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Revisited: Yamaha YZF600R Thundercat

Published: 16 August 2018

In 2006, after we rode the then-new Yamaha YZF600R Thundercat we decided to award the versatile sports-touring motorcycle 4/5 MCN stars. 

At the time, it had a reliable engine, decent suspension and braking, plus the ability to carry two people, plus kit, for a two week holiday. The Yamaha YZF600R Thundercat was in fact, 'damn-near perfect'. 

The Thundercat also made a real alternative to the Honda VFR750/800 series and was a very underrated machine for its time.

What is the Thundercat like now?

Yamaha’s YZF600R Thundercat is everything you could ever look for in a practical, cheap run-around, however it’s far more capable than that. Ceasing production 15-years-ago, the 'Cat remains popular with commuters, tourers and leisure riders and it’s easy to see why. 

After taking out this early 1997 model (see pictures above), which has done just shy of 45,000 miles in its 21 year life, it still feels sprightly and engaging.

Sitting in it rather than on it, it’s a roomy, comfortable riding position - swallowing you up behind its aftermarket tall black screen and gently-placed clip-on bars. It’s a surprisingly nice place to be that’s kind on your wrists, with enough wind protection to serve as an ideal long-distance mile muncher.   

The 'Cat retains a moderately sporty position

Despite the comfy position, the pegs are set back like racing rearsets – encouraging you to sit on your tiptoes, rather than the balls of your feet. The pegs themselves have been replaced with anodised metal alternatives, which could be a poor accessory in wet weather, however it supplied enough grip in the dry conditions of the day. 

There is plenty of punch from the carbed 599cc inline-four motor too, which comes alive from the middle of the rev range – producing a delightful exhaust note, thanks to the fruity Viper pipe. The power delivery is linear without being dull and it really spurs you on to push harder and faster out of every corner.

What are the tyres like?

This is complemented by the Bridgestone Battlax BT-021 tyres, which - despite being slightly squared-off on the rear - provided ample grip on my short blast. They might be considered too touring-orientated for riders wanting to exploit the bike’s sporty side, though.

Unfortunately, the fun was curtailed slightly by the rear shock, which feels underdamped and in desperate need of at least a rebuild. The bike feels wallowy and really squats on its haunches when under hard acceleration.

Plenty of usability

For a supposed early supersport machine, the short-stemmed mirrors on the big Yam are delightfully useable, with your elbows and shoulders obscuring none of your vision.

Despite being just 5ft 7in, the low 805mm seat height means I can comfortably flatfoot the bike with both feet. This helped inspire greater confidence when tackling low-speed manoeuvres, which were made harder thanks to a slightly slipping clutch.

Although removing almost all the extremities of an A-typical sportsbike, you are still left with the annoyance of a massive turning circle, which makes U-turns in the road an impossible task in one fell swoop.

There's still plenty of life in a Yamaha Thundercat

Starting from cold with no fuss and no age-related knocks or rattles to speak of this particular example has been well maintained, with only a light sprinkling of age-related marks and minimal signs of corrosion. One particular feature of note is the exhaust headers, which have almost certainly been replaced, as the original steel items were prone to rot.

The anodised blue spot calipers are perfect for a bike of this size and remain capable today. They do have to be looked after in winter though, to prevent seizing. The lever on the rear was much too high to operate with your foot on the peg and was in need of adjustment.

Should you buy one?

This particular bike from Fasttrack Motorcycles, Leicester, is evidence that clean examples of the Thundercat are still available today. Everything works as it should and aftermarket mods like a noisier end can help bring the bike to life.

If you are prepared to look past the age-related chips and scratches, then the YZF600R is a financially viable all-round package capable of long-distance, weekend thrills and commuting. Why wouldn’t you?

The mechanic

Matt Woodland – Yamaha, KTM and Ducati Technician at SMC Bikes, Sheffield, says:

"We don’t have many of these bikes anymore. Many years ago, they were quite popular because they were a very cheap 600 to run and buy at the time. Now, a lot of them are being phased out and replaced with more modern and fuel-efficient bikes and we only see them occasionally for MOTs.

"They are now mostly used as a day-to-day commuter bike and they are run and run until they go wrong and then we see them for the repair. They are not the best looked after, but as long as they are running, people keep running them!

"Previously, they came in for their main services, tyres and general wear, tear and repair. As far as I can remember there were no recalls, however they were in production before I was a technician.

We see them for normal stuff like chains and sprockets

"They came in for the normal stuff like chain and sprockets, tyres and brake pads general servicing. I believe back then, the intervals were 600 miles for the first service, then 4000, 8000, 12,000 and 24,000 miles. The 12,000-miler is the major service and then after that it has a bit of a long stint before the next major one.

"Back in the day, it was a good 600 and was one of the first bikes that Yamaha could call a modern-day sportsbike. Any new rider that passed their test at the time could have one and they were a good beginner’s bike – if you could afford the insurance!

"It’s now popular with riders in their mid-30s onwards, using it as a cheap semi-sports-tourer and they are used all-year-round. Of the ones I've seen in recent years, a lot of them have quite high mileages; ranging from 24,000 to 50,000. You might find the odd one or two with around 12,000 on the clock, however that’s easier said than done.

Many Thundercats feature a darker screen

"A lot of owners do put a bigger, darker screen and a different exhaust on it. This helps it to breathe a little more and unlock a little more performance. People also changed the standard pipe because the headers were made of mild steel, which were prone to rot over time. People put a full titanium or steel replacement on there to help combat the problem."

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