By now fans of the middleweight sportbike class are well aware of Yamaha’s new 2017 YZF-R6. A bike long overdue, the R6 borrows some styling and technology from its R1 big brother. With a fresh new look and a host of electronics that top the middleweight class, I’m really excited to throw a leg over it. And in fact, by the time this list is published, I’ll have just finished riding the new R6 at one of California’s best racetracks, Thunderhill Raceway. My First Ride Review of the bike will be up shortly, but in the meantime, here are eight things you didn’t know about the 2017 Yamaha R6.
Let’s address the elephant in the room head on: does the new R6 have the same engine as the old bike?
In fact, Yamaha says not only does the new R6 have the same engine, it also has the same frame as before (though the subframe is different). Now, it’s not entirely uncommon for a “new” model to have the same engine as the model it’s replacing, but usually the engineers will improve minor bits here or there. Maybe some port work or higher compression pistons. Something, anything. Nope. Not here. The engine stays the same and instead, “we decided a better use of resources was to find areas where a rider can find better lap times,” say the folks in the Yamaha shirts.
The first-generation R6 came out in 1999. Since then, you can practically ask any motorcycle rider what they think of when they think of sportbikes, and there’s a good chance they’ll say “R6.” Why? Because in the U.S. alone Yamaha has sold nearly 153,000 R6 models since its introduction. Factor in worldwide sales and that number jumps to 389,000.
If you look at racing grids across the country and across the globe, you’re bound to see a metric crap-ton of R6s. The reasons are simple, really – the platform is excellent and there’s been an enormous amount of development for it. It’s so good that unless you’re on a factory team, it’s really the bike you want to be on. Take domestic racing in America, for example. Of the 58 Supersport and Superstock 600 races held since 2015, an R6 has won 56 of them, for a winning percentage of 97%. Ninety-seven percent!
Yamaha engineers focused on handling over power, as noted earlier about the engine remaining the same. However, what you won’t notice immediately is a 25mm front axle, 3mm larger than before. In testing, Yamaha engineers found the added rigidity the axle provided, along with the new 43mm KYB front fork, was too much. The solution was to reduce the rigidity of the lower triple clamp by taking material away. If you look at a cross section between new and old lower triples, the 2017 piece measures 27mm, whereas the 2016 is 37mm. Voila, more feel.
Weight is the enemy of sportbikes, that’s no secret. With the R6, Yamaha were looking at ways to drop precious grams wherever possible. Two solutions involve the fuel tank. First off, the tank is now aluminum, which drops 2.7 lbs compared to the old bike. The other solution was to reduce the tank capacity compared its predecessor. In the end, the Yamaha racing department “strongly urged” the design team to keep the R6’s 4.6-gallon capacity the same. The reason? To have enough fuel to last a race distance.
The new R6 gets 320mm discs up front, up 10mm from before. Sending the fluid to the discs is now a Nissin master cylinder instead of Brembo. Yamaha says it has heard the complaints about the wooden-feeling stoppers on its sportbikes from journo-types like us and say this should be the remedy. While it’s flattering to know some changes have been the result of nagging by the media, it’s a little surprising to learn that ABS is always on with the R6. Most sportbikes of this caliber with ABS have a simple way to shut it off (without removing the fuse).
Remember that bit about dropping weight wherever possible? This applies to the tires, too. Bridgestone will be fitting the R6 with its S21 tire as standard. However, this isn’t the same S21 tire you can simply pick up from your dealer’s stack of rubber. According to Kevin Hunley of Bridgestone, the OE-spec S21s on the R6 are a combined 800 grams lighter than the normal S21. That’s nearly 2 pounds.
For the R6 revamp, Yamaha Japan gave the proverbial keys to Yamaha America to head the charge on the design front. In the past this task was handed off to Yamaha Europe, but this time around U.S. customers got a chance to make their voices heard via focus groups. It’s not unusual for focus groups to have significant say in how a motorcycle is designed or how it functions, and the R6 is no different. Yamaha held focus groups both in Los Angeles and in Austin, Texas, to get input about the new bike, and styling was a major topic of discussion. One of the images presented to the participants was a sketch of a Moto2 racer, sponsorship branding, logos, and stickers removed. One would think that since Moto2 bikes are designed to be as aerodynamic as possible in order to win grand prix races, the focus groups would approve of the way they look.
In fact the opposite happened. They absolutely did not like the design. They called it too bland and boring. Instead, the bodywork had to have distinctive features, and that’s what Yamaha hopes it has accomplished with the new redesign. Personally, I think the R6 borrows from the R1 and M1 just the right amount, and it looks even better in person.