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.
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!
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 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.
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.
Segueing the next day to the expansive grounds of Chuckwalla Valley Raceway in the desolate and aptly named location of Desert Center, California, saw the R1s outfitted with Michelin’s superb Power One DOT racing rubber in preparation for the track flogging. Chuckwalla’s layout is a nice combination of fast- and medium-speed corners 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.
The majority of corners at Chuckwalla are fast enough that we found the A riding mode to offer better response. The standard mode seemingly required us to grab a lot more throttle before we got the desired acceleration effect, and although the A mode demanded a very deft throttle hand in the slower corners to avoid upsetting the chassis, the tradeoff in the faster sections was more than worth the trouble. A tighter course, however, might necessitate a move to the standard mode.
The LCD dash display has a bar graph to show what level TC you’re set at (more bars equals more TC), with a yellow warning light on the dash that flashes when the TC is active. In the higher (more TC) levels such as 6, 5, and 4, it was fairly easy to activate the TC and get the light flashing; in fact, in level 6 and 5, you could get it to stay on solidly instead of flash. 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, and you could feel power 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 without any pumping or harsh movements while still driving forward. Level 2 allows a definitely perceptible increase in wheelspin that allows you to pivot the rear in faster corners, again with little sensation that the electronics are reining things in; you simply feel like you’re getting good drives off corners, with no rear suspension 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.
Providing you have the proper riding skill foundation to use it, the R1's TC can make you feel like a hero
As we’ve said before with all of the TC-equipped literbikes: the systems are not foolproof when set in the levels with less intervention. Grab a handful of throttle at max lean in a slower turn, and if you don’t immediately pick the bike up when the tire spins, the resulting gain in traction when the system finally intervenes can quickly put you on your head if you suddenly chop the throttle.
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. Provided you have the proper riding skill foundation to use it, the R1’s TC can make you feel like a hero.
There was a bit of uncertainty from Yamaha reps regarding the TC’s ability to handle different tires or changes in gearing. The BMW S 1000 RR can use different tires programmed into its Race Calibration mode, and the Aprilia RSV4 APRC has a “learning” mode that can calibrate itself to the tires mounted. However, if the R1 uses the same traction control system described in the patent we found (which is a near certainty, judging by the similarity of their inner workings), it most certainly can adapt to tire and gearing changes. Actually, adapt is probably the wrong term; “ignore” is really a more accurate description. The Yamaha system’s filtering concept that we described earlier basically makes those changes irrelevant because it eliminates that variable altogether. Without treading onto The Geek’s turf and getting into the technical aspects, in simplistic terms the R1’s TC only looks at the numbers that are important, and those numbers are relative no matter what size tire or gearing you use.
Overall handling was basically the same as the previous model, with the Michelins quickening up steering substantially; still, flicking the bike through Chuckwalla’s fast switchbacks required more muscle than usual. 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?
** When Yamaha introduced the crossplane crankshaft engine in the 2009 R1, it completely changed the way we look at inline-four powerplants and how they get that power to the ground. The concept was a truly revolutionary move that transformed the R1 and solidified its status as a major player in the literbike wars.
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. For $700 more than the previous year’s base model (plus $500 more if you want the limited production 50th Anniversary red/white paint scheme), it’s definitely worth the price of admission in our opinion.
Good enough that we can’t wait to get one for a full test and pit it against the latest crop of literbikes. Bring on 2012! SR
** **2012 Yamaha YZF-R1
** **MSRP: $13,990 (Team Yamaha blue/white, Raven); $14,190 (Pearl White/Candy Red); $14,490 (limited edition 50th Anniversary red/white)
** **Type: Liquid-cooled, transverse, DOHC inline-four
Bore x stroke: 78.0 x 52.2mm
Compression ratio: 12.7:1
Induction: **EFI w/Y-CCT, Y-CCI, 45mm throttle bodies, dual injectors/cyl.
** **Front tire: 120/70ZR-17 Dunlop Sportmax Qualifier II
Rear tire: 190/55ZR-17 Dunlop Sportmax Qualifier II
Rake/trail: 24 deg./4.0 in. (102mm)
Wheelbase: 55.7 in. (1415mm)
Seat height: 32.9 in. (836mm)
Fuel capacity: 4.8 gal. (18L)
Claimed wet weight: 454 lb. (206kg)