Splitting heirs: Yamaha YZF-R6 2005 vs. 2006

I know the R6 well not only 'cos I raced one for three seasons in World Supersport but also because we used 'em as marshals' bikes on our track days.

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By James Whitham, Tim Dickson on Thu, 27 Jan 2011 - 10:01

Visordown Motorcycle News


ON THE TRACK

I know the R6 well not only 'cos I raced one for three seasons in World Supersport but also because we used 'em as marshals' bikes on our track days. I've done a million laps of everywhere on R6s, and riding one is like putting on a pair of well-worn slippers.

You pretty much know what you can do with the 2005 R6, and as long as you don't push it you've got no bother at all. That said, the '05 bike does feel old, and that goes from the seating position to the geometry and fairly soft but compliant suspension.

The '06 R6 is a different kettle of fish. It feels smaller, a nicer package with a Swiss watch feel to it. It's stiffer front and rear - almost too stiff, I thought at first - and is a lot more race-oriented. It feels like a little race bike. You've got a bit more weight on your hands and it's less comfortable for mileage, but going round a circuit it doesn't matter at all. Instead of being sat in the seat with the tank in front of you, it feels like you're actually sat on top of it, with the top of the seat and the back of the tank at what feels like the same level, and that pushes more weight forward. You get a lovely, lovely induction roar too, not loud, but a real deep, low sound feeding back through the bodywork and the tank.

Engine-wise the '05 R6 pulls alright and feels stronger low down than the new bike but there's quite a big gap between second and third gear. It's not the best gearbox in the world, either the choice of ratios or the way it changes. Certainly the standard ratios aren't the best for Almeria. You're always between second and third, and the motor hasn't got the grunt to be running third in places, but if you drop down into second it's all over the place because the revs are too high and you've got too much engine braking. What I found myself doing was using the higher gear, running a little bit quicker mid-corner and waiting for a fraction of a second extra instead of leaping out of the corners. That was pushing me a bit wide but it didn't matter because the power doesn't come in and push you off the track. You're allowing for not having a lot of power, which keeps you going round the corner rather than off the track.

It was a surprise to me but back-to-back the new bike doesn't feel as strong. It just doesn't feel it. I know it's got more power at the top end, and certainly it's going quicker by the end of the straight, because I can look as long as I dare at the speedo and it's definitely four or five mph up, but it doesn't feel to have loads of power.

When everybody said it revved to 17,000rpm I thought it was going to go fucking bananas at 14,000 or so, but that isn't the case. It isn't the rev box I thought it would be. The power's spread out from 8500-9000 right up to maximum power at 14,000 or so, and you can rev it on to 15,500. And that has its advantages. You can hold onto the gears longer in the corners, which is something you can't do with the '05 bike. But I thought the new bike would feel peakier than it does. Instead, it's like an engine that revs to 14,500-15,000, but with an extension of 2000rpm if needed. But the power stops going up, it kind of flattens off. There's more power than before, but spread over a wider range of revs.

And I tell you what, I really like the fueling. I don't know if it was down to the fly-by-wire or what, but it's dead smooth. But just once, when I was right off the bottom of the revs, it was just a little bit... I don't know... I guess 'notchy' is the word.

The new bike's ratios are closer too, and that means you can run second in corners where, on the old bike, second was too low. I found myself running lower gears with higher revs as if I were racing it, and it felt brilliant. Instead of sitting in a higher gear waiting for the power to come in you could just ping it out.

The slipper clutch works really well. It feels like you've got about 50 per cent slip. You could shut it off and bang a gear down and you'd almost lock up and get a bit of movement; it gives some feedback and you could feel it through the lever as well, but some people might not like that. I did.Certainly some race bikes I've ridden run nearly 100 per cent slip, and it's just fuckin' frightening - you shut 'em off and it's like you've hit a neutral.

From a handling point of view the two bikes feel very different. The '05 bike was exactly what I thought it was going to be like, and exactly what I'm used to. It doesn't turn that fast, though, so you've got to be prepared to force it a little bit. In fact, the '05 bike doesn't steer, or hold a line, or drop in particularly well, but it doesn't give you anything other than a really safe feeling, even in one of thse corners where you run a bit wide or open the throttle and there's a second apex where you've got to shut the throttle and drag it back in. You've got a physical job to drag it back but it doesn't feel like it's going to tuck.

