The guys at Graves Motorsports reduced the Yamaha YZF-R6’s maneuverability in favor of high-speed stability. The result was a bike that nearly gave the Honda a run for its money for second spot.
3rd Place – 2010 Yamaha YZF-R6
In the Yamaha YZF-R6, Graves Motorsports had on their hands a fast-steering but twitchy and rough-fueling machine, as the Yamaha struggled to keep pace with the Honda and Kawasaki in the first part of this series. To make up some of this lost ground, the boys in blue went back to work, doing everything possible within the allowable parameters. The results, while still third overall in the points, was a massive reduction in that gap to the leaders, nearly tying the Honda for second.
Where did this added speed and resulting reduction in lap times come from? Reducing some of the Yamaha’s mind-melting flickability in favor of some high-speed stability no doubt played a massive roll, thanks to Race Tech’s full suspension upgrade with Graves’ own tweaking of the modified front fork and custom-series shock.
It’s the 25mm cartridge kit in the fork that controls the damping, just having the correct spring rates for the rider’s particular weight or track. By stiffening things up quite a bit it reduced the amount of front-end drive while braking, which then lessens the amount the bike’s geometry steepens so as to keep the angle of attack more upright. Usually we’re after an increase in said angle compared to stock, though with the ultra-aggressive Yamaha and its street-bred and very soft spring rates, lessening this change and reducing the amount of dive is beneficial. Even so, it still remains one of, if not the quickest turning machines of the bunch.
“Even though it actually got a fair bit more sluggish this time around, the Yamaha still has the quickest turn-in of any of the bikes, hands down; also the quickest transitions left to right,” Sorensen says of the R6. “Despite the slightly more stable bike, the cost of this is still a twitchier feeling front end, which I think is worth the trade off and was also something they reduced quite a bit from last round to this. I didi like the clip-ons, though, as the added rider weight on the handlebars compared to the other bikes gives really good feedback.”
The R6 posted a max lean angle of 61.8 degrees and produced a 46.08-mph corner speed through the Bowl during Superpole, making it a dominant machine in corner-related objectives.
Same could be said out back, the Yamaha tracking over the bumps extremely well, not wanting to come around under hard braking. While a good portion of this boils down to the upgraded rear shock, some also has to be credited to the Yamaha’s very capable slipper clutch, but more on that in a bit. A look at the data for corner-related parameters shows a dominant machine, one which topped nearly every category.
Turn 8’s unique challenges show the capability of a motorcycle when cranked on its side. And this is exactly where the Yamaha shined; it posted numbers we would have thought to be unbelievable had we not experienced the Graves R6 ourselves. With a max lean of 61.8 degrees and 46.08-mph corner speed, the R6 was both the quickest through the apex of the banked corner as well as the furthest leaned over. This was possible because when on its side the Yamaha is capable of some awe-inspiring lateral g-force loads, here sticking to the track to the tune of 1.81g, some 0.3g more than the next closest machine in the competition. In the high-speed Turn 1 the story was the same, the Yami going through with more lean angle (57.8 degrees) and the highest lateral g-load of the bunch (1.20g).
As for the aforementioned slipper clutch and transmission combination, both worked very well, especially the slipper and the newly-added Dynojet speed-shifter. There was little doubt as to which bike of the group had the least engine braking on corner-entry, that being the R6. Feeling almost 250cc GP-like, if so desired one can simply bang downshifts on the little Yamaha and dump the left-hand lever, the slipper clutch taking over and keeping the rear wheel inline no matter the speed or level of aggression; very little can get the Yamaha out of shape, which is saying a lot.
“The Yamaha tranny and clutch worked well, the best slipper of the bunch, most freewheeling into the corner,” adds Sorensen, the former 250cc GP champ always favoring those machines with more back-toque limiting potential. “The electric shifter was flawless as well; no complaints there whatsoever. In fact, I would say it was one of the better of the bunch as an overall transmission package.”
Ergonomics was an area the bike received mixed reviews. The Yamaha starts out a very small machine, and when the Graves clip-ons and rearsets are added, things only continue to tighten up. While those of smaller-to-average size were fine, this had some of our taller testers, Waheed especially, struggling to get comfortable on the R6.
