Rumours and speculation abound
WILL Yamaha finally fold and give us a new R6 next year? Every year the same rumours crop up, and every year they turn to dust as little more than new graphics are applied to a bike that's had no significant alterations since 2008 and can still many parts as well as the styling direction back to the 2006 model.
However, that's not to say there isn't a new R6 waiting in the wings. Yamaha's development schedule is well planned and long – an all-new R6 could take five years from project-start to showroom – so even if the current slump in sales is putting manufacturers off the idea of launching new sports bikes, it will have probably started work on the next R6 before the current one was even in production.
Although originally expected long before 2013 (the 'new' R6 should really have been a 2010 or 2011 model, had the firm stuck to its traditional update schedule), the bike is certain to make an appearance some time, and probably sooner rather than later. Although there's been nothing in terms of detailed information about the bike yet, we can extrapolate some of the changes it's likely to get simply by looking at the way the world has changed since 2008.
For instance, some sort of high-performance ABS brake system is a dead cert. Within a couple of years ABS is expected to be mandatory on all new bikes, at least the larger-capacity ones, and Yamaha needs to catch up with the likes of Honda (which has offered ABS on the CBR600RR since 2009) and Kawasaki (which has ABS on the ZX-10R and is sure to put something similar on the next ZX-6R, probably appearing later this year). A bigger, bulkier exhaust is also likely, to meet current and future emissions regulations.
What we're unlikely to see, though, is radical changes when it comes to the R6's engine. Sure, it's viable to expect traction control and multiple settings, in a keeping-up-with-the-Joneses move, but in terms of the basic building blocks the laws of diminishing returns have long applied to this part of the market. Regardless of brand, the current crop of 600cc sports bikes, even those that haven't been updated in a while, have some of the most exotic pieces of production combustion engine art under their fairings. Developing a new engine is about the biggest possible cost when designing a new bike, and even with the latest technology and a clean-sheet design, the rewards in the high-end 600cc class would be no more than a smattering of horsepower when compared to the existing designs. With new sports bike sales a fraction of their former selves, the maths just doesn't work.
With the same basic engine in place, a similar argument can be applied to the chassis, since Yamaha's bean counters (and those of most other bike firms at the moment) will firmly favour the 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it” strategy. Small geometry changes can be made by altering individual castings used in the chassis without tearing up all the existing factory tooling – so don't be surprised if the next R6 frame looks a lot like the existing one.
So what changes can we expect? It's the bolt-on stuff that's easiest and cheapest to fiddle with. Fairings can be restyled, subframes reshaped, exhausts altered to create a bike that looks very different without changing the basic building blocks beneath (most non-bikers would never guess that a Honda Crossrunner was the same underneath as a ten-year-old VFR800). The suspension can be swapped for the latest kit, as can the brakes. The overall effect is a 'new' bike at a fraction of the cost of a new bike.
Will all this happen? We're ready to be proved wrong, but it's the logical way forward.
Posted: 10/08/2012 at 12:19
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