Ask Jorge Lorenzo if there is one thing which the Yamaha needs to allow him to compete with the Hondas, and he will tell you it is a seamless gearbox. The system used by HRC on the Honda RC213V allows the riders to shift gear while the bike is still leaned over, without upsetting the machine. It is an important factor in the Honda’s better drive out of corners, as Dani Pedrosa, Marc Marquez, Stefan Bradl, and Alvaro Bautista can shift gear earlier and make optimum use of the rev range to accelerate harder.

That Yamaha is working on a seamless gearbox is no secret, with Yamaha’s test riders currently racking up the kilometers around tracks in Japan, testing the reliability of the maintenance-intensive system to the limit before using it in a race. Recently, however, Spanish magazine SoloMoto published an article suggesting that Yamaha has already been using its new seamless gearbox since the beginning of the season.

In evidence, the magazine pointed to an apparent difference in fuel consumption between the factory Yamahas and the satellite bike of Cal Crutchlow. While both Cal Crutchlow and Valentino Rossi made mistakes at Qatar, only Rossi was able to recover, and then battle with Marc Marquez for the podium. The theory put forward by SoloMoto was that the smoother transition between gears gave both better drive and lower fuel consumption, as the ignition is cut for a much shorter period, wasting less of the limited gasoline the MotoGP bikes are allowed.

My own enquiries to check whether Yamaha was using a seamless gearbox or not always received the same answer: no, Yamaha is not using the seamless gearbox. The reason given was simple: with Jorge Lorenzo defending his title and Valentino Rossi in the race for the championship, they simply cannot afford to have a single DNF down to a mechanical failure of the new-fangled seamless gearbox. The risks involved were just too great, especially when taking the reduction in engine allowance into account, with just five engines allowed all season, down from six in 2012.

To test this denial, I went out to the side of the track on Friday morning at Jerez to record the bikes as they went by. I sat at the exit of Turn 10, Peluqui, and recorded the bikes as they accelerated towards Turn 11. It is a spot where they change gear once, before braking briefly for Turn 11 and then powering on to Turn 12 and the final short straight and hairpin.

Once I had enough recordings, I analyzed the sound clips in Audacity, an open source audio software package, measuring the length of time the gear changes last. Given enough samples, it is a relatively simple task, as the point at which the ignition is cut is clear from the audio (see screenshots below).

I put those timings into a spreadsheet, and then averaged them, both for each rider, and for the Yamaha and the Honda as well. Below are the times I registered for Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo on the factory Yamahas, and Stefan Bradl and Marc Marquez on the Hondas. Both the LCR Honda of Bradl and Marquez’ Repsol Honda use Honda’s seamless transition.

Honda Gear Change Recording:


Yamaha Gear Change Recording:


Length of gear change, in seconds:

Rossi Lorenzo Bradl Marquez
0.043 0.038 0.008 0.012
0.042 0.032 0.008 0.006
0.038 0.031 0.007 0.014
0.043 0.007
Average 0.042 0.034 0.008 0.010

Averages for the Honda and the Yamaha:

Yamaha Honda Difference
0.038 0.009 -0.029

What is clear from the timings is that the Yamaha is still significantly slower in changing gears than the Honda. The Yamaha takes an average of around 38 milliseconds, while the Honda takes just 9 milliseconds, a difference of nearly three hundredths of a second.

These results are nearly identical to the results I found when I first checked the data at Qatar back in 2011, when it became clear that Honda was using the seamless gearbox.

So what conclusion can we draw from this data? It seems clear to me that Yamaha are not using a seamless gearbox just yet, and that Wilco Zeelenberg was telling the truth when he denied to me that Yamaha were not using it.

The data from the sound clips is almost irrefutable, as the length of time each gear change is taking is almost the same as it was two years’ ago. If I am wrong, and Yamaha are using a seamless gearbox, then it is not a particularly good one.

What is clear from both the sound recordings and standing trackside is that the electronics package has been modified to handle gear changes better. Where once  each gear change was accompanied by an enormous bang, as fuel hitting the hot exhaust exploded, that noise has been greatly reduced.

Less fuel is being wasted in those gear changes, for certain. But a new electronics package does not a seamless gearbox make. The Yamaha riders will have to wait.

