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
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.
'08 Yamaha YZF-R6
MSRP: $9599 ($9799 for Cadmium Yellow w/Flames)
Type: Liquid-cooled, DOHC, transverse-four, 4 valves/cyl.
Bore x stroke: 67 x 42.5mm
Compression ratio: 13.1:1
Induction: Mikuni EFI with YCC-T, YCC-I, 41mm throttle bodies, 2 injectors/cyl.
Front suspension: 41mm Showa inverted fork, 4.7 in. travel; adjustments for spring preload, rebound damping, high- and low-speed compression damping
Rear suspension: Single Soqi shock absorber, 5.1 in. travel; adjustments for spring preload, rebound damping, high- and low-speed compression damping
Front wheel: 3.50 x 17 in., cast aluminum alloy
Rear wheel: 5.50 x 17 in., cast aluminum alloy
Front tire: Dunlop Sportmax Qualifier PTM, 120/70ZR-17
Rear tire: Dunlop Sportmax Qualifier PTM, 180/55ZR-17
Rake/trail: 24 deg./3.8 in. (97mm)
Wheelbase: 54.3 in. (1380mm)
Seat height: 33.5 in. (850mm)
Fuel capacity: 4.6 gal. (17.4L)
Weight: 428 lb. (194kg) wet; 420 lb. (191kg) dry
Instruments: Analog tachometer, LCD display panel for digital speedometer, coolant temp, clock, odometer/dual tripmeter, lap time; warning lights for oil pressure, neutral, high beam, EFI malfunction, turn signals, shift point
Roll-ons: 60-80 mph: 4.00 sec.; 80-100 mph: 4.51 sec.
Quarter-mile: 10.75 sec. @ 132.3 mph
Top speed: 159.9 mph
Fuel consumption: 28-39 mpg, 35 mpg avg.
Wondering why the R6 doesn't have ape-hangers and a sissy bar
After riding the Hayabusa and ZX-14 for most of the past month, it was quite a shock to jump on the R6. It's so tiny and calls to be ridden in an entirely different way from the big bikes, even just around town. As I found out at the R6's intro, it's a seriously fun track toy. On the street the extra midrange power is a definite improvement over the last model and something last year's R6 was in dire need of. My gut feeling at this point is that the Yamaha has the advantage at the track over the CBR600RR, our last year's middleweight comparison test winner, and the R6 would be at the top of my list for a track-day bike or to race.
That incredible track performance still comes at the expense of streetability-even with the increased midrange power-but I could easily see myself putting up with that if it meant experiencing the R6 on the track every once in a while. It's that good, and that much fun.
Wondering where all the hot air is coming from
I must admit that I was a little skeptical when Trevitt came back after riding the R6 at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca talking about its improved midrange power. I found it difficult to believe that Yamaha could instill any midrange in such a screaming, top-end-oriented engine. But the first few miles convinced me that the '08 version finally does have the missing link necessary to compete with the Honda. That said, the stiffer spring rates in the suspension do feel firmer than the figures indicate; you really have to push the new R6 before the suspension really feels comfortable, and that may be off-putting for some riders. But that's one of the compromises that comes with having a bike tailor-made for the racetrack.
Of course we still need to wait for the new GSX-R600 to make its debut. But rest assured this year's 600 comparo is going to be one serious dogfight on the racetrack.