When the EPA enforced even tighter tier two emission regulations in 2009, Yamaha was caught with its pants down as a new EPA/DOT test was also introduced that measured the emissions a motorcycle puts out at full throttle. Unfortunately, the company apparently wasn't expecting these stricter tests and the YZF-R6 appears to have fallen victim to this test in '09. You may remember one of the features of the '08 R6 that we particularly liked was its performance past 10,000 rpm, where the engine seemingly comes alive. At the same time, the YCC-I variable length intakes emit this ferocious intake growl as it sucks in as much air as it possibly can to deliver this performance. For '09, Yamaha hastily met these new requirements via ECU tweaks that effectively leaned out the fuel mixture at the top of the powerband, between 10,000 and 12,000. This allowed the bike to pass the government checks, but killed all of the thrust that our testers raved about the year prior. In fact, this became a chief complaint during our '09 600cc shootout.
We weren't the only ones to complain; you the consumer made your voices heard as well. Well dear reader, don't think the manufacturers weren't listening. Yamaha, wanting to appease its current (and future) customers and bring the R6's performance back to its former glory, again went back to the drawing board for improvements. Consider the latest YZF-R6 you see here more an evolution of an essentially four-year-old design (further proof that the current state of affairs in the economy has put an end to the Big Four's fever-pitched two-year development cycles).
Tracking The Decline
2010 sees a 100mm longer exhaust...
2010 sees a 100mm longer exhaust to please the sound police and to supposedly allow the ECU changes to unleash the power lost the year before. Unfortunately the dyno shows otherwise.
Not that the R6 needs any introduction, especially since its basic architecture has remained virtually the same the past four years, but its 599cc inline four-cylinder engine was the first in its class to receive the Yamaha Chip Controlled Throttle and then the Yamaha Chip Controlled Intake stacks in '08. During our 600 shootout of '07, the R6 was the horsepower king of its class, with 105.6 ponies-equaling that of the Triumph Daytona 675 and its larger displacement engine. The following year, Yamaha engineers were able to squeeze even more performance, to the tune of 108.3 horsepower. During our track testing, all testers raved about the Yamaha's power high in the powerband, though we all agreed the bike was a pain on the street. Its paltry torque output (hovering in the lower 40 ft-lb range) and sticky clutch made launches off the line quite difficult.
Come 2009 and the new Tier Two EPA regulations, and the R6 quickly lost its former glory. As we mentioned earlier, in order to meet these tighter emission tests and the EPA's sound regulations, Yamaha essentially detuned the bike via ECU changes. This is evident when looking at the dyno chart; the '08 machine shows steady progress along the rpm range, while the '09 shows heavy dips and inconsistent fueling starting at 11,000 rpm. On the bright side, Yamaha did make up a little in the torque department, but not enough to offset the drop in top end steam. Again, this is something our testers noticed during our '09 600 shootout, as everyone agreed the R6 was lacking compared to its former self.
Refined, Not Redone
While the other manufacturers have managed to keep their bikes' performance relatively level despite these new regulations, Yamaha seemed to be the only one to suffer in the 600 class. Our '09 Yamaha R6 was down six horsepower from the '08 version, a significant decrease in the middleweight category where even two or three horsepower can make a huge difference in overall performance. Because the '09 R6 seemingly only had software changes to meet the stricter emission regulations, the new R6 has updated ECU software and a 100mm-longer muffler for "increased performance," according to the company adspeak. What we were really hoping was that it would bring back the peak horsepower bite we've been missing since '08.
Unfortunately we're left scratching our heads as to where this performance gain is. Though peak torque has actually dropped compared to last year (42.4 vs. 44.3 ft-lb) midrange power throughout the powerband has benefitted-an advantage noticed both on the dyno chart and in our real-world testing-but the top end power still felt flaccid and our dyno runs confirmed our suspicions. Starting at around 11,000 rpm the R6 encounters a flat spot lasting for another 1500 rpm. After that power picks up again slightly until its peak horsepower of 102.8 is made at 13,500, after which the engine promptly loses steam. Given the marginal eight-tenths power gain, it's still a far cry from the 108.3 we had in the '08 edition.
Looks Can Be Deceiving
Compared to last year the...
Compared to last year the '10 has a noticeable gain in midrange starting at 8000 rpm-right where riders (both on the street and the track) will need it most. Past 10,000rpm and the new model is more gradual in its power output with less dips, but notice at 11,000 the flat spot that lasts just before redline. This is felt on the motorcycle and kills drive. This no doubt isn't accidental and is Yamaha's way of pleasing the EPA. Note also that peak torque is actually down from last year, but greater in the important rev ranges. Smoother, too.
