Willow Springs circuit in California was the location for our correspondent’s exhilarating test of the latest incarnation of the Yamaha R6.
The desert around the Losail MotoGP racetrack in Qatar is flat and featureless, and by 10 a.m. covered with a heat haze from the burning sun that hangs in the cloudless sky. Piercing the seemingly endless white expanse, a twisting black ribbon snakes its way through the inhospitable surface, and staring through my tinted visor nothing else in the world matters. There are no expansive run-off areas with sharp golf ball sized pebbles, no overhead signs, no fences or spectator seats, just this high-speed strip of asphalt being sucked through the windshield of the new Yamaha R6 at an incredible rate.
Accompanied by an insane howl from the wildest production 600cc engine to ever get its neck wrung by this humble scribbler, I have to just ignore the fact the tachometer needle is reading somewhere between 15,000 and 16,000 rpm. And, with the fast approaching Turn 12 just a few hundred yards away, I am going to hold this gear and let the motor hit the rev limiter at close to 18,000 rpm. Yes, that really is 18 big ones, and not the figment of my imagination after ordering the wrong stuff in an Amsterdam coffee shop.
Rolling off the throttle from well over triple-digit speeds, I brush the front brake lever, drop a gear and flick into the fast right-hander, twisting on the throttle for all I am worth to get the motor back to the addiction zone. Saying a quick mental “thank you” to the God’s of motorcycling that I haven’t miscalculated which of the many right-hand corners on the near flat, featureless track, I find the zone and momentarily straighten up before tipping into Turn 13 on my knee. Out on the super smooth Losail racetrack, the gray matter inside my helmet is the only thing on the limit, because beneath the Bayly arse, the simply phenomenal Yamaha R6 is not even breaking a sweat in the 100-degree desert heat.
Completely new for 2006, this R6 is the third generation of Yamaha’s highly successful 600cc supersport series that was initially introduced back in 1999. The first R6 remained until 2003 when Generation Two was released, and this managed three years, albeit with some suspension and chassis geometry changes last year. As something of a stopgap machine for Yamaha, the ’05 was a great bike but didn’t look too much different than the ’04.
Not so this year, as Yamaha’s engineers have redesigned the new R6 from the ground up. From the moment I laid eyes on it, I knew this was going to be something extremely special. Featuring a fly-by-wire throttle system that Yamaha calls YCC-T (Yamaha Chip Controlled Throttle), an EXUP exhaust valve, a 17,500 rpm redline and a claimed peak power output of 127 non-ram-air assisted horsepower at 14,500 rpm. This is quite simply stated the wildest, most radical 600cc supersport ever made. Built with a single-minded focus to dominate the racetrack, I have got to say that outside of the hand-built $38,000 Poggipolini we tested last year, nothing I have ever ridden gets it done on the track the way this little beast does. No other motorcycle has ever inspired so much confidence either, especially after I tucked the front end of last year’s R6 at high speed due to operator error with the brakes.
Our man Bayly ran the new R6 through the ringer, determined to push the bike to its 17,500-rpm limits.
As a direct trickle down from Yamaha’s M1 MotoGP race bike, the most exciting development for the new 6, and indeed sportbikes in general, has got to be the YCC-T. Using a system that has no physical connection from the rider’s wrist to the throttle bodies, Yamaha states its “fly by wire” throttle creates a better link between man and machine. Feeling just like a regular throttle, you are still turning dual throttle cables up at bars, but the wheel they turn down at the fuel injectors is not connected to the throttle bodies. As you twist the Go Handle, a powerful ECU starts making decisions based on a vast array of sensor readings such as: air temperature, intake air pressure, atmospheric pressure, crankshaft position, engine speed, temperature, throttle position and amount of oxygen. It then precisely opens the throttle to give the engine just the right amount of fuel, compared to a conventional system than can give it too much. Blitzing round the Losail track it worked perfectly and any attempts to catch it out proved futile.
