2012 Yamaha YZF-R1 vs. 2011 Aprilia RSV4 R APRC [Video]

Microprocessors take on horsepower in this battle over traction control supremacy

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Yamaha YZF-R1 - Track

The Yamaha is the same basic machine we’ve seen since 2009. Its inline-Four architecture forces the motorcycle’s width to be more than that of the Aprilia, and as such the rest of the motorcycle feels larger, but also more spacious than the RSV4.

Now Yamaha has added wheel speed sensors, along with engine, throttle position and gear position sensors to monitor what each wheel is doing. Otherwise, the rest of the R1 is standard fare — fully adjustable suspension on both ends, 310mm rotors mated to six-piston calipers, and an otherwise capable chassis that isn’t quite as nimble as its Italian rival.

2012 Yamaha YZF-R1 vs. 2011 Aprilia RSV4 R APRC

In racing applications, traction control isn’t as simple as just preventing the rear wheel from spinning. When setting lap records and trying to go as fast as possible, slippage is a necessity and the rear wheel is often spinning at a faster rate than the front. This allows the rider to square off a corner, thereby exiting while still on the intended line, now with a higher exit speed. In street applications though, traction control’s purpose is often as simple as preventing the rear wheel from spinning faster than the front – a desirable feature when riding in slippery conditions.

On street-oriented sportbikes, however, traction control systems are suddenly tasked with both duties. To accommodate both newer riders and track junkies, the upper limits of traction control (the higher numbers) on both machines severely restrict wheelspin, whereas the lower numbers allow progressively more slippage. Of course, both systems can be turned off.

Jumping on the Yamaha for the first session of the morning, the R1 feels instantly familiar. The footpegs, in the lower of two settings, feels comfortable (for a sportbike) on the joints and the forward reach isn’t too extreme. If needed, the rearsets could be moved up and back 15mm and 3mm, respectively, customizing fit for riders of different sizes. 

On the track the R1 delivers its power in the typically predictable manner we’re used to from the crossplane crankshaft engine. Change the drive mode from Standard mode to A mode and throttle response picks up aggressively, to the point where it takes a highly-skilled rider to make the most of it. The B mode is intended for slippery conditions and on this dry day on the big track at Willow, the setting completely neutered the R1.

2012 Yamaha YZF-R1 vs. 2011 Aprilia RSV4 R APRC

In standard mode our R1 test bike managed a best of 144.6 hp compared to the 155.0 hp of the Aprilia in Track mode. Despite this deficit in power, on the track this somehow proved to be less of an issue than we imagined it would be. That’s because both machines are relatively equal to each other under 11,000 rpm, but the RSV4’s shorter gearing allows it to pull a gap in the tight portions of the track.

2012 Yamaha YZF-R1 vs. 2011 Aprilia RSV4 R APRC

In contrast to the Aprilia’s agility, the lighter weight Yamaha feels relatively lethargic when transitioning from side to side. A definite stalemate is front-end stability. Both motorcycles are rock solid when leaned over. Each machine communicates effectively to the rider what the front tire is doing, and considering we rode on a relatively cool day without tire warmers, that feedback was much appreciated.

Upon detection of slippage, the R1’s ECU performs a number of tasks, including closing the throttle butterflies via YCC-T (Yamaha Chip Controlled Throttle). If that doesn’t reduce unwanted tire spin, then limiting fuel or spark are also alternatives. The point is to make the system as seamless as possible to the rider and to promote forward propulsion,

2012 Yamaha YZF-R1 vs. 2011 Aprilia RSV4 R APRC

As reported in our first ride story, the system works as advertised, providing far less intervention in the higher settings than that of earlier TC systems we’ve tried while still propelling the rider forward as best it can. Many times the only indication the rider knows it’s working is the flashing of the indicator light in the dash. Bump the intervention level down a few notches and we built the courage to open the throttle more than ever through Willow’s infamous Turn 8, a sweeping right turn taken as fast as the rider dares. With a quick peek at the speedo, I saw speeds in excess of 150 mph upon entry. Even still, I only saw the indicator light flash for an instant, meaning my bravery ran out way before I reached the limit of the tires or the electronics.

Tom acclimated to the R1’s TC very quickly and appreciated the safety net it provided as he tried to remember the track and the bike again. “Yamaha’s new traction control takes sportbike technology to another level,” he said. “Knowing the R1’s horsepower is kept in check with traction control makes for an incredibly enjoyable trackday experience by allowing a rider to enjoy everything the R1 has to offer when accelerating out of a corner.”

Yamaha YZF-R1 — Street

2012 Yamaha YZF-R1 vs. 2011 Aprilia RSV4 R APRC

The differences between the two machines are equally prevalent on the street as they are on the track. Where the Italian machine idles quite high at 1500 rpm, the Yamaha settles about 500 - 700 revs lower, and the Yamaha’s mirrors are actually useable.

2012 Yamaha YZF-R1 vs. 2011 Aprilia RSV4 R APRC

Like at the racetrack, the Yamaha feels familiar, and quick canyon carving doesn’t take much adjustment. To be fair, the Aprilia also doesn’t take much getting used to if not having ridden anything else lately. It’s when jumping back and forth between the two that the difference is apparent. The R1’s chassis and suspension absorb road imperfections well, providing a more forgiving ride compared to the ‘Priller.

The lack of feel from the brake lever is an interesting phenomenon we’ve noticed in previous Yamaha sportbikes. There’s plenty of braking power coming from the six-pot calipers and 310mm discs, but deciding how much to modulate the lever can at times prove tricky. Also tricky is managing the R1 in the A riding mode. The abrupt power delivery requires an incredibly smooth and precise wrist. Even hitting bumps in the road is enough to jolt the wrist and cause the R1 to surge forward unintentionally. For most riding conditions, we prefer the Standard mode. 

2012 Yamaha YZF-R1 vs. 2011 Aprilia RSV4 R APRC

While dicing around Malibu’s many canyons, the R1’s traction control hardly activated, even when set to the highest setting. The conditions, while sketchy, weren’t bad enough to overcome the mechanical grip of the tires, at least according to the ECU. The tight turns of the canyons favored the Aprilia’s chassis, while the Yamaha was able to stretch its legs more and settle in to longer, flowing corners.

By now you may have noticed these two motorcycles perform rather differently despite what their outward appearance might suggest. This makes choosing a winner between them more difficult than we imagined.

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