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Old 01-27-2016, 05:30 PM   #1
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A Flash of Brilliance | Yamaha YZF-R1 Project

sri1115 ecu 1  008 logo?itokUYbHUIJB Drew Ruiz

2015 Yamaha YZF-R1

Five minutes. Five minutes is about all it took to get the first 2015 Yamaha YZF-R1 testbike to show up at Sport Rider headquarters into the shop, apart, and up on the dyno. This is the most highly anticipated motorcycle of 2015, and naturally we were eager to see what kind of numbers it would churn out. Then those numbers came in and we were, well, let’s just say slightly less excited. Yamaha admits it wasn’t aiming for a big power number from the new R1, but that was little consolation when the screen popped up with numbers ranging from 164 to 170 hp. Next up was the, with 180 hp.

Things only got worse for the R1 when we took off for our first street ride and caught on to the bike’s overly abrupt fueling in power mode 1, which soon relegated us to power mode 2, where we’d remain for the majority of our time on the bike. If you’ve read the previous issue of Sport Rider, then you know that the R1 would go on to win our 2015 literbike comparison test by way of a more confidence-inspiring chassis and superior electronic rider aid package. But that doesn’t mean the bike was without fault.And so we turned to the guys at FT ECU (, who claimed to have a cure in the form of a re-flashed ECU for the bike, starting at just $200—not to mention a quickshifter with auto-blip downshift function that would put the R1 on par with the BMW S 1000 RR and Ducati 1299 Panigale S in terms of shifting aids.What would an otherwise-bone-stock R1 do with the addition of only a flash for the ECU and updated shifter? We couldn’t wait to find out.

r1 reflash dyno?itokkcRXJujI Sport Rider

Extending the R1’s rev limiter by 250 rpm provides a noticeable jump in horsepower up top. The curves might look the same, but the manner in which the power is put down is different.

Been There, Done That?

We’ve worked with the guys at FT ECU once before, that time when we were looking to extract a little more performance out of a YZF-R6 testbike and to also familiarize ourselves with re-flashed ECUs, a relatively new method for tuning sportbikes. FT ECU’s update for the R6 ECU included a new throttle-by-wire map, updated engine-braking maps, and revised settings for other street-tailored strategies, changes that you’d expect to see duplicated and detailed in the following pages, right?

Right and wrong, says Chris Gardell, the man responsible for FT ECU’s bigger, better electronic strategies. “With the R6 we’re trying to do away with some of the factory restrictions and to actually give the rider full throttle, whereas with a literbike the goal is make it easier for the rider to put the power down. On a bike like the R1 it’s more a matter of rideability, so we have to look differently at the ECU and at the changes we want to make. Essentially, with ECU updates, what we’re doing is looking at each bike’s weaknesses and tuning that out.”

sri1115 ecu 2  logo?itokFMMnEytd Drew Ruiz

Chris Gardell of FT ECU updates then installs the new R1 tune using the company’s workbench kit ($450). For $200, you can send an ECU in, have it flashed, and sent back to you.

Most of the “looking at the bike’s weaknesses” is done at the track, with Gardell going to each of the 2015 MotoAmerica races and working with race teams to fine-tune the settings for the re-flash for Yamaha’s R1. “Almost every team racing an R1 in the Superstock 1000 class is on our stuff, so we’re able to develop the ECU that way and hear from the racers what’s working and what still needs work,” he says. FT ECU develops a system on Sunday and makes the updates available to you on Monday. Okay, Tuesday—there’s that whole flying home thing.

Interestingly, the feedback from the Superstock 1000 racers has mirrored the feedback from almost everyone else with seat time on the 2015 R1. “The biggest thing was with the throttle abruptness. Initially, a lot of the top guys were saying that the off/on throttle transition was just too abrupt, so that’s the thing we started working on first,” Gardell admits. Multiple test days and hundreds of hours at the computer later, Gardell has emerged with an ECU for the general public that’s headlined by updated fuel maps, revised ignition maps, new settings for the throttle-by-wire system, an elevated rev limiter, new fan temps, removed top-speed limiter, and more.

sri1115 ecu 4 logo?itok1armOewo Drew Ruiz

FT ECU’s push and pull sensors replace the stock Yamaha shift sensor to provide clutchless (and absolutely faultless) upshifts and downshifts. Installing the unit is as simple as connecting the sensors and running a single wire back to the ECU plug.

FT ECU has various packages for its re-flash, and the one that’s right for you depends entirely on two things: what you’re willing to pay and how much you enjoy tinkering. You can, for $200, send your ECU in to the FT ECU headquarters or an FT ECU-supported dealer and have it flashed then sent back. No laptop, cables, or garage time required (well, very little at least, as you’ll still need to remove and reinstall the ECU yourself). The second option, a bike harness, costs $380 and requires you to replace a plug on the ECU, plus tap a few wires into the ECU, while a $450 workbench kit enables you to take the ECU out of the bike and re-flash it on, you guessed it, your workbench. The latter two kits enable you to connect your ECU to your computer and continually update the tune (the bike kit while the ECU is still on the bike), whereas sending the ECU in means you do not have the harness for continued updates at home or the track.

