2003 YZF-R6: Not To Be Outdone...


Editor's Note: The Red and Yellow models shown here are European-spec bikes and won't be delivered to the US. American bikes will feature blue and gray paint schemes.

Meanwhile back in Espana...

There I was... Over the blind hump just after Circuito Almeria's downhill-plunging turn one, turning right, and inserting my ram-air snout as deep as I dared into the long left that follows with Cycle News's Blaze Conner and Army of Darkness Agent Phlegming breathing hot sangria breath down my neck, lips peeled back in a death grimace, puck smoking, man and machine genuflecting as one, when ZOT! goes that bastard Don Canet up the inside, slithering on the left edges of his tires like a serpent with a freshly swallowed wildebeest he gathers his R6 up before shooting back in front of my bow BASTARD! when ZING! Randy Mamola appears off to starboard, leaning on my right front four-piston caliper... Bringing all my experience to bear, I froze at the controls and they all went on by. Whatever. I'm a JOURNALIST for God's sake, THIS IS NOT A RACE! 

JohnnyB, hard at work in Spain. Not at all, it's more a rear-echelon blocking maneuver. I did manage to hold up Blaze and Phlegming for another couple laps, but Mamola and Canet were out of sight after a few more corners and there's a point and it's this: Even when you think you're using all the new R6 can give, there's quite a bit left in reserve for use by people who REALLY know how to ride. Well, fast guys have always been able to go faster than slow guys, but they always used to come back in the pits afterward with semi-disgusted looks on their faces that said, this bike is not worthy. The only thing Mamola imparted to us second-echelon riders apres-roost was that we should just go ahead and twist the throttle more. Whack it open before the apex, he says. These tires are gonna stick, this bike is ready. And so we did, and he was right.

The tricky "Gatling-beam" headlight (the marketing guys must still be chuckling to themselves) in fact uses only two bulbs; left side is low beam, both are on for high. Just as with the original R6, this one is built to be ridden in the high-cornering-speed mode associated with things like Yamaha's own TZ250. On an R1,even on the Ducati 749 we rode at the same track a few weeks ago, you might give up a little entrance speed in exchange for a prime trajectory down the next straight. Not so with the R6. On the R6, without the (relatively) big horsepower, you just want to go screaming in there trusting the front to stick and riding the big Mo(mentum). Mamola was right. Even at what felt like ridiculous entry speed, the R6's front never so much as twitched (and I bet Mamola was going into corners 5 mph or more faster than I was)--and the new "suction-piston" controlled fuel injection lets power back in so smoothly, that you really could open the throttle before the apex, and you could roll it all the way open just past it. And that my friends is my own personal idea of fun on a racetrack, and a big reason why the R6 is at the top of my list. Lean angle, high cornering speed, screaming engine.

Rpms are fun, and nothing gives better rpm, and better audio, than this thing. (Did you watch the Mamola video? Seems I was a gear too high everywhere.) Though Yamaha claims the new injected motor is mapped to provide the same sort of secondary step-up in power at 8000 rpm as the old carbureted version, the reality is that the step, if it's there at all, is much less pronounced than before. If you're my speed, you miss the spine-tingling kick in the pants. If you're Mamola speed, you probably like the new powerband much better ( he's never ridden the older version), since you don't get a windfall of revs all of a sudden when you're all banked over, which is what Mamola always is. The power is more linear now, but still with the definite taste for rpm.

They turned us loose on the bikes for a day on the street, too, and on the street--bearing in mind that this is a 16,000-rpm engine displacing a mere 599cc--you can actually lug it down to 2000 rpm, in sixth gear, and roll the throttle on, and the R6 will motor slowly and smoothly away.

You want to do a lot more gear-shifting when speed's what you're after, and the `03 is improved there, with a heavier (heavier!) shift drum that bangs the next gear in more securely--also revised dogs and In addition to the cool new programmable shift light, your friendly technician can call up injection diagnostic codes on the LCD display, and can even check the FI sensors using the Select and Reset buttons. things in a couple of gears, for more secure engagement. Several gears have five engagement dogs instead of three, and as everyone knows the more dogs the merrier. Anyway, shifting's better, and the cush drive inside the lighter rear wheel's improved too.

  Speaking of the 749 Ducati, I mentioned how much lighter it steers than its 999 brother in its test from a few weeks ago. Well, compared to the 749, the R6 requires only mental steering input; your brain tells it where to go and it responds. You had to go faster than I was ever able to on the old 81mm-of-trail bike to experience what some described as instability. On the new bike, with trail kicked out to 86mm via revised triple-clamp offset, well, I didn't hear any complaints, and the thing feels just as responsive in direction changes as the "old" bike did.

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