Not wanting to be deterred by the numbers, we went into our combined street and track testing with an open mind hoping real world application would count for more than the dyno charts. In both the street and track arenas the midrange punch over last year's model is evident. Grunt during corner exits is noticeably stronger, which makes for less manipulation of the clutch lever; something we complained about with the '09 model.
Once the revs soar past the 10,000 rpm mark, one can't help but overlay the dyno graph with what the right hand is doing on the throttle. There's a noticeable lull in the upper portions of the powerband right where one expects significant pull. Not too long after and the engine is at the limiter and it's time to shift. The stricter EPA/DOT emissions standards and testing methods have forced the manufacturers to lean out their fueling maps in order to pass, and Yamaha is one that apparently hasn't been able to find an easy solution. This surely accounts for the R6's sudden lack of power up top since the '08 model, and the '10 version's inability to recover it.
We've had mixed feelings about...
We've had mixed feelings about the R6 brakes in the past and this year is no different. Stopping power has never been a question, but the feeling back at the lever when braking at the limit leaves some to be desired...depending who you ask on staff. The R6 is also the only bike in its class to offer high-and low-speed compression damping both front and rear.
On the bright side, the Yamaha's chassis is still one of the best in the 600 class, providing quick and nimble handling characteristics with excellent corner stability. Showa provides the 41mm inverted fork that's fully adjustable for high- and low-speed compression, rebound and preload. We found the bike needed just minimal adjustments to appease our testers. The shock is a Soqi unit with full adjustability, including high- and low-speed compression damping. Again, not much was needed to make it handle to our liking.
Bringing the R6 to a stop are the same 310mm discs and four-piston, radial-mounted calipers that have divided the Sport Rider camp for the past four years. Braking power is sharp and progressive, but some testers have complained about a lack of feel at the limit while others absolutely rave about its predictability.
That Same 'Ol Feeling
It's a shame this test has such a negative undertone, because the R6 is undoubtedly a fine motorcycle (one need only look at its AMA and World Supersport racing results to see the Yamaha's potential). But it's difficult not to feel a little disappointed with the '10 model's lack of top end performance. Granted, all it takes is an aftermarket exhaust and piggyback fuel computer to fix this issue, but you have to wonder if that will be enough to deal with the competition if they are similarly equipped. Let's hope Yamaha is able to find the lost power in '11.
2010 YAMAHA YZF-R6
|2010 YAMAHA YZF-R6
||More midrange grunt compared to last year
||Engine still lacks compared to '08 model
||Brakes can feel numb at the limit
||It's a definite step in the right direction,
but the rest of the competition is starting
to leapfrog ahead
|SUGGESTED SUSPENSION SETTINGS
||Spring preload—4 lines showing; rebound damping—19 clicks out from full stiff; high-speed compression damping—2.5 turns out from full stiff; low-speed compression damping—17 turns out from full stiff; ride height—2 lines showing on fork tube
||Spring preload—position 4 of 8; rebound damping—15 clicks out from full stiff; high-speed compression damping—4 turns out from full stiff; low-speed compression damping—15 clicks out from full stiff
2010 Yamaha YZF-R6
Type: Liquid-cooled, DOHC, transverse inline 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 brake: Dual 310mm floating discs; radial-mount 4-piston calipers
Rear brake: 220mm disc; single-piston caliper
Front wheel: 3.50 x 17 in., cast aluminum alloy
Rear wheel: 5.50 x 17 in., cast aluminum alloy
Front tire: 120/70ZR-17 Dunlop Sportmax Qualifier PTM
Rear tire: 180/55ZR-17 Dunlop Sportmax Qualifier PTM
Rake/trail: 24.0 deg./3.8 in. (97mm)
Wheelbase: 54.3 in. (1380mm)
Seat height: 33.5 in. (850mm)
Fuel capacity: 4.5 gal. (17.0L)
Weight: 435 lb. (197.3 kg) wet; 408 lb. (185.1 kg) 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
Quarter-mile: 10.83 sec. @ 128.8 mph
Top speed: 159.8 mph
Roll-ons: 60-80 mph/4.04 sec.; 80-100 mph/4.21 sec.
Fuel consumption: 30-36 mpg, 35 mpg avg.
