Yamaha’s YZF-R6 was ahead of its time when released for the 2008 model year. So much so that it went nine years in the same clothes. Not anymore – feast your eyes on the Tuning Fork brand’s new and most certainly improved YZF-R6.
Renowned for its handling prowess, which rises to extreme levels courtesy an entirely new front end and more (outlined in the 2017 YZF-R6 Preview), this fourth-generation machine is the best handling, best-looking, and most slippery production sportbike ever to roll off Yamaha’s Japanese assembly line.
The Sharpest Handling
The handling of Yamaha’s final twin-spar aluminum framed YZR500 two-stroke GP bike is a thing of lore. And if there were a modern street-legal sportbike that embodied this type of razor-sharp cornering it is the ‘17 R6.
The R6 loves corners. Whether they’re slow, off camber, uphill, downhill, fast, decreasing radius, well, you get the point. It tackles ‘em all with ease. Despite weighing 20 pounds less than its svelte and CG-friendly YZF-R1 sibling, with alloy wheels spinning the difference feels twice that.
Direction changes are instantaneous. Look, input, and you’re there. Compared to a 1000cc superbike, the R6 requires considerably less muscle to hustle around the track, which in turn reduces fatigue and makes it easier to ride at pace, for longer.
Like before, this 600 continues to employ a rigid-chassis, at least for a street bike. Loaded with precious front-end feel it rewards calculated yet aggressive riding. A portion of the credit goes to Bridgestone’s gummy and sure-footed Battlax R10 race rubber, which held up well around T-Hill’s challenging and especially abrasive when cool surface.
Off the showroom floor the R6 comes fitted in Dunlop’s Sportmax D214 shoes or Bridgestone’s Battlax S21 rubber. If you have a choice, opt for the latter. It’s also worth noting that Bridgestone engineers worked closely with Yamaha to reduce the OE-spec S21s by 1.7-pound compared to the commercial grade version.
The 2mm thicker, R1-sourced fork, complete with 3mm larger diameter front axle (25mm), is the pavement reading equivalent of brail, making you feel like you’re playing a video game. Except you’re the rider on the iPad screen. When pushed, the fork holds up well under load, yet offers more favorable flex characteristics over bumps. Credit the move to a 7mm thinner bottom triple clamp (29mm vs. 36mm) says the blue men.
This was readily apparent through Turn 8 — a fast off-camber left bend taken in third or fourth gear on a 600. We prefer fourth gear because the 599cc Inline Four’s mid-range has the muscle to the cog courtesy its YCC-I variable intake funnel system. We’ll talk more about that in a moment.
Compression damping adjustment moves from the bottom of the fork to the top, however a separate high-speed adjuster is absent. In application, you’ll never miss it. A fresh KYB shock complements the fork and performed flawlessly. The shock uses a threaded collar, instead of the more basic ramp-style setup. This nets a wider range of spring preload adjustment, with more accuracy, too. And it continues to include four-way adjustability (with high-speed compression damping).
While the ’17 bike certainly feels more planted than its predecessor, it can get flighty and is prone to headshake if you’re hunting all-out fast laps. Oddly enough, the R6 still doesn’t come equipped with a steering damper. It’s not a deal breaker however, but something you should be mindful of if you’re going racing.
Significantly Improved Braking
A new front brake system complements the improved handling. With 10mm larger diameter rotors, stopping power is stronger, but what’s more noteworthy is the upgraded Nissan-sourced radial master cylinder. This boosts brake feel sensation allowing more accurate, as well as stronger, brake application during corner entry.
Another nice touch is the front lever’s numeric swivel adjuster as opposed to the older twist-knob. This ensures more accurate lever position adjustment. Curiously, it uses rubber brake hoses instead of the R1’s stainless-steel lines. However the brakes function so well we didn’t feel like it gives up any track performance.
Fixed, always-on ABS is now standard, and uses independent wheel speed sensors to detect slip. It can automatically calculate for different tires and/or sizes too. On a cool and wet track in the afternoon, the ABS was a nice safety net to lean on. We only felt the system trigger once, and that was to understand the brake pressure threshold required to get the system to activate. Let’s just say, you need to squeeze that lever pretty deep on a dry surface with grippy rubber.
