Torrance, California, June 14, 2001 --
That's right, there's no 600 comparison test this year, and the reason for that is simply that the 600s in question--Honda F4i, Kawasaki ZX-6R, Suzuki GSX-R600 and Yamaha YZF-R6--have changed for the '02 season not a whit, with the exception of their paint schemes. Last year, we liked the Yamaha best, so why wouldn't we favor it this year too? Besides, the 600 sporty-bike class is the dog-eat-doggiest one out there, and as a result the bikes are so close to each other in terms of horsepower and all other measurable performance aspects, that the question for most of us is not really Which 600? as much as Do I want a 600? Or something larger? Or something Entirely Different?
Because if you're looking at an R6 or similar, chances are what you're really after, and correct us if we're wrong, is maximum velocity with minimum hairball production during heavy-duty street strafes and track days. A bike that makes you look like you know what you're doing when the time comes to take up the cudgels and scuff the ol' pucks, right? Maybe you need more power, you're thinking, maybe one `a them 1000cc bikes? Then again, the Ducatis and RC51s are kicking butt around the world's race tracks, so maybe a twin is the way to go? Cash in the 401k, eat the macaroni for a couple years?
Well, don't do anything rash, perhaps we can help make the decision easier. So happens we had an R6 lying around the shop, and an '02 R1 as well, and we knew where to find an Aprilia Mille R. A quick scan of fastrackriders.com revealed a track day at the Streets of Willow, MO's main line when evaluating all-out performance. A call to Metzeler produced, like magic, fresh M-1 Sportecs for all three bikes ET VIOLA!--another penetrating and possibly perplexing performance-bike pu-pu platter.
Ah, another day at the office: Once again into the cow suit, and off I go on the R1 on its fresh Metzeler Sportecs, bearing in mind that my policy with the Southeastern Life Assurance Company or whatever it's called, is still pending. One of the questions was, Do you participate in racing or other dangerous activities? Well of course not. This is a track day, it's not racing at all. Unless somebody the same speed happens along anyway....
What negative thing can you say about this 998cc Yamaha on a nice, smooth race track? It wasn't as fast as the GSX-R lap-time-wise in our open-class shootout, but we all thought it was friendlier and easier to ride, with the smoothest onset of power of almost any four-cylinder out there when it comes to getting back into the throttle while on the edge of the tires. At the track, that's pretty much what it's all about; how early in the corner can you crack the gas back open?
And while we've been programmed over the years to be very leery of things with this much power (the midrange torque's the thing that will get you in trouble on these bikes, really), so smooth is the bike's power delivery that the R1 never threatens to spit the rear tire out. It's simply a case of its reputation preceding it. It's also a case of modern tires being really good. I do 1:33-somethings in the first session, just warming up. More to come.
You're right again, the standard Mille would be a better comparison since it's closer in price to the other two, etc., but Will Tate--Aprilia fleet center guy--doesn't happen to have a standard Mille lying around--and since either Mille spots the R1 over 20 horsepower and quite a few pounds, it seems like a fair trade-off, no?
The Mille's a twin-cylinder motorcycle, and everything I've read tells me twins put power to asphalt more controllably, and since I believe almost everything I read, I whack the throttle open with a bit less caution and scoot around the Streets a little quicker. Superior brakes, superior ergos to the R1--but mainly there's a little kink at the end of the back straight that you can blaze through like hot stink provided your eyeballs are not joggling so much in their sockets you can't see to line things up.
On the Mille R, you come flying in there as if in a very low, steady airplane; the bike's chassis is so not upset by the bumps, I bet I carry an extra three or four mph through there, counting on the Mille's super tactile brakes to slow me on the way through instead of on the way in. Also, I don't doubt Aprilia's claim that the Milles are the most aerodynamic bikes on the market. When you get behind the fairing down the straight, it's quiet and still, and so why are we not closing up on Mini on the R6 dammit?!
