–  2012 Yamaha YZF-R1 Review
–  By Trevor Hedge

Yamaha’s headline feature for the updated for 2012 YZF-R1 is a new traction control suite. Yamaha have already used traction on their Super Tenere adventure-touring machine but the updated R1 is the tuning fork brand’s first foray into Superbike-level traction control. And they’ve gazumped the field at their first outing with the six-stage system more intuitive and progressive than anything else on the market. It is overwhelmingly smoother than the system used by BMW’s S 1000 RR and also more efficient than Aprilia’s or Kawasaki’s latest efforts – and of course with four-cylinders rather than two, it is always going to be smoother than Ducati’s, the pioneers of road going sportsbike traction control, DTC system.

At a very wet private road circuit north of Sydney we rode the R1 in pouring rain. Not the best conditions to test the outright speed of the bike, but fantastic for getting a good feel of the traction control system.

On standard Dunlop Sportmax Qualifier II rubber and a maximum setting, the traction control was so responsive the slip was imperceptible, other than the flashing light on the dash, which also illuminates when wheelie countermeasures are deployed from the R1’s now comprehensive electronics suite. It was definitely getting a workout, with the light blipping away as the digital speedometer was showing speeds in excess of 200km/h on the straights, such was the level of constant precipitation.

Reducing the traction control to level four from the maximum of six, deactivates the anti-wheelie component of the system while enlarging the parameters of allowable slip. The difference was immediately noticeable.

At one particular part of the loop where I had found it was most easy to get some slip and wheelie happening, without requiring extra-large doses of testicular fortitude, on level six the light would flash and the slip was imperceptible before the front started lifting and the wheelie control also activated. At the same point of the circuit on level four, the back slipped ever so slightly before being reigned under control in an incredibly smooth fashion, permitting the R1 to rear its head on exit.

Such were the conditions that I only briefly experimented with the traction control at a reduced level, and that was only for scientific purposes as, in the conditions, level four was simply brilliant and was where I felt most comfortable. I revelled in the smoothly controlled rear wheel slip while also enjoying the deactivation of the wheelie control system. For those of you who are thinking well Trev, that’s because you ride like an old woman, which is somewhat correct, I should mention that 2010 FX Supersport Champion Rick Olson went out on an R1 shod with wet-weather racing tyres and only briefly went down as low as traction control level one before also settling on level four as best for the conditions. Then to back that up, two-time Isle of Man TT winner Cam Donald came in from a session on wets and also stated that he favoured level four in the conditions. So there…

In dry conditions level four will be too intrusive for most experienced riders but for riders just graduating to the ferocity of an open class sportsbike the value in the features of the system can’t be overstated. The traction control modes and three variable engine power maps are all selectable on the fly. An electronically controlled steering damper also features.

The major criticism of the YZF-R1 in recent years is that the machine is larger and heavier than the latest generation machinery compared to the competition from both Europe and Japan. While this is without doubt a drawback for riders that run in the fastest group at track days, from our previous experience with the R1 we know the appeal of the spacious cockpit and relatively relaxed ergonomics see the R1 as by far the easiest to live with of the modern day litre-bikes when it comes to real-world riding away from the racetrack.

While the traction control system is a great new feature of the R1, the highlight of the package remains the innovative cross-plane crankshaft engine. The unique firing order makes the R1 feel somewhat of a cross between the big bang approach of a twin and the smoothness of a four. The result is one of the most evocative engines in motorcycling. While it feels great on the track, it is winding on the power in the hills that the R1 engine really plays its most glorious symphony.

For outright performance the extremely heavy cross-plane crank is also the Achilles heel of the R1 for the fastest of racetrack riders who feel the weight penalty most in maximum attack mode, but I’m generally not one of those ‘A’ group riders and thus I couldn’t care less. This engine is full of character and ensures every ride has you smiling inside your helmet.

The weight of the crank can also be felt via a little more driveline lash than comparable machines which combined with the somewhat abrupt pick-up from the electronically controlled throttle does require a deft touch for any level of smoothness. But again, I don’t care and any owner would quickly adapt to the machine and forget about it in no time.

