by Neale Bayly

Will the 2006 R6 Rev to the Moon Like Yamaha Says?

“Accompanied by an insane howl from the wildest production 600cc engine to ever get its neck wrung by this humble scribbler, I have to just ignore the fact the tachometer needle is reading somewhere between 15,000 and 16,000 rpm. And, with the fast approaching Turn 12 just a few hundred yards away, I am going to hold this gear and let the motor hit the rev limiter at close to 18,000 rpm. Yes, that really is 18 big ones, and not the figment of my imagination after ordering the wrong stuff in an Amsterdam coffee shop.” – Neale Bayly

He lauded the bike’s capability at the track and the awesome power of the 599cc powerplant as the tach needle swept towards an indicated 18,000 rpm. Everything seemed to be going so well for the R6 at that point – the promised one had arrived and, for all intents and purposes, it had “superior racing platform” written all over it.

Shortly thereafter, folks started buying them and putting them on the dyno, only to find that despite the claims that the new R6 is capable of revving to 17,500 rpm, in actuality the bike merely revs to 16,000. Oh the horror! Yamaha has since admitted to the mistake and has offered to buy bikes back from unhappy consumers – tax and license included – in an unprecedented gesture of good will.

And so the latest version of Yamaha's venerable R6 lineage has arrived on scene with more hype and controversy than could be drummed up by a trashy tabloid tailing Dennis Rodman and Martha Stewart on a tour of Tijuana. With its sexy styling, high revving powerplant and lofty price tag, the 2006 Yamaha R6 may require you give up a slice of your soul in order to fully enjoy everything it has to offer.

After my ride on the new R6, I cannot foresee too many owners being disappointed. Let me tell you now – if you know anyone who gives theirs back, they’re either an idiot or the type of person who likes to stick it to the man. Either way, they’ll regret it later.

As Yamaha’s Brad Banister put it so succinctly: “The R6 is exactly what we said it was – the most awesome, the most technologically advanced 600 ever built.”

First Impression: Willow Springs

This would be a perfect test of just how rider-friendly the new R6 actually is. I had not been on the track for around five months, so I was pretty nervous about being tossed onto “The Fastest Track in the West” to dust the cobwebs off of my medulla oblongata. I had never ridden this track before, but like a good kid I do what the man tells me to do: Ride Kenny, ride.

Right out of the gate I spent my first few laps checking out some of the topics Bayly didn’t hit on during his first ride, like the ergonomics. The R6 feels very small, compact and pretty damn narrow between the knees. The bars are low-swept and the windscreen doesn’t offer much protection when your body is fully upright – as it would be on the street. I know you shouldn’t be looking in your mirrors on the track, but this was early in the intro so I took the opportunity to find out that they offer a pretty clear view of fast approaching journalists.

Rowing through the gears with the rpm lower in the rev-range than you would at a pure race pace revealed that the transmission works excellent at street riding speeds and the easy-to-pull clutch won’t cause anyone any grief either. First gear is a little tall and, when you combine that with a motor designed with top-end in mind, you can see where street riders will find something to gripe about. This is even more of a bother for those who often ride in stop and go traffic or with a passenger clinging on for dear life.

But the whining about kinda-tall first gear will soon be drowned out by the awesome aural eruption from the stubby little titanium silencer as the revs climb rapidly into quintuple digits before running into the rev limiter at an indicated 17,500 rpm. I can’t believe how cool that stock exhaust sounds, and it was just as impressive when we heard it screaming its brains out on a dyno. Totally sick.

Once the R6 is up to speed and rolling it really starts to feel like the race bike it was bred to be. Bend it through a few turns and get tucked in behind the minuscule windscreen and you find yourself on a wild ride that only comes up about 1,500 rpm short from being orgasmic. (That’s a joke, people – read between the lines here.) I was blown away by how stable this little scalpel is considering that I was not smooth during my abrupt braking and dense on-off the gas antics while I tip-toed around Willow’s big track.