In terms of weight and steering feel and effort, I rank R1 and Mille very close to each other, the difference being that the Mille feels, thanks again to the Ohlins suspension, more supple and more precise at the same time. It doesn't joggle your eyeballs.
And then onto the poor, unempowered R6. What's the deal then? Why is the bike with no torque the one that wheelies every time out of that tight little first-gear right? Gearing? Weight? Dunno.
"What I do know is that it's weird how a bike with 97 horsepower never seems to be at much of a power disadvantage against bikes with 112 (the Mille) and even against bikes with 139 (the R1)."
The Streets' straights aren't exactly long, but the back straight has to be a quarter-mile, with a right that opens up leading into it--and you'd think the R6 would get swallowed up there. It doesn't. It's in the *process* of being swallowed up by the end of the straight, but at that point, the R6 turns so quick and light that you feel safer laying off the brakes longer--and the more powerful bikes are stuck behind it again.
And in the tight parts of the track, it gaps the big bikes again, and so the circle of life here in the Mojave continues. The scales say that, at 425 pounds with fuel, the R6 isn't that much lighter than the other two, and it's not that much smaller--but it feels like a toy after you hop off the other bikes, and you have to adjust to how quick you can turn it into the tighter corners (short trail and wheelbase, less flywheel gyroscopic force). If its suspension isn't quite as good as the Mille's, it's damn close: taut, controlled yet really bump-absorbent--it makes the R1 feel like a couch.
I might've gone a little faster on the couch in the afternoon (more rear preload had made it much better since my morning run), but all of a sudden its battery went dead. We charged it up quick-like, but on about my second lap, we started losing power again (in a very fast left with an R6 Mini-missile right up our tailpipe). Luckily, we're trained professionals on a closed circuit. Either our R1 got stuck with a bad battery, or there's a problem in the charging system--either way, fuel-injected bikes don't run without electricity for long.
In any case, I'm proud of my ability to deduce hard facts from random observations. How about this one: Will Tate and myself were within about a tenth-second of each other on the other two bikes, so I imagine I would've turned an R1 time similarly close to his, had the bike not taken a dump. Also, all our fastest times on all the bikes were recorded in the morning sessions anyway; in the afternoon, the temperature went up and the traction went down.
May We Have the Envelope Please? In the final analysis, the unblinking official Hackfu timing system has it:
Aprilia Mille R: 1:31.34
Yamaha YZF-R6 : 1:31.78
Yamaha YZF-R1 : 1:33.43
Guest Tester: Will Tate
Willow Springs racer and owner of California Speed Shop,
Costa Mesa, CA (949) 642-3080
Hello? What's that? Willow Springs? Bring the Mille? Well you know, I've got work to do here, but then the wife is out of town. And the guys at my shop are damn good men... sure, I can go to the track.I had such a great day riding and sweating and riding more, now I've got to make some comparisons of these bikes.
First off, the "Streets of Willow" track gives great advantages to bikes that are easy to flick around. If you can get on the gas early you can rule on this course. If you can keep riding and not fall over from the heat you can rule here also! That said, I did my best on the R6. Light, powerful, and with good brakes, the Yamaha made me feel extremely confident and comfortable with the quick inputs required to get around here. It's just not intimidating compared to the other two bikes we had to sample, and considering the heat it was less work. I went a half-second quicker on the R6 than the other bikes. Near the end of our day I bested my own personal lap time by almost a second.
I have a personal interest in the Aprilia (Will takes care of Aprilia's west coast test fleet --ED), so I gave it my all in trying to get a good lap time. Within three laps I was running very consistent and quick times and was eventually able to get within a half-second of my time on the R6. It was very easy to be comfortable on this bike. I guess I was a little intimidated by the cost of the bike though. I expect if given the OK (financially), I could have done a bit better. The older I get, the more I worry about that shit.
"The bike was just great. Seamless power with enough top end to make it exciting. It has the best brakes of the bunch. Ohlins suspension, say no more."
