Wednesday, August 05, 2009

2WD Yamaha R1: Riding impression


This is the only 2WD Yamaha R1 in existence and MCN's Trevor Franklin managed to snag a ride on the machine! And he came away suitably impressed, too

Pics: Motorcycle-USA

Much has been said and written on two-wheel-drive (2WD) on motorcycles. Of course, since 2WD motorcycles are about as common as one-wheel-drive cars, few have ridden or even seen one. And yet, a lot of people – including us – are quite fascinated with the idea of a 2WD sportsbike.

Back in March this year, Mark Gardiner managed to speak to Lars Jansson, who headed R&D work on Yamaha’s 2WD prototype R1, which was fitted with Ohlins’ 2-Trac system. We carried some excerpts from that conversation here. Now, MCN’s Trevor Franklin has actually ridden the 2WD R1, which is the only one of its kind in existence, at the Karlskoga circuit in Sweden. Here are some excerpts from what he has to say about the machine:

Although not leaning like a racer looking for a podium, I consider the angle of lean to be enough, with a handful of throttle, to feel the rear squirm. There’s a slight sensation of the front wheel trying to pick itself upright. And the bike as a whole appears to tighten up, become immediately stable with the loose, floaty feel from the headstock replaced with a tauter feel. At the same time, the bike pulls without fuss.

The slight front wheel twitch, for want of a better word, is like a signal to try harder. This ‘twitch’ fades to nothing as the pace picks up and dry lines appear. With a touch more circuit knowledge the R1 can now be used in anger. Brakes, throttle, suspension, tires… are all provoked. Strange but true, the bike makes me feel a lot more confident.

Chasing down the rider in front leads to bravery. Braking far too late, I peel in on the brakes and where I should have my left knee over the kerbing, I’m about six feet off line. Running wide it looks like the R1 is going to go grass cutting as I exit too fast towards the outside of the track where it is sopping wet. As I start to steer the bike tighter, I immediately get the gut-wrenching sensation the front is about to wash out. I nail the throttle in the hope the bike will straighten up and take to the grass for a softer fall. Then something magical happens: the bike smoothes out and literally drives (or pulls?) me around the outside of the track. Now what’s this all about? Has 2WD really saved my overweight carcass?

It’s the same story for the next two laps. Where the track is damp the bike instils enough confidence to open the throttle a lot more savagely than I would ever normally do. And more lean, way too much lean, does show the 2WD system isn’t infallible as the rear eventually breaks traction enough to cause a wide slide and out of seat experience. It’s more luck, than anything, the bike doesn’t go down.

The bike inspires enough confidence to open the throttle earlier and harder. And even though the rear end can be felt moving around, squirming and slipping in protest, the front of bike remains perfectly stable when it should be unsettled around the headstock. Bizarre. The bike feels different – with a strange taut, alert feeling to the front wheel, almost as if it’s electrified.

The effect is simply to make the bike feel as if it’s doing more of the road-reading and corner-assessing for you. Instead of tipping the bike in on damp corners and feeling (in my case hoping) for grip before driving through and trying again a bit faster next time, it’s as if the front wheel has scouted out ahead already and is telegraphing the message back that everything’s okay – come on, gas it.

Ok, as a cynic of anything that’s claimed to aid safety, I’m very, very impressed with the Ohlins 2WD system. As an aid to rider safety it is a perfectly executed plan. It surely won’t detract from our road riding pleasure and, as tested briefly by yours truly, will help in situations where you’d think the inevitable will happen. But like ABS and traction control, it is not going to save everyone in every situation – even these aids will see you on your arse if you ride outside their set parameters.

Now, the best part is, 2WD on motorcycles may still happen someday, perhaps even in the near future. According to those involved with the project at Ohlins, Yamaha may still consider fitting 2WD on the R1 [and, we suppose, other bikes…] in the next year or three. A 170kg, 200bhp YZF-R1 with 2WD? YES, PLEASE!!!

For the full story, visit Motorcycle-USA here


A video of the 2WD Yamaha R1 being test ridden by the guys at MCN

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