When you think of the most track-oriented sportbike, it's hard not to immediately picture the Yamaha R6 in your head. Razor-sharp handling, wailing 17,000-rpm engine, highly adjustable suspension, tiny overall dimensions and feel that made previous 600s seem like literbikes-if there was ever a sportbike that represented the term "race-ready," the '06 Yamaha R6 was it.
It's difficult, then, to imagine Yamaha making the R6 even more track-oriented-but improved racetrack (and twisty road) performance is stated as one of the main goals of the upgrades instilled by the factory for 2008. More (and better) power, retuned suspension, refined chassis rigidity . . . these are all components of improved performance at the limit, an environment normally reserved for the racetrack or your favorite deserted canyon road. The need to continually sharpen the weapons of war is a march that will never end in order to stay competitive in the heat of battle.
Yet enhanced "streetability" is also mentioned as one of the objectives with the new R6, and that's always a good thing, as these are primarily streetbikes after all. The majority of Yamaha R6s will still probably never turn a wheel on a racetrack. But the screaming middleweight has always been about all-out performance first and foremost, with street-conscious attributes pushed to the back of the bus. Has Yamaha managed to bridge the gap of improving the R6's at-the-limit performance while simultaneously making it more palatable to the average street rider?
Seabiscuit In A Kiddie Horse Ride?
"New from the tires up" is the slogan for the '08 Yamaha R6, and suffice it to say the changes are many. All the details were covered in Trevitt's First Ride story "Scream II" in the Mar. '07 issue.
The instrument panel is essentially...
The instrument panel is essentially identical to last year's model other than a change in background lighting color from blue to a more readily visible (at night) red. Additional fork-tube length for ride-height changes is great for racers, as are the revised ergos with a more agreeable bar angle.
Although the ergonomic changes may appear minor with the clip-on bars set 5mm forward and 5mm lower and the seat-to-bar distance closed up by a similar amount, the change in feel is more pronounced than you'd think. Unlike some bikes that drop your torso and wrists forward onto an awkward bar angle, the new R6's riding position seems more natural for aggressive riding, and the bars feel situated just right. There's less of the feeling that you need to lean forward while cornering in order to keep the front end weighted, yet your wrists and forearms don't feel like they've been doing handstands all day, either. When we rotated the front brake lever assembly to position it more comfortably while riding, we discovered that although the banjo bolt leading from the master cylinder has been relocated to keep it from binding on the fork tube, now the throttle cables are in the way (they are routed under the brake lines instead of over as before).
If you're leaving a stoplight next to a police car expect to get left behind by traffic unless you want to risk a speed-contest citation. You still need to rev the engine and slip the clutch more than usual to take off with any semblance of speed due to the Yamaha's light flywheel and lack of torque. Although the R6's exhaust note isn't overly loud, the mechanical noise and intake honk (which seems much louder than the previous model) definitely make themselves known, and it's difficult to keep every stoplight from sounding as if you're starting the Daytona 200 to bystanders if you want to stay ahead of traffic. The clutch engagement on our test unit also seemed a little more abrupt than before, making smooth take-offs even more difficult.
Once you get rolling, however, it becomes readily apparent that the YCC-I (Yamaha Chip-Controlled Intake) system definitely has improved midrange power, with a much stronger pull from 5500 rpm that permits you to often forego the previous shift-lever tap-dancing the older model required to pass slower cars. In fact making a swift pass on the highway at 60 mph usually requires only a downshift instead of the handful of gears that were necessary before. Things really begin to come alive at 9000 rpm, where the new R6 practically leaves the old model for dead with a marked increase in acceleration and revviness.
The overall ride on the street is a bit harsher than before due to the stiffer spring rates on both ends. Not that the little Yamaha was ever made for touring, but unless you weigh more than 200 pounds any long drones over uneven pavement will pummel you into submission after 30 minutes. Backing off the damping in an attempt to soften things up only works to a certain extent before the springs turn the R6 into a pogo stick, so a definite compromise was made here for better backroad/racetrack performance.
Stiffer suspension still hasn't negatively affected the R6's trademark agility, however, and even though compliance over rough pavement at slower street speeds suffers, the Yamaha still tracks straight and true. The brakes' power and feel are essentially identical to the previous model with the exception that a little more heat is necessary to get them up to proper operating temps; response tended to be a little dull until that point was reached.
We found the R6's fuel mileage fluctuated much more than before. Commuting would often bring it up to 39 mpg, but any extended periods of high-rpm usage would quickly drop the number to 28 mpg with the low-fuel light coming on at about the 120-mile mark.
'08 Yamaha YZF-R6
+ Stronger midrange, better top-end power
+ Suspension/chassis improved for aggressive riding
+ Same razor-sharp handling
- Spring rates a little stiff for average street riding
- Gained eight pounds
- Still a top-end-heavy powerband
x If you fit a loud aftermarket exhaust, better keep your eyes peeled for cops
Suggested Suspension Settings
FrontSpring preload: 4 lines showing; rebound damping: 16 clicks out from full stiff; low-speed compression damping: 15 clicks out from full stiff; high-speed compression damping: 1.5 turns out from full stiff; ride height: 10mm fork tube showing above top triple clamp
Spring preload: position 5 out of 9; rebound damping: 10 clicks out from full stiff; low-speed compression damping: 16 clicks out from full stiff; high-speed compression damping: 4 turns out from full stiff