The good news continued to develop as the miles piled up on the digital odometer. The more comfortable I got with the bike the more easily I was able to navigate the flowing Willow race course and the more I started to understand how good the third generation R6 really is. The bike is so small, quick and easy to transition from side to side that it wasn’t long that I was really looking forward to taking it to the Streets of Willow which I have some familiarity with.

Unfortunately, there were still a few hours of lapping the big track to endure before making the switch. Poor baby, right? You try bending a bike that you’ve never ridden before into a 140-mph turn on a track you’ve never seen after just six or seven laps and then let me know what you think. The R6 held a solid line even when I was trying to figure out how fast I could go through the Turn 8-9 combo at Willow. It was here at triple digits, fumbling for feel, that I started to think about how cool the new fly-by-wire throttle set-up really is.

The 2006 YZF-R6 is the first production motorcycle to incorporate fly-by-wire technology, or YCCT (Yamaha Chip Controlled Throttle), and as far as I’m concerned it gets a thumbs-up. The throttle operates the throttle bodies electronically – no cables open and close this system directly. Instead, the 32-bit ECU processes all the available information as it decides exactly how much fuel actually gets squirted into the head – very cool. Plus, it was actually quite smooth and very precise. There was a slight on-off throttle abruptness, but that seems to be the norm these days. Overall, it was very user friendly and I’m sure a variation of YCCT will be finding its way to other bikes in the near future.

The YCCT is a cool new addition to an already impressive bike, but my personal favorite is the back-torque-limiting slipper clutch. It works in concert with the slick-shifting six-speed transmission, and I’m happy to report that even when wound to the nuts the close-ratio gearbox is easy to switch. It was precise when shifting in either direction but the slipper clutch makes downshifts a treat.

The slipper clutch all but alleviates any unwanted chirping, hopping and sliding from the rear wheel, which frees up the old grey matter to calculate more important things like entry speed, being smooth and not hitting that poor guy who just cut across their line in the B-group of your favorite track day. Or, on the other end of the spectrum, pros like Factory Yamaha rider Jason DiSalvo get to use it to his advantage on his Supersport race-bike because its now OEM equipment and every little piece adds up when your talking about the tenths of a second this dude lives by. Yamaha wants a championship and you want the baddest bike available. Everyone wins.

I was surprised to hear that I could get the rear wheel to chirp once in a while on a couple particular corner entries, but it never unsettled the chassis the way it would without a slipper clutch. It’s a sort of insurance, a nice thing to have at your disposal even if you never notice it’s working to your advantage. There were only two turns the clutch got a workout while doing my bidding at Willow’s big track, but things would be a little different at the tighter Streets of Willow.

Next UP: Streets of Willow

After scratching out a dozen laps around the Streets layout I pulled in for a breather and busted out my notepad. Terms like peppy, zippy, smooth and exciting all found their way to my pen as I scribbled key points. With a slightly steeper rake (0.5 degree), a 5mm shorter wheelbase and a 2mm increase in trail from 95mm to 97mm, the new and improved R6 manages to stay planted on the high-speed stuff while being capable of carving a mean line on the inside of any turn.

It was nice to find out the front brakes are as great as Neale claimed they are and that they were able to make an average Joe feel cooler than he really is. Sure, they’ll slow it down in a hurry, but whose sportbike brakes won’t in this day and age? All I can say is that they helped me gain confidence throughout the day by offering what felt like a very linear and not too grabby feel every time they were applied. Until we ride the R6 back-to-back with another supersport, I’ll leave it at this: They work and I dig ’em.

With somewhere in the neighborhood of 14 turns packed into 1.8 miles, the Streets of Willow really puts a premium on keeping a motor on the boil, nailing numerous braking points and, of course, a little traction doesn’t hurt either. The R6 motor is right at home in the 11K-14K range at this track. It was a blast to navigate this high-tech machine around the technical course while constantly shifting between second and fourth gears, grabbing lots of front brake and keeping a steady throttle hand. The OEM Dunlop Qualifier tires were grippy all day and should serve their purpose quite well right off the showroom floor for street or trackday use.

