2012 Yamaha YZF-R1 First Ride

MotorcycleUSA Staff | October 21, 2011

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Watch what we thought of the 2012 YZF-R1 traction control system in the 2012 Yamaha YZF-R1 First Ride Video.

When Yamaha first introduced its fly-by-wire throttle system called YCC-T (Yamaha Chip Controlled Throttle) in 2006 on the YZF-R6 and then a year later on the R1, many wondered if the system was a precursor to traction control on Team Blue’s Superbike. As the years rolled on it looked like Yamaha was more than satisfied with the power delivery of the R1, and to be honest we were too once the crossplane crankshaft engine design was put into production. The connection between the rider’s right wrist and the rear tire on the crossplane crankshaft equipped sportbike has been almost telepathic. It almost seemed that traction control would be redundant with so much throttle control available. Now for 2012, Yamaha has equipped the R1 with traction control. Is it a gimmick to keep the R1 at the top of the sales for sportbikes in 2012, or will it make a better streetbike and racer?

To find out, we were invited out to a Southern California desert hotspot known as Indian Wells to spend two days riding the 2012 YZF-R1 on the street and track. One day would take us up a section of the twisted Palms to Pines Scenic Byway and back in near triple digit heat. For the second and more anticipated day, we would move to the always popular Chuckwalla Valley Raceway. Both days would give us plenty of time and varied situations to play with the latest electronic wizardry from Yamaha.

The 50th Anniversary R1 in classic Yamaha racing livery is  14 490. Only 2000 are available worldwide.
The top triple clamp on the 2012 Yamaha YZF-R1 has been restyled but is purely cosmetic.
The 2012 Yamaha YZF-R1 traction control system has seven levels of adjustment controlled via a switch on the left clip-on.

The Tech

The list of changes to the 2012 YZF-R1 can be counted on one hand, but just one of those five changes is enough to get our attention. The all new 7-position traction control system is derived from seasons of competition in MotoGP with the YZF-M1. Utilizing wheel speed sensors and a new ECU, the TC system first detects wheel spin by calculation the difference between the rotational speed of the front and rear wheel. Once slip is detected the ECU adjusts the YCC-T, fuel injection and ignition to optimize wheel spin and forward drive. Yamaha claims that the the system will detect a loss of traction before the rider can and find the best combination of throttle opening, fuel delivery and ignition to create a very smooth and seamless power management solution. By varying the throttle opening, the system avoids a jerky or harsh feel when the power needs to be managed. The math is complicated but the system is fairly straightforward.

The seven positions of the traction control system are six increasing levels of intervention and the option to turn it off completely are controlled via a switch on the left clip-on. On the fly changes only require a closed throttle, but to turn the system off the bike must be at a stop. A bar graph at the top right of the LCD dash indicates what level is selected and a yellow light flashes when the TC kicks in. Combining those seven choices with the three levels of the D-Mode power selection gives the rider 21 settings to fine tune the ride.

Other changes to the R1 include a progressive rear shock spring that is stiffer at the first part of the stroke to improve rear traction. The end of the stroke is softer to smooth out the bumps on the freeway and rough roads. All other suspension settings have remained the same. The only other change to the suspension system is a restyled top triple clamp that is purely cosmetic.

Subtle styling changes to the front and rear round out the changes for the 2012 R1. Yamaha calls the changes to the face of the R1 new and modernized, but I would say that they are very minimal. The cowling openings have been slightly reshaped and the position lights at the outside corners are now LED units mated with a reflector that runs down the lower portion. In the rear the mufflers get a new heat shield and reshaped end caps.

The traction control system on the 2012 Yamaha YZF-R1 is more useful on the track than the street.
The rear suspension on the 2012 Yamaha YZF-R1 has a new shock spring that is stiffer initially and softer and the end of the stroke.
The 2012 Yamaha YZF-R1 is big fun on the street.
Its comfortable cockpit and fun mid-range punch makes the 2012 Yamaha YZF-R1 an excellent street machine.

The Street

Swinging a leg over the Yamaha, I was instantly reminded that the R1 is on the big size for the recent crop of superbikes. The wide front fairing makes it feel bigger than it is, and a wide seat and tank area further portray the portly feel. But on the street this really isn’t a problem. There is plenty of room to move around and the rider triangle doesn’t require frequent yoga sessions and trips to the chiropractor.

Once on the road I spent the afternoon sampling various traction control levels and modes to to find what works the best on the street, but honestly with the high stakes for failure on the mountainous road I really wasn’t pushing hard enough to cause the TC to kick in. If I put the selector at the highest level of six and really snapped the throttle hard while exiting the turns I could get the yellow light to flicker to signal I was in fact using the TC, but the exercise was so far out of my riding style I felt like an outright squid. I decided to save the TC testing for the track.

