The winner of our Supersport shootout the last two years, Yamaha’s R6 just got better for 2005. We can’t wait to take it out on the track.
The pace of development in the middleweight sportbike class continues at a staggering rate. Although it’s been just two years since Yamaha, Kawasaki and Honda introduced all-new 600s, all are significantly updated for 2005. The Yamaha R6 becomes the first out of the gate, ready to hit dealers mid-November.
On the surface, the changes to the 2005 model-a new fork, front brakes and revised engine tuning-don’t seem highly significant, and we were unsure how much difference we would feel when MCUSA was invited to sample the revised screamer on an introductory street ride in Southern California last week. Turns out our 2003-04 Supersport shootout winner has taken a small leap forward.
Changes to the motor are limited to a revised intake along with altered injection mapping and ignition timing. The fuel-injection’s throttle bodies go up in size from 38mm to 40mm for more top-end power. The intake snorkels are not only larger in diameter to match the bigger injector bodies, but they also employ an old racing trick in which the outer two snorkels are nearly half the height of the inner pair, theoretically increasing both midrange and top-end power. Yamaha claims a more linear power curve and a gain of 3 hp at 13,000 rpm.
Now, a gain of 3 horsepower way up the tachometer is difficult to sense, even from a butt dyno that is constantly riding new machines. But we can tell you that the ’05 R6 seems just as strong up top while retaining good midrange snap during freeway roll-ons.
The big difference in feel is the result of many small chassis changes. Sticking on an inverted fork and a taller front tire sounds like an easy task, and, as a Yamaha PR wag told us, “We were expecting to call it an early day and go have coffee.”
Almost all of the visual changes to the 2005 R6 are seen here: Inverted fork, radial-mount brake calipers, larger discs and a taller front tire. You also might notice a subtle difference in the headlight lenses.
But the key change-going from an oddball 60-series front tire to a taller 70-series Dunlop-forced Yamaha’s engineering team to alter several other details to make them work in concert with each other. Going to this tire size that is almost universally chosen for sportbike use has two effects. First off, its larger diameter changes the steering geometry, and, second, it raises the front end of the bike.
Previous R6s, with its 24.0-degree rake and scant 86mm of trail, had the most radical steering geometry among the 600s, and this was the reason it was the nimblest of sportbike scalpels. But the ’05 models now have a more middle-of-the-road 24.5-degree rake and 95mm of trail.
In practice, the new bike steers with an assuredness previously unknown to R6 riders. As expected, it’s less twitchy than before, but it steers noticeably slower. However, its steering is now incredibly linear compared to the edgy old bike, and once turned in, the ’05 R6 tracks through corners with a high level of confidence. The taller front tire may also offer benefits in bump absorption, as the front end feels a bit more compliant over small bumps, despite a slight increase in front and rear spring rates.
In terms of chassis changes, the theme for the 2005 R6 is rigidity. Racers have long known that an inverted fork is less prone to deflection compared to a same-sized conventional fork. The only drawbacks to the upside-downers are their higher cost and greater weight. So Yamaha bit the upturned bullet and fitted a 41mm inverted Kayaba fork to satisfy both the racers and the posers. As an indirect result, the R6’s MSRP has risen from $7999 to $8399 for the blue and red versions and claimed dry weight is up 2 pounds. The blacked-out Raven edition with red pinstripes on the wheels retails for $100 extra. Nods to racetrack performance include the aforementioned spring rate increase and more buttoned-down damping characteristics.
The rear shock gets a similar bump of its spring rate and damping settings, in addition to a new linkage that increases its progressiveness during its stroke and physically raises the seat about 10mm, matching the increase in front ride height. To balance the more rigid fork, Yamaha has strengthened the casting where the beautiful controlled-fill aluminum swingarm attaches.
Many expected an R1/FZ6 underseat exhaust on the ’05 R6, but a Yamaha engineer tells us that such an arrangement adds weight and cost, something undesirable in this competitive segment.
I took two steps of rear preload out and backed off the front preload by one turn to better suit my lithe/puny weight, as the stiffer springs wouldn’t let the suspension use its full stroke and delivered a harsh ride. It seems as if the stiffer springs Yamaha fitted to the ’05 model for better control on the racetrack might be too much for my puny 145 lbs. on the street. The preload changes I made resulted in more compliance but it still didn’t feel as supple as our previous R6s.
Also more rigid (and just as trendy as the inverted fork) are the R6’s new radial-mount brake calipers lifted from the R1. Despite a 12mm jump in rotor diameter to 310mm, Yamaha says the weight of the brakes is reduced by 7% due in large part to the disc’s 0.5mm thinner section. Yamaha initially fitted R1 brake pads but discovered they were too grabby in preliminary testing, so the R6 gets its own spec pads. The R1 also lends its Brembo radial-pump master cylinder for better modulation and brake feel.
My first thoughts about the trick new front brakes weren’t outstandingly positive. Initial bite isn’t very sharp, and I made the quick assumption that they aren’t very powerful. That impression was, of course, incorrect, as I would find out later in the day when some remarkably elevated street speeds needed to be shrugged off in a hurry.
Southern California had recently seen its once-a-year rainstorm, and that sudden influx of water handily washed sand, silt and dirt across most of the backroads we rode. In this environment, a grabby front brake can have a rider on his head in an instant. But the R6’s radial-mount binders proved to be exceedingly easy to modulate in these tricky conditions, able to offer a just-right bite when traction was sketchy. On roads that were free of debris, the new brakes hauled the bike down with alacrity, just needing more of a squeeze from its linear lever that has extraordinarily firm feel for a bike with rubber brake lines. These are among the best brakes we’ve sampled on the street, and we’re looking forward to testing them on the racetrack.
As previous, the R6 makes a fairly comfortable street ride. Wind over the fairing hits about chest level, keeping a rider’s weight off the wrists. You could sport-tour on this thing if the mood strikes. Vibration from the engine is fairly strong at 7000 rpm, but that’s its only real buzzy zone. Higher up, where you might expect more vibes, the motor smoothes out, and it remains unperturbed even riding hard into the tach’s quintuple digits. Our only complaint about the engine is that a rider needs to be careful when reapplying throttle at high revs midway through a corner. Response is a bit abrupt, and I rode through this condition by feathering the clutch when getting back on the gas while leaned over.
Knee down on a long sweeper, this is where the new R6 shines. Changes to its steering geometry results in more confidence from the front end.
Another R1 part is the R6’s new front fender, behind which two ring-type fans cool the radiator instead of the single blower previously used. The larger diameter front tire caused a redesign of the inner cowling below the rad, and a new headlight lens completes the cosmetic changes. The lack of the expected underseat exhaust for the R6 results in the bike retaining its handy storage bin under the passenger seat.
Yamaha has done a superb job estimating demand for the R6 in this country. Production of ’04s is sold out at the dealer level, meaning the only 2004 models left are ones already at the dealers. Keeping unit numbers on the low side results in the bikes needing no customer incentives to clear out non-current models, which the dealers love. This also keeps resale values quite high, which consumers love.
All of which contributes to a significantly enhanced bike. R6s made up about half of the entire AMA Supersport grid in 2004, and this new model is a much improved racing platform. That track success and a humane riding environment has also made the R6 desirable for street riders, even newbies. Yamaha did some name-dropping at the intro, noting that Brad Pitt is the latest celebrity to ride its finely honed middleweight sportbike.
And, hey, if it’s good enough for Brad…
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