Longest Test: Yamaha YZF-R6

Our undisputed king of the Supersport class for 2009, Niall Mackenzie explains why he wouldn’t swap the YZF-R6 for anything else...

I suspect my turnaround time between the MotoGP round in the Czech Republic and setting off on our ride to France is going to be tight so I make some pre-trip preparations. Before leaving for Prague, my R6 is cleaned and fuelled, has its oil level and tyre pressures checked and my tank bag is packed along with a note from Jan on top saying ‘remember passport, wallet and phone, Dickhead’. I anticipate at least five hours in bed upon my return but the usual Easyjet delays mean my shuteye time is reduced to around 45 minutes before I stagger downstairs and pull on the leathers.

I arrive at Dover early, park my bike on a grassy patch, link my tank bag and helmet through my arm and nod off. Twenty minutes later I wake up (I’m still getting flashbacks) crawling with ants. I apologise now to any commuters that saw a scrawny Scotsman in his socks and pants shaking his leathers alongside the early morning traffic.

Rob and Tim duly arrive so we fuel-up and board the ferry. Being seasoned ferry goers they tether their bikes down with the straps provided so I pretend to do the same. That’s until the P&O giant in the hi-viz jacket susses out I’m clueless, relieves me of the tie-down and nods to the stairs.

As far as I’m concerned, from the moment you arrive on the French Autoroutes, sports bikes come into their own. These immaculate roads have minimal traffic and perfect surfaces so razor sharp handling is bliss. Tim may have been able to clock up 300 miles between fuel stops (he didn’t ’coz we couldn’t) but complained the GS felt a bit vague and unstable at over 100mph while Rob’s 170bhp GSX-R was only ticking over at the same speed, his frustration clearly evident.

His awesome wheelies alleviate some of the boredom. However he’s lucky not to be mid-stunt when the Gendarmerie relieve him of 45 Euros for being just over the 130kph speed limit. And that’s nearly as lucky as Tim and I not being nobbled for overshooting some services and riding the wrong way up the exit road.

At 68kg and 1.73m I’m probably the ideal size for most bikes but like everyone I get leg ache after 100 miles. Stretching them, standing up or hanging them on the rear foot pegs gives a few minutes of relief but is no remedy. And the same is true this time except after three fuel stops (around 350 miles) they mysteriously stop aching. I’m sure they just give up protesting as they know I’m not

planning on stopping until we reach our final destination some 500 miles further south. By this time we’re just south of Paris and the day is warming up nicely so a layer of clothing comes off at every fuel stop. Unfortunately this amounts to just a waterproof jacket and T-shirt under my leathers – I’m properly jealous of Tim and Rob’s jacket and jeans ensemble in the 35-degree heat.

As the sun goes down, thankfully so does the temperature. As we head to Lyon, the ride becomes more interesting, the boring straights and massive harvested plains replaced by fast, sweeping turns.

You know you’ve had a long day in the saddle when you start with a clear visor, wear a dark one for ten hours then put the clear one back on. I’m expecting the lack of sleep to kick in but it doesn’t happen and I’m having a blast.

Night time riding on French Autoroutes is a real buzz. The brisk flow of traffic means you can keep

good momentum and enjoy the surreal feeling of being in a real life video game. It becomes quite mesmerising with only the occasional flash of forward facing speed cameras bringing me back to my senses (set off by other road users, of course).

When we finally arrive at our Hotel, I’ve been in the saddle for 980 miles and am pleased to see the bikes belonging to the three other members of our posse parked up. Thinking about my journey down, I guess Ben’s Kawasaki would have been the ultimate long distance mount but then too cumbersome for the amazing roads we’re about to sample.

One thing that doesn’t impress me on the journey though, is the BMW’s Navigator Sat Nav. It couldn’t locate our easy-to-find hotel and doesn’t appear to navigate unless it’s moving. I’ve had a Garmin Nuvi for two years that I slip under the clear plastic pocket on my tank bag and it works a treat. I turned it on, on a plane recently. It showed me doing 523mph and crossing junctions like you wouldn’t believe – mint!

When it comes to the XR1200 I have nothing but respect for Ian. Cruising through Cannes or Monaco it’s the height of cool but I can now see why Whit scarpered off on holiday when someone mentioned “longtermers to the south of France”. I totally adore the American flat track background the XR evolved from and I’d even consider racing one in next year’s BSB one-make series but 2000 miles in one week on this shuddering monster? I don’t think so.

As soon as I step outside the following morning I realise my 18-hour shift the previous day has been totally justified. With the weather in this area being pretty much guaranteed you can spend days exploring endless roads made for sports bikes. Although I can do all the fast, knee down stuff, I prefer to ride round at a sensible pace taking in the stunning countryside and avoiding the friendly but mad locals on their Supermotard bikes coming in the other direction.

One thing’s for sure; you’ll never get caught out with cold tyres. With temperatures in the high 30s my Diablo Supercorsa ‘BSBs’ have never been as sticky and even stay toasting hot after a half hour lunch stop. On our day out we ride Autoroutes, A and B roads, through towns and even onto the beach. Being the loyal, faithful type I thought my R6 was the best all round bike but I have to say, like a cute girl on a school trip, all day long the Bonneville kept catching my eye. Barry was also dressed properly for the occasion and it didn’t help that I looked and felt like a knob (a sweaty one at that) in my one-piece leathers.

As the sun goes down at the end of the day the Bonnie shows us it isn’t too shabby in the handling department. On our ride home through the mountains, I have to dig in on my R6 just to keep Baz in sight. The Triumph seems to have ‘Cote D’Azur’ written all over it.

Unfortunately my Yamaha must have sensed my lust for another. At the hotel I realise the left hand casing is weeping oil. My only explanation is that after it fell over last month in a missing side-stand incident I had damaged the casing and the extreme temperatures in France had expanded a hairline crack. We consider patching it up but having developed a strange transmission noise, vanning it home is the only option. I’m gutted as I love this little bike so I hope the surgery goes well at YMUK and that it’s back in my possession soon.

With my fun in France ending prematurely I’m swiftly escorted to a plane and sent home without any supper. I trust the guys didn’t have too much fun without me and, if they did, I hope it rained on the way home…

What I love

The motor in the R6 is fantastic with excellent mid range, huge rush of power and even a great burble on the throttle over run. The stiff race bred chassis gives pin-sharp handling and the wide range of suspension adjustment makes it easy to fine tune handling The 2009 graphics are the best yet - I’d always choose the red but the blue version comes a close second.

What I’d change

A bigger screen and some space under the seat would be a plus for longer journeys I’d like a gear position indicator and an outside temp gauge Some crash bungs could save some expense if you tend to forget the sidestand like me...

Rating: 3/5

For: The best R6 motor ever, razor sharp handling and surprisingly versatile
Against: Uncomfortable for long distances, peaky motor can be a pain in town and basic instrumentation

Return to the Longest Test

2009 Yamaha YZF-R6 Specifications

Price: £7499
Top speed:
599cc, 16-valves, liquid-cooled in-line four
Bore & stroke:
67mm x 42.5mm
Compression ratio:
107.22bhp at 14,500rpm
42.38ft/lb at 11,000rpm
Front suspension:
41mm Inverted forks
Preload, compression, rebound
Rear suspension:
Preload, compression, rebound
Front brakes:
Four-piston calipers, 310mm front discs
Rear brake:
Single-piston caliper 220mm disc
Wet weight:
Seat height:
Fuel capacity:
17.3 litres
Colour options:
Blue, red, black