When Yamaha first introduced its 2006 YZF-R6, there was a lot of hoopla over the bike's 17,500-rpm redline. That's a lot of revs; more than most-if not all-of the MotoGP bikes and treading on current valvespring technology limits. But when the first bikes were delivered to customers and race teams, dyno runs showed the R6 hitting its rev limiter at just over 16,000 rpm-a big discrepancy, and one that started a lot of chatter on Internet message boards. Eventually, Yamaha issued a statement and, incredibly, offered to buy back bikes from any customers unhappy with the situation.
It shouldn't be a surprise to anyone that the R6's tach is optimistic. Speedometers are notoriously inaccurate, and manufacturers fudge all kinds of numbers-to the point that claimed measurements like dry weight and peak power numbers are practically ignored by many people. What's different in this case is that rpm is not open to the ambiguities that many other measurements are. Horsepower and torque can be measured at various points in the drivetrain for different results. Dry weight is massaged by a very liberal interpretation of the word "dry." And there are some good reasons for a speedometer to read a bit high, but not as outrageously optimistic as some bikes' speedos are.
From riding the new R6 at the press introduction in Qatar, we know that the rev limiter cuts in at around 17,750 rpm, as indicated by the tachometer. We haven't dyno'd our test bike yet, but the various charts floating around the Internet (and the number Yamaha admits to) show the rev limiter kicking in at 16,200 rpm, giving an error of about nine percent. In the real world, that number is not uncommon for tach error. Last year, our ZX-6RR test bike had a 16,500-rpm redline on the tachometer, but maxed out on the dyno at around 14,500 rpm. Our SV650 project bike from two years ago had a tach that read more than 10 percent high. And the original '99 R6 hit its limiter at 14,750 rpm on the dyno with a 15,500-rpm redline.
Just like most magazines, we played up the redline on our cover and in the first-ride story. But we didn't emphasize the redline number compared to how much Yamaha did, because we knew before seeing any dyno charts that the R6 wouldn't rev to a real 17,500 rpm. That's why the caption under the gauges in my first ride piece reads: "Even if the tach is as optimistic as before, that's a lot of revs for a middleweight."
Why all the fuss over the R6 then? Manufacturers hype weight and horsepower numbers all the time, with little repercussions over inaccuracy. Ironically, our April issue, which featured first rides on the ZX-10R along with the Yamaha, touted the Kawasaki's claimed 184 horsepower right underneath the 17,500-rpm headline for the Yamaha. But no one is complaining that the ZX-10R can only manage 166 horsepower on our dyno. And I've never seen any mention of the ZX-6RR's-or any other bike's, for that matter-tach error. What's different in this case is that Yamaha's marketing people ran with that number perhaps a little too aggressively for how optimistic it is.
I'm certain that there are a few people who sincerely feel cheated out of something. They bought an R6 because it was supposed to rev higher than any bike with valvesprings has a right to, and they wanted the performance, satisfaction or bragging rights that went along with that. They honestly didn't know how optimistic tachometers could be. Unfortunately, as soon as those few people expressed their disappointment on Internet message boards, the vultures, sensing a chance to make a few bucks or get some free accessories, started circling and giving all kinds of reasons why they needed an accurate tach and the engine to rev to its full 17,500 rpm. It seems to me that Yamaha did the right thing by offering to buy the bikes back, because it sorts out the few people that are genuinely upset from what I'm sure is the opportunistic majority. When the dust has settled, I doubt the company will have had to buy many bikes back.
That said, I don't believe for a minute that Yamaha, as the company claimed in its letter to R6 owners explaining the situation, made an honest mistake. The letter reads: "Yamaha introduced and marketed the new 2006 YZF-R6 motorcycle with a redline limit of 17,500 rpm, as indicated on the tachometer. After testing production units, we have determined that the actual redline limit is approximately 16,000 rpm, resulting in a tachometer error of roughly nine percent." There is no question in my mind that Yamaha engineers knew the maximum rpm capabilities of the R6 well in advance of any production units being tested, before any press material was printed and before bikes showed up in dealerships. This is simply a case of aggressive marketing gone wrong. It's unfortunate that Yamaha bears the brunt of what is essentially an industry-wide plight, but maybe now all the manufacturers will be more honest in their claims. And, hopefully, customers will have learned to research the validity of those claims before they make a purchase based on them.
The shame of the whole situation is that the R6 has many other great selling points and would have generated just as much excitement with a 16,000-rpm redline on the tachometer. Fly-by-wire throttle, midship muffler, high-speed damping adjustments...now all the benefits of those features are being questioned as well. The R6 will surely redeem itself in our next issue's middleweight smackdown, but a lot of people will always think of it as the bike with the bad tach, no matter how well it performs.