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
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-