James Whitham used to be a bit tasty on an R6 in World Supersport, so he’s uniquely placed to give the ‘08 bike a proper seeing-to...
The last time I rode at Sugo was in 2002 aboard the Belgarda World Supersport R6, and I’d forgotton how much fun the place is. It’s like Oulton Park on steroids! Back then my racebike was pretty much as near to a factory job as was possible, full of trick bits it was. Six years later, I was about to find out whether the stock, out-the-box 2008 R6 was as good or perhaps better than the one it took me and a group of dedicated Italian engineers months to develop.
At first glance the Yamaha’s YZF-R6 doesn’t seem to have changed much for ’08. Same basic shape and styling, same chassis geometry, even similar colours available. But when you look more closely at the changes that have been incorporated into the new bike, it becomes clear that Yamaha is very serious about keeping its mega-selling screamer right at the front of the pack. Indeed, most of the updates are a direct result of feedback gained from the teams running the R6 in race trim in the World Supersport Championship. Even though only fairly limited engine tuning is allowed in WSS, back in 2002 when I was racing the R6 for Belgarda the engine chaps in Milan managed to squeeze 25% more power out of the motor on my racebikes, and even then they had it revving to 16,500rpm! Seeing figures of 130bhp on the in-house dyno was common, so Yamaha’s claims of 133bhp for this new ’08 bike should therefore put it on a par with my racer from back then.
But d’ya know what? I’m convinced my old bike would still have the legs on it in terms of top-end and grunt. The only downside would be the 1,000 mile re-build intervals on my tuned motors! But it’s a fact that the new R6 gives almost as much power as my old racebike and will probably do 10,000 miles before you have to so much as dip the oil.
I’ll go through the technical stuff first. What was it the man with the Yamaha suit said just before I headed for the bar? “Careful adjustments to a successful design identity.” Summit like that.
Many of the tweaks are quite subtle and some are even invisible. All these engine updates are designed to give the bike a bit more midrange torque while retaining its utterly screaming top-end. The biggest of these are a raised compression ratio (at 13.1:1 this is the highest squeeze on any production Japanese superbike) and, as with the 2007 R1, the adoption of the YCC-I, Yamaha Chip Controlled Intake system. Like the R1 a solenoid lifts the longer throttle-body trumpets that suit the lower revs off the top of the shorter ones that help the motor breath as it steams towards the red-line. All very clever. The YCC-T (Yamaha Chip Controlled Throttle) has also been tweaked to give more control over how fast the actual butterflies close when the rider shuts the gas, the plan being to improve braking stability and corner entry. Super-complicated stuff and an impressive application of technology on a production bike.
All the chassis changes are as detailed as they are invisible to the naked eye. The basic frame is exactly the same shape externally but the wall thickness of the main beams has been reduced, while conversely the strength of the cast headstock and swing-arm pivot points have been beefed up. The thinking is that increased longitudinal and decreased lateral stiffness will induce a small amount of flex in the right areas and give more feedback to the rider. Blimey. The triple-clamps are stiffer, the front brake discs are thicker and the rear ride height adjuster has a removable washer that will drop the back-end by 3mm (6mm at the wheel) in one go. But all this makes the new bike 4kg heavier despite the rear sub-frame being cast in magnesium instead of ally. I reckon a few kilos of that is due to the chunkier exhaust system, what happened to that lovely stumpy one?
There’s loads more torque than the outgoing model, you can feel it straight away. On paper it’s only gone from 49 to 51ft-lbs (about a 4% increase) but it feels much more driveable than the slightly wheezy ’07 model. This is good news for those of a slightly lazy nature, but for me this bike is still happiest when it’s screaming. It’s what the R6 is all about, the nearest modern equivalent of a mid-’90s 250 two-stroke. It even sounds a bit tinny like a stroker! Once the needle hits 13,700rpm the trumpets open, the sweet induction roar changes note, and you just throw gear after gear at the little rocket as it sings its way straight past the 16,500rpm red-line and on towards the 16,700rpm limiter. It’s absolutely mental, and you forget how addictive it is riding bikes this rampant.
It’s difficult to say without doing a back-to-back with the old model if all the chassis tweaks have made a huge difference to the way this extremely capable bike feels. What I can tell you is that it steers and holds a line better than some race bikes I’ve ridden, and that’s with stock Dunlop road tyres, not super sticky race ones. Impressive indeed.
The slipper clutch and fly-by-wire throttle on the ’08 bike gives you loads of confidence when pushing hard. Letting all that trick stuff look after what the back wheel is doing allows you to concentrate on what’s going on at the front and how much brake you can trail into the turn. I know movement from the back was something the R6 Cup guys struggled with in 2007 so this should be good news for racers.
When I was racing the 600 the long list of components that we weren’t allowed to alter from standard on my bike included the frame, the swing-arm, the triple clamps, the fork externals, the brakes and the wheels. Consequently the basic geometry of the bike, head angle, swing-arm pivot position etc was already set for you. The biggest problem we had with the bike was getting it to hold a tight line on the exit of corners. Once you opened the throttle it was difficult to stop the bike drifting wide. Without being able to change the head angle or the yoke off-sets the only way to help cure it was to raise the rear ride height, but then you lost grip from the rear tyre. It always ended up a compromise.
