First Ride: 2008 Yamaha YZF-R6

Wired middleweight.

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The electronics revolution is well under way. No longer can a company grab the most current mechanical technology, throw it on its latest repli-racer and wheelie off into the sunset. These days, designing a high-performance motorcycle is just as much about software as hardware.Yamaha’s newest middleweight, the 2008 YZF-R6, is a showcase of such electronic wizardry. The R6 is the bike that in 2007 introduced YCC-T (Yamaha Chip Controlled Throttle), the industry’s first ride-by-wire throttle; and it now incorporates the same YCC-I (Yamaha Chip Controlled Intake) system, the variable-length velocity stacks that debuted on the YZF-R1 last year. The engine also uses two nozzles per cylinder in its closed-loop fuel-injection system, which includes an O2 sensor on the triple-catalyzed, EXUP-equipped exhaust. All these computer-controlled systems have become necessary for the R6 to overcome the performance lost through meeting ever-tightening emissions regulations.

When it comes to middleweight weaponry, the R6 has long been a Cycle World favorite, topping our Ten Best Bikes balloting three times. But in recent years, the bike became very track focused, sacrificing a bit of streetability in the quest for better lap times. So for 2008, the goal for Yamaha’s engineers was to give the engine more torque lower in the rpm range, hoping to make the R6 more user-friendly on the street without detracting from the bike’s proven racetrack potency.

To a certain extent, they succeeded. Peak torque measures 42.5 ft.-lb. and is produced at 11,900 rpm, 1000 revs sooner than before, and 108 horsepower arrives at 14,300 rpm. On the track, the revised powerband doesn’t seem to have hurt the R6 in the least. Drive out of corners actually feels stronger than we remember on the previous bike, and the handling is just as razor-sharp and crisp as ever.

Around town, though, the low-end and midrange performance still disappoints. The bike is astonishingly fast if you keep the engine singing at five-digit rpm levels, and its handling on a twisty backroad is nothing short of spectacular. But the acceleration anywhere in the bottom half of the rpm range is extremely weak, so much so that roll-on acceleration is practically imperceptible, and attempts to leave a stoplight with vigor cause the engine to bog.

So, although the new R6 is a better all-around bike than its ’07 predecessor, with improved ergonomics and superb suspension, it still isn’t as much fun on the street as are most of its competitors. For track days, setting quick time on your favorite backroad or production-class racing, it’s a $9599 corner-carving scalpel that’s hard to beat. And despite its low-rpm shortcomings, the R6 is perfectly capable as a commuter or a daily rider. You just have to work a little harder at it.

Conner getting in some photo passes on the silver R6.

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Rear shock also offers high/low speed adjustments, and shims are available from Yamaha to change ride height.

The R6 soaks up some late-season light.

R6 bars offer adjustability but not much in the way of sport-touring comfort.

Speaking of adjustability, the R6?s front end offers high and low-speed damping circuits. You can even alter front ride height by purchasing longer fork tubes.

Low screen offers surprisingly good wind protection.

Instrumentation features include a built-in lap timer.

Cernicky setting some fast laps on the R6 at Streets of Willow.

View of the R6?s pointy back end, showing off the stubby tailsection and removable turnsignal/licenseplate bracket.

Mark Cernicky sneaking up on the R6 before a test ride.

Yamaha Racer Josh Herrin shows us how it?s done at the bike?s Laguna Seca press introduction.