Leaving the hotel in downtown Redwood City, I turned onto Woodside Road, otherwise known as Route 84. According to the Yahoo! Maps printout lying within arm's reach in the passenger seat of the rental minivan, Woodside is supposed to somehow transform into La Honda Road. The street signs still said "Woodside" for longer than I expected, though, so I stopped in at the local Seven Eleven to double-check my directions. A local paint-speckled contractor was heading into the store for his morning coffee, and I asked him where La Honda Road is. He pointed in the direction I was already heading and said, "That way, way up in the hills." "Hills?" I muttered to myself while climbing back into the minivan.
About three more miles on Woodside and, suddenly, I came to the hills that the guy at the Seven Eleven spoke of. Suddenly, Woodside became La Honda, and the road turned very twisty and on an uphill grade. To paraphrase Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, I had a feeling I wasn't in Ohio anymore.
I thought it strange that the road to the big Yamaha YZF-R1 unveiling at Alice's Restaurant in Woodside, California, just south of San Francisco, was called "La Honda". Was La Honda suddenly going to become "El Yamaha" in the same way that Woodside Road became La Honda Road? It did this past Saturday.
Coming around the umpteenth sharp bend and smiling big the entire way, I arrived at Alice's. "This is it!" I triumphantly declared to myself as I was ushered into a hidden dirt parking area designated for vehicles of the four-wheeled variety. I chuckled as I noticed that there were huge expanses of asphalt roped off for bikes to park, but the cars were sent to the nether-regions. This IS a bike event, after all.
Still living on Eastern Standard Time, I arrived at the event earlier than pretty much everyone else except for the blue-jacketed Yamaha employees who were busily putting the last-minute touches on the celebration. Among them was Bob Starr, Corporate Communications Manager for Yamaha, and the hardest-working man in the bike biz. Bob is a hands-on guy, always busy and always elbows-deep in whatever he is in charge of. The man has an uncanny flair for the dramatic, so I knew this event would be something special.
The presentation would start out in a pastoral area behind the facility across the road from Alice's. It was early morning, and there was a mist still in the air. In the distance, through the tall pines, you could see the still-fog-blanketed Pacific. Overlooking the lawn was a large area of decking that served as the stage for the event.
Two brand-new R1s were parked in the middle of the lawn, just in front of a Jumbotron that would soon be playing a promotional video of Yamaha's new liter-class sportbike. The photos don't really do the R1 justice. You really need to see the new bike in person. If your first impression was that this all-new R1 really doesn't look all-new at all, you need a second, more tactile impression. Seeing the bike for the first time in person gives you a whole different perspective. Sure, the new R1 looks like the old R1--after all, Yamaha's got a huge hit on its hands in the R1's rakish silhouette, so why screw up a beautiful thing?
The new bike is even more beautiful than the old one. It's like the designers took everything that was great about last year's R1 and combined it with everything that is great about last year's R6. To summarize things this way is, admittedly, an insult to the people who made the 2007 YZF-R1 possible, so my apologies to them.
I sat on the Candy Red and Matte Black bike, and it fit me just the same way that the 2006 R1 fit me--which is to say, perfectly. I'm 5'11" and 46 years old. What I mean by that is that I'm not very flexible, and I never really was. I'm also not built at all like Eric Bostrom. He can wrap his body around the R1's fuel tank. I've already got an R1 fuel tank strapped to my mid-section. And still, this all-new R1 just fits me, like last year's R1 did.
Speaking of last year's R1specifically the R1 LEthis 2007 R1 is everything that bike was (except for the Ohlins suspension and Marchesini wheels) and for more than six-large less. In some ways, the '07 R1 is even more than last year's R1 LE. Namely, the YCC-T fly-by-wire throttle, the YCC-I variable intake system, and Y-I'LL-BE-DAMNED improved mid-range and extra horsepower.