The bike snaps almost effortlessly from side to side and remains solid while doing so. Seeing the speedo reading over 120 at the end of that little straightaway and only just shifting into fourth to bring the revs down is enough to get yer juices flowin’, if you catch my drift. I dig a wailing motor that is smooth like this one, and I’m sure there will be thousands of others who agree. Combine that with the sweet slipper clutch and this bike has some serious potential in the hands of a capable pilot.

Since 95% of these bikes will see use only on the street, let’s take a look at the R6’s ergonomics and street-rider amenities. Its seat is firmly padded and provides a nice perch from which to do your dirty work. Over the course of the day I never found the seat to be uncomfortable, but we were doing track duty only, so take that for what its worth. The pegs are high and rear-set, but they didn’t bend me out of sorts by any means; taller folks may disagree.

The instrument cluster of the R6 is once again a good one. The tach is clean and easy to see, and the programmable shift-light indicator will make sure you nail you’re shifts. Also on the dash is a LCD display with a lap timer (which I never used), digital speedo, dual tripmeters (with the handy ‘miles on reserve’ function), odometer, temperature, and an array of idiot lights that include hi-beam, neutral, low fuel and a turnsignal indicator. It also still has a small storage area under the passenger pillion since it doesn’t come with an underseat exhaust. Oh, and Duke Danger will be happy to find that it also has a clock to help you make it home from your day of riding before the significant other finds a new ride of their own.

One of the most frequently asked questions I have fielded since riding the ’06 R6 is how good the motor really is. The answer is easy: It rips. But you have to be in the powerband, as with many of the middleweight sportbikes before this one. Yamaha pulls no punches when it says the R6 doesn’t compromise anything on the street for performance on the track – it’s the other way around. Street riders will likely drop a tooth off the front sprocket or add a couple to the rear and be real happy with it. Racers will be just as pleased. But there is one thing that’s not so easy to change, and that’s the power delivery of the 599cc mill – which we just happen to have some dyno numbers on.

We were able to watch an R6 wail on a Dynojet 250 dyno at our friends Two Brothers Racing, and it churned out 111 horsepower at 14,500 rpm. Power drops after its 14.5K peak but the engine continues to run out to 16,000 rpm – that overrev can be handy, possibly saving a time-wasting upshift here and there. Peak torque comes in at 44 lb-ft. at 11,500 rpm, so below double digits on the tach, the R6 isn’t going to blow anyone’s doors off in a roll-on showdown on the street. Then again, this bike was purposely designed to dominate the race track so I doubt Yamaha will lose too much sleep over this.

Street riders will find a way to work around any such ‘deficiency’ in order to sport the baddest bike on the planet. Otherwise, everyone would be riding bikes like the street-friendly YZF-R6S (nearly identical to the bike that won our Supersport shootout back-to-back in 2003-2004) or FZ6. But that’s not the way it goes.

According to data Yamaha showed us at this press introduction, the Supersport market segment has grown an incredible 275% since 1998 and shows no sign of slowing down. As we all know, this is a glorious era to be riding thoroughbreds like the 2006 R6, so please join us in a moment of silence as we thank the God of Speed for this blessed age.

As Yamaha’s Media Relations Manager Brad Banister stated at the start of the intro, the 2006 Yamaha R6 is being billed as the most technologically advanced 600cc sportbike ever produced. After riding it, I can’t say I would disagree.

But, as we all know, until you get the contenders for a back-to-back ride, it is difficult to say which is better (and even then it’s a pain). The new R6 will certainly get high marks for its racetrack performance, but we aren’t yet sure how it will fair in the slower environment of the street.

So there you have it, a follow up to Sir Neale’s experience. Overall, I think it will be a fine steed to humble your friends with whether on the street or the track. Even more important to some, it will also be an excellent choice for riders looking to impress their friends with its long list of features and a nasty-ass profile that looks even better in person than it does in pictures.