The ultimate middleweight supersport? Ben Bostrom’s Graves Yamaha proved itself on the 2008 AMA Supersport series, delivering a number-1 plate.
Ben Bostrom is an extremely gifted racer. If things are going his way, he is arguably one of the most talented all-around riders in the United States, maybe even the world (remember his one-off ride to win the inaugural AMA Supermoto Championship or those five-straight World Superbike wins?). His AMA Supersport Championship-dominating Graves Motorsports Yamaha YZF-R6, though, may be even more talented than Ben himself. Or at least equally so. That is, if ridden correctly.
This epiphany came to me, smack in the face, as I tucked in behind Bostrom’s younger teammate Josh Herrin, for what was supposed to be a few “easy” laps to get some video footage. Quickly this turned into a spirited run at nearly two seconds faster per lap than I had ever turned around Streets of Willow, and reportedly not far off the 600cc and even outright lap records. Did I mention the track’s condition was quite sub-par, looking like a dirt-filled parking lot, with temperatures hovering slightly above freezing? The seconds literally fell off lap after lap, like cookie crumbles from my hands, almost as if the Graves machine could somehow suspend the laws of gravity. A big part of this Newtonian bitch slap was Herrin’s tow, as it helped show me just how hard the bike strives to be pushed. Still, no matter what I threw at the trusty little Yamaha, it simply smiled at me, as if to say, “That’s all you’ve got?”
Flicking the Graves Yamaha on its side is not an issue. The hard part is riding up to the racebike’s true potential.
The speed which Graves Motorsports has managed to extract from the Yamaha R6 this year is no secret to those of us who follow road racing in the United States. And we’ve all heard Bostrom rave about the “awesome little bike” repeatedly, while essentially dominating what is typically an un-dominate-able class. Supersport racing is most commonly akin to multi-rider groups and trading paint, but this year Benny Boy put on a riding clinic for the first three-quarters of the season, then set it on cruise control at the end to wrap up what looked to be an “easy” championship.
When’s the last time that happened? Not recently, that’s for sure. But neither “awesome” nor “easy” were the words I had running though my mind when I first threw a leg over the Supersport – not at all. At less than full tilt, the seat is extremely uncomfortable, the suspension feels as stiff as a board, the footpegs are uncomfortably high, and the throttle response is so snappy it’s almost too good. Granted, having spent the past six or so months riding solely street bikes, it look some time to get my head around the path behind this race machine – that path being Hardcore Street. A warning sticker on the tank should read: “Not to be ridden at anything less than 110%, otherwise possible damage to one’s rear-end and ego may result.”
When you ride a stripped-down, purebred racer like this you get back to what motorcycle racing is all about; the noises, the vibrations, the feel. It really puts the rider in touch with what is going on underneath him or her, making for a much more visceral experience.
At speed it quickly became apparent that no matter how much I could throw at the middleweight racer, it’s not enough. Try and try, the R6 would do no wrong. And therein lies the beauty of it. The bike pushes you to push it harder, strives to be thrown into the corner with more aggression, begs to have the throttle opened sooner. Bostrom himself had
similar feelings after riding the Graves R6 for the first time and, like me (of course, much more so), was instantly fast on the R6 with ease.
AMA rising star Josh Herrin pulled us along for our fastest laps ever around the Streets of Willow circuit.
“The first time Ben rode Herrin’s bike last year at a few tests he was instantly half-a-second faster than Herrin, within two or three laps,” said Ollie Hutchinson, Bostrom’s crew chief. “Right away he was fast, so we knew the potential was there, but consistency was the question mark.”
“That little bike is amazing,” Bostrom added. “Right from the first time I rode Herrin’s bike, it was just so easy to go fast. It was hard there at the end of the season, not racing for the win. The bike was telling me to ride harder and go win the race, but I needed to hang back and be smart for the championship; that little bike just wants to win.”
Head tucked behind the windscreen, pushing to the point of exhaustion to keep on Herrin’s backside, I could see exactly what Bostrom was talking about. The limits of this motorcycle are truly remarkable and it takes some serious mental coaxing to grasp them, especially with visions of a $50,000 R6 tumbling down the road in the back of your mind. They are so far beyond that of even the best street bike’s capabilities that I was constantly mentally pushing myself into territory I haven’t recently charted. While this isn’t totally new – I raced a very fast 600 in the Daytona 200 this past March – it’s amazing how quickly one forgets.
Sitting high suspension-wise for added agility, the bike takes a good deal of speed and lean angle before your knee is dancing with the pavement, far more than a stock street bike. Once at those speeds and slammed on its side, though, stability is impressively high – much more than I would have thought considering its amazing agility – taking quite a large pavement blemish or mindless rider input to get the chassis out of shape.
Braking, while not the most impressive part of the overall package, was more than up to the task of getting the supersport hauled back from warp-speed. Feel and feedback from the front lever is quite high considering Supersport rules demand use of a mostly stock system, with new pads and steel-braided lines. The rear brake’s power felt as if it was purposely detuned, so as to make it much more usable for Bostrom, who is a regular pusher of the back pedal. Clutch action is smooth and seamless, as is the transmission. Shifting both up and down relays a very positive feel to rider, with no doubt as to whether you’re fully in gear. Equally positive is the slipper clutch. While it doesn’t totally limit all back-torque, something I’m sure Bostrom tuned this way, it does make sure nothing funny happens at the back wheel without the rider being fully aware.
Chassis stability under extreme braking is one of the few areas where the little blue bike did anything out of the ordinary. Setup this way due to Bostrom’s loose likings, when pushed really hard and extremely late into corner-entry, the rear-end tends to get light, wiggling and squirming, feeling less than settled. But it works for Ben, and he’s the one with the Number-1 plate.
Corner exit, on the other hand, is the complete and utter opposite of entry. Planted rock-solid, the rear Dunlop D211GP rubber grips like flypaper and propels the R6 forward like a scud missile. The little machine begs the rider to open the throttle sooner and sooner, taunting you to try and find the limits of traction. While I was surprisingly unable to find these limits, even at my personal-best pace, Bostrom says when it does break traction, it does so very predictably.
“The bike’s power is great,” Bostrom said. “It pulls great on top, but what is crazy is that is has enough torque to spin the tire when I need it to. I’ve never ridden a 600 I could do that with before. It’s like a mini Superbike.” No doubt, Ben.
In stock trim the YZF-R6 is a heavy hitter in the Supersport class, but with Graves help the R6 may be the best 600 we’ve ever ridden.
No matter the pace, the strength of the 600cc Inline-Four engine is extremely impressive, to say the least. These days all of the factory Supersport race bikes make amazing horsepower for their size, most well over 125 hp at the rear wheel, but most do it all in the last couple thousand rpm before redline. At least those I have previously ridden and
raced did, a few of which have also won Supersport crowns.
The Graves R6, on the other hand, starts pulling strong as low as 10,000 rpm, then really catches stride around 14,000, sounding as if it grabs another gear and hits overdrive, screaming like a crazed banshee, kill in sight. The boost-like kick most likely comes from the YCC-I variable intake, almost reminding me of the V-TEC feel of old Honda engines, but with far more ferocity; this little R6 wants to destroy anything in its path. It will test your sphincter’s fortitude in a way no other 600 can.
The stock Yamaha YZF-R6 is an amazing motorcycle. It won a good number of 2008 middleweight shootouts throughout the industry. But where the stock R6 is two-pairs, the Graves R6 is a royal flush. Easily the best handling, most powerful middleweight Supersport racer we have ever thrown a leg over, the Graves R6 could virtually do no wrong when pushed hard. It is pure motorcycling bliss.