The ergonomics of the bike were called into question when taller testers had difficulty adjusting to the smaller machine.
“I just didn’t like the way the handlebars were positioned,” Waheed remarks. “They were far too close together and it felt like I was riding a tricycle. Combine that with the high footpegs and it made doing a lot of laps on the Yamaha quite difficult for someone of my size.”
One of the areas where the little R6 really made a stride for this stage was in terms of power, as the addition of the new airfilter and Yamaha kit velocity stacks, plus the tuning of them by the Graves guys, equated to a bike which pulled harder both through the mid-range and especially up top near redline.
Sorensen notes: “Only two bikes really have that hit in the power curve, the one on the top end that you can really feel, and that is the Yamaha and the Kawi. The R6 has good low-end torque, but the real rush of power hits around 12.5K, pulling all the way to its 16K redline. With the Yamaha you want to keep the bike spinning above 10k to get the most out of it, but now it makes decent power below that if you let it fall into the lower rev range, something it struggled to do in Stage 1.”
But while the Yamaha garnered strong marks for the amount of power it would produce, the delivery still wasn’t nearly as smooth as the competition. The bike demanded a rider with a very steady right hand, so as not to upset the chassis with its fairly abrupt on-off throttle response.
“Engine power was good and I’m surprised just how well the YCC-I system works with the R6 pumping out an astonishing level of mid-range,” Waheed adds. “Top-end was good too and the banshee-like wail that emits from the engine is downright addictive. However, I really didn’t care for the throttle response. It was way too touchy and herky-jerky.”
Some areas the R6 fell short with were its rough throttle and aftermaket brake pads, which actually reduced its stopping power.
This sentiment resonated from several other riders as well, with Neuer finding the bike especially hard to ride. While this didn’t truly hold the bike back when it came to things like overall fast lap times, what it did was make extracting those times that much more difficult. The Yamaha is by no means an easy bike to ride, and is by far the most expert rider-focused of the bunch.
Its rough on-off throttle was also apparent when looking at the data, as getting a solid drive off any of the corners became harder with the R6 due to this condition. When you look at the numbers, the max g-load produced exiting Turn 12 and Turn 8 are the lowest of the bunch, the Yamaha producing only 0.38g coming out of the Bowl (8) and 0.60g exiting the final corner (12) and onto the front straight. This could also have been, in-part, due to some slight gearing issues, as not being perfectly in the rev-range can adversely affect drive. But with none of the riders commenting on gearing problems during the test, the main issue with the R6 would appear to be the throttle response and how hard it can be to get a decent drive as a result.
Brakes were another area the Yamaha struggled, as the aftermarket Braking brake pads they installed actually took away some of the initial bite. This showed in the data numbers entering Turn 10 as well, with the Yamaha second from the back at -0.67g. Later in the test we actually had the techs remove the Braking pads and put the stock ones back in, which turned out to be far superior.
“All of the bikes received a brake upgrade with the installation of steel lines and brake pads. On the Yamaha this upgrade actually hurt the performance,” remarks Sorensen. “Aftermarket pads from Braking were installed and the initial bite was much softer and you had to use more pressure on the lever to get the bike stopped. I had the technicians reinstall the stock pads and the problem was fixed. Goes to show that aftermarket isn’t always better.”
None of these hindrances did much to slow the Yamaha down come Superpole though, as the R6 posted an impressive 1:26.08 at Big Willow, a mere three hundredths off that class-leading Kawasaki. As for Streets of Willow, it was a close second there as well; its best time of 1:18.49 again wasn’t far off the chart-topping 1:18.28 from the ZX-6R.
So why does the Yamaha finish third when it’s clearly second in Superpole times? Because, like we talked about earlier, the R6 requires extreme attention and ultra-high levels of concentration to achieve these results; whereas the Honda was a package anyone could jump on and go fast right away. And when it comes down to a machine for a wide variety of trackday riders, this is something that carries a lot of weight and is very important. The Yamaha may be a better package for that 1-percent of top racers, but when it comes to the overall package it’s definitely a third-place machine in this group.
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