2017 Yamaha YZF-R6

Editor Score: 89.5%
Engine 19.0/20
Suspension/Handling 14.0/15
Transmission/Clutch 9.0/10
Brakes 8.5/10
Instruments/Controls4.0/5
Ergonomics/Comfort 8.0/10
Appearance/Quality 9.0/10
Desirability 9.0/10
Value 9.0/10
Overall Score89.5/100

Here’s a quick reminder of what was going on in the world in 2006:

  • Dick Cheney, then Vice President of the United States, shot a man in the face.
  • Pluto was demoted from plain ‘ol planet to a dwarf planet.
  • Steve Irwin, everyone’s favorite crocodile hunter, and Don Knotts, everyone’s favorite aloof deputy, both passed away.
  • Oscar-winning actor Mel Gibson was pulled over for a DUI in Los Angeles, where he then went on a full-blown, drunken, anti-semitic rant.
  • Pop icon Britney Spears was on her downward spiral, filing for divorce from the father of her two kids less than two years after they wed.
  • Saddam Hussein met his maker.
  • Beyonce’s “Irreplaceable” was atop the Billboard charts for 10 consecutive weeks, longer than any other song that year.
  • Yamaha introduced the third generation YZF-R6.

Yep, 2006 was quite a year, and if you discount the R6’s relatively minor revamp in 2008, Yamaha’s venerable 600cc middleweight has been going strong for more than a decade. Along the way it’s racked up numerous race wins and domestic Supersport championships around the world, capped off with three World Supersport titles, too. Heck, even I won a championship aboard a five-year-old R6 in 2011. When it comes to middleweight sportbikes, if you want to win, the R6 has become the de facto bike of choice. The only other machine I can think of with longer lasting power for its class is the Suzuki SV650.

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Time has been kind to the R6, too; the economic collapse meant manufacturers were no longer retooling their middleweights every two years, and once the economic environment showed signs of stability, OEMs turned their sportbike attentions to the literbike field. But the time has come for the R6 to finally get some fresh duds, and Yamaha has borrowed heavily from its R1 big brother for inspiration when giving the R6 a makeover. And finally, it’s time to ride it.

8 Things You Didn’t Know About The 2017 Yamaha R6

Keeping What Works And Adding More

Fresh styling initially wowed us when the new R6 made its debut at AIMExpo last year, but after reading the press materials and Yamaha’s presentation there was a glaring component nobody talked about: its engine. It turns out the heart of the new R6 is, well, the same as the old R6 – no modifications, changes, or anything. Not that this is a bad thing; with a resume like the previous R6 engine has if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Much of the new R6’s major updates are captured here. From the updated instrument display you can see the bar labeling the traction-control settings and ride-mode position. At the bottom of the picture is the new KYB fork, borrowed from the R1 and adapted for use in the R6. And off to the right is the new Nissin master cylinder, replacing the Brembo unit of yesteryear.

Much of the new R6’s major updates are captured here. From the updated instrument display you can see the bar labeling the traction-control settings and ride-mode position. At the bottom of the picture is the new KYB fork, borrowed from the R1 and adapted for use in the R6. And off to the right is the new Nissin master cylinder, replacing the Brembo unit of yesteryear.

While the engine might be the same as before, the R6 is entering into modern sportbike times with a few electronic bits inspired by its R1 big bro. Like many other Yamahas, the R6 now sees three drive modes – A, STD, and B – with A delivering aggressive throttle response, B soft response, and STD somewhere in the middle.

Traction control and ABS are new additions to the R6 as well, but unlike the R1, the R6 relies on wheel-speed sensors to control both functions, without the assistance of an IMU. TC is adjustable between six levels plus off, and reacts to excessive wheelspin by first retarding ignition timing before limiting fuel and/or electronically closing the throttle butterflies. ABS, meanwhile, is non-defeatable.

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Yamaha claims the new fairing design on the R6 is the most aerodynamic of any production Yamaha, and here we get a side-by-side view of the difference between old and new. From the rider’s standpoint, the most obvious benefit of the new design is smoother airflow over the rider’s head.

