The 2012 Yamaha YZF-R1 is unique amongst the Japanese Inline Four sportbikes. Its MotoGP
-derived crossplane crankshaft and uneven firing order offers a power delivery and feel that is truly one of a kind, and then of course there is the wonderful exhaust note. There is no mistaking the howl of a late model R1. For 2012, the R1 gets a subtle, almost unnoticeable styling update, but as the say goes, "the Devil is in the details." The big news is the addition of traction control. Will a TC system on the Tuning Fork Superbike up its game on the street?
Throw a leg over the Yamaha
and you are greeted with a large comfortable seat and an easy reach to the bars. The seat to footpeg relationship is compact, but not uncomfortable or restricting in any way. Not only does the R1 look large from the rider’s perch, but the wide fuel tank and aforementioned seat make it feel larger than the rest of field. A direct effect is refelected in the low marks it received in the subjective comfort and rider interface categories. It should be noted that these subjective comparisons are a matter of perspective, saying any of these bikes are large is like calling a supermodel fat. Sometimes we get jaded by the unequaled access we have to the lightest, the smallest and the best. Either way we must qualify the dimensions in relation to each other.
“The R1 felt the widest and heaviest out of the bunch,” confirms 6'1" Ernie Vigil. “And this made for a little tougher maneuvering at low speeds.”
Ernie’s sense of weight was spot on as the R1 tipped the MotoUSA scales over 20 pounds more than the next heaviest
The 2012 Yamaha YZF-R1 feels the largest out of the group, but that leaves plenty of room to be comfortable.
machine at 478 pounds with a full tank of fuel. Compound that mass with the one of the lowest power outputs of the group at 149.91 horsepower and 75.08 lb-ft of torque and you get acceleration numbers that are just a step of the pace. The best 0-60 time the Yamaha could muster was 3.996 seconds on our real-world and less-than-perfect test strip. By the time it reached the quarter-mile mark at 139.5 mph, 11.33 seconds had passed. That is only a half-second off the top mark set by the nuclear-powered BMW.
The spacious feel also cuts into the handling scores as it takes a little more effort to get the YZF-R1 to turn-in and change directions than many of the other bikes. Once in the corner the handling has been improved with a more progressive rear shock spring that is stiffer initially and softer at the end of the stroke, which helps it soak up rougher sections of pavement. Previous generation R1's moved around and squirmed when pushed hard in the corners, but now it has a more planted feel, but not all our testers felt it was completely rock solid.
“I found the R1 smooth with an excellent center of gravity, but a bit unpredictable in the low end and slightly twitchy when it was pushed,” says our lady stunter Leah Petersen.
Twisting the right grip rewards the rider with one of the coolest exhaust notes in the biz, and it accomplishes the task with an eco-friendly level of sound. The R1 took top honors as the quietest bike in the test, ahead of the stealthy Ninja and unlike the ZX or CBR, still manages to maintain some charisma along the way. It is the low and mid-range power where it falls short in comparison to the top performers in the engine categories. At the upper rev ranges the R1 really wakes up and comes on strong, but on the street, power from down low is more useful.
“The motor is nice but for some reason it was a little tricky to learn,” says Ernie. “The power up top is insane but the low-midrange didn’t do it for me. I found it to be a little finicky in that area.”
Launching the R1 off the line is a more of a chore than some of the other machines due to a tall first gear that requires a fair
The crossplane crank of the Yamaha YZF-R1 puts the power to the pavement effectively.
amount of slippage from the clutch. During a bout of stoplight-to-stoplight hooligan blasts the clutch faded as a result of those aggressive launches. Once underway, however, the transmission shifts smoothly and precisely without a missed shifts from any of our testers.
Considering the user-friendly engine performance of the Yamaha, we were surprised to find the R1 was near the back of the pack concerning fuel economy with 27.34 mpg. That gives a range of 131.2 miles out of the 4.8-gallon tank. It could have been our overzealous application of the throttle in order to hear that super sweet exhaust growl, but we did ride all of the machines the same way at the same time on the same roads.
With such a tractable character of the crossplane engine, the addition of TC on the R1 is not as big of a game-changer on the street as you might think. When selecting higher levels via the rocker switch on the left handle, the traction control system has a noticeable effect and does allow the rider to be completely ham-fisted with the application of throttle. However even at the lowest level available, the way the power is put to the pavement by the crossplane crank and uneven firing order makes the TC system seem almost redundant for a skilled rider on the street. On the track or in a heavy downpour this will be a different story, and it’s an absolute confidence booster knowing it is there to save you if needed.
“The R1’s TC works pretty good on the street. The thing about it though is since the powerband is so smooth and the fact that it doesn’t pump out quite as much power as the other bikes it really doesn’t even need it on the street,” muses our Road
Despite the addition of traction control the 2012 Yamaha YZF-R1 finshed at the back of the pack this year.
Test Editor and Superbike Sicko Adam Waheed. “Still it’s a cool feature for sure – I just wish Yamaha would have spent some of its R&D might on increasing power output or cutting weight.”
Squeezing the binders on the Yamaha rewards the user with an impressive amount of power from the Sumimoto front calipers clamping down on 310mm front discs. While the power is there, the feel and initial bite just couldn’t match the Brembo monobloc offerings from the Suzuki, Ducati, BMW and KTM. Braking distance on our dusty and true to life skid pad was a long 134.1 feet.
Instrumentation of the R1 ranked near the bottom of our rider's scorecards as well, although all the pertinent information is laid out logically with a large analog tach front and center. The LCD panel that displays the speed, TC and power settings is beginning to look dated with its simple graphics. Several of our testing crew appreciated the visibility of the shift light.
In a hotly contested shootout such as this just being a half step off you your game can put you behind, and this was the case with the R1. In the real world where every single trait of a superbike isn’t put under our testing microscope, the $13,990 Yamaha R1 is an excellent machine that we would enjoy every day of the week. But as it sits in the heat of the battle the R1 has slipped to last place in our Superbike Smackdown IX Street. It's fortunes may change when we head to the track for our first ever modified Superbike Smackdown as it is the reigning AMA Superbike Champ.