What kind of tinkering can you do with your computer? Enough to completely transform your bike’s personality, really. An Unrestricted Tune (standard re-flash) built by Gardell can be ran as is, or adjusted by you, with optional fuel mapping per cylinder, ignition mapping per cylinder, throttle-by-wire adjustment by gear and mode, rev-limiter adjustment, the option to disable closed-loop fueling, the option to enable or disable the injector decel cut (important for on/off throttle transition), and more. Moreover, FT ECU offers up multiple Graves Motorsports Tunes, one with ECU settings designed for use with a Graves full-system exhaust, one for a three-quarter exhaust, and one for a slip-on. These tunes have limited mapping access (you can’t actually see the map), but you can still change the fan temp, disable the steering damper, change the rpm setting at which the throttle bodies’ variable stacks move, and enable dyno mode (wheel-speed sensors on the R1 cause fault codes on the dyno).

sri1115 ecu 5 logo 0?itok9DC8i1mg Drew Ruiz

Yamaha did everyone a favor by mounting the R1’s ECU behind just one small fairing on the left-hand side of the bike. Gaining access to the ECU and removing it takes no more than a minute or two.

We ultimately went with the $450 workbench kit since the R1 ECU—tucked behind a panel on the left-hand side of the bike—is so easy to remove that it’s no problem to pull it out every time you want to re-flash the unit. This kit also keeps you from having to mess with wires, pins, heat shrink, etc., as the bike kit does. Admittedly, we’d still recommend the $200 mail-in option, as Gardell’s standard flash is entirely up to snuff. The only reason we see you wanting to purchase a harness (as part of the on-bike or workbench kit) is, again, if you like to tinker or plan on changing exhausts, build an engine, or make other updates that you’d want to further update the ECU for.

In addition to the ECU re-flash, we also updated our R1 with FT ECU’s quickshifter unit, which works with the ECU to enable clutchless upshifts and downshifts. The kit, which retails for $800, installed in 20 minutes or less, requiring us to do little more than remove the stock shift sensor and replace it with the FT ECU sensors (a push and pull), plug the new sensors into the stock harness, and then replace a single pin on the ECU. Removing and reinstalling the ECU, plus installing the shifter, takes no more than 35 minutes, with an initial re-flash taking six minutes (one minute for successive re-flashes).

So what do you get for your time (40-ish minutes) and money ($1,000 with mail-in re-flash or $1,250 with workbench harness)? We rolled our R1 up on the dyno and immediately went from 170 hp at the rear wheel to 177 hp, a significant jump for the money and time that comes mostly courtesy of the extended rev limiter.

But more than that, we got a bike that was livelier at the track yet still easier to ride and, perhaps best of all, more fun to run laps on. With the re-flashed ECU, the biggest thing is that you can now actually ride the R1 in power mode 1 and not upset the chassis when you go to crack the throttle open; we tested a stock R1 alongside the re-flashed one and were immediately forced to toggle over to power mode 2 on the less-equipped bike. You also notice the power difference up top, with the standard R1 starting to sign off as you get closer to the rev limiter and the re-flashed R1 making good use of the additional 250 rpm made available by the flash. Somehow, 7 hp for $200 to $450 feels better than 7 hp for thousands of dollars.

sri1115 ecu 6 b logo 0?itokLPgDLMll Drew Ruiz

Our FT ECU re-flashed R1 is an entirely different animal at the track, with smoother off/on throttle but also more power up top. For the money, we can’t think of any other performance upgrades that would offer like benefits.

But Wait, There’s More

If the shifter on the 2015 BMW S 1000 RR and Ducati 1299 Panigale scored a seven and eight respectively on a 1–10 scale, then the FT ECU shifter comes in at an 11. At the track, you can make downshifts as fast as you’d like, plus there’s a positive feel between gears that guarantees you’ve made the shift, a reassuring feeling you’re oft missing on the BMW. Shifts are smoother than on the Ducati, and blips of the throttle don’t upset the chassis at corner entry. What this does is free up some space in your brain and allow you to focus more on your braking markers and your turn-in reference points. With the R1, instead of thinking, “Clutch, throttle blip, foot,” we were now thinking, “Okay, shifts are done, now focus on braking a little harder.” Ultimately, the ability to concentrate on better braking habits will lead to quicker laps. “Yeah, that’s what we think a good auto-blip shifter should do, is help you cut lap times. And we think that’s what ours does,” Gardell reiterates.

He goes on to mention that these updates are mostly possible thanks in part to Yamaha’s push for better components from the factory. “With the 2015 R1, Yamaha went to a single processor, instead of two as there was before, which caused a communication delay. The 2015 model uses a single, higher-capacity chip to run both fuel injection and electronic throttle valve, making auto-blip signaling much more straightforward. And then with the transmission, they’re using a potentiometer-style gear position sensor, so that allows us to base the timing of our events not only on pedal pressure but more importantly on the internal movement of the transmission. Before, there was a series of contacts—one for each gear—with different resistance values in it, so it would feed back through an analog channel and say ‘this resistance value means that I’m in this gear.’ The problem is you can’t know if you’re between gears. With this one I can know anywhere within the rotation of the shift drum exactly where you are relative to gear position, and I can tell it ‘only activate when you are between second and third gear but not already into third gear.’ I have the ability of setting a window of where it can activate and where it can’t.”

Of course having the hardware to work with is just half the battle and the rest entirely up to Gardell and the crew at FT ECU, who have spent countless hours staring at low-level instructions (assembly code) and fine-tuning the strategies for everyone from trackday enthusiasts to racers (note, FT ECU sells a race kit with re-flash that has updated parameters for traction control, wheelie control, launch control, and slide control). The fact that they have been able to come to market with a product like this R1 ECU for as little as $200, and a shifter that is far superior to the units on the BMW or Ducati—for $800—is truly remarkable. Together, it all adds up to a much-improved R1.

Give us five minutes and I guarantee we’ll have another trackday or two booked. That’s how eager we are to use it again.

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