But the biggest and most obvious difference between old and new R6 is its appearance. Personally, I thought the old bike’s design has held up pretty well over the course of 11 years, but to me the 2017 bodywork is a clear step ahead. Borrowing inspiration again from the R1, the R6 has a similar nose and front intake opening. From there, the R6’s angular daytime running lights and alien-eye headlights tucked at the bottom of the fairing also mimic its big brother. The windscreen is now higher, too – raised 50mm (2 inches) compared to its predecessor.

This continuation of the R series DNA applies to the rear of the bike, as the tail features hollow sections on either side of the passenger pad, just like the R1. When all is said and done, Yamaha says wind resistance with the new bodystyle, including rider onboard, is reduced by 8%, making it the most aerodynamic production Yamaha to date. In fact, the Yamaha folks tell us that in testing the new bike gained approximately 4 mph more top speed compared to the previous bike, just from the new fairing alone.

From there, changes are relatively minor. The frame remains the same as before, as does the swingarm, though the magnesium subframe has a new 20mm narrower design. Aluminum is now the material of choice for the fuel tank, shaving nearly three pounds compared to its steel counterpart. Where Yamaha engineers primarily focused on was the front end. KYB provides the 43mm fork, borrowed from the R1 (with valving and rates better suited for the R6), which is 2mm thicker than the previous fork. The front axle is larger as well, up 3mm to 25mm. Both these additions add rigidity to the chassis, which forced engineers to make a smaller lower triple clamp to reintroduce the flex and front-end feel riders appreciate.

The hollow sections of the tail is the result of heavy influence from the R1. A 5mm rise where the seat meets the tank is supposed to add a little comfort, while the section just behind it is narrowed 8mm to help vertically challenged get a foot on the ground.

The hollow sections of the tail is the result of heavy influence from the R1. A 5mm rise where the seat meets the tank is supposed to add a little comfort, while the section just behind it is narrowed 8mm to help vertically challenged get a foot on the ground.

Other changes to the front include 320mm rotors, up 10mm from before, still clamped by four-pot calipers. The difference for 2017 is a change in front master cylinder. Nissin replaces Brembo in an attempt to provide additional feel at the lever – a criticism of the previous system. In the rear there’s also a new KYB shock, along with a compact rear caliper.

The big electronic feature carried over from the R1 to the R6 is the ability to plug in the accessory Yamaha CCU, or Communication Control Unit. For $700, R6 riders serious about their lap times can simply plug in Yamaha’s data-acquisition module, download an app on either an iOS or Android device, and then have the ability to download data from each of their track sessions.

Among the many parameters recorded are traction-control activation, front and rear ABS activation, lean angle, engine speed, wheel speeds, throttle position, gear position, front and rear brake pressures, coolant temperature, and of course lap times. Those parameters are then outlined along with a marker noting your position on the racetrack, so you can see how you and your inputs are affecting the bike at any given point on the track. There’s also the option to overlay multiple laps, and even send data back and forth to other people to study what they are doing.

Brake discs are bigger now, and the wheel-speed sensor in the center is used for both ABS and traction-control functions. Both Bridgestone and Dunlop are supplying tires for the R6.

Brake discs are bigger now, and the wheel-speed sensor in the center is used for both ABS and traction-control functions. Both Bridgestone and Dunlop are supplying tires for the R6.

New Recipe, Same Great Taste

I can understand why one would be sad or disappointed with Yamaha for keeping the R6 engine the same as it’s been for more than a decade. But here’s the thing: it’s still a ripper of an inline-Four that screams to 16,000 rpm, as I discovered during Yamaha’s press introduction of the bike at Thunderhill Raceway in Northern California.

Rounding the final right-hand bend leading onto the front straight, the tach needle rockets towards the end of its sweep as my wrist turns to the stop. With the shift light blaring in my face, the engine below wailing into my ears, and the beautiful green scenery – the result of a very wet winter in California – zipping past my periphery in a 130 mph blur as I’m tucked in behind the windscreen, the last thing I felt was a want for more power.

