Yamaha delivers a retooled YZF-R6 to the 2008 supersport fray, hoping its latest 600 will return it to the head of the class.
Eight years ago Yamaha’s ground breaking YZF-R6 smashed traditional middleweight class rules. Its light, nimble chassis paired with a compact yet powerful, high-revving powerplant wrapped in sharp, aesthetically pleasing bodywork raised the bar and simultaneously transformed what riders have now come to expect from a 600cc Supersport bike.
The Yamaha R6 has always been a machine of few compromises, and that’s why we’ve always loved it. It also explains why R6 sales now account for 51-percent of Yamaha’s sportbike pie. But as Honda’s CBR600RR showed in this year’s Supersport Shootout V, a bike with compromises sometimes can edge its narrowly focused competitor.
Not happy with being relegated out of the top spot, the R-six is back for ’08 with some substantial changes that aim to bring the bike back to the front.
Mazda Laguna Seca Raceway was the chosen venue for the 2008 Yamaha YZF-R6 press introduction – and we were glad it was, because if you haven’t ever turned a lap around the recently repaved 2.2-mile circuit you’re doing yourself an injustice. And with Graves Motorsports Yamaha rider Josh Herrin tallying his first AMA 600cc Supersport win here in September, it proves the R6 is a legit contender around the picturesque 11-turn course.
Visually it’s difficult to distinguish the new R6 from the old. Yamaha recognizes that since its major overhaul in ’06, the R6 has become a rolling icon – best viewed at any angle. So instead of messing up a good thing, the Tuning Fork designers chose to make some very subtle tweaks that further enhance the machine’s clean, yet edgy, look. And unless you have the two bikes side by side, it can be difficult to spot the changes.
Up front, the upper cowling had been reshaped and the rearview mirror mounting points have been relocated from the fairing itself to the fairing support stay. The side fairings have been slightly modified and have an upper edge that reaches farther forward, which smoothes out the aerodynamic package. The already miniscule tailpiece has been tapered, which completes the stealthy radar wave deflecting image.
Despite its nearly identical appearance, underneath that slick new bodywork lies an entirely new chassis. Everything from the fork, lower triple clamp, frame, shock, swingarm and even the subframe has been reworked in order to extract maximum handling performance out of the slightly-heavier 366-lb machine (claimed dry weight).
We’ve always been impressed by how nimble and precise the R6 chassis has been, but up until now that sharpness has come at a price – overall stability. This was especially noticeable when speeds extended into triple digits.
Yamaha acknowledged the problem and the new black deltabox aluminum frame has been tuned for more rigidity in some areas, less in others. Despite the tweaks, the frame retains the same asphalt carving 24-degrees of rake, 97mm of trail and 54.3-inch wheelbase. Steering head and motor mount areas have been reinforced helping to make them more rigid. The main frame cross member has been removed and frame wall thickness has been slimmed by 0.5mm which helps to optimize frame rigidity.
The rear subframe is now made of magnesium (a first for a Yamaha production motorcycle) and weighs over a pound less then the cast aluminum design it replaces. A pound may not seem like much, but every little bit helps in the never-ending quest for optimum mass centralization.
Like the frame, the boomerang-shaped black aluminum swingarm has also been tweaked and now incorporates a thicker, reinforced pivot section. Just behind, ribs inside of the front casting also help to make the swingarm stiffer. The end portion of the trick looking piece is also now constructed out of forged aluminum, as opposed to an extruded piece.
Soaking up tarmac at the front is a new 41mm inverted fork featuring four-way adjustment (high/low-speed compression and rebound damping, and spring preload). Compression and rebound adjustment ranges have been increased in order to provide greater tune-ability. Fork outer tubes are 10mm longer (allowing for greater ride height adjustment) and spring rate has been increased by 2.5% (from 8.8 to 9.0 N/mm.)
A redesigned lower triple clamp increases fork offset and now grabs 5mm more surface (from 35mm to 40mm) which helps to increase front end feedback and reduces flex under intense braking.
