2006 Middleweight Supersport Shootout
Honda CBR 600RR : Kawasaki ZX-6R : Suzuki GSX-R600 : Triumph 675 : Yamaha YZF R6
Get the Flash Player to see this player.Tied for Second: Yamaha YZF-R6
It's nice to see a love it or hate it kind of bike in a class dominated by carefully engineered machines with differences measured in tenths. This newest R6, the third total redesign since 1999, is an extreme bike, one that elicits strong reactions.
Styling-wise we think the Yamaha people have hit it out of the park, maybe even the parking lot outside the park as well. Every part on this bike was designed to be aggressive-looking and purposeful, from the big aerodynamic wings on the fairing to the teeny little tail section that will frustrate racers looking for real estate for their numbers or sponsorship stickers. The little stub of an exhaust pipe is very MotoGP, and kudos to the stylists for not jumping on the done-to-death undertail exhaust bandwagon. Our test unit was dressed to kill in its Yamaha 50th anniversary gold and black paint scheme, which makes grown men weep with joy when viewed in sunlight.
On board, our riders noted a very compact seating position, with bars and pegs close to the seat. Surprisingly, it wasn't too uncomfortable; Sean called it "quite comfortable on the street", but Gabe found the seat's comfort lacking after he rode it back to Torrance after our trackday was done. He made it in one (tired) piece, but not without some judicious complaining; "my ass hasn't been this sore since my first night at MO!" It's no tourer, but there are less comfortable bikes out there.
What makes the R6 exceptional, aside from its cutting-edge styling, is an incredible motor. It makes 111 hp at the rear wheel, with a genuine 600 cc of displacement and no tuning tricks. What's the catch? This power comes on like a light switch; Sean described it as "almost two-stroke like with its distaste for low revs and an explosive upper-RPM hit." Gabe almost pooped himself when he went to pass a pesky B group slowpoke on the racetrack by clicking down two gears in the smooth, flawless gearbox and twisting the throttle hard exciting a turn. The bike jumped forward and shot past a clump of riders so fast he thought he was crashing. "It leaps out of corners and screams its way downrange just like a real race bike" according to Sean, all the while making delicious high-rpm wailing sounds that cause sterility in migrating birds and make property values plummet 15 miles away.
Maybe 17,500 rpm was a figment of Yamaha's PR hacks, but our MO Dynojet Dyno did record power at 16,000 rpm, although peak power comes on at just a little over 14,000. Still, at 10,500 rpm it's pumping out close to 90 hp and keeps it up until Mr. Rev Limiter growls "lights out!" and shuts it down at 16,000. That's a 5,500 rpm-wide powerband, hardly what we'd call "peaky" if it was any other bike. "I felt comfortable keeping the engine revving above 10,000 rpm" said Mike. "In doing so, the bike felt fast and the engine just shrieked." That's the idea; keep it over 10 grand and let the fun begin. On the street, that means Mr. Toad's wild ride, wheelieing off the corners and accelerating the 357 pound (claimed) critter like a cinder block dropped off an overpass. "When ridden in its sweet spot, the R6 flat-out ripped!" gushes Eric.
Handling is similar to the motor's character; manic yet precise and effective when utilized correctly. The forward-biased chassis and lack of a steering damper made the bike feel a little unsettled when pushed a bit; Eric claimed he could get the R6 to "wag its tail easily" on the track, and Mike thought the handling was "very sharp, maybe sharper than the Triumph." Gabe noted headshake under even mild racetrack conditions, and a chassis very sensitive to input or suspension tuning. If this is your first sportbike, we just hope you know what you're doing. If you have any doubts about your tuning or riding abilities, get the lower-spec R6S: it's a fantastic bike that is forgiving and a lot less expensive, yet almost as fast.
The new R6 is as ground-breaking and controversial as the original. It's a unique bike with incredible charisma and presence. It "makes the greatest sounds in all of sportbiking", according to Eric, and Ole liked the "delicious and sublime" handling and chassis. However, it is clearly harder to ride than the other bikes and designed for hard-core trackday enthusiasts and racers; "If you're a racer looking for a middleweight track weapon, look no further" says Sean.
The Pink One also said "it's a hell of a bike... and it should be, considering how much Yamaha charges for it." $9,199 ($9,299 for Raven and $9,499 for the 50th anniversary paint) is a lot of money for a 600, but it's a lot of 600 for your money, and one that should safely stay on the leading edge for several years. Will Honda or Kawasaki be able to top it next year?
Yamaha YZF R6 Tech Brief
Seven years ago, the first YZF-R6 screamed out of its mother's womb, making a huge impact on the middleweight sportbike scene with an amazing combination of light weight, free-revving horsepower and razor-sharp handling. Yamaha set themselves a very high bar of being the leader in 600 cc sportbikes, but the last iteration of the R6, though a sweet-handling and comfortable ride, was a little behind the curve when it came to power.
