IMS Chicago 2021: Yamaha’s 2022 YZF-R7 Is a Great Beginner Sportbike

Even if you’re not interested in setting lap times, sportbikes can be solid, affordable choices for newer riders. Case in point, one of the best beginner motorcycles, the Kawasaki Ninja 400, is a sportbike. But what if you’ve already been riding for a bit, yet still haven’t swung a leg over a motorcycle like that? Luckily, you have some options. And at this year’s International Motorcycle Show in Chicago, I got a chance to test one of them: the 2022 Yamaha YZF-R7.

2022 Yamaha YZF-R7: an entry-level sportbike with MT-07 power and R3-like goals

The front 3/4 view of a blue-and-black 2022 Yamaha YZF-R7 in front of another R7
2022 Yamaha YZF-R7 front 3/4 view | Matthew Skwarczek, MotorBiscuit
Spec2022 Yamaha YZF-R7
Engine689cc liquid-cooled parallel-twin
Rear-wheel power67 hp (Cycle World dyno)
Rear-wheel torque46 lb-ft (Cycle World dyno)
TransmissionSix-speed with slipper-assist clutch
Front suspension and travelFully-adjustable KYB inverted fork, 5.1”
Rear suspension and travelFully-adjustable KYB monoshock, 5.1”
Seat height32.9”
Curb weight414 lb

If the 2022 Yamaha YZF-R7’s name sounds familiar, there’s a good reason for that. In 1999, Yamaha released the original R7 as a World Superbike Championship homologation special. While that bike’s name returns on this 2022 sportbike, the new motorcycle is noticeably less extreme. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Instead of the original R7’s inline-four engine, the 2022 Yamaha YZF-R7 has the same engine as the MT-07. However, it’s not just an MT-07 with a fairing. Unlike the MT-07, the 2022 R7 has a slipper-assist clutch and offers an optional upshift-only quickshifter. The sportbike also sports clip-on bars, different suspension geometry, and a stiffer chassis. And it’s only eight pounds heavier than the MT-07. Plus, it has a unique LCD dash, complete with a fuel gauge and gear indicator.

Although the 2022 Yamaha YZF-R7 borrows the R7 name, it’s not intended to be that bike’s follow-up. It’s also not quite a replacement for the four-cylinder R6, now a track-only motorcycle, though it slots into Yamaha’s lineup similarly. No, the 2022 R7 is more of a competitor to the Aprilia RS 660 and Kawasaki Ninja 650, Motorcyclist explains. These bikes can be great fun on a racetrack, but they’re also supposed to be approachable everyday commuters. That’s why, compared to the R6 and R1, the Yamaha YZF-R7 has more forgiving ergonomics, comfier suspension, and a thicker seat, Motorcyclist reports.

But that’s just the intent. How well does it translate to the street?

I rode my first sportbike at IMS Chicago 2021: the 2022 Yamaha YZF-R7

A low-angle rear 3/4 view of a blue-and-black 2022 Yamaha YZF-R7 behind a line of other bikes
2022 Yamaha YZF-R7 rear 3/4 low-angle view | Matthew Skwarczek, MotorBiscuit

Earlier, I implied that a middleweight like the 2022 Yamaha YZF-R7 could be good for riders with some saddle time, just not on a sportbike. I’m one of those riders. Although my personal bike, a 2012 Triumph Street Triple R, is based on a sportbike, it’s technically a standard. I’ve ridden plenty of cruisers and standards, but never a sportbike.

So, when I attended IMS Outdoors Chicago 2021, I wanted to give the segment a try. And because the mechanically similar MT-07 is highly praised, I decided to ride the YZF-R7. Although the ride wasn’t long—maybe 20-30 minutes—it took me and the rest of the demo group around several miles of sweeping and straight countryside roads. And I had a blast on the R7.

What’s it like to ride?

Being a sportbike, the Yamaha YZF-R7 has you leaning forward, weight on the bars, with your feet set rearward. But while there was some wrist pressure, I never felt cramped or uncomfortable. And even over railroad crossings, the ride wasn’t punishing or overly stiff. The R7 isn’t a highway machine by any means, but it should be great around town or on brief freeway trips. Also, that wrist pressure? It disappears when you adopt the ‘laying on the tank’ position.

Speaking of the position, the 2022 Yamaha YZF-R7 makes countersteering and shifting your weight a breeze. Although it’s just five pounds lighter than the R6, its parallel-twin engine means it’s noticeably narrower, Motorcyclist notes. As a result, it feels light and nimble, easy to steer and position. It’s a little scalpel of a bike and makes picking riding lines a dawdle.

Motorcyclist, Cycle World, and RideApart noted that the non-switchable ABS could be annoying during extreme track sessions. But out on the street, I noticed no such issues. The brakes themselves are strong: you really can stop this bike with two fingers. The brake pedal and lever are also easy to modulate and offer plenty of feedback. Ditto the 2022 Yamaha YZF-R7’s clutch lever. And the shifter is super slick.

As for the engine, it’s decently torquey at low RPMs, but it really wakes up once you let it rev. That’s a boon in stop-and-go traffic and for newer riders. It’s powerful enough to have fun, but not so much that you use it as a crutch. Combined with the chassis and suspension, “it makes an excellent platform for learning,” RideApart says. And if you do let the RPMs climb, the exhaust takes on a raspy, sharp-edged note befitting a sportbike.

Is it really a beginner sportbike?

The 2022 Yamaha YZF-R7 starts at $8,999. That’s $1300 more than the 2021 MT-07, but the naked bike doesn’t have a slipper clutch or adjustable, inverted fork. And Yamaha doesn’t offer such accessories for the MT-07.

Still, while the 2022 Yamaha R7 is an approachable sportbike, is it really meant for a beginner? Well, it depends. The Kawasaki Ninja 400 ABS, for example, costs $3500 less, is 48 lbs lighter, and has a less-powerful 399cc liquid-cooled parallel-twin. And while it doesn’t have an adjustable inverted fork, it comes standard with a slipper clutch. For someone who’s never been on a motorcycle, it’s arguably the better beginner sportbike.

On the other hand, the 2022 YZF-R7 is close, capacity- and weight-wise, to the Suzuki SV650. And that’s one of the most commonly recommended beginner bikes. Plus, not every new rider will necessarily start out on a sportbike. Standards are common beginner choices because of their more relaxed, do-it-all designs. So, it’s not impossible for a rider to have months or years of experience before getting on a sportbike. And at that point, they’ve likely graduated from 400cc bikes to 600cc or 700cc models, or even liter bikes.

Ultimately, try before you ride. That’s one reason why IMS Outdoors, whether in Chicago or elsewhere, is worth visiting. But if you’re shopping for your first new sportbike, the 2022 Yamaha YZF-R7 should be on your list.

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