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

I am not good at math. Again, there's 5mm more offset up front, which should shorten wheelbase by 5mm. Then, that beautiful new swingarm is 10mm longer than before, which according to my careful calculations should result in a 5mm longer whleelbase. Yamaha says 1380, though, which is the same as before. Whatever. The R6 is still the quickest-reacting 600 we've ridden to date (subject to change shortly), and the relative forward repositioning of the engine seems to have offset the increased trail to produce a bike that's still super-quick and more stable too. Along with the longer swingarm, the distance from the engine countershaft to the swingarm pivot decreased 10mm, which Yamaha says will also aid traction. Why not?

The Soqi shock out back is new too, and ride-height adjustability is a good addition to the R6 bag of tricks. It and the new 43mm Kayaba fork in front have stiffer springs for `03--but so nicely damped you could've fooled me. The fork gets a more rigid R1 axle, too, which you get out with a normal wrench--so now your 19mm hex is once again useless.

A' course it's LED (and 55 percent lighter). Overall, the feeling remains light and nimble, in no small parts thanks to the short distance from seat to handlebars (though some taller guys still feel cramped). To me, that slighty more upright, more compact riding position has always felt more controllable than bikes that prone you out quicker than the LAPD gang unit.

Don't be thinking the engine hasn't been completely gone through either. Bore and stroke remains the same, but everything else is different, beginning with a 5.3-ounce lighter crank that's "completely changed to increase balance." Not sure what's going on there, but the thing does spin, seems to me, with quite a bit less buzz than the old R6, not that the old one was buzzy. A new rare-earth magnet flywheel removes some spinning weight, too.

Brakes get new sintered pads. Ferodo man Jeff Gehrs says World Supersport guys produce like 60-percent more lever pressure than any other class. The R6 chassis feels up to it. New pistons, with tapered pins, ride improved connecting rods around in cylinders which have had Yamaha's ceramic liner-stuff sprayed directly on, thanks to Controlled Fill now being able to create a block which needs no liners. Combustion chambers and compression, at 12.4:1 are unchanged. Valve angle remains 28 degrees. Your intake cam now has 8.2mm lift instead of 7.8mm, and carries a notched flange which speaks to the cylinder identification sensor. The cams are held in by a six-piece clamp deal instead of the single-piece hold-down of yore--for less weight. (Valve cover is now magnesium.) And now we've got air induction and three-way catalyzing, for clean air, which is nice--nicer still if you're buying in California, since every R6 now gets the same tune. (The "Air Cut Valve" is open below below 5 or 6000 rpm, and close higher up. It's also closed when in CO adjustment mode, too, which means it doesn't have to be blocked off for service.) Less oil should blow out the redesigned crankcase breather, too. Heat is better shed now by a curved radiator.

The big deal is application of the same "suction-piston" controlled fuel injection introduced last year on the R1. Controlled by a 16-bit processor acting upon advice from a throttle position sensor, an intake pressure sensor (no more balance hoses to fool with), and various others, the R6 system uses one latest-thing Nippon injector in each 38mm throttle body, pressurized by an in-the-tank pump to 41.2 psi. There's a wax-filled fast-idle sensor, too, which means cold starts are easily accomplished automatically. Not that it was that cold....

Anyway, the distinguishing feature of the Yamaha system is that it uses CV-carb-style vacuum diaphragms to regulate the rate of lift of the slides, which gives extremely smooth, linear power delivery. On the R6, it works just as well if not better than on the R1. Nary a hiccup nor glitch ever, at any speed, on the street or the track--and a very natural-feeling power delivery too. I think we'll find the R6 is deceptively fast when it comes time for the `03 600 Shootout, God and the OEM's willing.

All I know is last month's Ducati 749 was showing 220 kph at the end of Almeria's long back straight--and you can see what Mamola's R6 was registering in the same spot--nearly 260. I was seeing 255 myself. Either somebody's speedos are way off, (Mamola's actually famous for having his speedos off) or something's going on here.

Yes, I think it's the latter. Something's going on here. I remember when the FZR600 was new. Even then my reaction was, "Yick." Even though it was pretty fast and all that, my what an unrefined crossbred homely little urchin that bike was. What a difference this past decade has made. Where the FZR's frame appeared to have been forged in a dark gulag by malnourished slave laborers, this second-gen R6 is a piece of metallurgical sculpture. Every other component, not to mention the way the thing circulates a race track or scoots down the road, reinforces the feeling that it was worth it to hang around for the millennium.

If the Kawasaki and Honda are this good, well, it won't even be a matter of picking a "winner." From here on in, it comes down to the software of the rider. Just go about 10 percent faster than what feels possible and you should be in the ballpark.

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