Six-piston calipers pull the R1 up well with a nice level of feel at the lever (we know this from experience as test conditions certainly didn’t let us explore the limits of braking powers). ABS has not made it onto the R1 as yet with engineers claiming the weight penalty as the primary reason for its omission. A slipper clutch does help to keep rear end under control during severe deceleration.

Since its 1998 inception the R1 has been the horniest looking Japanese sportsbike. In the years following its introduction Yamaha also steadily raised their game markedly in the quality of finish stakes to the point where a few years ago, they surpassed Honda when it came to the really fine details. The 2012 YZF-R1 has raised the game a little further with the most beautifully finished top triple-clamp putting another nice touch on what was already a very classy cockpit view; this certainly adds a little something each time you jump on the R1 and makes it feel a little special.

From the front the R1 also benefits from some additional LED lighting that looks quite trick, however, from the side angle I feel the R1 has lost a little of the flowing but angular lines of earlier generations. The protective covers on the exhaust and mufflers, the minimalist but still quite stark number plate hanger do take away from the purity of the design somewhat but that’s nothing a couple of spanners and a dremel tool can’t fix…

Joining the blue, white and grey standard editions of the R1 is a very limited-edition (20 only for Australia of a worldwide 2000 build) red-white anniversary edition of the R1 that at $21,490 command a $1500 premium over the base model. Other than the colour and a small plate on the tank there is nothing else to differentiate the models.

With the addition of the traction control system, and the recent boosts to mid-range grunt, the R1 is now a better track tool, although for hard-core trackday punters there are better options in the marketplace. For the road rider that predominantly derives their riding enjoyment from riding in the hills, the R1 is without peer in the sportsbike market due to ‘that’ engine combining with roomy ergonomics and a high level of finish to make the R1 feel a little special. And when handing out 20k of your hard earned, I reckon that counts big time.

–  2012 YZF-R1 specifications

  • Engine type – liquid-cooled, 4-stroke, DOHC, forward-inclined parallel 4-cylinder, 4-valve
  • Displacement 998cc
  • Bore x stroke 78.0 mm x 52.2 mm
  • Claimed Power – 183.4hp @ 12,500rpm
  • Claimed Torque – 115.5Nm @ 10,000rpm
  • Compression ratio 12.3 : 1
  • Lubrication system Wet sump
  • Carburettor Fuel Injection
  • Clutch Type Wet, multiple-disc coil spring
  • Ignition system TCI
  • Starter system Electric
  • Transmission system Constant Mesh, 6-speed
  • Final transmission Chain
  • Frame Aluminium Deltabox
  • Front suspension Upside-down telescopic fork, Ø 43 mm
  • Front travel 120 mm
  • Caster Angle 24º
  • Trail 102 mm
  • Rear suspension Swingarm
  • Rear Travel 120 mm
  • Front brake Dual Discs, Ø 310 mm
  • Rear brake Single Disc, Ø 220 mm
  • Front tyre 120/70 ZR17M/C (58W)
  • Rear tyre 190/55 ZR17M/C (75W)
  • Overall length 2070 mm
  • Overall width 715 mm
  • Overall height 1130 mm
  • Seat height 835 mm
  • Wheel base 1415 mm
  • Min ground clearance 135 mm
  • Wet weight (no fuel) 188 kg (206kg with full tank)
  • Fuel tank capacity 18 litres
  • Oil tank capacity 3.7 litres
  • Colours Matt Grey; 50th Anniversary White; Yamaha Blue, Competition White
  • Warranty 24 months, unlimited kms, parts and labour
  • RRP (inc GST) $19,999 Std; $21,499 WGP 50th Edition
  • On sale December 2011

–  Positives
+ Wonderfully charismatic but still smooth engine
+ Great traction control system
+ Finish

–  Negatives
- A little bulky (for some)
- No ABS

– Yamaha YZF-R1 2012 Multimedia – Detail Images – Wallpaper Images – Video – Yamaha R1 Wallpaper Archive

Changes