2012 Yamaha YZF-R1 - First Look

The electronics leader finally gets traction control.

2012 Yamaha YZF-R1 - First Look

2012 Yamaha YZF-R1 - First Look

If we had placed our money on which one of the Japanese Big Four would be first to market with an honest-to-goodness traction-control-equipped supersport, Yamaha would have been the odds-on favorite. Looking back to the 2007 YZF-R1, early clues were evident: “Is true traction control coming to repli-racers?” asked Kevin Cameron in a technical preview of that bike (“Ride Electronic,” December, 2006). “Nearly all the essential pieces are in place on the R1. Throttle-by-wire, variable intake length, plus the usual ignition and fuel controls are simply waiting for the proper code to tell them what to do.”

When the R1 received another round of major revisions three years ago, TCS (Traction Control System) wasn’t part of the equation that brought us the unique staccato firing order of Yamaha’s YZR-M1-derived crossplane crankshaft. This, along with D-mode—three levels of throttle response that can be toggled on-the-fly—offered an interim step toward the inevitable.

Yamaha unveiled the 2012 R1 to the press in August, and while there wasn’t any of the usual talk of weight reduction or increased power production, TCS and improved rideability were the topics of discussion. The engine and chassis are unchanged from the 2011 model, with the exception of knurling added to the footpeg tips and MotoGP-inspired styling applied to the redesigned top triple-clamp. The front of the fairing has been given a more aggressive look with restyled LED position lamps that cast a glow along the lower edge trim of the slimmer headlight recesses. A new muffler heat shield and end-cap design have tidied up the look of the bike’s tail.

Details regarding TCS were few. We were told the system has been developed with feedback from Yamaha’s MotoGP team and optimized so that the rider feels no unnatural or harsh intervention from the system. A TCS-labeled rocker switch located on the left handlebar allows toggling between six levels of TCS sensitivity, as well as “off.” Factor in three newly recalibrated D-mode profiles, and a combined total of 21 possible settings are offered.

Although we were not allowed to start the engine, turning on the ignition and toggling the TCS switch while observing the system’s status on the dash’s liquid-crystal display revealed a couple of things: a) The throttle must be fully closed to allow a TCS change; and b) what had previously been a useless throttle-position bar graph now shows TCS status.

Bikes are expected to begin appearing in dealerships in November with pricing starting at $13,790 for the Raven Black or Team Yamaha Blue/White paint schemes, with a Pearl White/Candy Red model priced $200 higher. There’s also a special World GP 50th Anniversary Edition in Pearl White/Rapid Red racing livery (shown) for $14,290. Of the 2000 special-edition R1s scheduled to be produced worldwide, 750 of these will come to the States, each with a numbered plaque and anniversary logo mounted atop the fuel tank along with gold (rather than silver) tuning-fork badges, which were previously reserved for Yamaha’s Grand Prix racers.

According to Motorcycle Industry Council data, the YZF-R1 has been the leading seller in the liter-class supersport category this past year. Yamaha is gaining traction, and it’s a good bet that trend will continue with this latest R1.