The bike was updated in 2012 and given new and improved traction controls. Although Yamaha is no stranger to traction controls which were also featured in their Super Tenere bike, a machine which was designed specifically for adventure-touring, this updated model is Yamaha's first attempt to produce a traction control system that is suitable for Superbike level. They've succeeded here with an advanced six-stage system that is superbly intuitive compared even to the well-known market leaders. The system has the edge over the BMW's S 1000 RR model and is much smoother than the latest from Kawasaki and others. The clear advantage of having four cylinders instead of only two cylinders means it is much more fluid and smoother to run than Ducati's bikes, which use only two.
A test in very wet weather demonstrated to us how well the traction control system works. We experienced almost no slippage apart from a flashing telltale illumination light which appeared as a warning, but certainly no perceptible road slip. The expansive electronics system also comes into play when correcting wheelies, and on reducing the traction control level from six down to four this feature of the electronic system becomes deactivated, instantly making a noticeably greater field for the allowable slip.
To test out the amazing wheelie and slip control, we located a loop of the track where this was easy for us to achieve. With level six of the controls in action, the flashing light occurred, and we noticed an inconspicuous amount of slip before the front of the bike began to lift and the wheelie control took over. Performing exactly the same test at level four of the traction control system resulted in the rear of the bike slipping very slightly before coming smoothly under control, allowing the YZF-R1 to raise its head on exit. There was little need to experiment with lower levels of traction control as the ride at level four was very satisfactory for our needs and for those of most riders that we could envisage. The rear wheel slip can only be described as wonderfully and smoothly controlled. Note that although we didn't test the bike to its very limits, we've heard both Rick Olson, the 2010 FX Supersport Champion and Cameron Donald, who has twice won the Isle of Man TT, also chose to ride this bike using the level four traction control, in wet weather conditions.
What about the experience of riding the bike in better, dryer conditions? Using level four mode here may feel too meddlesome for riders who have lots of experience, but for those who are just starting out with experiencing the power of an open class sportsbike like this one, these system features may prove invaluable to them. All of the traction control levels can be accessed on the fly, as well as a selection of variable engine power maps. There is also a steering damper which has electronic controls.
So are there any real downsides to the YZF-R1 model? It's certainly bulkier and undoubtedly heavier than some of the competitors in the market which originate from Japan and Europe. For those who ride in the fastest groups on track days, this could certainly be thought of as a negative aspect of the bike. But for those of us, the majority of riders who enjoy taking their bikes out in the real world, the YZF-R1 offers riders plenty to be thankful for and to enjoy with its functional design and comfortable features.
Despite our obvious delight in the new traction control system, perhaps the best feature of the YZF-R1 is the contemporary cross-plane crankshaft engine, which gives the engine an expressive quality that both feels fantastic when riding on track and has an effortless power when riding in the open country or on hills. For racetrack enthusiasts, the heaviness of the modern cross-plane crankshaft engine can no doubt be seen as detrimental and does add unwanted weight to the bike when racing, but the majority of bike riders will derive great pleasure from the characterfulness and personality of the engine. It takes a little time to adjust to the throttle which is controlled by the electrics and needs a proficient touch in order to achieve a smooth ride, but we believe that this is something that any owner would effortlessly learn to achieve.
The YZF-R1's braking capabilities are more than adequate with its excellent six piston calipers. There is no ABS with the YZF-R1. This has been deliberately omitted from the bike by the engineers who argued that installing it would affect the weight penalty. When braking very hard, the rear of the bike is still well controlled thanks to a slipper clutch.
Since the bike launched back in 1998 the YZF-R1 has easily been the sexiest-looking of sportsbikes to come out of Japan. Paying great attention to detail, Yamaha have honed the fine details and finish of the bike to a level that surpasses even Honda. The 2012 model has a wonderfully finished top triple clamp adding to what was already a rather special cockpit view, adding a touch of class to the whole machine. The front LED lighting is beneficial and cunning, but the side view of the bike is not as fluid and seems to have lost some of the flowing lines that were visible on some of the earlier models.
We aren't too keen on the number plate hanger or the covers which protect the exhaust and the mufflers, which strike us as more bare than minimalist, but these are easily remedied with a few simple tools and so not seriously detrimental to the overall package.
A very limited edition of the YZF-R1, with only 2000 available worldwide, features a red and white anniversary model for an additional cost, but there is nothing to really separate the models and make this edition worthwhile apart from the colour and a small plaque which is attached to the tank.
For a serious track rider, there are no doubt better options available than the YZF-R1. However, taking into account the new traction control system, and an improvement in engine power, this sports bike is ideal for riders who perfer to be out in the hills and is unmatched in the market for sportsbikes. Its special qualities come from its amazing engine capabilities, great ergonomics and a superbly detailed level of finish, all of which combine to produce a rather special and charismatic bike with a smooth engine.
Let's finish with a summary of the positive and negative aspects of the YZF-R1. Clearly, the YZF-R1 has a superb engine that is both charismatic but still very smooth and an excellent traction control system which is unrivalled in its class. It also has a superb and sexy finish that is a joy to behold for any bike enthusiast. The only real downsides to the YZF-R1 are the facts that is can be considered to be a little bulky and heavy, especially for serious and experienced racetrack riders, and that there are no ABS features included in the bike's specifications.