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words - Martin Child
A mid-life update for one of the best looking of the Japanese 1000cc sports bikes, which includes the adoption of traction control. But does it help on a wet track?

At first glance, Yamaha’s race-wining YZF-R1 superbike has received little more than a funky new ‘face’ and fresh paint for its 2012 mid-life update. But, just like true beauty, there’s more going on under the skin of this two-wheeled rocketship.

Yamaha has decided that traction control will be its trump card for the R1, and that’s a very sexy-sounding addition to any superbike.

So on arrival at the awesome test location just north of Sydney, you’d think that a day in the saddle would answer any questions that the “So what does that actually do to the bike?” brigade might have. Mix in rain of biblical proportions and how hard can the job of testing be?

As cool as the words are, traction control (TCS) on a bike is initially disappointing. It’s not like having an extra 50hp that can be felt every ride. The truth is that TCS is like buying extra insurance, rather than a performance gain and, until you ride at full race pace, will remain that way.

For the launch and corresponding abysmal weather, we’ve four bikes to try and keep out of the greenery. Two on standard road tyres, two on full wets. Then one of each of those has a tooth-smaller front sprocket to liven up acceleration. Like we need that…

The problem with TCS has nothing to do with Yamaha or the R1, but with the rider. Me. For the quarter of a century that I’ve been riding, racing, testing and stunting on bikes, my natural safety net has been my right wrist and eyes. What I see before me dictates the actions of my hand on the throttle. And the lake I see before me isn’t saying so much speed as survival. Trying to break traction on a wet corner is like asking you to jump off a moving bike.

Yamaha’s TC is a six-way adjustable system, working off both front and rear wheel sensors, with the level of activation controlled by the rider from the handlebar switch. You’ll have to chop the throttle to move between modes, but it’s a proper on-the-fly-system. So far, so good.

The upper settings (fifth and sixth) are effectively wheel-control, being the most sensitive trigger for the TCS, so I venture out with these on the road-tyred bike. With low temperatures and standing water on the apex of many bends, I’m trying to override 25 years of learning in a few sessions. When the TCS cuts in, an orange light on the dash flashes so you know it’s alive.

On the straights and under hard acceleration, the front rises slightly, light flashes and the wheel gently falls back to the tarmac with a barely noticeable softening of the power. Yup, there’s no abrupt cut in power, just a gradual ‘doughing’ of the horses. So that’s take-off mastered, then.

The bends, however, are a completely different kettle of wet fish. With so much standing water and the ambo cocooned in his van and looking unlikely to be impressed if he has to give up the warmth and comfort of his tea and biscuits, I’m in some sort of biking purgatory. The speed I need to get the back wheel to break traction (and hence activate the TCS) on the exit of the corner is faster than the conditions (both of the track’s and my own mind) are allowing me to enter the bend.

The drainage is natural and there’s a real risk of losing the front long after the apex, due to the torrents flowing across the whole corner. Over all my years riding, the mantra has been find a smooth flow on a wet track (and we have more than enough of those in the UK), not a ham-fisted attempt at a certain lowside and pain unless an electronic system cuts in and saves my sorry (and very sodden) ass.

If all that sounds like a cop-out, then be it. But you only have to watch Moto2 to see how fast (and with a lack of notice) bikes fall over in the wet. As Irish as it sounds, TCS is more of an aid in the dry and at higher speeds.

To assist the TCS, the 2012 R1 gets a resprung, softer rear shock and four-hole injectors that claim to improve low- and mid-range response (the 2011 model had 12).

The headlight cowl gets sharper and the light units get LED ‘eyebrows’, which either elevate you to the status of high-end Audi driver or ‘$10-off-eBay’ try hard. Your choice.

And to stand out even more, there are 2000 limited-edition 50th anniversary models that will be launched worldwide. Just 20 of these red and white collector models are coming to Australia, so get your $1500 premium over the $20K standard bike’s price ready and head to your local dealer. He’ll take it from there…

So a very wet introduction to the 2012 R1. In the right circumstances, the TCS will make you go faster (racetrack) or ride safer (road). The Bikesales Network will put that theory to the test on a (hopefully) dry 1000cc sports bike shootout in the New Year. Then we’ll answer those TCS questions for sure.

SPECS: 2012 Yamaha YZF-R1

Type: Liquid-cooled, four-stroke, DOHC, forward-inclined 16-valve four-cylinder
Capacity: 998cc
Bore x stroke: 78.0mm x 52.2mm
Compression ratio: 12:3.1
Fuel system: Electronic fuel injection
Emissions: Euro 3
Claimed maximum power: 179.6hp (133.9kW) at 12,500rpm (crank)
Claimed maximum torque: 98.4Nm at 5800

Type: Six speed
Final drive: Chain
Clutch: Wet


Frame type: Aluminium Deltabox
Front suspension: Upside-down 43mm telescopic forks, fully adjustable, 120mm travel
Rear suspension: Monoshock, fully adjustable, 120mm travel
Front brakes: 320mm discs with radial four-piston calipers
Rear brake: 220mm disc with twin-piston caliper
Wheels: Spoked -- front 3.5 x 17, rear 6.0 x 17
Tyres: Front 120/70-17, rear 190/55-17


Rake: 24 degrees
Trail: 102mm
Claimed kerb weight: 206kg
Seat height: 835mm
Wheelbase: 1415mm
Fuel capacity: 18 litres


Price: $19,999 ($21,499 WGP 50th Edition)
Colours: Matt Grey; 50th Anniversary White; Yamaha Blue, Competition White
Test bike supplied by: Yamaha Motor Australia,
Warranty: 24 months, unlimited kilometres

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Published : Thursday, 1 December 2011
In most cases, the Carsales Network attends new vehicle launches at the invitation and expense of vehicle manufacturers and/or distributors.

Editorial prices shown are a "price guide" only, based on information provided to us by the manufacturer. Pricing current at the time of writing editorial. Pricing prior to editorial dated 25 May 2009 may refer to RRP. Due to Clarity on Pricing legislation, RRP for those editorials now means "price guide". When purchasing a bike, always confirm the single figure price with the seller of an actual motorbike or accessory. Click here for further information about our Terms & Conditions.