Twenty-two thousand miles. That's the sad tale told by the odometer of Brad Roller's 1996 Yamaha YZF600. Trevitt likes to cast a supercilious glance down the flanks of such two-wheeled stalwarts and proclaim each a "creaky old pile." That's to say his tastes run toward the still-smells-of-new, preferably owned by someone else. (Don't ask about his dusty GSX-R600.)
Stuff the Geek. We love a challenge, and Roller's YZF is it. As a '96 model, it's different from the 600R you're used to seeing, which Yamaha started building in '97 and continues to produce today. Although the chassis and engine are similar between the pre- and R models, there are several important differences. The fairings are different, as you can clearly see, and the '96 model lacks the monoblock Sumitomo calipers used on the later Rs. One of these made a difference, and one didn't. Oh, one more thing: As much as we try to do before-and-after testing, our This Old Bike candidate arrived with an, er...experimental slip-on pipe--that is to say, nothing past the midpipe--as well as thoroughly charred (and, as we later found out, twice plugged) takeoff DOT racing tires. So no "before" ride, thanks very much.
For the most part, we left Roller's engine alone. It already had a Dynojet kit installed as well as a K&N; filter. We plopped a fresh K&N; into the airbox and worked on the downstream side of the 16-valve engine. Removing the stock steel headpipe and replacing it with a Micron 4-into-2-into-1 full system ($779.95) relieved the bike of 6.9 pounds (the Micron system weighs 5.4 pounds, including the midpipe, versus 12.3 pounds for the stocker), plus whatever would have been saved over the stock steel muffler (the Micron's aluminum can weighs 5.7 pounds). This is an extremely nice pipe, with a good fit and a terrific, polished finish. One note for YZF owners: While you've got the old system off, take a moment to reverse the bolt for the forward suspension linkage. Normally the bolt head is to the left, leaving the threaded end of the bolt to get close to the Micron's collector. It's not an interference issue, but turning the bolt around would give you a lot more room. We had to cobble up a temporary pipe mount, as YZF owner Roller had decided to slice the pipe carrier off the bottom of the right-hand passenger footpeg bracket. We checked one source for a simple tubular mount to replace the footpeg carrier, but the part is out of production. Sometimes old is too old.
One other engine mod was a Factory Pro ignition advancer ($54.95). On this motor, that means an offset Woodruff key. If you've got a 1/2-inch impact drive, it's an easy modification, thanks to the included flywheel puller. We also received a transmission detent arm kit from Factory Pro ($89.95) that we'll review in a future SR Tested. (Tight deadlines prevented us from getting much time with this kit before the managing editor screamed for text, any text.)
With the aforementioned modifications, Roller's YZF put down a dyno run of 85.4 horsepower at 11,500 rpm and 42.0 foot-pounds of torque at 9750 rpm. Not exactly cutting-edge middleweight power, but respectable for an 8-year-old. Throttle response with the Dynojet kit and Factory advancer setup is just fine.
At Roller's request, we juggled the final-drive gearing to make it shorter. (This is a common mod seen on the YZF boards; www.yzf600r.com.) Stock gearing is a 15-tooth countershaft and a 47-tooth rear sprocket; we plopped on a set of Vortex sprockets, 14 teeth in steel ($27.50) up front and 49 teeth in alloy ($52.95) out back. In addition, we switched to a 520 chain from the stock 530--why a big old chain like that with so little horsepower?--from Tsubaki ($100.52). All together, the sprocket and chain swap netted a 2.5-pound weight savings and the desired shorter gearing. (This combination, by the way, works very well on the street. At an indicated 75 mph, the engine is turning 6500 rpm; by 85 mph, it's pretty buzzy. Think hard about how much touring you want to do before swapping sprockets.)
The next big step was to replace the YZF's utterly stock suspension. Here's where having an older bike can be a disadvantage. We couldn't find any (budget) shocks for this old-school 600. Fox is temporarily out of the motorcycle-shock business, and Progressive Suspension does not list the YZF among its applications. That leaves a choice of new, custom shocks or a rebuild of the originals, which is the route we selected. Get Race Tech on the horn.