Kawasaki ZX-6R vs. Yamaha YZF-R6
While primarily testing the R6, we just happened to have a '10 Kawasaki ZX-6R, the current 600cc champion according to last year's 600 shootout, in our stable of bikes. Wanting to gauge the pretender against the king of the mountain in this little test, we decided to bring the Kawasaki along for the ride. Immediately, the first thing that makes itself known is the power coming from between the rider's legs. There's just more of it...everywhere. According to the dyno the R6 does have a slight advantage momentarily at the very low end of the rpm range, but in real-world applications the ZX-6R pulls away from the R6. This is something easily noticed by all our testers, especially at the track where the butt dyno didn't need any confirmation from the actual dyno. The extra peak horsepower (109.8 vs. 102.8) bests even the '08 R6-our most powerful model to date.
Surprisingly, our testers favored the chassis of the four-year-old R6 over the younger Kawasaki. We're splitting hairs, but the Team Green machine didn't provide as much feedback and wasn't as telepathic as the Yamaha. Fully adjustable Showa suspension all around, including the 41mm Big Piston Fork, provides ample feedback, but still feels less refined than the Yamaha. But only just.
Whatever setbacks we had with the chassis were largely insignificant as El Jefe was able to consistently lap over a second quicker around the tight and technical Streets of Willow on the ZX-6R compared to the R6. That engine being able to overcome any handling niggles.
The braking category is a wash as again our testers were mixed about the ZX-6R's stopping ability. Ironically, the main complaint was the same-lack of feel at the limit. Though some noticed a stronger initial bite and a much more progressive braking action.
All told, the R6 is a definite step up from previous versions, but the ZX-6R is still the cream of the crop in the class. As a total package it's hard to beat. It's so good we'll be stacking it up with its counterparts in the literbike class for our Bike of the Year shootout later this year. The R6 meanwhile is close, but no cigar.
I'd use the cliché new and improved but the "new" part doesn't apply to the "improved" part. Improvements to the ECU still leaves this middleweight lacking, especially when compared to the green bike we brought along. That said, Yamaha still owns the handling department when it comes to rider input. The R6's legendary, eager-handling chassis and suspension combo still sets it apart from a hungry group of 600s.
The core issue is power delivery across the board. The lack of torque still requires the rider to scream the clutch off a standing start and the top end of the engine's powerband is nowhere to be found. This year's R6 is too similar to past years on many levels and current modifications are a mere bandage. Knowing Yamaha's racing heritage, the next generation 600 will, no doubt, attract the competition's attention...just not this year.
The one memory that sticks out in my mind from last year's R6 was taking it home one night and cursing each time the light turned red. Launches weren't the bike's strong point by any means and each green light was an advanced course in the clutch slipping skills I learned during the MSF class. I was so fed up with it that I actually brought the bike back the next day and rode something else home, never touching the Yamaha after that. Fast forward to today and when I took the latest R6 home those thoughts were running through my mind. I'm glad to report that not a single curse word was muttered on my commute home, the increased midrange has made launches much easier.
All told, the latest incarnation of the R6 is a better machine than last years, especially on the street. But at the track that lack of top end is such a downer when this razor-sharp chassis is so eager to cut lap times. There's no doubt Yamaha got caught with its pants down when all these new sniff tests were put into place, but I'm left to wonder why it's having such a hard time coping when it seems the competition has just rolled with the punches. Knowing Yamaha, it won't go down without a fight. Here's hoping these next few years proves me right.
There's no doubt that the latest version of the R6 is improved over the '09 edition, at least as far as midrange power is concerned. You can definitely feel the improvement when getting on the throttle out of medium-speed corners from 8000 rpm; instead of the previous flaccid response, the new R6 at least has some steam that doesn't require the precision with gear selection or corner entry that the older one demanded. And the powerband is much smoother, with no more 10,500-rpm flat spot to contend with.
Handling was as razor-sharp as ever, allowing you to place the R6 in corners with an ease that the other 600s are hard-pressed to match. And even the brake pad compound was improved, with less of the numb feel and response that plagued the '09 version.
Unfortunately, despite Yamaha's adspeak claims of restoring some of the power that was lost from the '08 version, it appears that the stricter DOT/EPA emissions testing has stymied any attempted top-end gains for the '10 model, at least the U.S. edition. In this current 600cc environment, 102 horsepower just won't cut it against competitors pushing at least four to six horsepower more-and with better midrange to match.