‘They do everything very well. It’s not scary fast but fast enough!’
Yamahaõs original R1 was the bike that ripped up the superbike rule book when launched in 1998 but its little brother was arguably even more significant. Yamahaõs R6, with its hardcore sports focus, redefined the superport class and brought a proper race sensation to a whole generation.
And, by being so quick and so good on track, the R6 was not only instrumental in launching the careers of a whole new wave of up-and-coming young racers, it extended those of more than a few older ones, most prominently former BSB, WSB and GP racer James Whitham.
ÒI never intended to race in supersport at all,ó said Whitham, who almost won the 2000 World Supersport series. Òafter my superbike career, and spending a bit of time on a GP bike, I considered supersport bikes to be shopping bikes! However, as soon as I got on the Yamaha my mind was changed. The R6 was a proper little race bike and I instantly clicked with it.ó
The key difference with the R6 was that, for the first time, here was a no-compromise sports 600 using the very best cycle parts and technology. Designed in parallel with the R1, it shared many of its bigger brotherõs features, such as a vertically stacked gearbox, electroplated bores and hollow cams. And the result, a claimed 120bhp, meant the R6 was the first four-stroke production bike to hit a claimed 200bhp per litre.
The result was that the R6 blitzed its 600 opposition and by so much that all rivals were forced to follow suit. No longer would supersports have the rounded versatility of predecessors such as Hondaõs CBR600F. In their place came a no-compromise, sporting attitude exemplified by bikes such as Hondaõs CBR600RR, the new beam-framed Suzuki GSX-R600 and Kawasakiõs B1 ZX-6R. Supersports were never the same again.
And, for the best part of a decade at least, punters lapped them up.
Reader Ollie Greenhaigh was one of them. Òthe R6 was hugely significant to me,ó he told MCN. Òthis was my first big bike and I was in love from the moment I first sat on it.ó
Jay Windard was another. ÒIT was my first big bike and I completely fell in love,ó he told MCN. ÒIT was such a great machine to ride and I just wanted to make it better and better.ó
Dan Greenfield was a third. Òthe R6 was my second bike (after a 2002 CBR600) and the perfect upgrade,ó he told us. Òthey do everything very well. Itõs not scary fast but fast enough and very reliable. It was the best-looking bike on the market, too!ó
And while that R6 has evolved many times (most recently this year) and has been the vehicle for a long list of technological introductions over the years including fuel injection and ride-by-wire, the Yamahaõs spirit and compelling appeal has always remained the same. Itõs not only a pocket superbike that has served as a perfect introduction to serious sports machinery. Itõs not merely an effective and hugely successful racing machine Ð the R6 remains the supersport bike of choice at the Isle of Man Ð itõs also simply damn good fun as a thrashhappy sports scalpel with few equals. As Whitham discovered, back in 1999.
ÒI always got off an R6 thinking IÕD thrashed it senseless. I love the idea of riding a bike you can cane and getting the most out of it, which is why the R6 still brings out the demon in me.ó
You can cane it and get the most from it. The R6 still brings out the demon in me’ JAMES WHITHAM