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 original sold over 4000 units in the UK in its first year.
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 demise of the 600 sportsbike?
The supersport class has been struggling in recent years and some models have disappeared (most notably the Honda CBR600RR) but Yamaha have persisted 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 2017 Yamaha R6 features slick Yamaha M1-esque styling, Yamaha R1 suspension, traction control and a quickshifter, but it is very expensive (£10,999 when launched) and will have its work cut out when Kawasaki release their updated ZX-6R in 2019.