The suspension is well suited for the rigors of canyon carving and mountain shredding but was also a winner when the road straightened out and the bumps were plenty. The softer spring rate at the end of the stroke definitely smoothed the ride out, but the stiffness in the initial travel had me feeling every repaired crack and seam in the turns. Backing down the compression a bit would most likely remedy part of the stiffness, but our time on the street was limited and didn’t allow for adjustments. Overall though the stiffness increased the rear end feel in the corners, but maybe a bit too much. It’s always a trade-off with a bike that is meant to perform at such a high level on the track and be usable on the street, and the taut feel in the corners is a fair trade for the smoothness on the bumpy roads.

The only real gripe that I have about the R1 on the street is the heat. Granted the ambient temperature was approaching 100-degrees, but the amount of heat coming from the under-tail exhaust can make the back of your legs toasty if not uncomfortable.

The R1 makes a great street mount with its comfortable riding position and user-friendly power delivery. If I were to have my pick of a sportbike for a day or more of street riding the Yamaha would be at the top of my list.

The Track

Chuckwalla Valley Raceway is a gem in the desolate wasteland known as Desert Center and is one of our favorite tracks. The fairly high-speed track requires commitment and confidence to master its 17-turn, 2.7-mile long ribbon of black dropped in the sandy desert. As a second-string track rider in the MotoUSA team, I would need all the help I could get to not look a fool.

The traction control system on the 2012 Yamaha YZF-R1 can detect wheelspin before the rider can.
The 2012 Yamaha YZF-R1 is stable and confidence inspiring but requires extra effort to move it around.
Seven levels of traction control combined with three D-Mode levels give the rider 21 power and traction settings on the 2012 Yamaha YZF-R1
On the track is where the traction control of the YZF-R1 really shines. I preferred level three for Chuckwalla Valley Raceway.

As the reigning American Superbike champion, the Yamaha R1 has an excellent pedigree, and the Tuning Fork Company attributes the uneven firing order, crossplane crankshaft engine design to the the success of it’s AMA, British and World Superbike effort and well as its MotoGP victories. The engine design puts forth a mid-range grunt that spans the gap between the low-end punch of a Twin and the top-end rev of a standard Inline Four. Twisting the throttle produces one of the sweetest exhaust notes to come from igniting air and fuel while laying down supremely controllable rear wheel traction. Now with traction control the delivery has gotten even better, dare I say foolproof.

With the the excellent throttle to rear tire relationship of the R1, getting up to speed and trusting the rear end grip was easy even without traction control. I spent the first session alternating between level one and six. My skill set wouldn’t cause the traction control to do its thing until level five in the first two sessions, but it was good to get the feel of the system in action. The system works so seamlessly that the only real indication that it is functioning is the yellow light on the dash blinking.

As my pace picked up in later stints, I began to trust the system and started to open the throttle earlier and quicker while exiting corners. The yellow light flashed more often, even as I dialed the system to level four. Eventually, I settled on level three as the optimum setting for me as it only went to work in the corners where I felt supremely confident in my abilities. It is really impressive how little you notice the TC rolling back the power until you stand the bike up and sling shot out of the corner like you were held back by a rubber band. Not once did I experience any jerky or unwanted cutting of power. Really impressive, and better than I had expected.

The chassis of the R1 makes for a rock-solid, stable ride on the track, but it can feel a bit heavy in some of the slower turns. Turn-in effort required a deliberate force, but the result was always sure footed. Mid-corner stability was a bit unsettled in the faster, bumpier corners, but slowing the rear rebound two clicks sorted the problem. Once the change was made, railing the cornering and nailing the exit became easy as pie. On the brakes, the R1 was docile and settled with just a hint of squirm that let you know the rear end was light. Hard braking later into a 20-minute session revealed a slightly wooden feel to the brakes, but the power was still strong as the first lap.

The traction control system on the 2012 Yamaha YZF-R1 uses wheel sensors to detect slip and then adjusts the power accordingly.
Though the Yamaha YZF-R1 may not have needed traction control, the addition has made it an easier and more fun bike to ride.  

The Verdict

The Yamaha YZF-R1 was already one of the easiest 1000cc sportbikes to ride thanks to its solid chassis and easy to control powerplant. Before riding the 2012 model we questioned if the R1 really even needed traction control, and our opinion was not really. However, after turning more laps in one day that I have in five years on the track, without a doubt the addition of traction control has improved the R1’s power delivery. The system does exactly what Yamaha intended and promised, allowing me to get on the gas sooner, harder and with more control than ever before. And that has in turn elevated my track and street game from second-string to a position on the starting line-up. That right there is all the proof I need to show that TC on the 2012 Yamaha R1 is a good thing.

MotorcycleUSA Staff