MIND

The newer YZF-R1 and R3 have been steal­ing the sports­bike head­lines for Yamaha. But there is an­other R that de­serves your at­ten­tion... Con­tin­ued over

Motorcycle News (UK) - - This Week - By Si­mon Har­g­reaves MCN CON­TRIB­U­TOR

wo new sports­bikes have dom­i­nated the head­lines for Yamaha over the last 12 months. In one cor­ner is the YZF-R1, Yamaha’s flag­ship ma­chine, bring­ing a full arse­nal of Mo­togp-de­rived elec­tron­ics to the road along­side its unique cross­plane crank. It’s a sub­lime track tool of no small sig­nif­i­cance, and rep­re­sents a resur­gence of Ja­panese in­ter­est in the big-bore race replica mar­ket which, for the last five years, has been a Euro­pean-dom­i­nated bat­tle­field. The R1 mat­ters.

And in the other cor­ner is the new YZF-R3, a 321cc par­al­lel twin built to bridge the gap af­ter the YZF-R125. It’s a crit­i­cally im­por­tant bike in Europe for the con­ti­nu­ity of Yamaha’s sports­bike range, as well as cru­cial in emerg­ing mar­kets around the world. The R3 mat­ters as well.

But there’s one sports Yam that ev­ery­one seems to have for­got­ten about. It was launched way back in 1999 and, since then, has had sev­eral up­dates but only one over­haul, in 2006. Last year, as part of the rapidly dwin­dling sports 600 seg­ment, it sold fewer than 100 units in the UK. In 1999, Yamaha sold over 4000 of the first gen­er­a­tion model. Yamaha’s YZF-R6 is an anachro­nism; a bike very good at be­ing some­thing no one wants these days – small, high­revving, fiercely sin­gle-minded. So the R6 – does it mat­ter any­more? Oh yes.

TLiv­ing with a screamer

No ex­cuses. But crikey, it’s been years since I had this sort of fun; the sort where you go com­pletely ba­nanas on two wheels. Pull the pin, aim for to­mor­row, thread the R6 down some anony­mous coun­try lane and blur the world into streaks of grey down be­low, green at the edges, and blue over­head. Spend half the time out of the seat and, quite frankly, bol­locks to ev­ery­thing. It’s like be­ing young all over again. And you know what? I’ll take some of that.

Only when rid­ing an R6 – re­ally rid­ing an R6, tear­ing the throt­tle off the clip-ons and leav­ing a chin-bar im­pres­sion in the tank; which ought to be at least 90 per cent of the time, oth­er­wise you bought the wrong bike – does it sud­denly be­come ob­vi­ous how much of daily life we spend shrouded in a sen­sory fog, numb to the essence. But like a sur­prise slap across the face, ev­ery ride on the R6 snaps con­scious­ness into sharp fo­cus. It’s one heck of a wake-up call.

The Yam is light; vi­ciously whip­pet­light, just like an FZR600 or 350LC of old. It’s got naughty writ­ten all over it, and strain­ing ev­ery ounce of per­for­mance from the 599cc in­line four, with 16 tiny valves pat­ter­ing away at su­personic speeds, isn’t a choice, it’s a duty.

High power and low mass means mis­be­haviour is hard-wired into the R6’s DNA. Get on and curl around the tank, arms reach­ing down to the bars, feet bal­anced pre­car­i­ously on high pegs, body com­mit­ted to the task of fast. Fire up the wildly spin­ning mo­tor, in­ter­nals hol­lowed out in search of weight sav­ings, and slip the clutch two-stroke style to get rolling.

Steer­ing is in­stan­ta­neous, bal­anced on the knife-edge of sta­bil­ity and per­ma­nently poised to carve into ev­ery apex with ded­i­cated pre­ci­sion. Each time the Yam peels into a cor­ner you come out the other side won­der­ing how much later you could’ve left it, how much less you should’ve braked, how much harder you could’ve leaned on the bars and still made the turn. The R6’s rid­ing dy­namic op­er­ates at a level sev­eral steps re­moved from most other bikes, and makes litre sports­bikes – even the new­est R1, with its R6-based chas­sis – feel cum­ber­some and lazy. You have to build up to it, work out cor­ner speed is the name of the game, not a clumsy point and squirt. The R6 re­sponds best to a tricky mix of fi­nesse and ca­sual vi­o­lence.

It ob­vi­ously hasn’t got the steam­roller midrange torque of 1000cc, but the Yam makes the most of what it has by scream­ing it out over and over again – 15,000rpm on the clocks feels like 15,000rpm, what­ever it’s do­ing in re­al­ity. Ev­ery slick lit­tle gear change – no short-shift­ing per­mit­ted – is a per­fectly crafted me­chan­i­cal event, mesh­ing a seam­less flow of pure per­for­mance to-

Ever won­dered what the R in R6 stands for? It’s revs, baby, yeh!

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