Is this Yamaha’s electric future?
If racing improves the breed then Yamaha’s most forward-thinking motorcycle of 2018—the Yamaha TY-E trials bike—sits at the very sharp end of technology. Is this bike shaping up our biking future?
Yamaha’s TY-E trials bike sits on a paddock stand in a small Belgian quarry looking like a Tokyo Motor Show concept machine. Showcasing Yamaha’s design and technology expertise, you’d be excused for thinking this is the sort of prototype no one ever actually rides.
However, you’d be wrong to make that assumption. In much the same way Valentino Rossi’s MotoGP bike pushes boundaries in a quest for world titles, so this highly developed prototype is built with one goal in life—to win the Trial-E world Championship.
It is hard not to be visually impressed by the saucy, blue hue swathed across the TY-E. Essentially anything you can see that is looking a rich blue color has the state-of-the-art SixONy Nano-film coating applied. That includes front and rear fenders, swingarm, steering and triple clamps, engine cases and covers.
By Jon Pearson | Photography by Future7Media
Mr. Kouichi Tsuji, Senior General Manager of Yamaha Motorsport Development Division, stands beside the TY-E at the very small press test in Comblain-au-Pont, France. Though you might be used to seeing Tsuji-san standing next to MotoGP riders on podiums or pit garages, he’s just as involved heading a strong TY-E project team behind Kenichi Kuroyama’s attack on the 2018 Trial-E World Cup.
Kuroyama, a multi-time winner of the Japanese Trials Championship, was tipped to ride the TY-E in the Trial-E Cup in March 2018. Putting his knowledge and skills as a former top rider in World Championship trials toward the TY-E’s development. As the project progressed forward so too did the aims of the team to take on the Trial-E Cup title.
At the first round in France held in July, Kuroyama clinched a brilliant win on his and the bike’s competition debut. With only two rounds counting in the championship, Kuroyama went into the final round in Belgium ranked first but with just a three-point lead. Kuroyama got off to a good start, but his 13 marks total over two laps put him in second at the end of the round by just three points leaving Ken tied on points with his main title rival.
With regulations placing priority on the final round, Kuroyama and the TY-E finished their Trial-E Cup debut campaign as the runners-up.
To Yamaha’s great credit and our surprise, that same bike is in exactly the same set-up and condition as it was when Kuroyama got off it and walked to the TrialGP podium the previous afternoon. Now it’s my turn.
Having ridden my share of e-bikes and prototypes from across the spectrum of motorcycling the truth is they don’t always work as you’d hope. The TY-E bucks that trend with progressive and responsive suspension better than most standard trials bikes and handles like a dream with its glorious hand-built, carbon-fiber monocoque frame.
Initially it’s hard not to be preoccupied with the loud whirring sound of the electric motor. It is not deliberately engineered to be as loud as it is (relative to other e-trials bikes racing the TrialGP, it is particularly audible) but it is louder than you might think until the moment when you close the throttle and hear silence.
You can stand, feet up and balanced “blipping” the throttle and have it “whizz, whizz, whizz” under you. I’m quick to adapt and it doesn’t take long to ignore the fact the sound you hear is a whine not a ring-ding of a two-stroke or a rumble of a four-stroke engine.
The next sensation you get hung up on is the immediacy of the throttle response. The throttle is pin-sharp accurate; whatever your right hand does has immediate effect with sudden drive. The more you twist it the stronger it delivers power to the back wheel but very much in a linear fashion—albeit a steep line.
How much power is there? I don’t know and Yamaha is not saying, but as far as climbing steep hills or firing up rock steps the TY-E matches a 250cc “regular” bike.
With no transmission lag or delay in what your right hand asks—because you’re dealing with an electrical cable not a conventional throttle cable—it is a case of finely tuning what your right hand asks. Again, I quickly adapt to feeling that accuracy is a huge bonus—though it is only a short test I cannot deny I got off my third and final session wanting to take the TY-E home with me.
Handcrafted, Carbon-Fiber Monocoque Frame
Aiding the TY-E’s nomination for the most extraordinary bike of 2018 award is its handcrafted, carbon fiber monocoque frame. Up close it is very much a work of art curving and changing shape from headstock down to footpeg mounts.
The dimensions and basic geometry (a 51.6-inch wheelbase for example) are based upon Yamaha’s existing trials bike, which Kuroyama campaigns in the Japanese Trials Championship. The unique and bespoke carbon fiber, monocoque frame houses the electric motor and battery with the swingarm, suspension and steering components extending in very conventional way. The hydraulic brakes have power and feel needed for this delicate sport too and come across from the machine Kuroyama rides.
The suspension, too, is set-up by Kenichi and is perhaps the most sublime element of the TY-E’s chassis. Progressive, soft in the initial stroke but firm and responsive when you needed it to be for a bigger rock step or drop off, the suspension makes the handling of the TY-E easily better than most standard trials bikes. Incredible handling is amplified by the glorious frame, and I can’t say enough about the rider feel from this chassis.
