The first few sections of corners you encounter with the new R6 won't really be the wakeup call. Not much seems changed; the same laser-sharp steering and supremely agile handling are still present, allowing you to place the Yamaha anywhere you want in a corner. The newfound midrange power is a welcome plus, however, enabling you to skip some of the frantic gearshifting that seemed so commonplace on the old model. Maintaining momentum through a combination of corners is so much easier when you've got some decent midrange to lean on as you get on the throttle, because the requirements of throttle application and corner entrance/midcorner speed aren't so precise and critical.
It's not until the speeds and pace really pick up in the twisty sections of pavement that anyone will be able to fully realize the benefits of all the suspension tweaks Yamaha's engineers wrought on the new R6. Spring rates that felt too stiff at even moderate speeds finally come into their own, matched with well-sorted damping rates to keep the chassis from pitching excessively or coming unglued over midcorner bumps even under very aggressive riding. Suddenly the suspension gains a compliance that was missing everywhere else, and the tires feel much more planted during hard cornering maneuvers.
Although we wouldn't exactly...
Although we wouldn't exactly call them fade-prone, the R6's brake discs are now thicker for better heat management; on the street the brakes do require a smidge more warm-up before they work effectively. Stiffer fork springs help control the chassis better at speed, but compliance on really rough street pavement is compromised.
In order to maximize airflow...
In order to maximize airflow through the radiator, the bodywork fits much tighter to the main frame spars, and air is pulled out before it reaches behind the cylinders. To keep engine heat from cooking the fuel tank and causing vapor lock, these air ducts on each side direct cooling airflow into the area behind the cylinders.
Yamaha knows how much styling...
Yamaha knows how much styling sells sportbikes. The license-plate hanger is easily detachable, and most street riders immediately replace it with a shorter unit to clean up the rear end looks. OEM variants of Dunlop's Sportmax Qualifier provide superb grip and handling.
Feedback from the tires is much more pronounced than before, especially when the chassis and suspension are loaded heavily in turns. You have a much better gauge of just where you are in the tires' grip envelope, and with the superb Dunlop Qualifiers fitted as OEM rubber there's plenty of traction to play with. Communication from the front tire is especially good, boosting confidence in the quicker and more aggressive steering inputs that become necessary at these speeds. The R6 is so composed at an elevated pace that it's easy to find yourself carrying corner speeds that are a bit too fast for public pavement.
The additional midrange power...
The additional midrange power from the '08 model's YCC-I is apparent in the dyno graph. It not only helps the R6's streetability but also pays big dividends on the racetrack.
Aiding and abetting that scandalous behavior is the new engine's stronger top end. From 9000 rpm on up to just past 14,000 rpm, the '08 model pulls harder and quicker than the previous version with none of the slight lag at 11,000 rpm on the old R6 that required you to keep the engine above that point for optimum drive off the corners. Thankfully the top-end overrev the R6 has always been known for remains, enabling you to carry a gear longer if necessary to avoid unnecessary gearshifts (spec-chart mavens looking at the dyno graphs should note that ram-air induction boosts top-end overrev over static dyno runs, as we proved in our ram-air dyno tests back in the Dec. '99 issue).
With basically identical components save for the thicker discs, the Yamaha's brakes are easily up to the task of bleeding off the increased speed, offering up loads of power and feel, and the responsiveness is much better due to the heat generated from constant hard use when riding aggressively. The new R6 definitely seems a bit more stable during the transition from hard braking to turn-in than the old model, with less of a frantic feel to the chassis that inspires yet more confidence to turn quicker and faster into the corners. We loved the slipper clutch action that easily forgives slight downshift miscues at speed and helps foster those higher corner speeds.
Suffice it to say that Yamaha has bolstered the R6's performance right where it needed it to stay on terms with the competition. And to tell you the truth we never really noticed the additional eight pounds over the previous model.
How Can They Keep Getting Better?
It's amazing to see just how good current 600s have become. The new Yamaha R6 is just the latest example of how technology is continuing to improve the breed and expand the boundaries of middleweight performance yet again. The '08 R6 is more racetrack-ready than even the previous model, which does force some slight compromises for the street rider-but the result is improved at-the-limit performance that is sure to give the Honda boys some restless nights until we gather all the middleweights together for yet another 600 smackdown. Stay tuned.