We’ve never had any complaints with the R6’s chassis before, and I was reminded why during this track ride. It’s simply an agile and athletic package that’s as potent now as it was all those years ago.

We’ve never had any complaints with the R6’s chassis before, and I was reminded why during this track ride. It’s simply an agile and athletic package that’s as potent now as it was all those years ago.

This R6 engine propels the bike with a sense of urgency that’s invigorating, without the levels of fear, fright, or rapid brain calculations you get with a liter-class sportbike. It rewards a skilled rider because they can’t rely on R1 levels of power, and it feels instantly familiar the moment you turn a lap on it. That said, a newer sport rider would still feel comfortable on it thanks to smooth throttle response in the STD setting (A mode borders on being slightly too aggressive for a new middleweight rider). Seat height hasn’t changed from its previous 33.5 inches, but the lip at the seat/tank junction has been raised 5mm, while the mid-section has been narrowed 8mm. The former helps reduce the tendency for the rider to get angled toward the tank, while the latter helps make it easier for shorter riders to touch the ground.

The bikes we were given to ride at this launch were equipped with the accessory quickshifter ($199.99) which the R6 is already pre-wired to accept. It only works during upshifts, but nonetheless, I maintain it’s an item that should be standard on every new motorcycle. Having been spoiled by the power of literbikes lately, I came to heavily appreciate the quickshifter on the R6 since you’re shifting more on a 600 compared to the big bikes. The system works well, but it’s not quite as refined as the quickshifter from the new Honda CBR1000RR – the best unit I’ve tried to date. Down-changes are done the old-fashioned way, and thanks to the slipper clutch you can bang off consecutive downshifts, dump the clutch, and let the slipper take care of the rear tire while you set up for a turn.

With my 5-foot, 8-inch frame, I could barely keep my elbows and knees separated in a tuck. And I did notice a calm pocket of air in front of me as well. The taller windscreen definitely helps direct air over the head instead of in your face.

With my 5-foot, 8-inch frame, I could barely keep my elbows and knees separated in a tuck. And I did notice a calm pocket of air in front of me as well. The taller windscreen definitely helps direct air over the head instead of in your face.

Of course it’s not surprising the engine performance is exhilarating around a racetrack. This has been a hallmark of the R6 its whole life. But since there’s nothing new there, the question then turns to the changes and additions Yamaha did make to the R6, starting with the front end. For comparison purposes Yamaha brought a 2016 R6 to try, and after riding old and new back-to-back (though I was only allowed three laps on the old bike) my consensus is… it’s really difficult to tell a difference.

The rider triangle between old and new is the same, and obviously the engine, frame, and swingarm are all the same; the only major difference here being the fork, axle, and triple clamp. If I were forced to split hairs, then there’s a chance I felt a small difference on the new bike, but a more definitive answer would probably only come from elite racers.

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Even in the wet there’s enough grunt for a little power wheelie in second gear, thanks to Bridgestone’s W01 full-wet race rubber.

Where the new bike does get an advantage over old is in two key areas: brakes and electronics. With the bigger discs, and especially the change to a Nissin master cylinder, front-end feel from the front lever is much better than before. And with the standard ABS, I had that extra bit of confidence to pound on both levers as hard as I dared while braking from 120 mph along the back straight down to 50 mph, without fear of a lockup. No, the R6 is not equipped with Cornering-ABS, but the standard system it has works surprisingly well in a track environment.

Meanwhile, the benefits of traction control should be obvious by now, and having it on the new R6 provides a safety net that made me feel comfortable pushing just a little harder. As it turns out, our test day was greeted by mixed weather. Rain the night before left the track damp in the morning, making conditions tricky with the R10 track rubber Bridgestone provided. With this in mind, my own throttle inputs were delivered with extreme care. So much so that I never activated the traction control, as verified by the data collected by the CCU.