The TY-E has a conventional trick up its sleeve too: a multi-plate, hydraulic clutch. From a riding point of view, it makes all the difference in transforming this electric bike into a “proper” trials bike—if you understand the point.
Very simply it means the clutch works like you expect in any riding situation. It has feel and progression allowing you to behave like “normal.” Technically, in a trials section, you use a clutch to remove drive to the back wheel and meter the power every bit as much as the throttle—it is a crucial part of trials skill. The TY-E’s super-light hydraulic clutch allows this technique and is a remarkable feat of engineering to create an electric motor and clutch, which work to amplify the “normal” feeling of the riding experience of the TY-E. Having that tool in your armory makes the TY-E every bit the “normal” bike.
The surprise to many is that the Yamaha TY-E has no purpose in life to feed any potential production trials machine. Explaining the TY-E’s role, Tsuji-san says: “MotoGP is very important to us and takes a lot of investment to win the world championship. The TY-E has the same goal—we develop it to improve technology and win the Trial-E World Championship not to build production model.”
Mr. Tsuji’s comparison to the rather higher profile world of Yamaha’s MotoGP Race team is an important one. As a prototype machine, the TY-E can reasonably be said to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Valentino Rossi’s YZR-M1. The TY-E is in very illustrious company and you could also argue it ranks higher than Yamaha’s production-based World Superbike, Dakar, MXGP and World Enduro motorcycles because this is a pure-bred Yamaha prototype.
The question of battery life always raises its head when you speak about any electric bike—it’s unavoidable. In this case it lasted around 30 minutes on our test. That isn’t practical if you were to look at making this a production bike but, again, this isn’t the aim of the TY-E.
The high-powered lithium battery walks the fine line between size, weight and power and doesn’t aim to meet any production demands. The highly responsive motor draws from a battery inside a small trials bike frame on a bike which must weigh no less than 154 pounds for FIM rules.
If this was a MotoGP bike or even an F1 car you wouldn’t be expecting a production version of it. You would, however, expect the technology and learnings from this prototype to develop and arrive further down the line on a bike you will ride.
That is exactly what we get from Yamaha MotoGP technology in street bikes—the cross-plane crank engine being a perfect example. The TY-E is operating at that same pinnacle of a motorsport where prototypes are pushing development of technology.
This kind of battery life is not currently practical on a different dirt bike, least not to achieve the same performance Yamaha says. When will we see this technology on any bike? “I don’t know, nobody knows,” says Tsuji-san. “We do not know how long it will take to find the majority of motorcycles using battery power. We do know it will happen though, so this is why we develop this bike to progress development.”
And there’s the truth of it: this is where future Yamaha e-bikes is will develop from and if Yamaha is pushing this e-bike revolution like it says it is then we are looking at the future. The TY-E is a development prototype equally built to explore technology, take the next step in e-bikes and at the same time be a very specific tool to win a world championship. It also looks damn fine too.
What is SixONY?
SixONy is a highly resistant coating capable of withstanding up to 1292°F or -58°F temperatures. It is also salt water and acid resistant plus it improves the hardness of the base material it is applied to. SixONy gives options for colors too which is partly why this blue Yamaha looks so good in the Belgium sunlight.
Yamaha’s Trials History
Yamaha doesn’t currently produce a trials bike for the global market but it certainly has a healthy history. Yamaha TY trials bikes stretch back to the early 1970s when big names of the sport like “Magical” Mick Andrews were campaigning the twin shock models. Yamaha also produced among the most iconic of trials bikes in the ‘80s—the red-framed TY250, which was among the first off-road motorcycles to run monoshock rear suspension and in time a disc brake, too. It was a hugely successful model certainly ahead of its time.
Born Out of Hours
Yamaha’s TY-E is a prototype born out of hours by young designers developing ideas alongside their regular jobs. It is part of the philosophy at Yamaha to encourage this kind of creative exploration and that is exactly how the TY-E began life with engineers passionately exploring ideas. Once the TY-E ball was rolling it stopped being a side project and became a major occupation for a small team within the Yamaha Racing department.
The decision to make this project a trials bike to compete in the Trial-E Cup was one taken early not least because trials is the only world championship with an e-bike category at present. The nature of electric motor technology as it stands right now best lends itself to this sport, also; careful, controlled and rapid response from a torquey power unit is exactly what trials is all about.
Yamaha’s E-bike History
Yamaha is no stranger to electric-powered vehicles with over 25 years experience developing electric models for different markets. The very recent explosion of power, or pedal-assist, bicycles can be traced back to 1993 when Yamaha was leading the way developing the PAS systems.
Shortly after the Millennium, Yamaha progressed to developing e-bikes in moped form and it remains an area where they have a surprisingly strong record producing electric motors for many applications.
The keen followers of e-bikes may also recall the PED concept trail bikes and PES road race concept bikes displayed at the Tokyo Show, as well as the futuristic Motoroid.
It is on the back of this ongoing development of electric bikes that we find the TY-E standing as the most impressive and latest showcase from the Fukuroi-based manufacturer.CN