Track days are here again
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Despite what the weather in spring often dishes out, it is on the mend from a long, wet winter. And that means one thing — track days will soon be on the cards.
Yamaha Motor NZ gave me the keys to its R6 that is about to get a minor makeover ahead of the upcoming Yamaha Track Days hosted by Playday on Track.
Unlike its big brother, the R1, the R6 doesn’t rely on sophisticated electronics to help it pull a quick lap time on the track. In fact the R6 is probably the best representation of the Yamaha logo on two wheels. It is a highly refined motorcycle.
Starting with the engine, the R6 is powered by a 599cc inline four that pumps out a healthy amount of grunt.
Something you’ll read all over the internet is that bikes from the 600cc class are terrible as everyday rides because of the way they deliver the majority of their power in the top end of the rev range. That’s bollocks.
Even though the R6 revs to a screaming 16,500rpm, it still produces enough torque in the lower rev range to be easily ridden placidly around town.
The only thing that might prevent you from using the R6 as a daily is the race-inspired riding position, but if you’re looking at a supersport you’ll already know about the rigours the cannonball position puts your body through.
The R6 is light. Yamaha is a strong believer in mass centralisation or, in terms you and I can understand, packing all the weight into the middle of the bike. Look at the R6 from the side and it’s obvious. Everything heavy is either in the middle of the bike, or as close to it as possible.
The only thing that seems to go against this is the way the engine’s cylinders are slanted forward towards the front wheel. This brings a little bit more weight towards the turning wheel which aids in handling.
Shocks in the R6 are adjustable 41mm forks up front and an adjustable shock in the rear. I didn’t bother to touch the settings as the bike handled near on perfectly for the road-based riding I was doing.
Out of the handful of bikes in the class I’ve ridden recently, the Yamaha felt the most stable and predictable in the twisties, which was something I didn’t expect going by the R6’s reputation as a race bike for the road.
The ergonomics of the R6 are the typical head down, bum up cannonball position of the class.
The seat sits at 850mm so it is on the tall side, though the lack of any real width under the tank because of the forward-leaning cylinders means you have no real issues getting a foot down.
If the R6 is missing out anywhere, it is in the electronics department.
2016 YAMAHA R6
PRICE: $18,899 plus on roads
ENGINE: 600cc inline four cylinder
PROS: Highly refined, sounds insane, pure riding experience
CONS: Less features than competitors
There’s no ABS and no traction control.
On the road you don’t miss any of that high-tech wizardry.
I used the R6 for back-road blasting and the commute up the Southern Motorway.
The engine is happy to pull from 50km/h in sixth gear, and so long as it’s revving over 2000rpm it never feels like it’s struggling.
Locking your legs into the tank takes a lot of pressure off your wrists and allows you to ride in a bit more comfort, though you’ll certainly feel it in your legs after the ride.
When it comes to the back-road blasting, the R6 is of course no slouch.
As the revs rise and the engine starts to scream like an F1 car should, the bike hits 8000-9000rpm and shoots forward at some serious pace.
It doesn’t take long before you’re doing well above the open-road limit and you have to button off.
The only place you’ll get the opportunity to unleash the R6’s full potential is the track, and since Yamaha New Zealand is modifying this particular unit for doing just that for the upcoming Yamaha Track Days, I can’t wait for the chance to take the R6 all the way to the redline.
Yamaha 2017 YZF-R6
Yamaha YZF-R6 history
The first R6 joined the Yamaha stable in 1999 as the sharper, hardcore, race-ready answer to the then-dominant Honda CBR600, and gave birth to the supersport class we recognise today.
The formula was simple.
Take a 600cc sports bike and inject it with some madness. While other bikes of the same class have since swapped categories to sports tourers as tastes have changed, the original R6 is still recognisable as a track-ready sports machine.
Powered by a 120hp (89kW) water-cooled inline four-cylinder engine — capable of revving out to a staggering 15,500rpm — the R6 was unlike anything else at the time.
Brakes were the same as the R1 of the time, providing plenty of stopping grunt while it tipped the scales at a 169kg dry.
Not a lot changed until the 2003 model year, when the R6 was overhauled with a new chassis, engine, and updated styling.
Along with the obvious changes, one of the biggest was the addition of electronic fuel injection, which sent the carburettor to the scrap heap. Weight was dropped by 7kg through the new chassis as well as five-spoke wheels.
More evolutionary changes came in 2005, with the now commonplace upside-down front forks (USD) and radial brakes further tuning the abilities of the bike.
The next major update came in the 2006 model year, when a completely new machine that was even more race-oriented with new, ultra-sharp bodywork debuted. The 2006 bike featured the ‘fly by wire' YCC-T throttle control system taken directly from Yamaha's MotoGP bikes.
Power increased to127 horsepower and, thanks to an ultra-short stroke and titanium valves, can rev up to 16,500 rpm.
Further refinements continued until 2010 when development of the chassis seemingly stopped, but Yamaha had something epic in the works ...
New for 2017
So as it turns out, not long after penning this original story, Yamaha finally pulled the covers off the long-rumoured 2017 YZF-R6.
The suspense was worth it as the machine is the most insanely refined R6 yet.
Taking more than a few pages from the 2015 R1’s book (including styling that is now aligned with the 1000cc machine for the first time in years), the 2017 machine takes the already sharp-as-a-knife R6 and turns it up to 11.