Thankfully, Race Tech maintains rebuild parts for the YZF's Yamaha shock and Kayaba conventional cartridge fork. (The '96-model has the cartridge; the first YZFs had damping-rod designs.) Race Tech took in the components and about 10 days later returned nicely shined-up parts that, ah...don't look any different. Yes, but there's goodness inside. For the fork, Race Tech added its Gold Valve high-flow compression piston and custom valving. Due to the age of the components, the technicians also replaced the main oil seals. Slightly uprated springs were installed, too; at 0.85 kg/mm, they're a bit stiffer than the original (no doubt badly sagged-out) 0.80 kg/mm springs. For the shock, Race Tech retained the stock spring and preload arrangement--adjustable seven ways in steps--while fitting a Gold Valve piston, custom valving and a new one-piece seal head that greatly eases future rebuilds. (As if This Old Bike will live that long...) The cost of parts and labor (including fluids) was an extremely reasonable $795. If you've got a high-mileage YZF, we urge you to go through the suspension before tossing money at the engine.
On the road, the new suspension is, we're entirely sure, a revelation. (OK, with no "before" ride, it's impossible to make accurate comparisons, but how good could the aged, old-tech suspension possibly have been?) The overall ride is firm yet graceful over most bumps, with excellent chassis control. No harshness over expansion joints or washboard surfaces, but it's not a Gold Wing ride either. Helping in the traction department are new Avon Pro-Series AV49 & 50 tires, the softer option of the company's sport tire. Roller had a 180-section tire on the back, but that's too wide for the rim. We used a 120/70 up front and a 170/60 out back; they both look sufficiently chunky. We expect to hear back from Roller that his bike is better than new in the handling department.
Now that the YZF can negotiate bumpy corners, it seemed prudent to ensure it could stop somewhere near their apexes. Carbone Lorraine stepped forward with a set of Super Sport front pads (part 2305SBK3; $32.95 per set) and fresh rears (2283RX; $27.95). We didn't realize the stock rotors were slightly warped, or we would also have ordered up replacements. Nevertheless, the Lorraines bedded in quickly and offer good power. The stock rubber brake lines--showing a bit of exterior cracking--were swapped for Goodridge Kevlar items ($117.95 for a two-line front, $49.95 for the rear). Unfortunately, this bike's early-style calipers aren't known for lots of feedback or low lever effort, so the YZF's brakes remain well behind state-of-the-art. Frankly, we didn't expect otherwise.
Finally we enter the realm of cosmetics. Full-on paint jobs are beyond the scope of This Old Bike, so the YZF's maroon scheme stayed. Because the seats were torn, we called Second Look. You have a choice of doing the seat recovering yourself--they say it takes an hour and nothing more than common hand tools--or sending the seats to Second Look. For the $20 labor charge for each piece, it's well worth farming out. The seat skin kit ($89.95) not only matches the tank cover ($99.95) as you'd expect, but was also a perfect match to the bike's paint. All of this makes the YZF look marginally more modern--Second Look did a cool carbon-fiber-style inlay for us--but infinitely better cared for. Retaining the stock seat foam, the Second Look covers fit snugly and pleased the editorial backside. Joining the short list of cosmetic updates is a Zero Gravity Double Bubble windscreen ($79.95), which helps create a huge, still-air pocket behind the fairing. In fact, it's a bit unsettling to hunker down behind such a big sheet of plastic once you're used to today's un-Sanforized 600s.
As with any older bike--did we just call eight years "older?"--you've got to avoid direct comparisons to the new models; this class moves too fast for that. Even so, Brad Roller's YZF emerges as more capable, more comfortable--and a lot cleaner. Mr. Roller, now that we've got your ride sorted, can we introduce you to Mr. S100? Trevitt's got a case of it he'll never use.
Micron North America
Zero Gravity Racing