Yamaha YZF-R1
Yamaha YZF-R1

2012 Yamaha YZF-R1 – First Ride Yamaha’s liter-class superbike gets traction control.

Photos by Brian J. Nelson

You’d likely guessed it was coming before Yamaha unveiled the 2012 YZF-R1 with traction control earlier this fall. Safe bet, really. Traction control has quickly progressed beyond the apex of the race-only technology curve and is on the verge of becoming a mainstream feature we may soon take for granted on liter-class sportbikes.

I’m still in the giddy honeymoon stage with TC and once again found myself in awe of the positive psychological effects it delivers as I explored the performance capability of Yamaha’s latest YZF-R1. We attended a two-day press event staged in Indian Wells, California, that included an afternoon street ride into the local mountains followed by a full day on the 2.7-mile, 17-turn Chuckwalla Valley Raceway road course. The bike wore its stock fitment Dunlop Sportmax Qualifier II radials for the street portion, while Michelin Power One race-compound rubber provided added grip for the track test.

The list of updates to the R1 are few, consisting of minor styling changes applied to headlight position, new muffler end caps and the top triple-clamp. Revised, grippier footpegs ( woohoo! ) did keep my boots planted. The only “chassis” change—a slightly softer rear spring rate and modest preload increase—was said to improve traction, but there’s no question about the enhanced grip and control experienced when the R1’s Traction Control System is engaged.

A rocker switch located on the left handlebar allows toggling through six levels of traction control sensitivity while the familiar D-mode toggle on the right bar allows a choice of three different drive mode settings that alter throttle, fuel and ignition mapping. The D-mode maps have been further refined: A mode provides 30-percent quicker response in the first half of throttle opening compared to Standard mode, and it proved a little sharp for my liking.

But B mode’s 30-percent reduction of response throughout the entire range of throttle opening offered little appeal in the dry conditions. Standard became my standard.

Yamaha YZF-R1

The bike must be at a standstill for TCS to be toggled off, but changes to D-mode or TCS levels can be performed on-the-fly as long as the throttle is fully closed. With 21 available combinations, it wasn’t possible to try them all during our initial test rides. On the street, I settled on TCS Level 5 or 6. This and the Standard power mode allowed me to see that TCS was engaging without me pressing overly hard.

I use the word “see” because at higher settings Yamaha’s traction control truly was more of a visual experience than a tactile one: A yellow indicator light on the dash illuminates whenever TCS intervenes. Even when the light flickered, I didn’t feel the slightest hint of rear slippage at these higher TCS settings, indicating that the system was acting as a very good safety net on the street.

The following day’s track sessions provided an optimum environment for flirting with the R1’s limits. At the lowest TCS setting, there’s was a degree of rear slippage that felt consistent and controlled. Once again, the TCS indicator light proved instrumental in helping me discern when and where TCS was saving my bacon around the circuit.

The result was I quickly gained trust in the system and had the confidence to start my corner exit drive earlier than I would have imagined possible. Initial impression here is very positive, with refinement at least on par with the Kawasaki ZX-10R’s excellent system, but with the R1’s offering more adjustability.

Getting the power down sooner and more steadily is key to quicker lap times. On the street, keeping the wheels in line in all conditions is key to longevity. The latest YZF-R1 has your back on all counts.

Yamaha YZF-R1
Yamaha YZF-R1
Yamaha YZF-R1
Yamaha YZF-R1
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