Back in the October 2011 issue of Sport Rider, SR senior editor Andrew Trevitt wrote a superb technical article 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. As everyone basically knows by now, 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) during Yamaha’s recent U.S. press launch for the 2012 YZF-R1 held in Indian Wells, California, would surely provide the answer.
No lean angle sensors or gyro inputs
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 try and determine lean angle and thus differentiate 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. 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 new R1's traction control...
The new R1's traction control can be adjusted via the grey toggle switch on the left clip-on switchgear.
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. Also, if the ignition key is switched off, the system will automatically default to the previous traction control setting that you were in before turning the TC 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!
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 to a softer spring rate plus an increase 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: the rear end tends to squat 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 new R1 retains the two-position adjustable footpeg brackets, 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.
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.
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 a capable as its predecessor, with nice, stable handling coupled with neutral and fairly precise steering through the canyons. The standard Drive Mode works best in these environs, providing a smoother throttle response that allows you to access the Yamaha engine's excellent flexibility.
Even on the brief street ride though, there were a couple of minor 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.
Segueing the next day to the expansive grounds of Chuckwalla Valley Raceway saw the R1s outfitted with Michelin’s superb Power One DOT racing rubber. Chuckwalla’s layout is a nice combination of fast and medium speed corners (the more aggressive "A" Drive Mode worked best here) that are linked in a cadence that flows well, mostly placing a premium on rear acceleration grip—perfect for sensing just how well a traction control system is working.
In the higher (more TC) levels such as 6, 5, and 4, the power was definitely reigned in when getting on the throttle while leaned over, although not overtly enough to make it feel like you’ve lost a cylinder. The only thing you could feel was power gradually being fed back in as you picked the bike up onto the fat part of the tire.
As expected, it was in the lower TC levels where the Yamaha really shined. In level 3, the TC lets the rear end step out just a bit under hard acceleration, and it seemingly holds it there smoothly— there's no suspension pumping or any tire squirming, just a seamless and continuous drive forward. Level 2 allows a definitely perceptible increase in wheelspin that allows you pivot the rear in faster corners, again with little sensation that the electronics are reigning things in; you simply feel like you’re getting good drives off corners, with no rear end theatrics being caused by rough decreases in power to counter wheel slip. And needless to say, level 1 gives the rider a lot of freedom with wheel slip, which obviously must be handled with care (as we’ve said before with all of the TC-equipped literbikes: the systems are not idiot-proof when set in the levels with less intervention…indiscriminately grab a handful of throttle at max lean without the proper skills and you will end up on your head just as quick as without TC).
The Yamaha TC’s transparency during intervention reminded us of how the Aprilia and Kawasaki systems feel—the dialing back of power is so subtle that most riders would never know it was active.
Overall handling was basically the same as the previous model, with the Michelins quickening up steering substantially. One definite improvement was the rear suspension behavior; as expected, the rear spring rate change works with the shock linkage to help keep the rear end from squatting too much under hard acceleration, while assisting with better compliance over the bumpier sections of Chuckwalla’s pavement. The brakes seemed to work better with the higher heat generated by racetrack use, but we’d still prefer a little more progressiveness in their response. And while we love the R1’s engine characteristics and midrange pull, a fast circuit like Chuckwalla exposes its one weakness: a slight lack of top-end compared to the other literbike competition (although we’re sure a visit to ECUnleashed
would cure most of that issue).
So how much better is it?
While the new traction control system on Yamaha’s flagship doesn’t quite have as dramatic an effect on the R1 as the crossplane crank engine, it does add significantly to its performance prowess without negatively affecting the bike’s attributes in any way. When set properly for the conditions and rider skill, the Yamaha’s TC is a very transparent and subtle safety net that doesn’t overly intrude upon the riding experience, and makes a major contribution to rider safety in a variety of situations. And that makes the R1 even more appealing in our book.
MSRP for the 2012 Yamaha R1 are $13,990 (Team Yamaha blue/white, Raven Black); $14,190 (Pearl White/Candy Red); and $14,490 (limited edition 50th Anniversary red/white).
Be sure to check out the next issue of Sport Rider Magazine for a more detailed riding impression of the new R1.