A great value that needs a street-oriented overhaul

Yamaha’s 2013 YZF-R6 arrives at this year’s shootout six years into its current design. The R6 once had a technological leg up on the competition with its Yamaha Chip Controlled Intake (YCC-I) and ride-by-wire throttle systems, but that was back in 2008. Now the Yamaha faces improved competition. The track-oriented R6 fared well with a third-place result in our 2013 Supersport Track Shootout, but it struggles on the street – a fate it suffered back in 2011 with another last-place showing.

As a bellwether of class performance, the R6 demonstrates the Supersport field’s potency. Its unchanged 599cc Inline Four turned the dyno to an impressive 106.93 peak horsepower, top among the pure 600s. But the Yamaha suffers in torque production with the lowest peak reading of 44.39 lb-ft.

The R6 throttles up performance as revs increase and the variable length intake ramps up power on the top end. The Yamaha Four’s top-end bias proves the least street-friendly compared with the more linear torque curves of its 600 rivals though. Still, this is a relative complaint. If a revamped R6 milked out some more baseline torque to stoke the YCC-I furnace, things would be different. As it stands, the Yamaha doesn’t match up on the bottom end, which hurts it in the scoring.

“The R6 still needs some rpm to get out of its own way, but get the tach needle pointed to 10,000 and the thing takes off in a hurry,” reckons Road Test Editor Adam. “I also love the character of the engine with it sounding the most similar to a racing engine. It screams, vibrates a little and just really adds to the experience when riding on the road.”

A wailing Four makes for a thrilling engine howl, but the R6 doesn’t stand apart from the Inline Four crowd like its cross-plane R1 sibling does. The Japanese bikes all sound similar compared to the European Triples and Twin.

Ratings in the drivetrain category are a bitter pill for the hard-luck Yamaha. Its six-speed transmission and slipper clutch are beyond serious fault, but so are all the Japanese drivetrains and the flawless Triumph transmission – which rated higher. That said, the R6 upped class performance expectations with its slipper clutch in 2008, and it remains the best calibrated – to the point where it’s unnoticeable on the street.

“No matter the power, the clutch was really smooth on braking or downshifting, not altering the behavior of the bike at all,” notes Massimo. “Everything worked better in ‘race’ conditions, in the canyons, where you can really enjoy and make the most out of the R6.”

"Race conditions" are where all these Supersports shine, but the R6 in particular. At 33.5 inches it sports the tallest seat, pitching riders forward to the clip-ons. It’s an aggressive position that works for the track, but suffers on the street compared with the more relaxed Suzuki, Honda and Kawasaki. The wide tank and firmer seat also hurt its comfort rating. While the ergonomics are not ideal for commuting or casual riding, when it comes time to move around on the bike and get to work, the Yamaha is more than ready to play.

“Sure, the seat is a little taller than the rest of them and the ergonomics are a bit tight for a tall guy,” admits Adam, “but the Yamaha is just so well put together. It’s really refined and rides nice and smooth. Like the Suzuki the suspension offers a good balance between comfort and sport. In fact, I think the R6 has a little bit more sporty edge in the canyons, but it’s close.”

Where test riders describe the Honda, Suzuki and Kawasaki as “easy to ride” to the point of ad nauseam, the Yamaha is more precise and demands deft hands at the controls. On our street ride it felt perhaps too sharp edged, compared to the forgiving base setups on the Japanese rivals.

“It’s a great bike, light and nimble. But when you first sit on the bike, the fairings are really, really wide. It kind of gives the illusion that the bike is a little bit bigger bodywork and a little bit heavier,” notes Steeves, the most aggressive rider in our testing troop. “It definitely needs suspension work done for you. It’s got to go and have a setup done, so I’d recommend you definitely get the sag dialed in for your liking.”

The Yamaha’s knifelike handling can be sharpened via its Soqi suspension units, which offer four-way adjustment front and rear (preload, rebound and high/low-speed compression). One rider who didn’t mesh with the R6 setup is Adey, an R1 owner who says: “Every time I rolled off the gas, the front end dove as if I grabbed a fistful of front brake. It made negotiating through unknown territory quite unnerving. I couldn’t tell if the tires were gripping either. The whole handling experience was vague and confidence sapping.”

Adey had no such qualms with the braking package. “No problems in stopping the R6 – great feedback through the levers and plenty of bite available from the dual 310mm front disc brake.”

Again the Yamaha does nothing wrong, but rates low in braking only because it’s up against competition that’s armed to the teeth. The Sumitomo calipers didn’t quite match the precise modulation afforded by some of the monobloc Brembo and Nissin bits. Still, we’re talking eyelash levels of braking performance disparity. A GPS setting glitch spoiled our customary 60-0 braking evaluation, but the 2011 brake test results are a fair example of how close things are, with only a couple feet separating the entire class.

Or maybe an unfair example, as the R6 can’t catch a break in our performance data. It rates behind the Honda and Ducati by a scant 0.01 in 0-60 acceleration tests, ahead of only the MV Agusta. It does fare better in the quarter-mile times, besting the MV again as well as the Ducati and GSX-R600.

Far more subjective is appearance. Of the Japanese entries, the Yamaha maintains a distinctive look with its wide, swoopy fairing. While some find the R6 lines dated, most think it still a racey-looking package – though deemed not as sleek as the supple Italian F3.

One dated aspect of the Yamaha we will not complain about is its MSRP. Remember when the 600s still sported four-figure price tags? Those days are long gone … but the R6 is the budget buy as the only bike in this shootout to stay under $11,000 ($10,990 as tested with the Yamaha Blue/White colorway tacking on $200). The last time we conducted this street shootout, in 2011, the Yamaha was $10,690 – so price has wandered higher, but it undercuts the Honda by $500 and Suzuki by $600.

While it finished last on the scoresheet, the R6 is a formidable package, and a testament to the Supersport class’ performance capabilities. The Yamaha suffers on the street for being the most track-biased of the 600s, but it’s also the most affordable. The R6 may finish last in this test – but it’s a fantastic bike and arguably the best value.

Adam sums up the R6 well: “It needs some upgrades in terms of handling and a little more versatile engine for it to better keep pace with the more contemporary motorcycles from Kawasaki and Triumph. I’m just really excited for Yamaha to unveil their replacement for that bike. The R6 is not a bad bike by any means, but it is a little long in the tooth compared to the other motorcycles in this group.”

Yamaha’s R6 fared better in the track portion of the 2013 Supersport Street Shootout – read more in the 2013 Yamaha YZF-R6 Track Comparison article.

Highs & Lows

  • Most affordable bike in its class at $10,990
  • Potent top-end hit still exhilarates
  • Remains stylish ride despite its age


  • Most aggressive ergos of the Japanese bikes
  • Bottom-end and mid-range struggle compared to rest of the 600s
  • Going on six years since total overhaul