Responsible for getting fuel into the cylinders, this year’s injection system is all-new with a set of secondary injectors that kick in at 6,000 rpm. This is to ensure good drive-ability at lower rpm and to optimize the fuel efficiency at higher rpm. The system works flawlessly, although don’t expect much below 6,000 rpm. Track testing doesn’t give much opportunity to evaluate the low speed performance of a motorcycle, especially when the majority of the time you are attempting to use the upper end, but short shifting in and out of the pits gave some clue. The delivery is smooth, but it feels pretty anemic as you might expect from a small engine operating over such a wide rev range. This is not a concern for Yamaha, as this bike has been built for the track, and that is where it works best.
In a similar way to last year’s new R1, the R6 has a very feral growl as you blip the throttle from idle, and the sound the engine makes at 15K is going to make addicts out of the strongest willed. On the track, life becomes a narrow-focused mission of keeping the motor spinning at the magic mark, so forward progress is maximized and the sound inside your helmet remains pure mechanical music.
As your would expect, new pistons run in a larger 67mm bore, compared to last year’s 65.5mm, with a 2mm shorter stroke to allow the increased rpm while keeping it under 600cc. The compression ratio was hiked up to 12.8:1 from the ’05’s 12.4:1. Overhead, larger titanium intake and exhaust valves get the motion lotion in and the waste gases out, while also managing to be lighter and stronger. With each piston being reduced 13 grams in weight, Yamaha has further complimented this advantage by reducing the crankshaft’s inertial mass by 26% to help the engine reach its just phenomenal 17,500-rpm redline.
Twisting the throttle is easy, but what you don’t see is the YCC-T (Yamaha Chip Controlled Throttle) delivering the optimal amount of fuel according to different sensor readings.
The new engine also features a slipper clutch, which should be a standard item on any bike that is regularly going to the track. Braking for Turn 1 as the R6 lost speed from over 150 mph, it was most comforting to just stab down on the gear lever as I concentrated on the fast approaching second-gear corner while enjoying super-smooth shifts that didn’t unsettle the bike in any way. Up-shifting was just as easy, and the new close-ratio transmission gets top marks, making for fuss-free clutchless changes. Even while heeled right over at a couple of points on the track, I only missed one gear all day.
Further goodies are sprinkled around the new engine department, with magnesium head and case covers, a semi-hydraulic cam chain tensioner, a compact AC magneto, and a new more efficient curved radiator. One of the more noticeable changes to the new bike is its exhaust system. Featuring a low side-exit pipe, the R6 is the first 600cc machine to use Yamaha’s patented EXUP (Exhaust Ultimate Power Valve) system that we have seen for years on its bigger models. And to save weight – like just about everything else on the bike – the EXUP is made from titanium.
Interestingly, so is the unique looking silencer, which is called a “titanium mid-ship silencer” in Yamaha speak, and this bolts to the bulky looking chamber hidden away out of sight under the motor that houses the EXUP valve.
There were no surprises when the Yamaha engineers informed us the new frame borrows from its MotoGP development. Utilizing knowledge learned, the composite Deltabox frame is very similar to the new R1. Using what Yamaha call a “straight frame” concept, it keeps the steering head, swingarm pivot, and rear axle in a single line. It is also engineered to flex in certain places, but I doubt I am able to ride it hard enough to utilize that particular feature. One man that probably could was Jeffery De Vries, the ex-Yamaha World Supersport star who was on hand to teach us the circuit. Watching that man hustle the R6 round Losail was a most humbling experience.
What I did notice was how easy the bike is to turn into the corners. The spec sheet only shows a reduction of 5mm in its wheelbase, but it would be easy to believe it was even shorter. Credit must go to a half-degree steeper rake (to 24.5 degrees), with trail now 97mm compared to last year’s 95mm. During the initial presentation, a lot of emphasis was placed on the bike’s stability under braking and improved handling characteristics, but I was surprised to experience such a noticeable difference. Trail-braking deep into corners wasn’t a problem, the bike not wanting to stand up or run wide, and a couple of times getting in a little too hot was the perfect excuse for me to grow some spuds and tip the bike in harder. Of course it just stuck to its task and made me realize how much harder I should have been riding.
