Back in the October 2011 issue, SR senior editor Andrew Trevitt wrote a superb technical article (“Advanced Traction Control”) on the increasingly rapid progress of traction control on motorcycles — via the patent applications filed by various OEMs that were unearthed from the vast labyrinth of U.S. Patent and Trademark Office archives. One of those patents was filed by engineers at Yamaha, describing a sophisticated traction control system that uses complex mathematical equations to help it control wheel slip. The fact that a bike resembling an R1 was used in many of the diagrams was pretty significant evidence that it was only a matter of time before Yamaha’s sporting flagship would soon be employing traction control.
Well, apparently we let the cat out of the bag, because that time is already here. During the tech briefing at Yamaha’s recent U.S. press launch for the 2012 YZF-R1 held in Indian Wells, California, the biggest change noted for the new model is the addition of traction control. The unique firing order of the crossplane crankshaft used in the latest generation R1 has already made a name for itself as providing superior traction feel under hard acceleration — so would the addition of traction control provide additional benefits? A day spent riding at Southern California’s newly constructed 2.7-mile, 17-turn Chuckwalla Valley Raceway (as well as a short street ride into the San Jacinto mountain range overlooking the Palm Springs valley) would surely provide the answer.
What? No lengthy acronym?
In something of a change from usual OEM practice, the traction control system on the new R1 doesn’t have an extended marketing acronym such as “Y-TCS” or the like (not that we’re complaining…). As we found in the patent application, the seven-position-adjustable system—six different levels, plus “off”—doesn’t use any lean angle sensor or gyro inputs to determine wheel slip and when/how much to intervene. Instead, the ECU uses mathematical filtering to weed out the changes in measured wheel speed brought about by the differences in tire circumference as the bike leans. With a more accurate wheel slip signal, the system is able to utilize other inputs such as rpm, speed, gear selected, throttle position, and D-Mode setting (as before, the R1 is equipped with a three-position Drive Mode that varies throttle response for different conditions or rider preference) to decide if/when/how much intervention is necessary. The absence of lean angle sensors reduces both system complexity and cost, crucial aspects in staying competitive in a still-struggling market.
The titanium mufflers and...
The titanium mufflers and heat shields have been subtly restyled, with the muffler cans featuring beveled ends and the heat shields shortened accordingly.
The R1’s front fairing has...
The R1’s front fairing has been altered slightly for a more aggressive look, with new LED position lights in the upper corners and reflector strips along the bottom edge for a distinct nighttime profile.
The three-position D-Mode...
The three-position D-Mode returns with its toggle switch on the right handlebar switchgear, but new for 2012 is the traction control that can be adjusted on the fly via the grey toggle switch on the left handlebar.
Like the Aprilia APRC and Kawasaki S-KTRC systems, the Yamaha TCS controls tire slip by a combination of throttle valve, fueling reduction, and ignition timing. The system can also be adjusted on the fly via the toggle switch on the left clip-on switchgear, although changing settings requires that the throttle be closed. Switching off the TCS requires holding the switch downward for two seconds while at a complete stop; this presumably to let the rider fully understand what he is doing, rather than possibly doing it by accident. If the ignition key is switched off, the system will automatically default to the previous traction control setting before it was turned off, again to avoid the possibility of overlooking or forgetting that the TCS is not operating.
The TCS has a wheelie control function in the two highest (most traction control) settings, but is hands-off in the four remaining levels.
But wait, there’s more!
The previous 98.1N/mm shock...
The previous 98.1N/mm shock spring was swapped for a softer 93.2N/mm spring. Plus spring preload was increased by 1.5mm to effectively make the suspension stiffer in the beginning and softer at the end.
There are a number of other detail changes with the 2012 R1 that are easily overshadowed by the traction control system, but still have a profound effect on performance. One of them is a rear shock spring rate change; by going from a 98.1N/mm spring to a softer 93.2N/mm spring rate plus an increase of 1.5mm in starting preload, the suspension is effectively stiffer in the beginning of the stroke and softer at the end. This helps to counteract a problem we’ve complained about with the R1 in varying degrees for years: the rear end tends to squat just a bit too much under acceleration, but attempts to counter it with compression damping and preload adjustments often caused problems in other areas of the track.
The two-way adjustable footpeg...
The two-way adjustable footpeg brackets return on the 2012 R1, but the footpeg knurling now extends all the way to the tip of the footpeg for better grip on the rider’s boots during aggressive riding.
The new R1 retains the two-way-adjustable footpeg brackets, with the high position located 15mm higher and 3mm rearward than the standard location. But new for 2012 is a more aggressive and expanded knurling pattern, with the pattern extending all the way to the outside tip of the footpeg. This helps keep your boots in place under racetrack-pace cornering for better control over rough pavement.
Styling changes include a sharper and more aggressive front fairing design, with new LED position lights on the outer corners of each ram-air intake nacelle utilizing reflectors that line the lower edge, creating the bracketed headlight effect that is becoming increasingly popular in the automobile industry. The muffler heat shields have been slightly reshaped, with the titanium muffler end caps also restyled with a beveled outer tip. And the top triple clamp has an M1 MotoGP-inspired milled-out look.
Front end is basically status...
Front end is basically status quo except for the fitment of OEM-spec Dunlop Sportmax Qualifier II rubber, with the six-piston caliper/310mm disc brake combination and fully adjustable Soqi 43mm inverted fork.
American-spec R1s will be shod with Dunlop Sportmax Qualifier II radials, an OEM-spec tire that is not related to Dunlop’s Sportmax Q2 sold here in the States.
The first portion of the 2012 R1 press launch involved a brief ride up the winding CA Highway 74 leading out of the Palm Springs/Indian Wells valley up into the San Jacinto mountain range. Here we found the new R1 to be just as capable as its predecessor, with nice, stable handling coupled with slightly heavy but neutral steering through the canyons. Much of the steering habits were due to the Qualifier II tires, which we’ve already sampled on a few other bikes; they provide good grip, but their steering is a little on the slow side and wear rates are a little high. The engine is basically the same overall, with the A riding mode still a little too harsh in its throttle response for the tighter corners; in standard mode, you’re able to use the flexibility of the crossplane-crank engine much more easily.
Even on the brief street ride though, there were a couple of gripes. The brakes were a little higher-effort than we’d like at street speeds, with a moderate pull required for average stops. And the same roasting of your lower thighs in traffic by the underseat exhaust was accentuated by the near-100-degree temps in Indian Wells that day, forcing us to hang our legs out in the wind to keep them from getting seared medium-rare.