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The short but sweet life of the Yamaha R7

Tue, 17 Jan 2012

I was reunited with an old friend recently, my 1999 Virgin Yamaha R7 Superbike. By the end of 1998 I had won three straight BSB titles with the Yamaha YZF750, when main sponsor Cadbury’s pulled out leaving zero funds for a title defence.

Wanting desperately to ride the new R7 and thinking a replacement backer would instantly get on board I turned down quite a few offers including a juicy contract from Crescent Suzuki (Paul Denning always enjoys reminding me). By March of the following year I still had no ride when thankfully a certain Richard Branson stepped in to bail us out, just one week before the first race at Brands Hatch.

Yamaha only ever built 500 homologation specials to satisfy new World Superbike rules and I rate the ‘OWO2’ as the best 750cc Superbike ever. With its compact YZR500 derived chassis and all new fuel injected engine, on paper it was a winner. Unfortunately it came with soft big-end shells and engine mapping that had a mind of its own, so life was frustrating early in the season. Ironically, Kawasaki parts fixed the crankshaft problem and Yamaha helped with the electronics, so by mid-season the bike was competitive, however the Yamaha R7 never won a BSB race.

Hizzy and I had some strong 2nd places, with my best performance by far coming at WSB round at Brands in 1999 until my rear tyre shredded with a podium position on the cards. Noriyuki Haga took his factory backed West R7 to much greater heights the following year with regular WSB victories as he battled throughout the season with Colin Edwards. And many would argue he would have taken the title had he not been banned for eating a Sinex or some other harmless product that contained Ephedrine.

Twelve years on a fully blown R6 Supersport machine would match R7 lap times, although it would feel quite different to ride. Their racing weight is more or less the same, however, when it comes to performance, the R7 would still have more mid-range but with a rev limit of 14000rpm. The R6 will carry on way past 16000rpm feeling more like a peaky two stroke.

Despite my lack of success with the Yamaha R7, when it was fully developed, I believe it was the best looking and best performing 750cc Superbike ever built. Which would you choose?

By Niall Mackenzie

See also: Dakar Rally 2012 Results – Despres Wins Fourth Dakar, AMA Supercross: 2012 Phoenix Results, Preliminary 2012 MotoGP Entry List Released.