Although sleek looks play a big part in a bike’s overall commercial success, it’s what’s on the inside that counts. In the new R6’s case, this amounts to over 50 changes to the supersport powerplant.Caption
Out back the four-way adjustable shock now has R1-style high/low-speed compression damping adjusters. Like the fork, the shock has a greater range of high/low-speed compression and rebound damping settings, as well as a 5% higher spring rate (from 98 to 103 N/mm). A new shim-style ride height adjuster is now standard and allows for increased chassis adjustment.
At speed these changes amount to a totally different riding experience than the previous version. All of the agility and the ability to maneuver quickly from side-to-side remains, but unlike last year’s version, a broad feeling of stability is now present at all speeds.
Mid-corner line changes are as effortless as before, but motoring through Laguna’s ultra-fast, uphill, blind Turn 1 revealed a chassis that was as solid as Hulk Hogan in his prime – even while cranked over with the throttle pegged in fifth gear. In addition to the new found stability, the new chassis delivers tons of feedback through both ends, even on OEM street tires. In fact, the chassis was so stable that we thought for sure it came equipped with some kind of steering damper, but to our surprise it doesn’t.
The engineers on hand had a baseline setup for the bikes which worked fantastically. The only real handling gremlin we encountered was an ever so slightly fast rebounding fork. The always helpful techs dialed in two clicks of rebound, thereby slowing fork return. I went back out just as fast as I came in, anxious to see if the change smoothed out fork stroke. The change made the fork action more controlled, which allowed me to blast through Rainey curve with complete confidence.
The R6 has always been known for its powerful engine. In fact, the ’07 version was the king in terms of overall horsepower, which was great in the hands of a skilled rider. On the flip side, the ’07’s narrow, peaky powerband made it slightly difficult for mere mortal riders to keep the tach pegged near the red where the real power is.
The Tuning Fork engineers understood that its bike needed a mid-range power boost, so they incorporated over 50 changes aimed at increasing engine power and durability, as well as reducing an engine’s arch nemesis – friction. What kind of changes you ask? Subtle ones, such as the valve springs being manufactured out of a new material. Also, connecting rod bearings are now wider and made out of an improved alloy. These upgrades may not seem like much, but every bit helps when you’ve got four pistons furiously mashing up and down, spinning the crank at 16,000 rpm.
The ergos on the new Yamaha supersport move the rider forward and place more weight on the front end.
Propelling the now steadfast chassis forward is an updated 599cc liquid-cooled DOHC Inline-Four. Between the magnesium engine covers, the engine retains the same oversquare 67 x 42.5mm bore/stroke dimensions, as well as the same sized 16 titanium valves, but a compression boost to 13.1:1 (up from 12.8:1), helps increase mid-range and top-end power. The extra squeeze comes via reshaped pistons utilizing a domed piston crown.
One specific technological innovation that trickles down from the R1 is Yamaha’s Chip Controlled Intake (YCC-I). The system varies intake funnel length from tall (66mm) and short (26mm) position when throttle angle input is greater than 60 degrees and engine rpms are greater than 13,700. This means engineers no longer have to make a compromise between top-end and mid-range intake tuning, giving R6 riders the best of both worlds.
Screaming through Laguna’s right-hand Turn 4, we could audibly hear the motorized mechanism at work – whirling furiously like R2-D2 being chased by a platoon of storm troopers. Besides the cool sound, YCC-I is completely unobtrusive and all we noticed is the improved pull from as low as 10,000 rpm.
Yamaha’s sophisticated chip controlled throttle (YCC-T), ride-by-wire throttle system returns with optimized fuel mapping for the eight-injector setup. The 2007’s slightly abrupt throttle response is gone and has been replaced by throttle feel that’s crisper than Richard Branson’s linen pajama suits – it’s simply off the charts. In fact, it felt so precise that soon we began picking up the throttle earlier mid-corner then ever before. The 41mm throttle bodies also now incorporate a new feature in which they continue to feed in fuel even after the throttle is closed. This further reduces engine braking and in conjunction with the awesome back torque limiting slipper clutch, the R6 almost “free-wheels” into corners similar to a 2-stroke GP machine.