Yamaha entered 2006 with guns blazing. The all-new 2006 YZF-R6 offers sharpened power, handling and boasts a 17,500 rpm redline. Yes, we know the 17,500 claim is bogus, the result of someone not checking their voicemail frequently enough. It still has an incredible motor and great chassis.
The motor is completely redesigned, with several firsts for Yamaha. The 16-valve, liquid cooled motor uses titanium valves and 67 mm pistons working in a 42.5 mm bore compressing fuel and air to a 12.8:1 mixture. The clutch and gearbox is all new as well, with a super-tall, 80 mph first gear and slipper clutch for maximum racetrack performance. Fuel injection (with digital engine management, of course) is controlled by an all-new fly-by-wire system for precise control. The result is 111 hp on our Dynojet Dyno at just under 14,500 rpm.
The chassis is also new, of course. The GP-inspired Deltabox frame and swingarm are much more rigid in all directions than the old frame, and it's constructed of a combo of plates and castings to create what Yamaha calls a "straight connection layout." The swingarm pivot is also moved 20mm, and all the changes result in a 5 mm shorter wheelbase and sharper, steeper steering geometry. However, there's still no steering damper.
The suspension is as serious as the rest of the bike. The 41 mm inverted forks have separate high and low-speed damping circuits, as does the rear shock. Since most sportriders don't know enough to even set their spring sag, Yamaha's message is clear: they are catering to very serious racers and trackday enthusiasts. Brakes are similarly serious, with radial-mounted, monoblock calipers grabbing 310 mm floating discs.
The whole package weighs in at 357 pounds dry, (claimed) just a couple of pounds lighter than last year's model. However, those two pounds come at a steep price; the 2006 YZF-R6 rings up at an MSRP of $9,199, a cool grand more than the old bike. That might be immaterial; Yamaha is going to bring in a limited number of these bikes anyway. However, the old model will still be available as the YZF-R6S, with standard forks and brakes (instead of the inverted forks and radial-mount claipers on the 2005) for just $8,199.
The Winner: Triumph Daytona 675
Do you remember all the hype for the Jerry Bruckheimer production of "Pearl Harbor"? It seems the more something is hyped, the more it actually sucks. Fortunately, motorcycles frequently measure up to the hyperbole, and here's a good example. Triumph's sportbikes, especially 600-size, tend to be overweight and underpowered, if excellent handling. So when they announced this three-cylinder 675cc wunderkind, we were skeptical. Would they really offer class-leading power and be able to wrap it in a sweet-handling, lightweight chassis? And sell it all for a reasonable price? We braced ourselves for another Triumph-sized disappointment, but we were spared.
Instead, we started hearing from the early ride and introduction reports that this thing really was all that. This was good and bad. Good because a good motorcycle is always a good thing in general, but bad because we knew there was no way we would get one to test against the other middleweights, and no amount of intellectualizing would explain away the lack of this bike in our test to our fiendishly discerning and demanding readership. Fortunately for us, reader Ole Colton came through with a lightly-used, bone stock (we had to switch the off-road canister--which adds exactly one horsepower--for the stock exhaust) example for us to use, so we can tell you how it measures up.
One glance at the bike tells you it's something different. The styling is a combination of 80's sharp lines and 90's curves that results in a mature yet aggressive look that stands out in this pack. Eric said it had "more gorgeous, swoopy lines than a Lotus Elise", and Mike just called it "beautiful to look at." The high tailsection looks a bit insectoid, but that high seat helps taller riders with comfort, too.
The bike is dripping with sweet details. There's a cast, bolt-on subframe, gold-anodized forks, solo seat cowl, easily-detachable license plate bracket, and a cool three-outlet exhaust can. The instruments, housed in what Eric called a "beautiful and elegant" dash are as comprehensive as it gets, with a gear indicator (ironic, as this is the bike that least needs an indicator), lap timer, shift light (that flashes a series of three blue LEDs at you as you near the limit) and MPG calculator. Gabe and Eric complained about the MPH readout being too small, but you can set the clock to display the time in Big Ben-sized numbers in case you leave your glasses at home, grandpa.
Hopping on, shorter riders like Gabe, Eric and Mike can still just about get their feet flat, thanks to an incredibly narrow cross section. It's so slim at the waist you can practically touch your heels together under the bike. The frontal profile is noticeably smaller than the other bikes, and the low bars and cut-outs on the top triple clamp contribute to the feeling of compact lightness. It "felt a little weird because of its tall, stinkbug stance" to Eric, but Sean thought "it was perfectly comfortable for the couple hundred of street miles we covered." Gabe and Mike loved the narrow tank; this is a tiny-feeling, yet comfortable bike.
