2011 Supersport Shootout - Track [Video]
Can Suzuki's new Gixxer spoil the 600cc party?
2011 Yamaha YZF-R6 $10,690 - $10,890
First introduced in 2006, Yamaha’s YZF-R6 has long been the one that drew comparisons to the two-stroke racing machines of old due to its rush of power up top. That’s fine for a bike that will spend much of its life on the track. Unfortunately, the number of R6s that will see regular track time is rather small.
Yamaha has revised the R6 steadily year by year — including a significant revamp in 2008 — to help provide some more bottom-end power, but it still hasn’t been able to shed its track-focused reputation. Add to that some “modifications” to help it meet noise emission requirements, and the R6 has become a conundrum of sorts as it will still rev to 15,000 rpm, but is choked in the power department past 13,000 rpm.
“You gotta keep the Yamaha's engine boiling to keep up with the other bikes in every situation,” notes contributor-turned-latest-MO-staffer, Tom Roderick. “For experienced riders this shouldn't be a problem and can very well be considered more exciting, nevertheless, better mid-range is needed to keep pace with the other bikes.”
Indeed, all of our testers agreed that a lack of mid-range is the R6’s Achilles heel. “It feels noticeably soggier around 8000 rpm than the others, and this is a rev zone that is dipped into quite often,” notes head honcho Duke. Thankfully, the Yamaha’s fueling and calibration of the YCC-I and YCC-T is spot-on, allowing a competent rider to make the most of the power at hand with hardly a burble or hesitation between the throttle and the rear tire.
In the chassis department, the Yamaha was a bike we never really had any complaints with. Its 24.0-degree rake measurement is tied with the Kawasaki ZX-6R for the “laziest” of the group but that in no way implies that the R6 is slow to steer. Quite the contrary, thanks to its 54.1-inch wheelbase, second shortest in this group behind the Honda.
Duke was impressed at how “quickly and assuredly” it responds to steering inputs, while Pete and I both admired how planted the front end felt. Right out of the box the R6’s 41mm, fully-adjustable inverted fork got along well with most of our testers, inspiring confidence. Although we weren’t bothered by any head-shaking antics, the lack of a steering damper is a notable omission in this company. A fully adjustable shock out back was setup a little stiff for our liking around the bumpy Streets of Willow track, but ‘twas nothing a few clicks and a couple turns of the adjusters couldn’t fix.
If you’ve been paying any attention at all to our previous reviews of the R6, one glaring theme is the wooden feeling from its brakes. On paper, the 310mm rotors and radial-mount, four-pot calipers sound like a potent combination, especially since they have a Brembo master cylinder feeding it fluids, but they actually fall short of the latest class standards in terms of feel. While this pairing has no problem getting the R6 slowed quickly, we’re left wanting more in the feedback department.
With its racetrack focus, it’s no surprise that the R6 has the most race-inspired seating position of the bunch. A high seat combined with low clip-on bars places a lot of weight on the wrists during the normal commute, but here at the track it places the rider low and tight within the bubble.
Lastly, appearance is what ultimately attracts a buyer, and of the four bikes here, we think the R6 most looks like it belongs on the racetrack. “The Yamaha is the best looking, most aggressively styled sportbike of the bunch,” notes our FNG.
At the end of the day this contest was as close as it’s always been, and with no changes to the R6 since we last tested it, we’ve still got the same complaints. The lack of power down low hurts the Yamaha exiting corners, and now that all three of its Japanese counterparts boast healthy mid-range punch, that issue becomes exacerbated after hopping off any of those bikes and onto the YZF.
Combine that with the lack of feeling from the brakes (again, when the other three excel in this category) and we have no choice but to rank the R6 fourth place in this test. Although it’s important to note that if you’re a racer or serious trackday junky, one look at the Graves Motorsports catalog should be enough to convince you that all of these deficits can be overcome with a simple phone call and a deep pocketbook.