With wider 310mm rotors, the Yamaha’s brakes delivered steady stopping power. Combined with the Dunlop Qualifier rubber, the new R6 package had us very comfortable at Laguna.
Other mechanical tweaks include an updated exhaust camshaft which allows spent premium unleaded fuel to be shot through the updated 4-2-1 EXUP-valve equipped exhaust that features a larger header crossover tube. At speed, the banshee-like wail that emits from the MotoGP-style titanium muffler is so euphoric that it should be sold on iTunes. Seriously, I would buy it and set it as my phone’s ring tone – it’s that cool.
In keeping with the R6’s closed-course pedigree, racy, track-oriented ergonomics return. Handlebars have been moved 5mm (forward and down) and seating position has been moved forward 5mm as well. These changes are aimed at both placing more weight on the front tire as well as increasing front-end feedback. Seat and footpeg height are the same as before and, despite my taller than average six-foot height, the cockpit felt well proportioned. In fact, the riding position felt no more aggressive than the ’07 version. The top of the tank has been reshaped and we definitely felt more comfortable tucked in behind the small but useable windscreen.
Instrumentation is both elegant and functional, with a humongous analog tachometer and ultra-bright programmable shift light right in your face. And with the extremely well geared, precise shifting close ratio six-speed transmission, it made it easy to keep the R6 on the pipe. Continuing the trend of racetrack functionality, an integrated lap timer is standard equipment and is controlled via the right side handlebar. A digital speedo, odometer, dual trip-meters, water temperature gauge and standard issue warning lights complete the list of dashboard do-dads.
The blue screamer is kept in check by wider 310mm rotors (up 0.5mm) that get clamped down by a pair of Sumitomo four-piston monobloc calipers. The thicker front discs help dissipate heat, combat warping and increase rotor longevity. Rocketing into Laguna’s deep, double-apex Andretti Hairpin revealed that stoppers are totally up to task. The stellar binders offer plenty of both rear wheel in-the-sky power and feel through the Brembo radial-pump equipped lever, which allowed us to slam into the corner with Herrin-like authority. And while we still wonder why 600s still come with rubber lines, we experienced absolutely zero brake fade despite long 30-plus-minute stints.
The R6 rolls on new spec Dunlop Qualifier “PTM” 120/70 front and 180/55 rear tires. The new rubber was specifically engineered to complement the new chassis and although it looks identical to the ’07s, both tires incorporate a thinner sidewall as well as a modified inner construction.
Our test rider couldn’t contain his excitement over the new R6, but will the new Yamaha supersport have what it takes to best its 600 competitors?
Even on a mild Fall afternoon, in which track temps were quite low before the sun burnt the morning fog away, the tires did a fantastic job of allowing us to get up to speed quickly. And in conjunction with the updated chassis, the rubber gave us the feedback and confidence we needed to push a little harder than we probably should have on street tires, which is a testament to just how good of an overall package new R6 is.
Straight up at the track the new R6 rips. It’s nimble, precise steering chassis finally has the stability it always needed served up with a fat side of elusive road feel. Although we only got to ride the R6 on track, engine power is much improved especially in the mid-range where it was previously lacking, thus making us believe it will be an equally better street ride.
In the capable hands of Graves Motorsports, the new R6 looks to be an excellent and immediately competitive racing platform. You too can have a taste of what both Josh Herrin and Ben Bostrom’s lives are like in four distinct flavors: Team Yamaha Blue, Raven Black (with race-inspired sponsor decals) and Liquid Silver for $9599. Or if your looking for something more exclusive that will help you embrace your inner mullet-you can pickup the Cadmium Yellow with Flames color scheme for $9799. Without a doubt, the new R6 is the best Supersport Yamaha has ever produced, but will it have what it takes to dethrone the Honda CBR600RR? We’re counting the days until we can find out.
Let us know what you think about this comparo in the MCUSA Forum.