The rear is... alright. The only place it felt underdamped, and then only on the rebound, was going through the chicanes, turning the bike from one side to the other, where the back tended to unload a bit and jump in the air. The '05 bike doesn't hold a line so well, but if you're prepared to hang off and force it into the corner it isn't too bad, and it certainly feels safe. It doesn't feel like it's going to bite you on the arse if you push it.

But I did feel I hit a bit of a brick wall, and after that it feels like you're going to have to make big changes to make a significant difference. I noticed that most when I was putting consistent times in, then I had a lap behind Jay Vincent and I tried fairly hard - maybe 95 per cent instead of 90 per cent - and yeah, I went about a second quicker, but it was right on the edge of doing something wrong in three or four places on the lap.

Steering and turn-in are the biggest differences between the two bikes. The '06 bike has more weight on the front, but whether it's because more of your bodyweight is forward, or whether it's because the weight distribution or the head angle are sharper, I don't know. But it really does turn, to the point you're thinking, 'fucking hell'. It's pushing a lot of weight onto the tyre.

The '05 bike never felt like you were really pushing the front, but the new one does. The front tyre was working a lot harder on the '06 bike - it was ripped up a lot more because you're making it work, you're digging it into the floor and making it grip. The new bike turns in that quick as it goes on its side, and at some point the front tyre has to catch all that weight as it falls down. But it does, and it feels good doing it. And accurate too. The '05 bike can be muscled round but it's never that precise, while the new one feels like it could hit a 10p piece every time. From straight up, through shutting off to turning, everything happens quicker. This means you're pointing further round the corner sooner, so you can open the throttle earlier.

You always trade stability for agility with a race bike and I don't mind 'em steering fairly quick, but I think some people will find it over-sharp. It seems quicker-steering than any other 600. Not in a dangerous way, but we went nearly a second quicker straight away and without having a lot of time to play with it. The old one was definitely a case of, 'right, we're not going any quicker than that'. The new one isn't. It focuses you more.

The '06 bike's brakes are good but no better than the old bike's in terms of stopping power. In fact, the old bike's brakes were loads better than I ever remember them, to be honest. I've ridden '05 R6s with the radial brakes before and I can't remember them feeling as good as these did.

Having said that, weight transfer is a bit of a problem. Hit the brakes hard and you get a lot of weight tipping forward. You can sort that out with compression damping and different fork oil, but then you tend to screw it up somewhere else. The best compromise always tends to be standard settings - and by that I mean standard springs, standard fork oil. It's not perfect, but it's about as good as you're going to get it.

On the '06 bike the weight transfer is a lot better, more controlled. It's stiffer with more support at the front. it lets you be more accurate with your braking and you get confident with how quick you can turn it in when you get to the corner. You can ease the brakes off, turn it in and know you're still going to make the apex. With the '05 bike you know if you don't turn it early enough you won't get it back and it'll feel lazy as you're going in.

The rear suspension felt alright on the new bike, but a bit firm for my 11st 9lb. The first time I got on the rear felt like a rock hard race bike, but push on and you just about get the shock working in the middle of its stroke. The harder you go the better it gets; the '05 bike is opposite - it gets to a point where you can't push any more.

It pays to be aggressive with the new R6, although I wouldn't want to push on the road as hard as I needed to get the suspension working. Initially I wanted a softer spring to get a bit more compliance and feel, but when we got going we went back to almost standard settings. I was trying for the 'comfort' feeling the '05 bike gives me, but without losing the sharp steering. We tried, but ended up almost back at standard settings.

The only trouble was we needed a fair bit of grip to do it; if it had been warmer I think it would have been different. At the end of the day the '06 bike's lap times were almost the same as the '05's. I went a bit quicker on the '06 bike - about a second a lap - but it feels like you could have a play and make some big improvements. It feels very much like you're at the beginning of a development curve. With another half a day dodging about with the old R6 you might go another second quicker; with the new bike you'd end up a couple of seconds quicker just by spending time dicking around with the settings.