I was disappointed by just one thing, Will Tate. R1 last? Well, it was soft, uncommunicative, very powerful. For me this is not a good combination. I had to get myself up off the seat in order to get it over bumps that the other bikes ignored, it moved around excessively compared to the Aprilia and R6. I did not have confidence in the front end. Throw in a hundred and fifty'ish horses, things get sketchy. I suspect I could have done better, but we'll never know as the R1's electrical system gave up early in the day. That doesn't seem right? Japanese bikes don't have those type of problems, er.. I mean issues.
I have to say a word here about the tires we used in these bikes, Metzeler Sportecs. Most all the track days I've done, have been on DOT race tires or slicks. These are STREET tires and I went faster with no drama involved, I might have to rethink this tire stuff. Now I'll have to push myself to kick ass on the race tires.
All in all I had a great time. I bet things would be different if we had gone to the big track. There I would predict, Aprilia, R1, R6 in that order. Please can we go try again next week, but let's fix the radio in the van?
Don't know which Hackfu Mr. Tate was getting his information from at the track, but when times were downloaded from the mainframe here at MO HQ, they were these:
Aprilia Mille R: 1:31.50
Yamaha YZF-R6 : 1:31.67
Yamaha YZF-R1 : 1:32.39
I'm an anomaly I guess. I'm ugly too, but I don't think that counts here. What matters, however, is that I surprised myself during our little jaunt out to the track on this particular occasion. And then on one certain lap, in a certain corner, I really surprised myself.
My first laps out of the MO van were spent in the pits, circling around, trying to find a clean porta-potty. Once that was settled, I went out to scrub in the fresh set of tires Tom of California Race Services had just helped me install on our R6. Now, it has to be said, I'm a complete puss on cold tires, and cold new tires only make me suck more. So I wobbled around for about six laps before coming in with arm pump and an inch of shiny rubber remaining on either side of either tire. The outlook was grim for me and my R6.
Back to the pits and the porta-potty (what did I drink the night before, anyway?) where the Lap Time King, Calvin, tells me I'm something like eight seconds a lap slower than Will and John's times. So I blame cold tires, the R6's small displacement and a pre-mature need for Depends undergarments. Then, in the middle of my blame game I saw the R1 sitting there with a set of tires that were already scrubbed in (thanks, Will!) and nobody sitting astride it. Too god to be true, so I sucked down my first chocolate-chocolate chip muffin and Red Bull of the day and headed back out on the Big Boy.
With tires that have already been scrubbed, I'm amazed at the reduction of my Puss Factor. All it takes is a lap to get some heat into the Sportecs and I've got things dragging 'round bends, feeling my way around the track on my knees, dropping lap times as I go. And with the R1 refusing to run later in the day, I turn my best times on the beast in the morning session. As is normally the case with the R1, I felt like I was moving along at a pretty good clip--one that I didn't think either of the other two bikes could match or better. The bike is just so powerful that corners come up, it seems, a lot faster than on the other two machines here. How could I not be going faster?
"The thing about the R1 though, for me at least, is that the chassis never feels quite as well-sorted and secure as the other bikes here."
Sure, chalk the Mille's excellent feedback up to its pricey Ohlins suspension, but then how to explain the R6's comparatively cheap-yet-wonderful suspension? Anyway, the R1's got the motor, the brakes, but it doesn't have that connected feel that I treasure in the other bikes here. Still, I recorded my second-fastest time of the day on the thing with a 1:31.6 run. The Mille-R, I thought, with it I'd know exactly what to expect. It took but a few laps to get comfortable on the Mille since it was only a few weeks since we'd been here last, and I quickly had my head down chasing what I thought would be my fastest lap time of the day. In the first session on the bike, however, the best I could muster was a 1:33 and change.
