2008 Yamaha YZF-R6

When we finished riding the ‘revised’ 2008 Yamaha YZF-R6 at Laguna Seca earlier this year, there was no doubt the bike was primed to push the Honda to the brink on the track. The big question was whether or not the changes to the high-revving motor would increase its prowess on the street. After four days at Infineon and Thunderhill Raceways, three sets of Pirelli tires and hundreds of miles of street riding, we can confirm that this R6 is in fact better than ever and its combination of edgy styling, excellent chassis and screaming motor helps it earn top billing in the coveted track portion of Supersport Shootout VI.

Engine: 599cc Inline Four

Bore x Stroke: 67mm x 42.5mm

Horsepower: 109.7 hp @ 14,300 rpm

Torque: 43.2 lb-ft @ 10,900 rpm

Weight: 412 lbs w/fuel, 385 lbs w/o fuel

Power to Weight Ratio: 0.27

Wheelbase: 54.3 in.

Rake: 24°

Trail: 3.8 in.

Seat Height: 33.5 in.

Exhaust dB at 5000 rpm: 92

Measured MPG: 38.1

MSRP: $9599

Yamaha has taken the best of the ’07 model and made it lighter, faster and stronger for ’08. As a result, the Yamaha receives highest praise from half of our eight track test riders, deposing the defending class champion Honda and holding off the surprising Suzuki on the way. During our Superpole session the R6 was impressive, finishing as runner-up to the GSX-R by 0.03-seconds under Earnest and a mere 0.17-second away from being the fastest during Hutch’s runs. Its wailing motor, highly developed chassis and great brakes simply make it fun and easy to hustle around any track.

Its high-tech ramp-style slipper clutch works great but very differently than the rest of the bikes with diaphragm-type slipper clutches. When you first dive into a corner with the R6’s adjustable slipper clutch in its stock configuration, the bike freewheels like a TZ250. However, as the revs begin to drop, the slipper allows the rear tire a bit of traction. This tends to cause the back of the bike to squirm and slide around more than the other motorcycles and turned out to be disconcerting for some of our riders. With the rear dancing around and sliding under deceleration, carving up Infineon aboard the R6 is like signing an autograph in calligraphy as it’s moving, arching, sliding and leaving a snaking black signature in the braking zone of every slow corner on the track.

As much fun as it is charging hard into the sharp turns, wailing through the faster corners is where the R6 is in its element, with the motor wrung out in triple digits and the intake howling like some psychotic demon between your legs. Without a doubt the Yamaha has its rider on sensory overload more often than not, and that is one of the reasons it is so much fun to ride. The YZF is at its best when being ridden hard and fast and although the majority of our test riders agree the R6 is the best track bike, it’s a surprise that the ham-fisted Cory Call is one of the few fast dudes on the team who doesn’t believe all is good in the Yamahood.

“The R6 motor is a screamer on top, it [email protected]$#ing rips, but it has nothing on bottom,” concludes Mr. Call. “You pay dearly on the R6 if you are not in the right gear or you miss a gear – you pay the price and lose drives quickly. Luckily the transmission is smooth and very precise. I didn’t like the way the back-end feels on the Yamaha too much either. On the brakes the back comes off the ground, moves a lot and endos real easy.”

Take Cory’s complaints for what they’re worth, but on the flip side our other fast flogger says he’d pick the R6 for track battle over any of the other bikes, thanks in part to four-way adjustable front and rear suspension with provisions for both high- and low-speed compression, preload, and rebound damping along with an increased range for adjustability to the ride height for ’08. In the end, the R6 is one potent track bike.

“If someone talked smack on the track, I’d grab the Yamaha and show ’em what’s up,” says Earnest.

Mike isn’t the only one who feels the R6 has intrinsic goodness that goes beyond impressive dyno results or fast lap times, and that goes a long way towards winning the hearts of our fastidious investigative team.

“The wail of the R6’s engine when it’s on pipe needs to be experienced to believe,” gushes Waheed. “It’s completely wild. The R6 feels most comfortable when it’s cranked over on its side. Feedback from every control, brakes, engine and suspension are all phenomenal.”

As we mentioned before, the R6 enjoys its highest marks of the test in the motor, braking, initial turn-in categories and is rated as the best track bike by the majority of our riders after four days on course. Suspension is rated high, on par with the top trio including the GSX-R and CBR. Near effortless initial turn-in and surprisingly high scores in stability won the hearts of all but our most unpredictable riders.

Add into the mix the fact that the Yamaha churns out a class leading 109.7 horsepower and weighs in at 385 lbs without fuel, which is good enough for third-lightest in the test behind the Honda and Triumph. For 2008 the Yamaha YZF-R6 is our weapon of choice when it comes time to hit the track. Four of our core test riders including Earnest, Heed, Hutch, and Roberti unanimously agree that the Yamaha is the best track bike and initiates the biggest grin of the six rides in this test.

On the highway between home and work is where the clock strikes midnight on the R6’s Cinderella story. While the new R6 features an improved mid-range punch that works so well on the racetrack, it simply cannot challenge the less narrowly focused machines in this group for streetbike supremacy. It resides firmly in the lower half of the ballots as a result of its feeble bottom end and unforgiving ergos.

The R6 didn’t fare well in the objective street metrics, as it posts the second-slowest quarter-mile run at 11.10, but its 127 mph trap speed is runner-up to the CBR with our lightweight ringer at the controls. A tall first gear and a lack of bottom-end power make the R6 difficult to launch compared to the more street-friendly GSX-R and CBR. It also rings in as one of the highest priced bikes, along with the Honda at $9599.

The subjective scores from the majority of our street riders were the final blow to the Yamaha’s run at this year’s Supersport Shootout title. The good news is that this R6 feels stronger than last year and it is still considered one of the best, if not the best looking motorcycle in the test next to the Ducati. Fit and finish on the Yamaha continue to put it in the upper echelon of today’s sportbikes, with a host of stylized treatments to the engine cases, quality machine work on all exposed areas and its clean, well thought-out lines all difficult features to discount.

In the end the 2008 Yamaha YZF-R6 is simply a good-looking thoroughbred race replica that is destined to be the object of affection for speed junkies worldwide. This motorcycle refuses to compromise its track prowess for the sake of scoring high in our street tests and we forgive Yamaha for that. The R6 is one of the most popular Yamaha sportbikes of all time and it will continue to serve its purpose valiantly for thousands of riders who crave what a no-holds-barred sportbike like this has to offer.

Yamaha YZF-R6 – Rider Notepads:
Abrupt throttle response.
Very neutral feeling during initial turn-in.
Quick but stable on turn-in.
Bars are low and seat is wide.
The R6 brakes are strong but take a little more lever input than the others.
Nice and compact ergos – tank has a great shape for hanging off.