reduction in torque (making choosing the right gear even more important) but it’s a perfectly good ride all the same. The exhaust pipe is also low enough to carry some luggage. The only downside of middle-distance travelling is the tank capacity which doesn’t have much past around 120 miles. A small tank is the price to pay for good balance and riding position, I suppose. The front faring is also not really up to long-distance at speed as the wind hits your head fairly hard at around 80mph and can give some serious neck strain after an hour.

If I was going to buy a bike now, the CBR600 would be the one I’d go for. It’s got more than enough power and cornering ability for riding more agressively but is also smooth through the gears and evenly powered enough to make slow speed, bad weather or in-town riding all quite easy. It’s also possible to travel mid-range (a couple of hundred miles) carrying luggage and a passenger (although the high revving can leave your arms tingling after a couple of hours). The Blackbird, with its bigger faring and bigger engine, is much better over longer distance but to be honest I don’t find it quite as much fun. I think possibly I just enjoy having to work the gears a bit more to get speed out and the riding position of the smaller bike really makes it.

Review of the Honda CBR 1100 Super Blackbird

I’ve just had the pleasure of a week and a half with one of Honda’s biggest, and fastest, bikes: the Super Blackbird. Thankfully, no-one calls it the ‘Super Blackbird’ but just sticks to the plain and simple ‘Blackbird’.

Before getting on the bike I was slightly unsure about whether I’d take to it. I loved the CBR600, didn’t get much out of the Deauville, and didn’t take to the VFR800 because of its weight, handling andgeneral feel. The Blackbird, with its 1100cc engine, has the weight of the second two and more power and speed than any of them.

The first thing about the Blackbird to notice is the weight; more precisely, the fact that it doesn’t feel like a heavy bike. I can only think that the centre of gravity is low as it feels barely heavier than the CBR 600 and certainly lighter than the VFR. The bike’s length is also less noticeable than I would have guessed, although inevitably the riding position is further back than the 600 if a similar sporty-but-not-too-uncomfortable forward-leaning style.

What you can’t help but notice, though, is the power. Hit the open road and open the throttle and you realise you’re sitting on a rocket with wheels. It is very smooth and even in delivery, although accelleration peaks at around 7000rpm and continues well up to around 10000rpm, but the big engine pulls well from any revs in any gear. This continues well past 100mph, and it’s easy to reach 125mph in 3rd gear in just a few seconds. In fact, the bike will still leap forward in 4th gear at a little over 100.

Once the bike’s moving the size isn’t noticeable. Even round twisting country roads this feels pretty close to a nimble sports bike. It’s only at walking speed pace that you feel the length (or,as often happened, when you speed past a turning and have to make a u-turn somewhere). The front wheel feels pretty nailed to the road, although maybe not quite so much as the CBR 600 but definitely better than the VFR 800. The acceleration means that you need never get stuck behind a caravan or a sunday driver as only the smallest gaps are needed to power past any car, and should something come round the corner then there’s always some more power in reserve.

Where the bike really shows its breadth of appeal, though, is over long distances and with a pillion passenger and luggage. With two up the weight of the bike turns into an advantage as you hardly notice there’s someone on the back, and the 1100cc engine on the Blackbird means there’s not much lacking in the power department either. The single-piece seat and grab rail are also comfortable for your passenger which is rare on such a high performance bike. The exhaust pipes are low enough to throw some panniers over, and there’s even hard luggage available.

The faring is slightly higher and broader than you generally find with sports bikes and helps keep the wind off on long motorway journeys. Nothing can really help these but I wouldn’t want to try a 4 hour ride on anything less now.

In summary, the Honda Blackbird is a big bike that feels much smaller than it looks, and the power from the 1100cc engine and good faring means adapting to medium distance touring is also very easy.

Review of Yamaha Fazer FZ6 600

Having not ridden a motorbike for some 7 years I sat astride the Yamaha
Fazer 600 with some trepidation. I had chosen the bike as it looked like
it would have a reasonable amount of power to ‘break me in’ to the world
of bigger bikes, but with a less racey style than the CBR’s or an R6.
After the owner of the hire shop telling me that ‘this is a fast bike’ I
was already worried.