This new R6, even with standard suspension, is much better in this area. It was dead easy to let it drift wide mid-corner, then pull the bike down to hit a late apex and open the throttle without drifting off the tarmac on the exit. Braking from high speed, the combination of the clutch and fly-by-wire throttle controlling how fast the engine revs dropped gave you great feedback from the rear, making turn-in easy and precise.
Obviously I’m just talking track-action here as that’s where we rode the bike and you won’t really notice this level of precision on the road. But once you’re in the corner you can hold an inside line or tighten the radius to hit a late apex without feeling like the front is going to wash out on you. Which is a huge improvement over my racebikes, as I found out one one or two occasions!
Change of direction was good but the little fella didn’t like being forced through a chicane with counter-steer. If pressed in this area the rear suspension tended to dive, causing the bike to wheelie where you didn’t want it to. A couple of clicks on the low speed compression damping sorted this out, and to be fair you have to be going fairly daft for it to be a problem anyway. The Sugo circuit is smooth, but at no point did this bike even feel like losing its composure - 10 years ago a machine this nimble would’ve been as stable as a third world currency.
The rear brake was very effective at calming the back down peeling into turns, but the front had less power than I was expecting. It had loads of feel but I just had to pull the lever harder than I would’ve liked, that’s all. This was probably down to pad compound and I would suggest that people who like strong initial bite at the bar (and I’m one of them) try a softer race pad to give the brakes more oomph.
The people at Yamaha are convinced they have given the race teams the weapon they need to wrestle the WSS Championship away from the pesky Ten Kate Honda CBR that has dominated the series for the last six years. The re-jigged R6 is a track-focussed, sweet-steering rev-monkey that begs to be thrashed and that gives you heaps of confidence and feedback. The slightly more crouched riding position could be a teeny bit harder on your arms during any commuting duties on the road, but the increased torque and midrange grunt make the new bike more usable in every application than the old one. If you like your supersports 600 to be at its best when being thrashed, and you like your technology cutting-edge, the new Yamaha YZF-R6 should be right up there on your demo list.
10 years of screaming!
Yamaha launch the original R6. It’s a light, powerful track-orientated missile and makes the competition look outdated and boring. Steering’s fast, the engine’s smooth and it’s loaded with the latest technology like plug mounted coils and a piggyback gearbox. Red line is at 15,500 but there’s not a huge amount of go below 8,000rpm. ‘Blue spot’ brakes are superb and the gearbox is mediocre. It rules the 600 super sport roost with a rod of iron until Suzuki launch their revised GSX-R600 in 2001. Minor gearbox update for 2000
Power 90.8bhp @ 12,000rpm
Dry weight 169kg
Minor updates. The biggest visual change is LED rear lights which look like the geezer in Edvard Munch’s ‘The Scream’, plus there’s a removable number plate bracket, hinting at track use. Detail changes includes weight savings in components like the CDI box, exhaust headers and battery which manage to scrimp 1.5kg overall. Mods to the engine (new pistons and con rods) are aimed at boosting reliability and midrange. Very similar to the original bike to ride and that means it’s fast and can get slappy over bumpy surfaces.
Power 97.2bhp @ 12,200rpm
Dry weight 167kg
Major overhaul. The obvious visual difference is the quad bulb headlight. Yamaha aimed to make the bike easier to ride with more midrange. New frame, new wheels, new bodywork, almost all new engine which now uses fuel injection rather than carbs. Brakes are the same but use different pads for better feel. Exhaust is all new and 1kg lighter than the previous bikes’ despite incorporating a cat. It’s an excellent bike but prone to shaking its bars. Honda and Kawasaki have launched serious competitors in the form of the ultra track focused 2008 CBR600RR and ZX-6R meaning all of a sudden the R6 is the comfy, sensible option.
Power 98.8.1bhp @ 12,400rpm
Dry weight 162kg
Minor modifications, most obviously the addition of upside-down forks, radial brakes and a radial master cylinder. There’s claimed 3bhp more top end and more midrange too (although year on year comparison of figures suggests otherwise). Yamaha finally fitted a 120/70-17 front tyre having cursed previous models with a 120/60-17 which made them unstable – although many riders switched to the higher profile rubber (requiring raising the front mudguard in some cases). A limited edition version called the R46 is released to celebrate Rossi’s MotoGP success. It’s got a claimed 4bhp more and special yellow paint. This is the choice 600 among the rap fraternity.
Claimed power 100.7bhp @ 12,700rpm
Dry weight 163kg
All new, stunning looking, incredibly track focused machine. Higher tech than the R1 of the day, burying the preconception that 600s are budget bikes. Blisteringly fast on the circuit but is uncomfortable and annoyingly revvy on the road. The spec sheet includes fly-by-wire throttle and titanium valves and a claimed 131bhp. Handling is exquisite; you can take wilder lines and greater liberties on the ’06 R6 than any other machine available at the time.
Power 109.5bhp @ 14,100rpm
Dry weight 161kg
Engine: 599cc, liquid-cooled, DOHC, 16-valve inline four
Power: 133.1bhp@ 14,000rpm
Torque: 50.9lb.ft@ 12,000rpm
Front suspension: 41mm USD, adj rebound, high and low speed compression and spring preload
Rear suspension: Monoshock, adj rebound, high and low speed compression and spring preload
Front brake: 310mm discs, four-piston radial calipers
Rear brake: 265mm disc, two-piston caliper
Dry weight: 166kg
Seat height: 850mm
Fuel capacity: 17.3l
Top speed: 162mph (est)
Colours: Blue/white, red/white, black
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