First Ride: 1999 Yamaha YZF-R6
PHILLIP ISLAND, AUSTRALIA, November 11, 1998 -- Never mind the bollocks, we'll get right to the point: The Yamaha YZF-R6 kicks ass. It is one of the most feral, thrilling, heart-pounding motorcycles we've ever ridden. Yeah, yeah, don't many journalists use over-the-top superlatives in order to mollify manufacturers and help pay for the ad guy's mortgage? Yes, it happens, but this time we really mean it. I remember coming out of the 165 mph front straight at Phillip Island as my heart pounded with a violent, lucid exhilaration bordering on an ecstatic clairvoyance that lasted until I low-sided into the gentle South Pacific mist," said tester Aaron "Elmo" Hammel. Translation: Our test bike was the best, fastest 600 ever until Elmo crashed it. In four-and-one-half years and hundreds of bikes reviewed, that was the first Yamaha we've ever wadded. Oops.
Basically, if the YZF-R6 could be bottled and sold on street corners we'd end up junkies, trading in our homes for shopping carts, hanging around recycling centers, rummaging through trash bins for cans and bottles, anything to scrounge up enough cash for one more glorious hit at 15,500 revolutions per minute. Rehab be damned.Giga-high revs can do that to a person. The YZF-R6's engine begins to kick in at 9000 rpm, but at 11,000 rpm -- where most sportbikes begin to peak -- the R6 starts pulling and shrieking all the way to the 15,500 redline, virtually uncharted territory for a production four-stroke motorcycle. There's isn't much power down low, and initially we were tempted to slip the clutch in order to punch up into the higher rev range, but the R6 motor spins quickly and reaches its preferred powerband smoothly and almost instantaneously.
Yamaha achieved this high-revving performance by designing a completely new engine utilizing low internal friction, an optimized ram-air induction system and direct ignition. It features side-driven camshafts that allow the R6 not only to keep the engine width at a minimum but also permit equal spacing between the cylinders to help ensure uniform heat dissipation, an important feature in a high-revving, high-performance engine. Yamaha also incorporated the use of equal length inlet tracks for the R6's smooth, immediate pick-up.
Despite protests to the contrary, Yamaha claims the YZF-R6 is equipped with their first true ram air system. Cool air is directed, or rammed, at high pressure into a large capacity airbox and thrust into the 37mm carbs, where vertical, equal-length inlet tracts push the air/fuel mixture into the high compression (12.4:1) combustion chambers that, together with dual-electrode spark plugs and plug-mounted ignition coils, allow the R6 to maintain is high-rev powerband.
This high-compression, high-spinning, high-revving firing puts a little more stress on moving parts, particularly valve springs. In response, Yamaha designed valve springs which they claim are lighter and 20 percent stronger than standard valves. Other lighter, lower friction parts Yamaha incorporated into the R6's powerplant include low-friction bearings, ceramic-plated cylinders and lighter pistons, con rods and crankshaft. A deeper oil pan also allows for less oil friction.
The YZF-R6 is a very stable, easy-to-control motorcycle. Ergonomics are similar to the YZF-R1: The rider sits over the front wheel and the footpegs are moderately rear-set, yet the riding position is very comfortable, more than adequate for the street. We suspect, however, riders over 6'1" may feel a little cramped.
Even though they look similar, the R6 is not a down-sized R1. It provides an entirely different riding sensation. The cornering method on the R1 requires late braking, flicking the bike in through a short corner then flipping the bike back upright and accelerating. The R6 is designed to be ridden carrying high corner speed, braking early then accelerating hard out of long corners. The R6 turns quickly but we found it does have a slight tendency to want to run wide, although this may be a characteristic of the test bikes' Bridgestone tires that will come with the European models (D207s in the States). And while the R1 will head shake on corner exits under hard acceleration, the R6 stays planted. With a 56° lean angle, ground clearance is excellent, and we worked hard to drag something in the corners, yet we didn't and eventually we gave up trying. Lastly, while the powerful R1 is almost violently fast out of corners, the R6 gives the same sensation, just neither as brutal nor as explosive.
The YZF-R6 handles and feels like a 250cc GP motorcycle. Overall wheelbase is 54.4 inches (1382 mm) and its claimed dry weight is 370 pounds (168 kg), which, if Yamaha's measurements hold true, will make it the YZF-R6 the lightest and most compact motorcycle in its class. The R6 is equipped with fully adjustable 43mm front forks and a fully adjustable monoshock rear suspension. Like the R1, the YZF-R6 is well-valved and it feels taut without being too stiff. The brakes are superb, with dual 295mm floating disc rotors and the R1's excellent four-piston calipers up front. The rear brake is a little soft, although this is common to most high-performance supersport motorcycles.
We have ridden the YZF-R6 and Honda's CBR600F4 within a few days of each other and while they're both very agile and fast, the F4 might be a friendlier, more all-around street bike while the R6 is a more extreme motorcycle designed for more experienced riders.
We are not saying that the F4 isn't exciting or the R6 isn't easy to ride, it's just that Yamaha and Honda have slightly different philosophies regarding market position and design. Honda is replacing the F3 with the all-new F4, and their engineers had to meet the challenge of improving performance and handling enough to win Supersport Championships while not sacrificing the comfort that helped make it the best-selling 600cc motorcycle in the world. Yamaha, on the other hand, intends to continue producing the YZF-600 and market it as an all-purpose sport bike while positioning the R6 as an ultra-high-performance 600cc motorcycle capable of not only dominating its class but also stealing market share away from the 750cc supersport class as well.The good news for Americans is that the YZF-R6 is coming to the States this model year. MSRP is $7999.00 USD. With new, high-performance motorcycles from all four major 600cc supersport manufacturers and essentially only two four-cylinder 750cc production supersports, neither of which have been redesigned in three years (a generation in supersport years), the YZF-R6 may indeed herald the end of the 750cc supersport class as we know it. It will be interesting to see if Team Yamaha USA's Tommy Hayden -- who, rumor has it, plans to contest the AMA 750cc Supersport Championship on a YZF-R6 -- can win a title. But we really won't know whether the 750cc supersport production class is doomed unless we gather all four 600cc bikes and ride them back-to-back. Maybe we will throw in a GSX-R750 for good measure. In any case, stay tuned.