The new intake ports on the front of the bike look even cooler than on last year's bike. They're tucked in closer to the headlights, and they're almost integrated into them, giving the bike an even more pleasingly menacing appearance. The new tail-section is almost as stubby as the one on the R6, even with the two exhaust silencers exiting high and tight like a Dontrelle Willis fastball.
|I'm also not built at all like Eric Bostrom. He can wrap his body around the R1's fuel tank. I've already got an R1 fuel tank strapped to my mid-section.|
I spent some time talking with one of the Yamaha tech guys on-hand because I had a pressing question about the new four-valve head on the R1. One of the signature advantages of the Genesis five-valve engine was its 26,000-mile valve-adjustment interval. I owned a 1986 FZ750S Eddie Lawson Daytona Winner replica, and in all the time I owned that bike, I never had to install a single shimor take one out, for that matter. This new R1, with its eight larger titanium intake valves replacing twelve smaller steel ones, has the same 26,000-mile valve-adjustment interval. In fact, according to the Yamaha tech guy, the eight larger titanium valves actually weigh almost the same as the twelve smaller steel ones did. A perfect swap.
Virtually everything on the 2007 YZF-R1's engine is all-new, except for one thing. The transmission is the same one as was in last year's limited-edition R1 LE. Once again, for $11,599, you can get what the $18,000 R1 LE was--and more. What a difference a year makes.
After my up-close-and-personal meeting with the Candy Red and Matte Black 2007 YZF-R1, I had an up-close-and personal meeting with Eric Bostrom and the guy who drove him up to Alice's for the event--big-brother Ben.
Eric said that he really had no idea that Ben was going to be his teammate till he was riding up to Alice's in the van that morning. Ben said he hadn't even signed the contract yet. Amazing that some things are still done with a gentleman's handshake in this day and age. Done and done. The Blues Brothers were official.
However, Bob Starr who, as I mentioned has a flair for the dramatic, had a bigger event in mind than just Ben Bostrom signing a few caps.
As the assembling crowd reached capacity, the Jumbotron flashed to life. A promotional video was played in which both Eric Bostrom and Jason DiSalvo rode and talked about the 2007 YZF-R1. While the video was playing, I looked around and realized that Eric, who had been standing right beside me, was gone. Ben was still standing there, and I found it interesting that the crowd didn't really recognize him while all the excitement was unfolding.
As the R1 promo video reached its conclusion, like Moses, Bob Starr suddenly parted the double-doors off to one side of the deck, and out rode Eric Bostrom dressed in his full-factory racing leathers and Red Bull signature helmet. His mount was the brand-new 2007 YZF-R1 Superbike complete with race-ready Airtech bodywork, Dunlop slicks, and the sweet smell of freshly combusted race gas wafting from its twin exhaust silencers.
Starr announced to the crowd that Yamaha was returning to US Superbike racing, and Eric Bostrom and Jason DiSalvo would be the factory riders on the R1 Superbike. Meanwhile, off to the side of the deck, Ben Bostrom was still standing in relative anonymity--but not for much longer.
Starr welcomed Ben over to where he was standing next to brother Eric and introduced him to the crowd. Everyone who was standing on the deck at that moment was dressed in Yamaha blue--except for Ben. He looked a little out of place in his jeans and BozBros T-shirt with the image of his Dad dirt-tracking across the front.
After asking Ben what his immediate plans were and finding out that he was "unemployed", Starr handed Ben a Yamaha shirt and revealed to the crowd that Ben was joining Yamaha to race the 2007 R1 in Superstock next season. At first, the fans who had congregated on the lawn in front of the deck seemed stunned by what just happened. But like a wave across the Pacific, everyone began to cheer and clap and shout and whistle about the news that the Brothers Bostrom will be teammates for the upcoming racing season. At that point, Starr invited the fans up on the deck for autographed R1 caps and posters signed by Eric and Ben, as well as really cool Hector Cademartori-illustrated posters of Eddie Lawson and Wayne Rainey aboard their YZR500 GP bikes.
Eddie and Wayne signed poster after poster, and they even autographed a couple of posters for Ben and Eric, who are big Lawson and Rainey fans just like the rest of us.
Soon, it was time for me to leave. On my way back to SFO and the red-eye plane-ride back to the flatlands of Ohio, I went in reverse direction back down those windy hills on La Honda Road. If only I could have left that rental minivan still sitting in the dusty automobile gulag at Alice's. I could have taken that red, fits-just-right, all-new R1 down that heavenly stretch of asphalt. A road that will soon-enough be frequented by area sportbike fans who slap down their hard-earned money on Yamaha's new liter-class bike.