So long supersport: A history of the Yamaha R6
The supersport class has been struggling in recent years and now the Yamaha R6 has become the latest model to fall foul of dwindling sales and ever-tightening emissions regulations. Hard to believe when you consider that Yamaha were selling almost 77 a week in the UK alone in the first year of production!
Related articles on MCN
The Yamaha isn't alone, we already lost the Honda CBR600RR and Suzuki GSX-R600, but the R6 persisted up until now and the 2017 model is still a track-busting all-rounder despite a further cut in peak power to 116bhp due to Euro4 regulations.
The Yamaha R6 was first launched in 1998 to contend with a new generation of supersports like the Kawasaki ZX-6R and Suzuki GSX-R600. Small, light, high-revving and agile, the Yamaha R6 is a competent track bike you can use on the road.
The 600 or supersport category took a little while to find its feet. Yamaha were actually the first to make a 600cc motorbike with the XJ600 in 1984. Middleweight bikes of the time generally used a 550cc engine format.
Fast forward to the launch of the R6 and things had changed drastically. If you wanted a sporty 600 in 1999 you could choose from bikes including the Kawasaki GPZ600, Honda CBR600F and Suzuki GSX-R600. Unlike the competition that borrowed heavily from existing larger capacity bikes, the Yamaha was brand new from the ground up. It was an instant hit and sold over 4000 units in the UK in its first year.
Yamaha claimed to have made the first production four-stroke engine that produced 200bhp per litre when the R6 was launched. Whether or not this is true (the power output at the back wheel in real world conditions was significantly lower than Yamaha claimed) the bike was certainly very fast for a middleweight.
Part of the reason for this was a new one-piece aluminium block which was light, very strong and very good at dissipating heat. Peak power came at 13,000rpm, and so the ability to stay cool was very important.
The Engine was also stiff enough to be used as a stressed member in the Deltabox frame, and this coupled with the R6’s lightness and short wheelbase meant that handling was arguably the best in class at the time.
The original bike was fettled several times by Yamaha , getting LED tail lights in 2001 and fuel injection and a new swingarm in 2003. Then in 2005 the engine was tweaked and Yamaha added USD forks and radial calipers.
The first major overhaul of the R6 came in 2006 when a completely new, tech-laden version was released. The Yamaha Chip Controlled Throttle (YCC-T) was big news on a supersport of the era, and the new engine produced 127bhp on its way to a screaming 16,500rpm redline.
The 2008 update brought a slight increase in power to 129bhp (which was shaved off again in 2010) and a more rigid chassis.
The 2017 Yamaha R6 featured slick Yamaha M1-esque styling, Yamaha R1 suspension, traction control and a quickshifter, but it was very expensive (£10,999 when launched) and had its work cut out against the £9699 Kawasaki ZX-6R.
Then Yamaha announced in 2020 that the R6 would no longer be available as a road bike. That's right - after 21 years in production, the R6 will go to track-only for the European market from 2021.
With no Euro5 option for Blighty and dwindling sales in the class outside of trackdays and racing, it will now be known as the 'R6 Race' and will not be road registerable from the start of January. So, if you want one, time is running out!
Yamaha R6 models timeline
Since its introduction in 1998, the Yamaha R6 has defined the supersport class. Below are the six major updates for the Yamaha R6 throughout its 21 year lifespan.
The birth of the R6. It blew the market apart in 1998/9, selling over 4000 units in the UK, and bringing a far more race-ready attitude to the supersport class. 120bhp and169kg (dry).
As a last hurrah for the model Yamaha throw on an inverted fork, radial calipers and give the engine another tickle.
The R6’s most radical overhaul saw it get more track-focused. A completely new machine, it blazed a trail for new tech, too – with YCC-T (Yamaha Chip Controlled Throttle). The engine developed a claimed 127bhp, while Yamaha said it revved to 16,500rpm (which wasn’t quite delivered on the dyno) but it was still a screamer and, of course, sublime on track.
Subtle chassis mods address rigidity issues. YCC-I (Yamaha Chip Controlled Intake) joins the YCC-T, and increased compression ratio (13:1) takes power up to a claimed 129bhp.
The last update for the model saw Yamaha shave a few bhp off the top end to give it back in the midrange. The end can, once a stubby little affair, gets a little longer and more ungainly.
Heavily revised 2017 model revealed complete with M1 styling, traction control, quick-shifter, R1 suspension, Euro4 compliance and ABS.
Yamaha R6 becomes R6 Race and is no longer available as a road going model in Europe.