Joining a group of a dozen English journalists, as well as professional racer, Chris Ulrich, I was running around mid-pack pace-wise. What I do have to say about this pace was, it was the fastest I have gone on a track since the ’05 R6 “incident” last year that carefully re-arranged my collarbone into a few pieces.
The new R6’s bold new redesign represents the third generation of Yamaha’s popular supersport machine. As good as the R6 looks, the sound output after a twist of the throttle is one which Bayly assures “is going to make addicts out of the strongest willed.”
However, I can safely say I don’t remember feeling more relaxed on a racetrack. It just seemed like no matter where I was on the stunning circuit, or what I did, the R6 just took it all in its stride. There are plenty of places on the track where you are at full throttle leaned over through a couple of gears, and the bike just felt so composed, so planted and so at ease that I started getting later and later on the brakes into the corners. This just gave more of the same as the front end just absorbed the forces, the slipper clutch made dropping the necessary gears a joy, and the monster brakes gave my upper body a serious workout.
On the subject of brakes, these are the same set up as last year’s six, featuring radial-mounted calipers biting down on the 310mm rotors. As with last year’s set-up, the only limit to how quick you can scrub of speed with these bad boys is going to be the size of your wedding tackle. During our test I was sharing my particular machine with some of the other American journalists, so the brakes never really got a rest. No worries, though, as they performed as good on my fastest laps at the end as they did at the beginning of the day. The lever action is smooth and they are extremely easy to use. Trail braking is easy to modulate, and the adjuster wheel will set the lever to your desired distance in a flash. There is also a back brake somewhere, but I have to confess I didn’t use it.
The R6’s front fork is again a 41mm inverted unit, but the difference is it now has provisions for adjusting both high- and low-speed compression damping, something Yamaha is claiming as another first. Reaching a level of adjustability that is beyond me, I was extremely impressed with its performance in the early sessions using what Jeffery De Vries told me were standard settings. These settings were changed mid test as the pace picked up and the footpegs started touching down, which eliminated the problem. This was achieved by dialing more preload (and rebound damping to compensate) into the rear shock, which is also has low- and high-speed compression damping adjustment. Attaching to the massive GP-inspired swingarm it performed perfectly for me.
Further aiding our track heroics, a sticky set of new Dunlop Sportmax Qualifier tires had been spooned onto the five-spoke wheels. The 120/70ZR-17 front and 180/55ZR-17 rear get full marks from the Big-Nosed one. Riding more aggressively than I have in a year, nailing the throttle so early exiting the corners, I kept waiting for some sort of slide, which thankfully never happened. I am happy to report not one single tire incident all day of any kind.
The R6 powerplant remains under the 600cc supersport threshold, but its bore was increased from 65.5mm to 67mm and stroke decreased by 2mm.
With the bikes parked and ace photog Tom Riles doing his stuff on pit lane, I got a chance to admire Yamaha’s newest wild child at rest for a few moments. Wrapped in all new sleek, sexy bodywork, I personally like the 50th the best and spent most of the day on it. The radical looking front fairing, with its dual line beam headlights, houses the massive air intake that incidentally runs straight through the frame.
To the rear, the tail unit is as slick as it gets, with the trickest LED taillight yet produced. I am not sure if I like the way the license plate attaches, but you know that is going to get yanked as soon as the bike makes it home, whether is going on the street or the track.
Coming to America priced at $9,199 in the Team Yamaha blue/white combo, the new R6 is the most expensive 600cc supersport yet produced. And it’ll cost $100 more for the blacked-out Raven model and $9499 for the Yellow/black Anniversary colors.
This isn’t going to affect sales one single bit. This bike is going to be leaving showroom floors as quick as it going to be passing the competition on the racetrack, and I have got to admit to another small confession: I have already put my order in with Yamaha.
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