Photo: © 2013 Jensen Beeler / Asphalt & Rubber – Creative Commons – Attribution 3.0

This article was originally published on MotoMatters, and is republished here on Asphalt & Rubber with permission by the author.

  • Gutterslob

    9 milliseconds?!! That’s sick!!
    Even Formula 1 gearboxes are said to take between 10-15 milliseconds, and that’s supposed to be the pinnacle of motorsport engineering.

    So when do we get one included in a Fireblade?

  • MikeD

    Haaa. . . Interesting, to say the least.

    I sure could use one of those on my MUCH MUCH MUCH slower/under powered SV1000N…since nature and evolution are not giving me those 2 extra arms i keep wishing i had every time i truly get on it to hold on for dear life.


  • MikeD

    P.S: I can’t power shift, my motor skills are only enough for “sane” riding…LMAO.

  • Dave

    F1 gear changes are mandated by the rules. They have to have several milliseconds between changes. Otherwise they would have had a F1 version of a CVT years ago.

  • MikeD

    Otherwise they would have had a F1 version of a CVT years ago.

    That made my night…ROTFLMAO.

  • Norm G.

    re: “The reason given was simple: with Jorge Lorenzo defending his title and Valentino Rossi in the race for the championship, they simply cannot afford to have a single DNF down to a mechanical failure of the new-fangled seamless gearbox. The risks involved were just too great”

    ironically, this is all the information i’ve needed to repeatedly make the call that they (yamaha) weren’t using a seamless box. no recordings, no software, and no interviews. Occam’s Razor is good for a 99% strike rate.

  • jzj

    Excellent detective work.

  • TexusTim

    I wonder if they have tried them (rossi & lorenzo) at any of the tracks this year ? maybe rossi used it in qatar that might have been a safe enough race to try it or at least on friday or saturday. you have to think in negotating a come back that subject had to come up…..”you give me one soon or I go back to honda”….lol

  • Dave

    Great to see someone backing up opinion with real data – a rare breed these days.

  • orang keren

    Honda is full of wonders

  • Boztich

    About the fuel consumption.. Valentino got the same problem this time like in 2010 when he was going to the pits after goal. He went out of fuel even this time.

  • Stevenk27

    As Dave said, it’s great to see the real data to back up the story.
    Not many journo’s out there are willing to do that, merely posting stories for the sake of posting them.

    For me I find it amazing that 29hundreths of a second can be the difference between being truly competitive or having to fight for a win, that coming from Lorenzo who is already competitive although it must be demoralizing seeing those Hondas pulling a few bike lengths out of every corner.
    Thats why I can’t stand it when people downplay Lorenzo’s achievements, just because he occassionally blitzes the opposition and wins a faultless race comfortably without having to mix it and run any risks.
    If I were the opposition I would be very afraid that Yamaha get the seamless gearbox right because then catching Lorenzo will be quite a feat.

  • New Zealand Dan

    Honda will demand changes to the rules once Yamaha have their seamless box sorted and ready.

  • Norm G.

    re: “Honda will demand changes to the rules once Yamaha have their seamless box sorted and ready.”

    more like ducati and the CPT (claiming poverty teams) will petition for the technology to be banned. it’s not plug and play, costs a mint to DIY, and this with no gaurantees of increased performance when you’re done signing the checks.

    honda is the only who could afford to make this kind of risky investment and had already began the R&D back when they were stll in F1 (geez how long ago was that?). in fact, i only give yamaha 50/50 odds they’ll even make good…? it’s not a foregone conclusion that they will. we just like to THINK they will.

    unless they’re willing (and have the ability) to come off the dime, their efforts could easily end up sitting on a dusty shelf in back storage same as ducati’s.

  • Norm G.

    ooh wait, i just realized NZ dan, honda owes you kiwis a debt of graititude. if it weren’t for you guys, their tx wouldn’t exist…! lol

  • smiler

    Now that Honda are going back into F1 then the tech transfer will be even greater? What about a 1.6 turbo F1 engine in a Pan or Gold Wing? And take the MotoGP box with them.

    Interesting article and facts at hand too.

  • wew, delay