The Hard Truth

At the end of the day, the new R6 is a definite step above the model it’s replacing, despite keeping many of the same critical components. I’m not complaining about the screamer of an engine and the beautiful handling from its chassis. The new bike jumps ahead by virtue of its revised brakes and electronics package that elevate the bike just enough to call it a worthy improvement. We also think the new bike looks better than the old.

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That being said, at $12,199, if I already owned a third-gen R6, the new one isn’t enough of a step forward to make me want to ditch it. Especially since the aftermarket is filled with options to improve any of the perceived shortcomings (except its looks, if you perceive that as a shortcoming).

2017 Yamaha YZF-R6
+ Highs

  • Killer looks
  • Brakes finally have feel!
  • Engine and chassis as good as ever
– Sighs

  • Missed opportunity for a new Triple?
  • Quickshifter should be standard
  • Why should I sell my old R6 for this one?

However, if you’re looking at entering the supersport category and you want the sharpest tool available, you’d be hard-pressed to find something better than the new R6. It’s proof that, at least as far as Yamaha’s concerned, the 600 supersport class isn’t going anywhere.

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  • john phyyt

    Great looking bike , but quite small. A larger rider looks quite odd on it. Even 5.8 Troy looks out of place. When-ever I have seen the older model with rider it always looks like he/she was riding a Grom.

    • Auphliam

      Yeah, I absolutely love these bikes, but at my size (6′, 240lbs), they just feel too small to me. They might be perfectly fine once out on the road, but whenever I’ve tried one on at a dealership, they just feel tiny.

      • TroySiahaan

        Well, as I’ve said before, I’m not a big fan of the riding position of sportbikes on the street. Awesome for the track, though. Then again I’m a pretty small dude.

  • SerSamsquamsh

    More expensive per pound than a Road King!

    The white fairing and silver gas tank looks like it’s been damaged in a trip over but not painted. Kinda weird but it works. The blue one looks awesome.

    • Also quicker and more powerful per ounce than a whole pound of RoadKing.

  • gjw1992

    Until they do come up with a triple – surely the really major change that’d get a big sales boost – for 2018 they should just put ohlins monoblocs on it and stop messing, plus lighten the wheels and frame even more. To make it obviously worth that price.

  • Auphliam

    You’ve got Classic (blue) and Classy (white), but that all black unit spins my crank.
    That lead in pic, tire smoke on corner exit? Pourin the coals to ‘er, ay?

    • TroySiahaan

      I wish that was tire smoke! Alas, that’s water spray coming up from the B-Stone wet tires.

  • Born to Ride

    I’d have liked this bike better with a certain 850 triple motor in it…

    • TroySiahaan

      Can’t argue with that, but flogging the ‘ol 599cc Four at 16,000 rpm was pretty cool. 🙂

      • Born to Ride

        I’ve ridden a well set up gen 2 R6, and I’d have to agree. But imagine a race tuned 850 triple spitting out 120 rwhp with torque everywhere, and I bet that 16k RPM wail will start to lose its appeal. Makes me wonder which engine actually weighs more.

  • JMDGT

    I miss my old middle weight sportbike. My size and age preclude me from getting another like this R6. Yamaha is smart to enhance the existing platform. The best designs are fine tuned over time.

  • BDan75

    What a great looking bike. But man, Yamaha needs to ditch those day-glo yello wheels.

    • TroySiahaan

      What?! That was why I chose the white bike! 😉

      • Daniel Benjamin

        Would have done the same ^

  • DickRuble

    It’s a great time to be a motorcyclist.. that is if you’re a midget.

    • TroySiahaan

      Good for me, then!

