It’s no secret supersport sales have plummeted over the last decade. And while most manufacturers have put their 600s out to pasture, using a get-out clause to allow them to keep selling non-Euro4 bikes for this year and next, Yamaha have injected a new lease of life into their long-serving YZF-R6.
It’s easy to question why they bothered, especially at a time when Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki and Triumph are deserting the class. But Yamaha are confident the R6 still has an important role to play – to cater for riders who want to move up through their sportsbike range, from YZF-R125 to R3 to R6 to the full-bore R1. Yamaha have also identified a significant group of hardcore customers who want a 600 machine for track or occasional road use. You know, nutters.
Of course, the R6 is already an incredible success story. Despite being virtually unchanged since 2006 it is still taking domestic and global race wins, and was unstoppable at the TT last year. Its peaky but brilliant engine featured titanium valves, magnesium engine covers and fly-by-wire throttle – technology and materials that were cutting edge in 2006 – and is still good enough to slot into the revamped 2017 model.
The most obvious change for 2017 is to the styling and bodywork, which mirrors the YZF-R1 and MotoGP M1. The new central air intake, LED headlights, and that distinctive hollow rear seat cowl are unmistakably R1, while Yamaha say the new shape reduces drag by 8%. A 50mm-higher screen is also used to give the rider an easier time, while a new rear subframe is narrower and lighter and a new aluminium fuel tank also saves 1.2kg.
Six-way traction control comes as standard, which works not from an internal measurement unit (IMU) but from wheel sensors. The TC level can be changed on the move in fourth, fifth and sixth gears but can only be deactivated at a standstill. There are three riding modes plus a conventional, upshift-only quickshifter.
The aluminium frame is lifted from the old bike – with rake and trail remaining the same – but the fully adjustable forks have been stolen from the R1 and now have a 2mm wider 43mm diameter. The front wheel comes from the MT-10, which now accommodates larger 320mm front discs (up from 310mm). The calipers and radial master cylinder are new, again borrowed from the R1, and ABS comes as standard.
If these updates look exciting, there is also bad news. The new R6 has had to meet Euro4 emissions regs and its peak power and torque are down compared to the old model. Yamaha are quoting just 116bhp @14,500rpm and 45.5ftlb at 10,500rpm, which compares to 122bhp and 49.93ftlb on the old bike.
There’s crisp new fuelling but the engine remains virtually unchanged apart from the addition of a gear position sensor, which both informs the rider of the gear selected but also allows different maps for each gear. Overall weight has gone up a single kilo to a claimed 190kg (wet), impressive considering the forced addition of a huge exhaust with a primary and secondary catalytic converter plus ABS. The on the road price has also sneaked up to £10,999.
R6 on track
During the test session on the Almeria race track in southern Spain the changes became immediately apparent. The ABS brakes are a step forward over the old model’s, as is stability under hard stopping. Those new forks deliver first class feel, and give you the confidence to brake late and deep into corners. Once turned the R6 craves even more corner speed than before. Its agility and accuracy on track are stunning – it hits every apex with ease.
But while the chassis was a delight on track, the engine felt strangled as if I were riding at 10,000 feet in thin air. In the standard riding mode it revved freely, but couldn’t open its lungs to show what it could do. In the sportier A mode it’s livelier and wants to have fun, but the famous R6 top-end rush is lacking along, it has to be said, with any midrange. The tight inner section of Almeria was taken in second and third gears, revving all the way to the red line and more, while I ensured the revs stayed above 10,000rpm to avoid it feeling sluggish.
A roomier riding position and newlyshaped fuel tank allow you to hang off like a monkey in corners, while the TC gives licence to use the throttle like a switch and get back on the power early, throttle to the stop.
Also, the relatively benign engine performance means the R6 isn’t intimating. This is a sportsbike that won’t get away from you, that you can to ride close to the limit, feeling for grip and focusing on corner speed – something you’d find much harder on the larger an R1. And it’s extremely satisfying.
R6 - The verdict
The breathtaking chassis outshines a rather breathless motor but there are many positives. The update looks stunning while a new front end and brakes help makes this a truly brilliant-handling middleweight. However, at £10,999 it’s an expensive 600, especially for one with reduced peak power. (4/5 MCN Stars)
Race-kitted Yamaha R6
This is more like it: a titanium Akrapovic exhaust, an electronics kit borrowed from World Supersport, an up-and-down quickshifter plus revised fuelling and bodywork that reduces the weight even further. Yamaha wanted to show us what could be achieved without Euro4 – and the result is stunning, the best R6 to date.
Freed of its road-legal exhaust, the engine can rev freely and delivers considerably more midrange and peak power. The front end goes lighter over crests, and allows a higher gear in corners. Yamaha wouldn’t reveal a power figure but it feels like about 125bhp at the rear-wheel.
The lighter exhaust and race bodywork remove an estimated 10kg or more and the effect is immediately obvious, making the R6 turn even faster. Using the same electronics as the race-winning World Supersport bike means you can tailor the fuelling to suit your style, and even increase or decrease engine braking, while the up-and-down clutchless changes add to its intensity. Trackday riders will love this ‘race’ R6 , though Yamaha are still to announce prices.
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