That was about a second off of what I did on the same bike on the same tires at the same track last time, so I knew there was more in me, and a lot more in the bike. After another bathroom session and one more on the R6 with scrubbed-in tires, it was back to the Mille. The thing had just come off of a few laps with another rider only about a minute before I went out, so I figured the tires were pretty warm and gave it the whip right from the out lap. Right away I felt good on the bike, but it wasn't as planted as the R6 I had just come off of. The rear end felt like it wanted to pass up the front in turn one, and coming out of some of the slower bends I felt like I had to take it a bit easier than I wanted to. Front-end feel was excellent, as was the motor, but something about the back end was bugging me.
A look at the time sheets said the other fellows on hand were going fastest on the Mille, so I figured it was just me being my usual pussness self. Time to Get It On, then. And so I did, and coming 'round a second-gear left, things already dragging mid-way through, the back end started to get a bit light so I backed out of the throttle just a touch. Ok, now back on the throttle for the drive out and whooosssshhhh. I've always heard racers talk about "saving it on their knee." And, honestly, I thought I'd never know what they're talking about. How can you do that? Well, now I know. It's not so much that I saved it on my knee, it's just that there was nothing left for the bike to fall over onto on that side.
My knee got in the way of the bodywork/track interface. I was just a moron who refused to let go of the thing and, miraculously, eased out of the throttle just enough to bring the rear back in line. There was just the tiniest of tiny flying-out-of-the-seat things you've ever seen before I was able to get it turned back to the right to stay on track before looking back over my left shoulder to see a corner-worker still waving a yellow flag, having anticipated the ugly crash that, thankfully, never came.
I circulated the rest of the lap at a pace best described as that of a really fast desert tortoise before I pulled off to hug the people I knew and tell them I love them. So, I ended up with a best time of 1:32.16 which was right in line with what I expected. That time is within a tenth of a second of my previous best on this bike, these tires, etc. So, I was happy, the aprilia was spared to be thrashed by more riders, and I was in the back of the MO van for another half hour, consuming more chocolate-chocolate chip muffins, pizza and Red Bull, until my next stint on another bike.
"Yamaha's R6, I recall hearing, is the fastest thing around the Streets of Willow."
Yamaha's R6, I recall hearing, is the fastest thing around the Streets of Willow. This stuck in my mind because, really, how could a little bitty thing, giving up a ton of horsepower and even more torque, go faster than the fast bikes? The answer, it seems, is beyond me. I didn't feel like I was flicking the thing in any harder than the other bikes here, nor did I feel like I was braking later, accelerating earlier or carrying more cornering speed. I just felt like I was shifting more but getting less tired, lap after lap. Everything just worked as it should and I continued to grind things away until the checkers flew on the session and I came in to confer with Calculator Kim after yet another trip to the porta-potty.
He says, "dude, that's the fastest you've gone." I think, since what time this morning has Calvin been timing my bathroom visits? And why? So I ask him, and he says, no, he means I turned in my fastest time of the day on the little Yamaha in that last session. It seems I did a string of 1:30s with the best at 1:30.08. I was convinced that, because I felt so relaxed, I could go back out and ride my way to a minute twenty-nine lap, but then I remembered I had just drank more water and Red Bull and remembered what happened when I tried to step it up on the Mille and instead nearly wadded it up. I was done playing Racer Boy for the day and was off to get some video, photos and some more muffins and Red Bull.
So why did I not go fastest on the Mille-R like the rest of the people here? Like I said, I'm an anomaly. Or maybe they are and I'm normal, but alone, left to fend for myself in a room full of weird people. Maybe the Mille just scared me with that near-death experience and I never recovered? Maybe my love for petite, athletic women carries over to petite, athletic bikes? Maybe I should figure out why I had to pee so much that day?
Aprilia Mille R: 1:32.16
Yamaha YZF-R6 : 1:30.03
Yamaha YZF-R1 : 1:31.62
There it is then. If you want to impress your track-riding buddies, a fine way to do so is on an "underpowered" little 600 like the R6. That, or spend twice as much for the Mille R, if you think you need the extra tenth-of-a-second. The R1 is certainly capable of faster lap times with suspension modifications and in the hands of an expert rider--but for most of us, most of the time--less is more.