Last year, the 2003 Yamaha R6 won the MO 600 Supersport Shootout, based on its combination of comfort, engine performance and overall rider friendliness. However, it narrowly missed a victory in the racetrack portion of that test, due to an unsettling feeling from turn-in through mid-corner. That feeling was something like an impending front-end tuck and at the time, we couldn't figure out how to make it go away. I'm happy to report that Yamaha has solved the problem, by equipping the 2005 R6 with a 70 series Dunlop D218 front tire, instead of the 60 series D208 that was standard on the '03 and '04 bikes. This change in tire profile is probably the single greatest contribution to the improved front-end feel of the 2005 R6. However, numerous other front-end changes have been made to enhance the R6's racetrack potential. The most notable of these changes is the new Kayaba 41mm upside-down fork (last year's bike was equipped with a 43mm conventional fork), and the addition of new radial-mount 4-piston Sumitomo calipers. Those trick calipers are controlled by an excellent Brembo designed radial master cylinder (both calipers and the master cylinder are the same parts as used on the '04 R1) and squeeze a set of new 310mm rotors that are 7% lighter than last year's 298mm units.
On the surface, those new forks and radial-mount calipers are the only obvious changes for 2005. However, the upgraded front suspension components required matching updates to the rear, to maintain the bikes' overall handling balance. Rear suspension updates include a more progressive linkage that raises the seat height by 10mm and modifications to the frame aimed at improving stiffness around the swingarm pivot. In addition, front and rear spring rates have been increased by 6.5% & 5% respectively, to compliment the increased progressiveness of the shock linkage. Because the taller rear ride height would result in a slightly steeper steering head angle, Yamaha chose to increase rake & trail by 0.5° and 9mm. Likewise, the R6's wheelbase increases by 5mm, to 1385mm. Revised damping rates and new brake pad materials round-out the suspension and chassis changes for 2005.
Even though the 104Hp 2003/4 R6 was already one of the strongest 600cc sportbikes on the planet, Yamaha decided to revise its tuning to enhance high rpm breathing. Engine revisions include shorter and wider intake funnels feeding new 40mm Mikuni EIS/4 throttle bodies that are 2mm larger than last year's units. A new fuel pressure regulator increases pressure inside the injectors by nearly 20% (from 41 to 48psi), while a re-tuned ECU helps to maintain decent low-to-mid range response.
What does all this mean? Well, Yamaha claims an increase of 3Hp at speed with ram-air. What Yamaha didn't know, was that MO's photographer Fonzie and I secretly replaced their test unit with Folger's Crystals, while we snuck-off mid-intro and took the new R6 back to MO for a quick Dyno session. I suspect that the Motorcycle.Com dyno chart is something of a scoop and it will probably be a while, before other publications get a chance to dyno the new 2005 600s. Our dyno results were hardly shocking, showing that our very low mileage R6 made 105.17Hp @ 12,800RPM and 43.77LbFt @ 10,200RPM. For comparison, our fully broken-in 2003 R6 made 104.2Hp and 44.3LbFt at slightly lower RPMs. I suspect that since our test unit only had 380 miles on it when we put it on the dyno, it will most likely meet or exceed Yamaha's claim of a 3Hp improvement, once it has another thousand miles under its belt.
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Now that you know the tech side of the story, I suppose you are wondering what the new R6 is like to ride and if the 05 updates are noticeable in the "real" world. The short answers are: Brilliant! and Yes! Last week, Yamaha invited MO to a casual intro for the R6. Following a brief tech presentation and a few minutes spent grab assing with their personable PR guy and assorted journalists at the Mondrian Hotel's Sky Bar, we set off for the excellent roads of Little Tujunga Canyon and the famous Angeles Crest Highway. Unfortunately for us, Southern California had just finished a two-day storm that left the roads covered with water, mud, rocks and tree limbs. These are great conditions for testing dual-purpose bikes, but not so hot for sportbikes.
PAGE 2 When it was time to depart, I claimed an R6 with the beautiful new black paint scheme. I think the black makes the bike appear significantly more svelte in person and the red pinstripes around the rims really set the whole scheme off. As the loosely organized group traveled the 25 miles from Downtown Hollywood to the Angeles National Forest, I found a clear and dry section of freeway and put the spurs to the new R6, HARD, twice. The first run was a top-gear roll-on from 5,200RPM (60MPH) and the engine's response was quite encouraging with a very smooth and linear spread of power that developed a noticeable urgency just after 9,000RPM. I performed the second acceleration test in a more suitable manner for a 600, starting with four downshifts at 60MPH, followed by a very nice honk from the intake as the bike practically leapt out from under me on its eight-second trip through 125+ MPH. While those quick blasts left me suitably impressed with the R6's power delivery, they also served to highlight an increasingly common issue with modern 600s. That issue is headshake/tank-slap. Much like the Kawasaki ZX-6R, the Yamaha R6 feels a little too nervous for my comfort, when accelerating hard over uneven surfaces (like CA freeways). It never threatened to descend into a full-on speed wobble, but it did cycle the bars back-n-forth enough after each hard upshift to make me pause and take notice. I don't think there is any way around the fact that as unsprung weight and rotating inertia continue to decrease and steering geometry becomes more racer like, modern sportbikes will display a greater need for a steering damper. This isn't all bad however, because this same instability is one of the primary reasons that big four-strokes are able to handle more and more like 250GP bikes. I just think it's probably a good time for the OEMs to start equipping their 600s with steering dampers.
