First Ride: 2001 Yamaha YZF-R6

Sheer Madness...

Rosamond, California, December 7, 2000 -- It's time to thank the technology gods - and invest in a healthy array of boxer briefs - since it's now become far simpler to scare yourself into a soiled frenzy: Just get yourself a 2001 Yamaha R6. Wicked fast with sky-high revs and quick -- one shake shy of twitchy -- handling, this bike is a track monster and street sweeper rolled into a tight, 600cc package.

Yamaha has made a number of modifications to their '01 YZF-R6, the bike that was unilaterally the track favorite during last year's World Supersport Shootout. We previewed these changes and told you of all the technical improvements in the 2001 Yamaha Preview, and we were ready for another year of YamaNation on the racetracks.

Then we rode the 2001 Suzuki GSX-R600 at Road Atlanta and worried that Yamaha may have more of a battle on its hand than it bargained for. With just a tick over 103 horses at the rear wheel and a claimed dry weight of 359 pounds (49-state model), it looked like Suzuki had all but given the R6 the proverbial boot. All that was left was for Yamaha to go through the motions and concede the title to Suzuki, right?

 Well, don't jump to conclusions just yet, ol' boy. If you did things that quickly and reactionary on a racetrack, you'd be 500GP Champion right now.

The '01 R6 didn't lose its stability.Sure, Yamaha's new R6 still weighs six pounds more than the new Suzuki -- even going on a five-pound diet. Sure, it's still down three horsepower as well. But there are some things that cannot be quantified by the use of a scale or dynomometer. Things like feedback, brakes, and the ability to work a bike at or near its limit, lap after lap. These are the intangibles that will ultimately make or break a bike/rider combination.

After getting the opportunity to sample the R6's new clothes (and internals, natch') at Willow Springs' nine-turn roadcourse, we came away with a couple affirmations: Yamaha's R6 may still be the class leader when it comes to letting a rider know what's happening at the tire/pavement interface, providing what probably will be the platform for world (Supersport) domination. Second, Willow Springs is one fast mutha of a track!

 More power is always a welcome addition. During the opening presentation, Yamaha's Kurt Morris and 'safety officer' Brad "crashing pitbikes really hurts" Banister went over the various changes to the new machine. Concurrently, we were handed various static representations of the bike to demonstrate the smaller new battery, black box and the lighter steering stem. There were little changes in all, but a five-pound weight savings, in a class that's often decided by tenths on the racetrack and grams on the scales, is nothing to be bashful about.

On the track, these changes amounted to what would definitely be considered progress, though not as significant as the previously mentioned Supersport contender that will be piloted by The Intimidator, Aaron Yates, this year. Still, Yamaha's newest acquisition, Anthony Gobert, appears to have himself quite the tool available to him with which to conquer the class. For the record, we suspect the anxious-steering R6 and it's rev-to-the-moon engine will fit Gobie well, and if he likes the bike, few people in the world can beat him.

The big track at Willow Springs is extremely fast and there are only a few points where you get into the brakes, and this puts an emphasis on the feedback you get from both ends as you rail through turns well into the triple digits. It's here that the Yamaha exhibits what may well be the most acute feedback of any bike we've yet to throw a leg over.

 Notice the revised tail-section.  When peeling off the brakes and heading into the apex of turn one, a fast left hander, you're able to get the throttle opened up and start driving out as soon as the bike gets settled in. Accelerate out and the entire time you're feeling precisely what's happening with the front and rear end. Need a tighter line on the exit? Be a little more stingy with throttle application. Want to run it wide? Let all the horses out of the gate, then. You'll know exactly what's going on at all times and be able to discern just how close you are to a ride to victory lane or the infield med' center.

This comes at a price, however. But when considering chassis dimensions, it's no surprise that the littlest Yammie is prone to the occasional fit of the twitchies. More than one rider began playing with suspension settings after getting a little headshake wake-up call exiting a corner. We even had a little bit of this display while accelerating over a bump on the front straight at the start/finish line. Consider a steering damper mandatory equipment for racetrack use.

It needs to be said, however, that this trait is not necessarily exclusive to just the Yamaha. Even at Road Atlanta, the GSX-R600 (which has a steering damper fitted as stock equipment) would get a bit loose under certain situations. But what do you expect from lightweight, high-horsepower bikes with steep steering-head angles and minimal amounts of trail on bikes that are designed only to win championships?

 Suspension and feedback were excellent. Through the bumpier sections of some of the corners, not only was the almost-telepathic front-end feel welcome, it gave us an opportunity to appreciate the excellent suspension.

With stock settings, there was little need to change any of the settings even though a few journalists chose to do so. Their motive? More of a "how bad can we make it to appreciate how good it is stock" than anything else, it seemed. Most everyone agreed that the stock settings worked damn fine, even if they were a bit stiff for some of the lighter testers. It seemed as though it was sprung just right for a 165-pound rider of decent caliber. Some lighter and slower riders wished for things to be a bit softer, while some of the more tug-boat-esque among us stiffened things up just a click or two at both ends.

Brake dive was manageable, and that's a compliment considering how strong the front binders on this R6 are. You'd be hard-pressed to find a better set on a production 600 from any manufacturer. They provided excellent feel and the ultimate stopping power was enough to render the rear wheel airborne should a rider posses the skill (and sack) to do so.

 99.6 hp @ 12,550 rpm 43.4 lb/ft @ 10,850 rpm  With the motor being a key component in any racebike - and especially in 600 Supersport competition - we were pleased to find that the motor at least felt like it would be competitive with the offerings from Suzuki, Honda, Kawasaki et. al.

The motor was typical 600 in that, despite an optimistic tach, the motor didn't start to really get its groove on until about 9,000 rpm. From that point to about 14,000 rpm, though, the motor is putting some serious power down to the rear Dunlop. There's even a nice spread of 90-plus horsepower that runs all the way from 11,000 rpm to redline.

The '01 R6 looks like it'll hold its own this year. Can the others keep up?

The transmission seemed well-spaced to take advantage of this power even if we did experience the occasional glitch in throttle response when cracking the throttle slides open as we bent in towards an apex. Oddly enough, this was mainly an issue going into turn three which is an uphill left-hander, similar to turn-one, that follows one of the heaviest braking zones and loads the suspension more than most of the other corners on this track.

Other than that one glitch, though, the carburetion was flawless and fed the motor what it needed at the right times.

  As a complete package, it looks like the sharpened YZF-R6 will be a serious contender once more. It's hard to tell for sure without back-to-back testing, but if our memory serves us correctly (as it usually does except in certain cases of alcohol consumption and matters of fidelity), this year's World Supersport Shootout looks to be even tighter than last year.

It's definitely going to be a "mad, mad, mad, mad world" in the 600 Supersport class. And bikes like this new Yamaha - as well as the new Suzuki and Honda's F4i - don't make things much easier on us nit-picking scribes. Just when we thought things couldn't get any better...

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