Overall it's more of a race bike.

You get the feeling it's been built to develop into a supersport bike. Yamaha has said, 'What do we need to make a World Supersport-winning bike? We need one of them, we need that, we've got to get it to do this'.

And that's given us the new R6. The downside is that it's uncompromising and less of an all-rounder.

ON THE ROAD

Being something of an underdog myself, and a step or two away from the cutting edge of fashion, I have had something of an affinity with the R6 for the last couple of years. The 2005 machine is only a radial brake caliper and inverted fork away from the fuel injected 2003/'04 model, itself the first major update of the original bike.

Both in the sales charts and on the track the '03-on R6 has languished somewhat in the shadow of more sharply-focused 600 competitors from Honda, Suzuki and Kawasaki. But that didn't stop me having an R6 for a year and 13,500 miles in '04 and loving every minute of it. With a handful of changes (Akrapovic pipe, Power Commander, suspension fiddling), it turned out to be hugely versatile, practical and entertaining, doing everything from daily commuting to track days via a 2000-mile, four-day lap of France.

So I was looking forward to riding the new bike. "It's sharper and more focused," they said, "and it revs to 17,000." Ah, yes, but is it any better? And the answer is "yes, it is", but not in all the ways you might want.

Riding the new R6 for the first time is a buzz simply because it looks so damn good. Styling wise alone it's streets ahead, and dates the '05 model without turning a wheel. The sleek, squat fairing brings the R6 more into line with the R1's styling, while the stubby, underslung exhaust is all the R6's own.

Sat on board, the view is more R1 than old R6 too, with a flat, low screen and R1-esque clocks squashed into what little space there is. I'd never have said the old R6 felt like anything other than a sports bike, but next to the new one it feels like you're definitely sat more 'in' than 'on'.

Practicalities? The '05 bike had a fair amount of underseat storage, but despite the underslung, not underseat, exhaust, Yamaha have chosen to reduce this to virtually nowt. Cheers. That said, strapping on a tailpack is no bother, while a magnetic bag will at least stick to the rear half, if not the front, of the tank/airbox cover.

On the move, however, any pretence of practicality quickly evaporates. The old R6 may once have felt sharp and focused, but things move on and here's the proof. The '05 bike now feels old, slightly cruder, softer and more forgiving. But the reality is, ridden side-by-side with the '06 machine, there ain't much in it on the road. The difference in real speed is hair-splitting, and there are many times - around town, on bumpy roads, on unfamiliar roads, on motorways or over any real distance - when the '05 R6 really is the better bike to be on. It's only on faster, smoother roads where the '06 bike gets to stretch its legs fully and make proper use of its top end horsepower advantage (how will an indicated 167mph do you?), slowly pulling away from the '05 machine.

As James has already made clear on the preceding pages, the new R6 feels much more like a race bike: taught, stiff, more responsive, lighter. Except it's only carrying one kilo less, fully fuelled. Much of that feeling of lightness comes from the quicker steering and stiffer springs - ridden half-heartedly (or even three-quarters-heartedly), the '06 R6 skips and bounces over bumps as if it's not heavy enough to get its own suspension working. And it isn't, if you fanny about. If you don't attack hard enough, the front end will kick off bumps and threaten to slap as the suspension fails to compress and absorb them; attack harder and bumps are hit with enough force to start working the suspension. The faster you go, the more stable it feels.

It must be said, though, that this was definitely more of a problem for 11-stone-something Whitham than for 15-stone me - my weight was flattening the R6 into submission; Whit was hankering after softer springs. I'll wager there'll be good sales of steering dampers to flyweight owners of new R6s in the coming months, but harder riding (if you're up to it - and bear in mind that even Whitham was baulking at the idea of pushing the R6 hard enough on the road to get it working properly), those softer springs or gaining a few stone in weight would be a better solution. Fixing the problem is better than masking it.

The '05 R6 is almost the inverse of the '06 bike. When you get to the point where the new R6 is getting into its stride, the old bike cries 'enough'. But never in a bad way. Much of the time it's at least as quick, sometimes, for many people, it's going to be quicker.

