Yamaha is building quite a tradition for creating sportbikes that exude style previously only associated with Italian sportbikes and the R6 is a stunning motorcycle that I have been wanting to swing a leg over for a long time now. Just one look at the Yamaha has me dreaming up ideas of what it will be capable of on the track. The R6 has always been a fairly focused tool with performance on the track at the forefront of the R6 design. If races were won by how fast a bike looks while parked on it\'s side stand the R6 would win hands down every time, it\'s sharp angles and tiny size oozing the look of speed.
For 2008 the Yamaha R6 has numerous changes starting with the Yamaha Chip Controlled Intake (YCC-I) which is the variable-length intake trumpet stack first introduced on the 2007 R1. The YCC-I is used to vary intake tract length for excellent cylinder ﬁlling and a broader powerband. On the higher-revving R6, its beneﬁts are even more pronounced than on the R1. Twin-injection fuel injection is utilized to improve fueling at high rpm and Yamaha claims there were also over 50 friction-reducing strategies used inside the engine to help increase mid-range power.
The R6 receives a new frame with thicker headpipe-headstock and swingarm pivot area walls with the removal of the frame crossmember, changes aimed at improving feedback and quick handling response. There is also a new magnesium-alloy subframe, new swingarm, revised forks and brakes and new bodywork for greater aerodynamic efficiency.
Pulling up to Yamaha for the R6 pick-up I was expecting to take delivery of the customary blue and white R6 I have become accustomed to seeing on the street as well as at the track in the hands of the Graves race team. To my surprise out rolled a bright yellow R6 with enough flames running down the bodywork to make Jesse James proud. This would prove to not be the only surprise the Yamaha would give me in our time together.
The R6 sits very high in the saddle with a fairly tight cockpit. The Yamaha is very small and had me feeling like I was all knees and elbows. While this position would surely pay dividends on the track it took some getting used to the first few miles on the street. The gauges were a fairly easy read with everything you need in easy view. The R6 does not come equipped with a gear indicator.
Fire up the R6 and you will hear a healthy growl from the motor and intake, making it sound like there is much more than 600cc\'s beneath the fairing. In fact tests have shown that just revving the new R6 causes enhanced libido, increased energy, increased production of red blood cells and if you hold it all the way to redline, may even protect against osteoporosis. Now that is an impressive sounding motorcycle! Initial throttle response is a little abrupt from on-off throttle and the clutch is slightly grabby making low speed maneuvers a little tricky. Once up to speed the motor has a strong pull and the midrange seems much improved over the previous R6. The top end is still strong as well and there is a big surge of power when you reach the upper revs. The R6 motor definitely has the most substantial hit of any of the current crop of 600\'s, there is no mistaking when the Yamaha is getting into it\'s power curve. It\'s a motor that can be heaps of fun on the street with the excellent kick of power the R6 delivers to keep things from getting humdrum.
The rear shock felt quite stiff for the street and the bumps in the road were feeling quite harsh. The shock had a tendency to want to pitch me up out of the seat when hitting larger bumps. Once in smoother territory and when the road starts to wind the Yamaha starts to feel more at home. The Yamaha has a very light feel and is perfectly at ease when being thrown into tight quarters in the canyons.
For the track portion of the test we packed up and hit the repaved Streets of Willow. The Streets of Willow has a much different character than big Willow, it\'s close neighbor. It is a very tight, twisty track, perfectly suited to a middleweight sportbike.
It\'s been about five years since I have been to The Streets of Willow so it took me a few sessions to remember which way the track went. Even at slows speeds while re-aquainting myself with the track it was apparent that me and the Dunlop Qualifiers equipped to the R6 were not going to get along very well. The R6 could have definitely benefited from some stickier rubber and some early front end slides had my confidence suffering very early on.
