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Getting to grips with 2012 R1

2012-01-20 12:01


When it became apparent that the 2012 Yamaha R1 would be little more than the current model with traction control, several industry scribes (myself included) were disappointed that we wouldn’t be getting a new generation of the Tuning Forks’ venerable litre-class sport bike this year.

My immediate question was whether traction control would add enough to an already tractable bike to satisfy the market. Bearing in mind how competitive this end of the market is, and that the ‘big bang’ R1 is topped by all but one of its competitors in power output, I wondered about the wisdom of Yamaha’s decision – but only until I laid my hands on one for a road test.

Visible changes to the new model are few. There's the mild restyling of the front fairing, a new handlebar crown (inspired by Yamaha’s YZF-M1 race bike) and hexagonal silencer tail caps - and that's pretty much it. Yamaha says that the R1’s new silencer protectors “fit tightly around the silencers to give a more compact looking tail”, but in my opinion there is nothing compact-looking about the bazooka-like underseat silencers.


It is almost as if Yamaha deliberately underplayed the visual changes to focus attention on their six-position traction control system. If so, it is perfectly justifiable – they may have taken a while to give the R1 traction control, but they definitely got it right the first time around. The R1’s TCS is considerably less intrusive than that of the Kawasaki ZX-10R and the BMW S1000RR (although in all fairness I must say I haven’t tested the latest S1000RR yet).

2012 Yamaha R1

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In all but a few instances during the review period, I only became aware that the traction control had been activated because I could see the indicator on the instrument panel lighting up. Sensing the speed differential between the front wheel and the gear box, the TCS gradually activates when it thinks the rear wheel is slipping. How much interference you get depends on which of the six settings you have chosen, with position 1 being the lowest (least control) and 6 being the highest.

Position 4 seemed best suited to my riding style, except on the few wet days during the review, in which case I would put it in its highest setting. The two highest settings also function as a basic wheelie control, but in the highest setting, the TCS will activate abruptly almost as soon as the front wheel lifts. This is the one less-than-pleasant aspect of the TCS – if you keep the throttle open, the bike lurches as if it is running out of fuel as the traction control activates and deactivates in rapid succession.


The 2012 R1 also benefits from a new remapped ECU designed to improve low to mid-range power delivery which, in the real world, equates to stronger acceleration when powering out of slow corners, and better roll-on acceleration when overtaking. Taking advantage of the six TCS settings in combination with the three-setting power mode, you can take full advantage of the bike’s near-linear torque curve by customising the power delivery to suit your own riding style.

It is a pity that Yamaha didn’t pay more attention to ducting engine heat away from the rider – like its predecessor, this bike generates a lot of heat which is only ducted away properly at speeds way in excess of the national speed limits. On a hot summer day this becomes very unpleasant; something that distracts from the otherwise enjoyable nature of the R1.

While we were hoping for a revolution, Yamaha brought us an evolution of a bike that already had a lot going for it. With the most seductive sound I have yet heard from an inline-four, a focus on usable power and now the added safety of well-implemented traction control, the 2012 R1 – although not new from the ground up – is definitely worth a closer look if you’re in the market for a superbike.

Manufacturer     Yamaha
Model:  YZF-R1
Engine: Four-stroke, forward-inclined, 998cc, inline 4-cylinder
Power: 133.9kW  at 12 500 rpm (without air induction)
Torque: 115.5Nm  at 10 000 rpm
Transmission: Constant mesh, six-speed
Fuel capacity: 18 litres
Weight: 206kg wet
Front Suspension: 43mm inverted telescopic fork with adjustable preload, compression damping, rebound damping; 120.mm wheel  travel
Rear Suspension: Single shock w/piggyback reservoir; adjustable for hi-/lo-speed compression damping, rebound damping, spring preload, 120mm wheel travel.
Price: R159 999

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