The motor helps too. From low revs, on a part throttle, the '05 bike has more guts - relatively speaking, of course, remember we are talking modern 600 supersports machines here. Away from a standstill, around town or chugging low revs (ie less than 8000) out of blind hairpin bends the old bike has the edge. More of an edge, in fact. It's a clear advantage. The '06 R6 is a wind-up toy in comparison to what many would already consider to be one; flat and gasping at the bottom end, needing clutch slip and a heavy handful of more revs to keep up or nose ahead.

At the top end the '06 bike does have a clear advantage, but the delivery is smoother, calmer and spread over a wider range of revs than you'd expect of a bike with a 17,500rpm redline. (Although Yamaha is playing games with us here - rpm is the new bhp in the tech spec bullshit stakes.) Whatever the revs really are though, the induction howl is pure joy. Once again, everything James diagnosed on track is borne out in the '06 R6's on-road performance. Throttle response and fueling is superb, although how much of that is down to fly-by-wire trickery and how much is simply good, honest fuel mapping is hard to tell. Should you wish to prove a point to people interested by such things, you can tell them the '06 R6 will pull full throttle in top gear without a hiccup from an indicated 20mph. You need at least 26mph showing on the '05 bike's speedo, although it pulls more strongly once underway.

One tick in the 'roundly improved for 2006' box is the gearbox, or rather gear selection. Ratios are close, with first feeling a tad taller, but the finer points of whether or not each ratio suits a particular corner on a southern Spanish race track is by the by for most of us. What you will notice is that, for the first time, the R6's gear selection is now slick and sweet, a welcome contrast to the spanner-in-a-food-mixer cog selection we've had to endure until now. The slipper clutch works a treat too, but I'd be lying if I said it makes a big difference to my road riding. I only find them helpful when I cock things up.

We're at a point now where the 600 sports bikes are getting so focused on track performance that they're no longer the easy option for those who kind of fancy a litre sports bike but know they'd really be better off with a 600. While the '05 R6 may feel dated in comparison, it's usable and useful in ways the new bike isn't. The '06 R6 requires total commitment to get anything approaching the best out of.

If you like your sports bikes finely honed and full on, you'll have an absolute ball on the '06 R6. But there are times when it will annoy as much as excite. Yes, you can probably commute on it, yes you can tour on it (honest, you can, see over the page), but you probably won't enjoy doing either very much, and most of what Yamaha has engineered into the R6 will be going to waste.

1000 MILES

Confession time. Jon, James and I took the easy route to Spain flying down, to meet Daryll who'd brought a bunch of bikes in a van. It's quicker that way and the sensible option. Except I wasn't feeling sensible, so I opted to ride the 2006 R6 back from Almeria.

8.30am on an overcast Wednesday in Almeria and strapping a tailpack onto the pillion seat is surprisingly easy. There are even bungee hooks on the pillion peg hangers. By an odd turn of fortune, I notice the odometer flashed round to '1000' as I parked up the night before. Time to go.

The route's a dull one: turn right onto the motorway and stay on it. Seventeen miles in and it starts to rain, but not for long. Thankfully there's the odd twist and turn, and stuff to think about. Covering big miles by bike isn't about how fast you go, it's how little you slow down. Manage your fuel stops and keep 'em short and sweet. Cruising at 120mph, the fuel light blinks on at 94 miles. Too soon. The next two tanks come and go in 110 miles at 105-110mph and the motor ticking over at a lazy 9000rpm, setting a pattern for the day. The most miles I do with the fuel light on is 20-something, filling up at 129 miles on the trip. My '04 R6 would do 30 miles with the fuel light on but I'm not risking that on a bike I don't know so well. When the roads clear I treat myself to 130 mph, when it's busy the mph are kept down. Keeping speed constant is a game; the motorway is two-lane but there's a third bikes-only lane between the outside lane and the Armco-lined central reservation. Using this, backing off isn't necessary - and the locals don't seem to mind.

