Yamaha YZF-R6 Steet Tested

It’s safe to say this new R6 is the most anticipated sportbike of 2006. Our preview of the bike from last September was one MCUSA’s most visited articles, and chat rooms were abuzz with talk about ride-by-wire throttles, stratospheric redlines, a radical new look, and being the first 600 to exceed the $9,000 barrier.

And then there was all the hubbub surrounding its highly optimistic tachometer. Instead of revving to the claimed 17,500-rpm redline, the bike’s rev limiter cuts in just south of 16 grand, and Yamaha graciously offered to buy back R6s from unsatisfied customers. There were few takers.

(FYI: Three other bikes in this test hit their rev limiters prior to their factories’ claimed redlines. The ZX came up 900 rpm short of its 15,500-rpm claim; the Triumph 800 revs under its 14,000 claim; and the Gixxer 700 rpm short of its 16,000-rpm assertion. Interestingly, the CBR revved to 15,200 rpm, 200 revs higher than Honda claims. Ducati says the 749 spins to 11,200 rpm, and that’s exactly what we saw on the dyno.)

As for the R6, it has been surrounded by so much pre-season hype that we’ve already given you not just one but two First Ride impressions (Check out our second ride on the 2006 Yamaha R6 here). Yamaha wisely chose racetrack introductions for the bike that promised to be the closest thing to a TZ250 GP bike with a four-stroke motor.

So, the question remained, how would it work on the street?

First off, its 33.4-inch seat height is going to be hated by riders under 5’10”. The perch’s lofty summit is compounded by a wide seat that forces legs outward before stretching for the ground below.

“Its ergos are racy,” BC remarks. “You sit up on top of the bike. Way up. Bars are low, but at least they are close and set wide. The bike feels pretty slim down the middle, although looking out at the wide nose perceives the bike to be larger than it really is.”

Kenny also noted the R6’s wide look and feel of the fairing from the seat, adding he thought the view of the backside of the fairing doesn’t look “very high tech.” And you don’t have to be an expert like Hutch to realize the tiny windscreen isn’t going to offer much protection – tall riders in a full racer tuck have trouble getting fully behind it. Fingers get caught in the fairing at full steering lock, especially if the levers are rotated forward as preferred, and this causes U-turns to be more difficult on the R6 than on the Duc, something I don’t think could’ve ever have been said previously about a Japanese streetbike. None of the pillion accommodations in this group are anything resembling kind, but the Yamaha takes the prize for the most cruel (okay, the Duc’s lack of a seat would be worse).

All these petty grievances about the R6 are forgotten with a twisty road in front of it. The uncomfortable flat bar angle suddenly pays dividends in leverage for unwinding twisty tarmac. The Yammie feels short and mass-centralized, responsive yet steadfast. Its chassis never feels overtaxed.

“The R6 really shines in the corners,” BC declares. “The aggressive riding position instantly makes me feel comfortable and eggs me on for more speed. It turns in very quickly and is very stable through the corner, as well as upon exit. It adjusts well to steering input, and the suspension soaked up anything on the road. The R6 and the CBR were definitely the bikes I felt the most confident and comfortable on in the corners during our street ride.”

Chamberlain’s comments about his high confidence on the CBR and R6 are interesting in that the pair share nearly identical chassis geometry numbers. The R6’s 24.0-degree rake matches the CBR’s, and its trail is just 4mm greater at 97mm. The R6’s slight extra trail is offset by a wheelbase that is shorter by 0.2-inch, the stubbiest of the group at 54.3 inches.

The R6’s handling is undoubtedly exceptional but, at 396 tank-empty pounds, the TZ250 analogy stretches reality as much as its tachometer reading. A TZ is a stripped-down, purpose-built race machine that weighs about 150 pounds less than an R6. And its two-stroke powerplant is a peaky little beast, designed to run strong only at high revs.

Oh, wait, now I get the analogy! It’s the R6’s engine that is like the TZ!

It’s a harsh dig, sure, but it’s apropos to a powerband that is clearly inferior to its competitors until after 13,000 revs. “If you like riding your streetbike at over 10,000 rpm everywhere in order to be in the meat of the power, then you might enjoy riding the R6 on the street,” Kenny damns with faint praise.

“Unfortunately for street use,” affirms BC, “there is nothing below 9,000. Nothing. Even after you hit the power it still doesn’t have the horses of the other bikes until about 14K. To make sure I had power on hand, I typically rode the Yamaha a gear lower than the rest of the bikes. This solved the low-end problem but drew lots of attention from other motorists as I casually crept by them at 12K, sounding like I didn’t know how to shift.”

The shortest overall ratios in first and second gears somewhat ameliorates the dearth of usable power, but torque multiplication can only do so much. The R6 feels sluggish in town and needs more revs to get underway from a stop. A clutch that engages at the end of its travel moderately compounds the situation.

But out in the twisties, free of such distractions as stoplights, parking lots and school busses, the R6’s flaccid low-end power is superseded by a screaming top-end pull that seems to go on forever.

“What the R6 lacks on the bottom end it makes up on top with a spine-tingling wail that is unique to the R6,” Hutch asserts. “If you don’t mind risking your drivers license, you can have a lot of fun wailing this thing around at 12,000 rpm.”

And while you’re wailing around, you’ll also notice a top-ranked gearbox and a freewheeling slipper clutch, the latter performing admirably in the high-rev environment of R6 sport riding. Strong power from the front brakes is hard to criticize, but BC did anyway when he described them as “a little grabby.” The rear binder is worse, proving very susceptible to lock-up.

Although the R6 falls short dynamically in many areas, aesthetically it’s a grand-slam home run. This is one of the few Japanese sportbikes that reliably draws a crowd when it pulls up to a riding hangout. Its shape is not only highly evocative, it’s also artfully put together. The only suspect bit is the license-plate holder that is suspended awkwardly low.

“I love the look of the new R6,” BC enthuses. “I think Yamaha pushed past the norm and pulled it off really well. Its cool new styling kept forcing me to look past all practicality.”

But as much as we love looking at the R6, eventually we had reality thrown in our face when it was time to ride the bike in typical city-street environments.

“The new R6 is definitely not the most practical choice for street riding,” BC sums up. “It’s hard to look past its anemic low-end and even lackluster midrange for practical riding.”

2006 Yamaha YZR-R6 MSRP: $9,199-$9,499