As I make my way off the highway and into the mountains, the roads are partially covered by loose dirt with mud and/or water in the shady areas. These conditions have me making frequent mid-corner line changes and varying my throttle inputs at odd moments. None of these situations upset the R6's chassis and the excellent fuel injection tuning means that the bike is able to respond to my throttle inputs with 100% accuracy. In no time at all, I'm deliberately spinning the tire out of corners and generally acting the fool (it comes naturally). I continue like this for twenty miles of messy twisties, until it is time to stop at a rendezvous point for a photo session.
As the journalists milled about, I backtracked a mile or so down the road, to help scout for a likely photo corner. Unfortunately, a dry but dirty and rock-strewn section was the best we could do, so I decided to make several passes over that same area to establish a clean line, while the photographer finalized his ranges and everybody set-up. On my third pass, I was concerned to note Bambi hopping along on a collision course perpendicular to my direction of travel. I was already traveling about 75MPH at this point and ended up panic braking just in time to see her hooves flash-by about 10inches in front of the R6's fairing. WHEW! I was able to scrub-off nearly 50MPH of that speed in a remarkably short distance. Considering the condition of the road, if the new master cylinder didn't offer such fantastic feel and control, there is a very good chance that I would have tucked the front and crashed in front of 15 journalists, two photographers and several Yamaha reps. As I rolled back to the assembled group, they all pantomimed wiping sweat off their brows and said stuff to the effect of "nice save, we thought you were a goner for sure". I'd love to take credit for missing the deer, alas I fear most of the credit goes to the new brakes on the R6. We continued the photo shoot without incident, followed by an impromptu (and totally hairball) journalists GP to the lunch stop.
After lunch, I jumped on a red&white R6, grabbed Fonzie and snuck away for a covert run back to MO to get those aforementioned dyno numbers. This turned out to be an excellent decision, for not only did we get the dyno numbers/video of the bike, but the roads we chose were clean, dry, deserted and offered a delightful combination of elevation changes, curves and scenery. I spotted a lovely set of sunlit S-curves about fifteen minutes into our mission and decided to pull-over and have Fonzie shoot a couple roadside video clips, as I ran through the esses. Even though this section of road was a little rough and traction wasn't 100% due to the recent rains, the R6 and I quickly established a nice rhythm. In the video, I'm entering the first turn at about 100MPH, then scrubbing speed to around 85MPH with a downshift back to second between corners. By the time I apex the second corner, my speed is down to about 70MPH and 9,500RPM in second gear. As you can see, I am able to get back into the throttle fairly hard at the apex and drive out of the corner with a minimum of drama. This is a good example of the new R6's suspension compliance working in concert with its outstanding brakes and linear fuel injection, to maintain good control without sacrificing a well-honed performance edge.
Another thing that is worth noting in that video is the awesome intake sounds before the bike comes into the frame. Turn your volume up and re-listen to the part of the video before the bike is visible, it'll give you goosebumps. (should I work for Yamaha's AD agency or what?).
Once Fonzie and I had made our way back out of the mountains, the twisty portions of the day were well and truly over and we needed to do some serious freeway droning, if we were to make it all the way down to MO, do the dyno runs and then get back, to the day's closing ceremonies in Hollywood, before anyone noticed our absence. During this 100-mile freeway jaunt, a couple of comfort issues came to light. First and foremost for someone my size (35yrs old, 6'2", 208Lbs), the current generation R6 ('03 -'05) is easily the most comfortable 600 Supersport on the planet. There is something special about the ergonomics of the R6, which prevents the compact/cramped dimensions from becoming uncomfortable. I have no idea why this is, but the R6 doesn't cause nearly the long-haul discomfort of a GSXR, ZX-6 or 600RR. Whatever it is, I hope Yamaha doesn't mess with it. On the other hand, the engine tends to be quite buzzy in the 4,000 - 8,000 RPM range. The 4K buzzing starts in the seat and pegs, but gradually shifts to the clip-ons as the revs approach 8K. This tingle was somewhat obtrusive, but never progressed into what I would call a "problem" and you can always change the massage zone by selecting a different gear. Besides, if you are shopping for a smooth and roomy long-range freeway hauler, I seriously doubt you'd be considering a 600 Supersport in the first place.
PAGE 3 In traffic and around town, the R6 provides adequate accommodations, with light steering, quick reflexes and outstanding brakes to help keep you off those unwanted bumpers. Of course, the clip-ons and full fairing won't offer you the low-speed comfort of an FZ-6 or 599, but the R6 is perfectly adequate as a commuter and general transportation device, as long as you don't commute several hours per day in gridlock.
At the end of the day, I'd have to say that even if the revised 2005 R6 only makes one more horsepower, it isa real improvement over the '03-'04 models. The revised fuel injection and upgraded brakes are a clear step-up in refinement and performance, while the new master cylinder, 70-section front tire and upside-down forks will no doubt make a worthy contribution on the racetrack. As an added bonus, those upside-down forks and radial-mount brakes offer enhanced "street cred" for those who care about things of that nature. Of course, with a $300 price increase for 2005, one would expect to see some healthy improvements. Personally, I think $300 is a bargain for noticeable improvements to an already outstanding motorcycle, without sacrificing any of the previous model's strengths.
** SPECS PROVIDED BY YAMAHA **
MSRP - $8,399 to $8,499