Spain's a bit bigger than I thought. The day passes in a routine of fuel stops and dodgy overtakes but Barcelona doesn't come and go until late afternoon. Hmm, this could take longer than I thought. Up and over the eastern foothills of the Pyrenees, across the border into France and the sun is low in my mirrors. I've been down here loads of times, an easy(ish) 700-odd mile day's ride from the Channel. Back on familiar ground I get it into my head that I'm nearly home. Only one more country to cross... Stopping for fuel north of Perpignan, 600-and-something miles in, I work out my average speed so far: 83mph. Helmet back on and a Spanish beggar accosts me for 10 Euros, which he indicates by writing '10Û' in saliva on the service station window. Sorry mate, that's no way to win my sympathy. Put your hat on the ground and do a dance or something.

Truth be told only now does it occur to aim for the '1000-miles-in-a-day' mark. Up to this point the goal had been simply to ride the '06 R6 back from Almeria, a wacky, inappropriate use of a cutting-edge new sports bike to prove a point about nothing in particular. I've done a few 800-mile days in the past on a variety of bikes, including sports stuff, and felt like I could have gone on a bit longer at the end. And what's 200 miles between friends? A sore arse and a tale to tell. Still feeling pretty fresh and with only 300 miles to go, I should be feet up with a beer by 10pm. Piece of piss.

Two hours later I'm not so sure. Freezing fog over the Massif Central has cut my speed down to 40mph and a Froggie motorist, the only one on the road, thinks the safest place to be is six inches off the tail of a shivering, mildly hallucinating, inappropriately-mounted long distance motorcyclist. Conditions are pretty bad; I'm barely warm enough - apart from my fingers, which are throbbing with cold - and I can't see where I'm going. Or even where I am. I could be stuck with this fog all night, and at this speed I won't break the 1000-mile mark until way past midnight. Bollocks.

Dropping down past St Flour and north towards Clermont Ferrand the fog clears and speeds rise. Riding a bike all day isn't that tiring, but the relentless monotony of what I'm doing and what I'm seeing becomes hypnotic. Thoughts flit through my head like they're someone else's and reality takes on a pleasant, distant detachment from my surroundings. I'm seeing things that aren't there and not seeing those that are; my awareness of the world doesn't extend beyond the converging white lines marking the boundaries of the gently snaking A75. Everything else is black. Significant chunks of time pass when it only occurs to me every now and then that I'm riding a motorcycle. At one point I realise I can no longer hear the muffled wind roar or the sound of the R6's motor below.

Thinking of things to think about, I work out where I'll be when I pass the 1000-mile mark. Using road signs marked with distances to the next major towns, plus some rudimentary on-the-hoof arithmetic to convert kms to miles (multiply the distance in kilometres by six, then knock a '0' off the end), I reckon Clermont's not nearly far enough, Montlucon a possibility if I add a few laps of the ring road, but Bourges a safe bet.

Fingers still burning with cold I stop again for fuel and take time out to warm hands and gloves under the hot air driers in the toilets. Blissful relief, rejuvenating and empowering. The miles rack up: 970, 980, 990. The 1000th passes with fitting anticlimax. It doesn't feel much different to the 999th. There's no one to celebrate with so I toot the horn a couple of times. Stopping for fuel (again) 20 miles shy of Bourges the cashier asks if I'm cold. Yes, thanks. He has to pull my credit card out of my wallet because my fingers don't work any more. And his shop, bathed in light next to the lonely dark of the unlit autoroute, is swaying and undulating around me. Nearly there now.

10.25pm and I leave the autoroute at Bourges. The first place with a room is the un-luxurious Hotel Kyriad on the main drag into town. Parking up, the odometer reads 2037. That's 1037 miles in 14 hours, a 74mph average. I'm pleased with that.

Would I do it again? On anything? Probably not. Not on purpose. It's quite something to have done but I can't recommend doing it - my state of mind at the end of the day wasn't conducive to safe, fast motorcycling. The only blessing is I wouldn't have noticed had I crashed. Nick Sanders must have something extra in his brain that lets him to do that kind of mileage day after day during his laps of the planet. Sir, you're welcome to it.

The R6 was far from the ideal tool (which was kind of the point), but no more or less comfortable than any other unsuitable sports bike would have been. My legs were cramped and shoulders stiff (I know how the US government's guests at Guantanamo Bay feel kept in 'stress positions' for days on end), but there was room to move about and my backside was in fairly good shape. And what of the bike? Didn't miss a beat, or burn a sniff of oil. In fact, the motor was looser and more free-revving the next day for the 600 miles home. Properly run-in now, y'see.