The motor fires up easily, and aside from a fuel injection stumble at about 1,500 rpm, pulls easily and cleanly to the 13,000 rpm rev limit we saw on our Dynojet Dyno. The torque curve is remarkable, getting near 40 foot-pounds at just 4,000 rpm and staying ironing board-flat all the way to redline. This flexible, torquey, free-revving and powerful mill is the heart of this bike's appeal, and we think it's one of the best middleweight motors we've experienced. Eric noted a slightly notchy gearbox, but he thinks it will improve with time, like other Hinkley-produced transmissions.
Possibly the best part of it all is the incredible sound the 675 makes when it's wound out. Here's what the peanut gallery had to say:
Ole: "Oh my God I love triples. The sound that this bike makes between 6000 and 12000 rpms is one of the sweetest sounds I've ever heard."
Sean: "That beautiful howl makes me ride like even more of an idiot than usual -- good bye license."
Mike: "The engine is just awesome; awesome torque, awesome sound, awesome pull -- I want one!"
Gabe: "The sound is so incredible that I was actually caught myself singing along with it in my helmet; does Triumph make a disc of triple music for my Karaoke machine?"
Hey, the Rocket III has a great motor, too, but we didn't like the bike overall. How good is the chassis? Does it measure up to a great motor?
You bet. The 675 doesn't handle like the other boys, but it neatly matches the triple's quick-revving, nimble character. With its forward weight bias and that ass-high back end, the bike feels like it has "unbelievably light steering", according to Mike. Eric had no trouble getting accustomed to the bike quickly on the track and set his fastest laps on it. Ole likes the way it's "totally effortless and highly comfortable to go very fast [on] while feeling like you have a huge amount in reserve."
As a package, track or street, the Triumph is fun, exciting and effortless to ride. It has light steering, a free-revving, powerful-feeling motor, outstanding brakes, and supple, well-controlled suspension. Expert and not-so-expert riders alike loved the bike, and in fact we all picked it as the bike we'd like to own. Sean made serious sounds towards owning one, and Gabe swears he'll buy the naked version if (when!) it comes out. Ole and Sean noticed vibration; the rear motor mount is very close to the rider's footpeg, but because you can keep the bike on the boil at much lower rpm, the rest of the crew didn't really notice (or shut up about it if they did). The other little nit pick is the way the high tail section slopes the seat into the tank; Ole recommends gripping the tank tightly with your knees at low speeds.
What's the catch? We don't think there is one. Triumph has pulled off a real coup here. The 675 is great-looking, sweet-handling, and very fast for a middleweight. It's also surprisingly novice-friendly and easy to ride, with the flexible motor and forgiving, yet precise chassis letting you focus on your riding, whether you are on the street or on the track. It's even priced reasonably at just $8,999, cheap compared to an MV Agusta Brutale or Ducati 749. After years of struggling to compete with the Japanese factories following the rules, Triumph wrote their own so they could win. The result works well and will be a strong contender for Bike of the Year. Congraulations, Triumph.
Triumph Daytona 675 Tech Briefing
The bike we've been wishing Triumph would make for a long time, the 675 uses a lot of cutting-edge technology to give us a bike that will beat the giant Japanese factories.
The heart is an incredibly compact, liquid-cooled 12-valve three-cylinder motor. The pistons are jumbo-sized, with a 74 mm bore and 52.3 mm stroke. The compression ratio is a sporty 12.65:1 and fueling duties are handled by a multipoint sequential electronic fuel injection system managed by an inductive digital ignition and an electronic engine management system. Triumph claims 123 hp at the crank, numbers right in line with our reading of 108 hp at the back wheel on the MO Dynojet Dyno.
The chassis is also innovative, with the extruded aluminum frame spars arching over the motor to give it a slender, compact feel. The wheelbase is a stubby 54.8 inches and the chassis geometry is fashionably aggressive with 23.5 degrees of rake and 86.8 mm of trail. Suspension is handled by a pair of gold-anodized 41 mm inverted forks, adjustable for preload, rebound and compression damping. The rear shock works through a linkage and is also three-way adjustable. It also has a ride-height adjuster, if you can scrounge the right sized washers and don't mind taking the shock out to adjust it. Brakes are radial-mount four-piston calipers and 308 mm free-floating discs.
The bike is topped off with swoopy, modern-looking bodywork and an all-steel tank, a welcome thing if you've got a tankbag. The instrument panel is loaded with features, but there is no anti-theft system built into the ignition. With a price of just $8,999, the Triumph is priced right in line with its Asian competitors. Will Triumph devastate the Japanese automotive industry, leaving Japan as deserted and depressed as England's Industrial Midlands in the 1970s and '80s? We doubt it, but this is an exciting product from a company that has enjoyed more success than failure in recent years, and should boost their fortunes even more.