    • Stuki Moi

      I was told this was a big reason why 400s would never become the new 600s as far as the Big4 one-upping one another, despite the attainable power being close to what 600s were in their 90s/early oughts heyday. And why even 600s were left to die on the vine: The make with the fastest bike, would simply be the one willing to go the furthest in making it only suitable for guys the size of Marquez. Literbikes are, even when built as compact as current tech allows, still large enough to be ridden by a good cross section of the population. For now, at least… But who knows, in another 15 years, the hotly contested class may be the 1500s…. Thank goodness I’ll be way past my sport biking years by then 🙂

      • DickRuble

        The 600s for the street have nothing to do with Moto2 bikes. There is no reason to make them to the same dimensions. They could scale up the frame by 15% and people would be happy. It doesn’t matter how fast a bike is if you don’t fit on it. Manufacturers are losing many, many customers in EU and US. The Aprilia RSV4, arguably the best bike out there for a liter bike, is ridiculously small. The only ones who figured things out are KTM. They made the SDR comfortable for the average guy. And I heard they sell many.

        • Scott Silvers

          A vstrom 650 is the same size as a full size 1000 (perhaps not now, because the two bikes have diverged). Might be one reason the 650 vstrom is so popular, because it is a BIG BIKE, made for full grown people, not Marc Marquez size folk.

    • Dale

      Amen.

  • John B.

    Does motorcycle racing drive design in this category? I would love a motorcycle like this if it were 30% bigger. I’m 6’3″ and 235ish. I sat on a Kawi Ninja ZX-6R once, and it was ridiculous. The bike and I were both unhappy.

    • Fivespeed302

      KTM makes the Super Duke R, which would probably fit you well. Nobody makes small motored sport bikes for big guys.

  • lennon2017

    It’s become starkly clear to me that the ~600cc supersport class is permanently being relegated to track racing or sunsetted for the more lucrative liter ranges now equipped with wire input and power modes, the softest of which sometimes provide more docile behavior than even 600 class bikes. The fuel efficiency penalty is hardly much worse too, so, yeah, 599/636/675/765? are being dead-ended until/unless the naked craze wanes, and I doubt it will with obvious real world advantages in comfort and price.

  • Dave Brumley

    The cockpit looks like it’s straight out of a fighter jet.

  • Chris Noblett

    What is crazy to think about is Honda redid their CBR1000RR bike and it only weighs 4lb more!

    I think that it was a mistake for Yamaha to not have the quickshifter included by default especially with the price of the bike and no touches at all to the engine.

    The entire superbike category has had big HP creep over the last few years and it would only make sense for the sportbikes to see some as well.

    Why buy this when you can get the Honda at the same weight but also get +70hp?

    • Stuki Moi

      You can use the top end of the 600s infinitely more often than liter bikes. And the top end is where any I4 sport bike shines. Also, gearing is shorter, so less clutch slippage in traffic.

      And the lowered gyro inertia from the short crank throw and light internals, make the 600s much more speed invariant wrt how quick they turn. They’re positively whispy at almost any speed.

      And then, perhaps most important of all for those of us who’ll never win a championship on any bike, there’s the not-si-irrelevant fact that 16000rpm * 1/2 power and intake strokes per rev per cylinder * 4 cylinders = 32000 intake and exhaust pulses per minute. Which is 530 Hz. Which is Pavarotti in his prime, hitting his most famous high Cs. Compared to pinging off those high Cs on your everyday morning commute, anything lower does come across as, well, distinctly lower 🙂

    • Scott Silvers

      it’s why 600’s are so few…..

  • Old MOron

    So, having finally recovered from the sting of JB’s Road King revelation, I turn my attention to Trizzle’s R6 review. This is some fine work, Trizz. Lots of detail, lots of context, lots of engaging narrative. I enjoyed reading it. I guess when I get home tonight, I’ll check out the video review.

    • TroySiahaan

      Sheesh. You keep saying more nice things like that and I might have to buy you a drink sometime.

      • Old MOron

        Aye, one of these days. Considering the pending summer heat, I think a Bintang lager would be appropriate. Of course we can’t get that in the states. Maybe a lemonade then.

        • TroySiahaan

          Bintang! Well, basically a Heineken. But I’m fine with lemonade. 🙂