R6 TWEAKS AND TIPS

The new R6 may be hot poop, but the old bike's still a belter - and a real bargain new or used

2005 or 2006?

You pays your money...

If you're looking at buying an R6 you've two options. You can shell out £7495 for the new model, or spend £6599 on an old style R6 on an '06 plate - as long as you like black.

For 2006 Yamaha is bringing in the '05-spec R6 alongside the new '06 model. According to Yamaha, the old style R6 is being kept on to offer a softer option to riders who don't want the hardcore new model, just as Honda does with its CBR600 and 600RR. Sound like a ploy to get shot of old stock? It isn't, the old model is still in production.

The 'old' bike is a real bargain and well worth considering as a new buy. Although it has a list price of £6599 you're unlikely to pay full whack. While the new R6 will hold fast at £7495, an '06 spec 'old' model can be had for £5999. It may not be the latest, but you save £1496. If you don't like black, last year's '05 models are identical, but come in red and blue options. Dealers still have new, unregistered bikes in stock for around £5750 - bargain! Tempted?

EXHAUST

A race can will get you around 3-4bhp but will make a lot of noise. The real benefits come from a quality full system (try Akrapovic or Arrow), but that'll cost the best part of £1000. Make the most of either with a properly set-up Power Commander for a significant improvement over stock

REAR SHOCK

The shock body on the 2003-'04 R6 is poor quality and can quickly wear out and lose damping. K-Tech will overhaul the shock and fit a new spring, collar and adjuster for around £270, which gives a huge improvement on track and road. Earlier models can benefit from a shock overhaul costing £100. Contact: www.k-tech.uk.com

TYRES

For mostly road use with occasional track forays either Pirelli Diablos or new Metzeler M3s offer good grip and life, and can be used on the 2003-'04 model's front in 70-section. For the '05 model as above but also try Bridgestone BT-014 or Dunlop's excellent new Qualifiers

FORKS

Fitting a 120/70 front tyre on the 2003-'04 model R6 can slow the steering down a bit. To counteract this, try raising the forks 8-10mm through the yokes. If this is too much, back it off to 5mm for slightly sharper steering with more stability. It's a relatively easy job to do at home

ENGINE

As sporty 600s go, the R6 is pretty flexible. Expect around 98bhp at 12,500rpm, dropping off quickly after that. From '03-on the R6 got fuel injection. Even on a standard motor a well set-up Power Commander will smooth the curve out and may give a bhp or two at the top end

BRAKES

The R6's brakes were never brilliant to start with, but for general road and track use OE pads are the best for feel and performance. Braided steel lines help improve power, and for mainly track use fit sportier pads to get better braking performance. On the road these pads aren't as good as OE

FRONT TYRE

The '05 bike has a 120/70 front fitted, earlier bikes have a 60-section. Pirelli and Metzeler offer recommended fitments in a 70-section; other brands can expand at speed and touch the mudguard. Fit a 70-section and you'll want to drop the yoke (see above). Pre-'03 bikes need the mudguard raising to avoid contact with a 120/70

EVOLUTION

1999

The first R6 and a modern classic. The easiest way to spot the original R6 is to look for the carbs; later models got slightly less garish paint schemes. The front tyre is an all-new 120/60 size

2003

The first update to the R6. The give aways are the black frame and fork legs. The chassis received minor tweaks, the engine got fuel injection and the look is slightly sharper. The 120/60 front tyre remains

2005

Another slight tweak. Throttle bodies are bigger, so slightly more power, and the brakes are now radially mounted. Forks are upside-downers too. Also, and significantly, the front tyre is now a 70-section

2006

Nothing at all like the previous bike. New engine, frame, chassis, wheels, fairing - just about everything, to be accurate. A lot more expensive, but the current all-singing, all-dancing sports 600. Until next year...

ON THE TRACK
I KNOW THE R6 well, not only 'cos I raced one for three seasons in World Supersport but also because we used 'em as marshals' bikes on our track days. I've done a million laps of everywhere on R6s, and riding one is like putting on a pair of well-worn slippers.