A flatter and slightly more narrow (8mm) seat paired with the reshaped and 2.7-pound lighter aluminum fuel tank prove to be a more stable base to work from. These changes keep the rider centered and give added control during negative gravity braking and positive G acceleration.
High Revving Engine Now With Electronics
Next to handling, the screaming, high-revving wail of the R6 is what sets it apart. It’s easy to knock Yamaha engineers for carrying the ’08-spec engine over. Truth is, the engine is atop its class. Renowned for both durability, and its ability to eek out power when massaged at the hands of experts like Graves Motorsports, the R6’s 599cc Inline Four continues to be an aluminum and magnesium gem.
Narrow and compact, the engine is capable of flirting with 110 horsepower at the back tire in stock trim, with a rev range of nearly 16,000 rpm. The electronically activated and variable length intake funnels move from tall (66mm) to short (26mm) position when throttle angle is greater than 60 degrees and engine revs are in excess of 13,700 rpm. This affords potent mid-range power from as low as 10,000 rpm with a draft-passing boost of power at upwards of 13,000 until the rev-limiter kicks in.
Plus the sound. Oooh, the sound — the V8-like roar of the cross-plane equipped YZF-R1 is certainly cool but the soundtrack of four small pistons banging at 15,000 rpm is music to a motorhead’s ears. The tune the R6 plays will continue to give the competition a run for its money in the exhilaration department.
The internal transmission ratios between each of the six gears keep the engine spooled and piercing through the air. Speaking of aero, the R6 spent considerable time inside the wind tunnel and the Yamaha US-led design initiative netted bodywork that is 8% more slippery than the machine it replaces. Tall riders will also appreciate the nearly two-inch taller windscreen which better shelters the rider from dirty air.
And as an added bonus, it’s pre-wired for accessorial quickshifter ($199) making installation plug-and-play easy. Our test bike was outfitted with it and we can vouch for its performance. It functions every bit as good as the finest aftermarket set-ups from companies like Dynojet and Bazzaz. Plus it won’t void Yamaha’s one-year warranty. One complaint: there is no auto-blip downshift functionality at this time.
Yamaha’s adjustable D-Mode (throttle response) and TCS (traction control) now carry over from motorcycles like the 2017 FZ-09. Three throttle maps are offered with ‘STD’ being the standard mode. The ‘A’ setting offers sharper and more immediate engine response, while ‘B’ setting softens initial throttle response.
When milliseconds count, you simply can’t beat the function of ‘A’ mode. Because the engine doesn’t load the tire as aggressively as a big displacement motorcycle you can better utilize the more aggressive response of ‘A’ mode. Conversely, when riding in the rain, ‘B’ mode neuters the engine’s initial “hit” and is the preferred setting for when you need the smoothest power delivery possible. It will also be a welcome feature in a new, or less experienced rider’s hands.
The TCS on the other hand has six individual settings, and it can be manually disabled. The electronics aren’t the latest and greatest spec as used on the current 2015-2017 YZF-R1, instead relying on the 2012-2014 generation R1’s non-IMU (internal measurement unit) setup. It uses a pair of wheel speed sensors, plus it monitors throttle and gear position, as well as engine RPM to calculate wheel spin. If excessive tire spin is detected, the computer applies corrections by altering ignition, fuel delivery, or throttle butterfly position.
A lot of folks, ourselves included, laugh at the thought of traction control on a small displacement machine. Truth be told, the system performed so well, even on sticky race rubber that we never felt the need to ever turn it ‘off’. We spent most of our time in the least restrictive setting in the dry (TCS 1) and the highest setting (TCS 6) in the wet.
Why You Should Buy the New R6
There are a lot of fantastic handling sportbikes these days. But none of them have the type of handling precision or front end feel of Yamaha’s new YZF-R6. If you value handling you should buy an R6. If you want the coolest and most sleek looking sportbike on the road buy an R6. If you have your sights set on a 165 horsepower R1 but would rather ride the bike than have it ride you, then buy an R6. Even though the 600cc class is shrinking, Yamaha remains “all in” in the class and it shows with its latest Supersport.