In the quick transitions, especially when the pavement was rough the front of the R6 was quite nervous and wanted to shake it\'s head. The R6 does not come equipped with a steering damper but there were a few instances in the early laps when I could have used one. Once I smoothed out my racing lines the front end seemed to calm down and it was much less of an issue. Turn-in on the Yamaha was very quick, maybe too quick, as the R6 seemed to want to fall into the corner. This feeling of falling into the corner was magnified by the fact the Dunlop front tire was just not willing to bite. I was having far too many front end slides in my sessions and it was very unnerving. The suspension seemed to work better the harder you pushed, unfortunately grip issues had me leaving plenty of room for error, the flames did look nice painted on the bodywork but no need to turn this R6 into a tumbling fireball.
The chassis otherwise seemed solid and worked best in the newly paved sections. When there were no ripples or holes in the pavement the R6 transitioned quick and was happy to hold a line. When things got bumpy things were not so rosy. Handling the bumps up front are inverted 41mm front forks featuring four-way adjustment (high/low-speed compression and rebound damping, and spring preload). Compression and rebound adjustment ranges have been increased in order to provide greater tune-ability.
Yamaha worked hard on improving feedback on the new R6 and they seemed to have achieved this. Even though we were never able to get the forks of the R6 completely dialed in, there was always a good amount of feedback which allowed me to know what the front tire was doing and how hard I could push.
I found the R6 works best when you are really up forward and working off the front. I tend to have more of an old school riding style, ala Miguel Duhamel keeping my body over the tank while shifting the butt cheeks. This style didn\'t seem to suit the R6 and once I started getting off the bike more and really putting my weight off the front of the bike things improved drastically.
Corner exit on the R6 was superb. While the Soqi rear shock was slightly stiff, the R6 hooked up well and finished off the corner in a way that allows you to get really aggressive. I felt completely at ease getting on the throttle hard and early on the R6 and the shock was doing good job of keeping traction in the rear. The rear shock features adjustment for preload, high-speed compression, low-speed compression and rebound damping.
The R6 motor is completely at home on the track and loves to be revved to the moon. An improved mid-range also helps the R6 squirt out of the tight corners at Streets of Willow and quickly gets you to the stratospheric redline, making power all the way to the top.
The on-off throttle jerkiness I noticed on the street was still noticeable and made it very hard to modulate in the slower corners on the racetrack. I guess all the more reason to just stay in the gas!
Stopping the Yamaha are radial-mount, four-piston Sumitomo mono-block calipers and dual 310mm front rotors with the thickness increased from 4.5 mm to 5 mm to help improve heat dissipation. Brakes on the R6 were adequate but not a class standout, I\'d put them somewhere between the class leading Suzuki brakes and the less than great Honda binders. The rear seemed composed on the brakes with everything staying in line thanks in part to the Yamaha\'s Slipper-type back torque-limiting clutch.
Shifting action was positive and very effortless both on the road and while being hammered at the track. I am a bit of an animal on the shift lever when banging downshifts, with all of the finesse of George Bush delivering a foreign policy speech, so a slick shifting sportbike is a huge bonus in my books.
I must admit, I came away from the R6 test scratching my not so gracefully balding head. On one hand I know the enormous potential the R6 possesses but on the other hand I was somewhat disappointed I wasn\'t able to fulfill that potential. The motor is spot-on and a complete demon on the track and the chassis is extremely light and flickable. The suspension was more of a challenge to dial in however. I took full advantage of the suspension services offered by Catalyst Reaction who were on hand for the Trackdaz event and we were able to get the front end working slightly better but we were never able to get it as sorted as I had hoped. Much of this surely would have been cured by some stickier race tires but the harshness over bumps and the tendency for the bike to fall into the corner showed there is some room for improvement in the suspension department.
So where does the Yamaha stack up against the Honda and Suzuki previously tested? As you would expect they are all very close. The R6 motor may not be as fun on the street as the Honda but is every bit as capable on the track and revs faster than the Suzuki. Chassis-wise the R6 flicks as quick and precise as anything in the class, requiring a touch more care however due to some slight twitchiness. Suspension is the only area I felt the R6 may need its knobs tweaked a few more times to get it tracking to perfection. The R6 is a great overall package and a potential class leader . . . it just takes slightly more effort on set-up to unleash the Yamaha\'s peak performance.