You pretty much know what you can do with the 2005 R6, and as long as you don't push it you've got no bother at all. That said, the '05 bike does feel old, and that goes from the seating position to the geometry and fairly soft but compliant suspension.

The '06 R6 is a different kettle of fish. It feels smaller, a nicer package with a Swiss watch feel to it. It's stiffer front and rear - almost too stiff, I thought at first - and is a lot more race-oriented. It feels like a little race bike. You've got a bit more weight on your hands and it's less comfortable for mileage, but going round a circuit it doesn't matter at all. Instead of being sat in the seat with the tank in front of you, it feels like you're actually sat on top of it, with the top of the seat and the back of the tank at what feels like the same level, and that pushes more weight forward. You get a lovely, lovely induction roar too, not loud, but a real deep, low sound feeding back through the bodywork and the tank.

Engine-wise the '05 R6 pulls alright and feels stronger low down than the new bike but there's quite a big gap between second and third gear. It's not the best gearbox in the world, either the choice of ratios or the way it changes. Certainly the standard ratios aren't the best for Almeria. You're always between second and third, and the motor hasn't got the grunt to be running third in places, but if you drop down into second it's all over the place because the revs are too high and you've got too much engine braking. What I found myself doing was using the higher gear, running a little bit quicker mid-corner and waiting for a fraction of a second extra instead of leaping out of the corners. That was pushing me a bit wide but it didn't matter because the power doesn't come in and push you off the track. You're allowing for not having a lot of power, which keeps you going round the corner rather than off the track.

It was a surprise to me but back-to-back the new bike doesn't feel as strong. It just doesn't feel it. I know it's got more power at the top end, and certainly it's going quicker by the end of the straight, because I can look as long as I dare at the speedo and it's definitely four or five mph up, but it doesn't feel to have loads of power.

When everybody said it revved to 17,000rpm I thought it was going to go fucking bananas at 14,000 or so, but that isn't the case. It isn't the rev box I thought it would be. The power's spread out from 8500-9000 right up to maximum power at 14,000 or so, and you can rev it on to 15,500. And that has its advantages. You can hold onto the gears longer in the corners, which is something you can't do with the '05 bike. But I thought the new bike would feel peakier than it does. Instead, it's like an engine that revs to 14,500-15,000, but with an extension of 2000rpm if needed. But the power stops going up, it kind of flattens off. There's more power than before, but spread over a wider range of revs.

And I tell you what, I really like the fueling. I don't know if it was down to the fly-by-wire or what, but it's dead smooth. But just once, when I was right off the bottom of the revs, it was just a little bit... I don't know... I guess 'notchy' is the word.

The new bike's ratios are closer too, and that means you can run second in corners where, on the old bike, second was too low. I found myself running lower gears with higher revs as if I were racing it, and
it felt brilliant. Instead of sitting in a higher gear waiting for the power to come in you could just ping it out.
The slipper clutch works really well. It feels like you've got about 50 per cent slip. You could shut it off and bang a gear down and you'd almost lock up and get a bit of movement; it gives some feedback and you could feel it through the lever as well, but some people might not like that. I did.Certainly some race bikes I've ridden run nearly 100 per cent slip, and it's just fuckin' frightening - you shut 'em off and it's like you've hit a neutral.

Continue the Yamaha YZF-R6 2005 vs. 2006 test - 2/4

EVOLUTION

1999
The first R6 and a modern classic. The easiest way to spot the original R6 is to look for the carbs; later
models got slightly less garish paint schemes. The front tyre is an all-new 120/60 size

2003
The first update to the R6. The give aways are the black frame and fork legs. The chassis received minor tweaks, the engine got fuel injection and the look is slightly sharper. The 120/60 front tyre remains

2005
Another slight tweak. Throttle bodies are bigger, so slightly more power, and the brakes are now radially mounted. Forks are upside-downers too. Also, and significantly, the front tyre is now a 70-section

2006
Nothing at all like the previous bike. New engine, frame, chassis, wheels, fairing - just about everything, to be accurate. A lot more expensive, but the current all-singing, all-dancing sports 600. Until next year...

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