First Ride: 2002 Yamaha YZF-R6

Getting back on the R6 was like getting back on an old friend. I don't normally ride my old friends, you understand, but the R6 responds like no other to a massive session of throttle abuse

Bordering on being hard work, there's no real midrange to speak of, the gearbox is pretty notchy, and some people don't like the frisky front end. But if you can live with these characteristics (deficiences is too strong a word) the Yamaha R6 is one of the purest, maddest biking experiences you can have.

For starters, it's tiny. If you're anything over six feet tall, you're running the risk of looking ridiculous on it. Ask Wozza. But so long as you're not a long bastid the R6 fits perfectly, and it weighs chuff-all. As a device to fling about and go mental on, it's perfect. The 2002 red and white paint scheme and shark-nosed styling makes it the best-looking bike of the 600 bunch by a country mile, and it generally exudes the air of a cocked gun, loaded and ready to go off at a moment's notice. "The R6 still makes me nervous because it's twitchy, the front end can get really frisky over bumps," says Niall as soon as he's come back in from his first session on the track.  I love it and Niall's not so keen.  "I've ridden them so many times I know that edgy R6 feeling straight away. Once you start getting on with it and get your head down on the track you notice it less, it's just noticeable when you first get on it compared to the others. It's got steep geometry at the front, and you've got to wonder whether the problems Jim Whitham's had crashing with the bike might be down to that. His team-mate Casoli does the same thing."

But that's right at the limit. On the road and for normal people at the track, the R6 is a weapon. It sits you right over the front bike encouraging you to sling it about like a demented thing, and there's so much grip available that the first thing to let go is generally (ask Whitham) the front tyre. Which is obviously less preferable to losing the rear tyre, but you have to be right on it speed-wise to get into this territory.  Get the power on hard over a bumpy section and she can get a bit frisky. Not a great deal you can do about this, except back the throttle off or fit a steering damper. If you don't respect an R6 it can bite, but therein lies a great deal of its sales charm. Proper racebike on the road and all that. Either way, people can't seem to get enough of them, and once you've ridden one, you understand. The R6 riding experience gets under your skin and makes you do very bad things. "The bike made me do it" should, in fact, be admissable evidence in court when it comes to misdemeanours on the Yamaha R6.

"The motor absolutely loves to rev," agrees Niall. "Goes well beyond 15,000rpm which allows you to be more flexible between corners, you can scream it through on the same gear. The power it makes, though, is quite peaky so you have to keep it screaming above 12,000rpm everywhere  or it doesn't go anywhere. On the road you've got to rev it, don't have any other option. It'll ride round at slow speeds, but that's no fun at all." Which is precisely what MAKES it such fun to ride. You've got to tap a frenzied dance of death all over the gearshift lever to get a move on. There's no being lazy and waiting for the midrange to do the work for you, because by and large there isn't any to be had. But therein lies a buggerance: the gearbox is the R6's weakest link. And don't just take my word for it; here's what Niall Mac thinks.

"The gearbox has always been clonky. Getting off the Suzuki and onto the Yamaha is a real shocker. You don't miss gears, it's just notchy, the gears go in with a real bang and if you're not using the clutch, you can feel it shake the whole bike, especially first into second. They've improved the R1 for this year, so maybe they should have looked at the R6." It doesn't stop you enjoying the screaming motor of the R6, but it's bad enough to make you wince every now and then.

The R6 is a terrible wheelie bike. Whether this specifically worries you or not is kind of immaterial, because it's totally indicative of how the engine delivers its power. Nothing, nothing, still nothing, Whamm! Whether this is a pain in the arse or biking heaven depends on who you are and how you like to ride. Personally, I love it. If you're out hunting for bigger prey down your local A-roads, or fancy embarrassing some bloke with all the gear but no idea on a GSX-R1000, then the R6 has got to be the weapon of choice. But if you're looking for a relaxing day out down to the coast with your girlfriend on the back, steer well clear.  The R6 is just far too intense for that.

2002 Yamaha R6 Specs

Production date: 2002
Price new: £7099
Engine capacity: 600cc
Power: 102bhp @ 12,500rpm
Torque: 44lb/ft @ 10,800rpm   
Weight: 167kg
Seat height: 820mm
Top speed: 160mph