In terms of speed, I certainly wasn’t disappointed. I took it fairly
easy on the throttle to start with but after half hour or so of riding I
felt like the full range of power was easily controllable.

Out on the open road the Fazer does have pretty good acceleration. I
know it’s not up there with a CBR 600 or an R6 but compared to most
other traffic on the road it’s more than lively enough. The power band
is not as even as I would have liked, though, with a big kick at higher
revs. Perhaps if I gave it another go it wouldn’t seem so bad but it was
something I had to watch out for for a while.

The riding position is reasonably upright. Although this makes it fairly
comfortable as a sitting position, the faring is quite minimal and the
amount of wind certainly gives you some neck strain after an hour or
two. I’d say the almost complete lack of protection the faring gives is
the lowest point of this bike overall.

The pillion passenger was pretty comfortable, though: enough so to fall
asleep going along the motorway! The other great thing about this bike
is it’s fuel range: I got more than 175 miles out with two people and
luggage, and the fuel tank tells you exactly where you are. This is
certainly worth considering with a bike: a CBR 600 needs a fill up about
every 120 miles in the same conditions.

All in all, it was a pretty good bike but perhaps a bit too much between
stools for me. The riding position wasn’t racey and neither is the
throttle, but the narrower power bands and lack of faring also don’t
push it anywhere near the touring bracket. Where this bike would be
ideal is as a commuter, with it’s good tank range, comfortable riding
position and some good bursts of power for overtaking.

I did like the Fazer, and I think one day I’ll have another go (the R6
just looks a bit too raw) but I think the real crux is that it’s a class
of bike that isn’t quite for me.

The Fazer FZ6 on the Yamaha site

Honda VFR 800 review

I’ve ridden a few bikes over the past couple of years including a Yamaha Fazer 600, a Honda CB 500 and a CBR 600 (a few times now). I was really looking forward to trying out the VFR as I thought it would offer a similar ride to the CBR 600 but with some extra power for a pillion passenger.

First impression was odd: the engine chugs away like a car that’s on the verge of misfiring, but open up the throttle from virtually any revs and away it goes! The linked brakes took no time at all to get used to: pull the brake, the bike stops. Easy.

On the open road the VFR is a very comfortable and very easy ride. The problem for me was it was a bit too easy to ride. The power band is fairly constant, although when all cylinders kick in above 7000rpm there is noticably more pull, but somehow, for me, that takes the fun out of riding a bike. I prefer the ride of the CBR 600 that will pull reasonably well at low-ish revs but really lets rip further up the band.

My other gripe with the VFR is the size and weight. It handles well once you’re up to speed but I never felt as confident in the front tyre as I have on other bikes. I think this may have something to do with the slightly more upright riding position and being seated slightly further back than on a CBR. Or it could just be me. I do know that I managed to lock up a front wheel when a pheasant ran out into the middle of the road and that’s never happened to me on any other bike.

In terms of the ‘technical’ aspects: torque was very impressive, speed was okay, but again I wasn’t impressed by the mileage. My main (possibly only) problem with the CBR 600 is the size of the tank, but I could only get a few more miles out of the VFR and it didn’t seem to provide any extra speed considering the petrol consumption.

From a pillion’s point of view (I was told) it doesn’t feel as solid. Again, I think that may be a combination of height and riding position, but pulling down a straight left my passenger feeling like they were going to tip off the back of the bike. This has never happened on a CBR 600 before and I’ve certainly never held back. Perhaps speed is all about perception and I’ve never managed to pull away as quickly on a CBR with a passenger before; the VFR certainly didn’t seem to notice the extra weight in the same way.

All in all: Honda’s VFR 800 is a good bike, but I don’t think it’s for me. I think my main problems are the size of the bike and slightly more upright riding position. Although the through-the-range power was good, I prefer something that you have to push a bit harder but rewards the effort with responsiveness and a nimble road poise.

Motorbike hire in east London

I usually hire motorbikes from a place called Raceways in Surrey Quays, East London
but a) it’s quite expensive,
and b) they’re the wrong side of the river. I’m going to be on a Honda
VFR800 this weekend

I’d definitely be interested in finding something a bit closer, though, but East London doesn’t seem particularly well served by motorbike hire.