Bringing up the rear, but not by much

The Yamaha YZF-R6 enters our 2011 Shootout without a major redesign since the 2008 model year, when it benefited from the YCC-T (Yamaha Chip Controlled Throttle) and YCC-I (Yamaha Chip Controlled Intake) systems that first debuted on its R1 sibling. This latest R6 incarnation proved a winner on the racetrack, with Cal Crutchlow nabbing the 2009 World Supersport crown in a terrific season-long duel with Honda’s Eugene Laverty. In 2011 Luca Scassa and Chaz Davies have dominated the field aboard the R6, winning every race thus far. But that’s the racetrack. How does the Yamaha fare in our street comparison?

The R6 engine reveals its track-oriented nature, with the 599cc Inline Four unmistakably the most top-end biased of the comparison. True to form, the Yamaha screams with an intoxicating wail up top, but the bottom-end feels less than impressive. The high-revving Fours powering the Supersport class are by nature trickier to ride than purpose-built street bikes, which are often tuned for a healthy bottom-end/mid-range powerband at the expense of top-end power. The stout pull down low from the Ducati Twin and Triumph Triple earned high praise by our testers on the street, as did the Suzuki 600 – deemed the best bottom end of the 600s. Yet this is an area where the Yamaha struggles.

“By far it was the slowest bike on the bottom,” confirms MX tester turned street reviewer, Scott Simon. “Mid- and top-end it was alright, but I think a steady bottom-end is real important for a 600 exiting corners on the street.”

“Riding the R6 was a balancing act, with a narrow 3000 rpm hot spot up top,” agrees Steeves, who spends a great deal of his riding time balancing on the rear wheel. “Yet it was difficult, as the power fell off way before the high redline. I found myself wringing the Yamaha’s neck compared with the other bikes. It’s more difficult to ride, and in order to get it in that sweet spot it also means you’re riding it really fast!”

The dyno confirms rider impressions. While the Yamaha managed to beat the last-placed Honda in peak horsepower production at 103.28, those ponies come way up at 13,800 revs. In torque production the R6 tied with the Kawasaki for last place at 43.57 lb-ft. The power curves tell the story, as the Yamaha starts off lower than all the others until 5K, where it hangs with the Kawasaki and briefly eclipses the Honda. From there, however, the Yamaha falls flat in the mid-range before it spikes dramatically at 9K. That top-end is on par with the rest of the 600s, but keeping the tach up in the five-figure rpm range is challenging enough on the track, much less a public road.

The Yamaha’s six-speed gearbox didn’t quite measure up to the ultra-refined transmissions on its Japanese rivals and the well-sorted European mounts. In a class this competitive, the slightest slip can mean dropping from first to worst. One reported false neutral and a tallish-for-street first gear was all it took to sink the R6 in Drivetrain rankings. Riders deemed the Yamaha slipper clutch quite effective, however, finding it a real bonus on the street.

Performance testing exposes the slim margins of difference in this competitive class. The Yamaha ran an impressive 10.9 quarter-mile but bested only the Honda, which ran a 10.98. In 0-60 the R6 fared worse at 3.42 seconds.

“The Yamaha is both good in bad in terms of launching,” says Adam. “Its clutch has really good feel and is easy to find the engagement point on, but the problem is launching it from too low of an rpm it has a tendency to bog slightly off the line. This can make launching aggressively a little more tedious unless you get everything just right.”

On the plus side, the Yamaha managed a strong second-place showing on the 60-0 braking evaluation, stopping in 124 feet. Again, the results demonstrate the closeness of the bikes in this review, as the stopping distances ranged from 122 to 127 feet. Go ahead and throw a blanket over them, literally; the braking test was so close we almost called it a draw. The Yamaha’s radial-mount, four-piston Sumitomo monobloc calipers do a terrific job of getting things to a halt, with excellent feel at the lever. Yet in a class where radial-mount stoppers are de rigueur and the addition of Brembo monoblocs was a headlining upgrade on three competitors, the R6 brakes are average – which is to say excellent and on par with the rest of the bikes.

In terms of handling, without question the Yamaha is a quick turner. Knife-edged is an apt description, and used more than once to describe the R6’s race-bred chassis. Suspension components are also track-ready, offering the most adjustment of the entire class – four-way adjustable front and rear with preload, rebound and both low/high-speed compression. On the street the R6 didn’t stand out though, good or bad, for its handling traits. It did seem to turn in sharper, requiring a hair more input to cut through the corners – at least when compared with the more neutral handling Suzuki and Honda.

Some found the chassis not quite at the same level for street use as other platforms, with Steeves noting: “On the road you’re dealing with a narrow 10-foot area to make split second decisions, unlike the track. The Yamaha has to be ridden very fast to get the engine humming, and its chassis didn’t deliver quite the feedback and, in turn, confidence of the Honda.”

Riding position on the R6 is predictably aggressive but without being too uncomfortable. The 33.5-inch seat height stands out at a full inch taller than most of the rides in this test; the Triumph is next tallest at 32.7. At a commuter pace, the Yamaha puts more pressure on the wrists than the Honda or Suzuki but is far more comfortable than the Ducati. Its seat is also better than the tortuous Ducati or stiff Triumph, though again it’s less comfy than the Honda and Zook perches.

In other street bike credentials, the Yamaha rates average. Its 32.7 mpg fuel economy was mid-pack, owing to its requirement for high-rpm throttle input. The 147.1-mile range rated lowest of the test (not counting the GSX-R750’s paltry 135.4 figure), but the R6 would only fetch one mile less than the Ducati and Triumph from its 4.5-gallon tank. With that tank filled, the Yamaha curb weighed 424 pounds, the the heaviest bike save the 430-pound Ducati. Again, the difference in weight is insubstantial with the GSX-R600 and Triumph both 423 pounds.

And that’s really the story of the Yamaha in this year’s street rankings. It’s not that far off the leaders, but behind nonetheless. In the end, the total points tally places the R6 well back of the pack in fifth, but this is not indicative of its true worth. To a man, each of our testers noted how close the seven bikes are in this comparison, exacerbated further by the near clone-like nature of the 600s. This extended to the completely subjective task of styling, where the R6 looks didn’t really speak to our testing crew, even though the Yamaha has traditionally been one of the more visually pleasing rides in the class.

At $10,690, the Yamaha represents one of the most affordable entries into high-performance sportbikes. In fact, it would have been the class leader in MSRP had Kawasaski not recently knocked its price down from $10,699 to $9,999. More hard luck for the screamin’ R6 … on the plus side, we note the cost of ownership on the Yamaha is considerably less expensive. Based on reader feedback from our most recent Superbike comparison, we pulled the replacement costs of several components, such as turn signals and levers, as well as more expensive parts like crankshafts, pistons and radiators. At below $1,600, the Yamaha total was lower than the nearest $2,000 total of the Honda and a near $3,000 less than the expensive Ducati!

In sum, the Yamaha is far from a bad bike, but in a Supersport class as close as this one, it doesn’t quite measure up on the street. We reckon the R6 fortunes may improve when the focus turns back to the racetrack.

2011 Yamaha YZF-R6 Highs & Lows


  • Sumitomo monoblocs rated one of the best braking packages for street use
  • In spite of rankings, still a quick turning mount and good fit for aggressive street riders
  • Second-lowerst MSRP and lowest replacement parts costs


  • Least impressive bottom-end of the test
  • Ergos not ideal for larger riders
  • One of most track-biased entries in SS class