There was a time not so long ago when sportbike enthusiasts inked their calendar with an expectation of springtime bearing the fruit of an all-new middleweight supersport platform from one or more of the Japanese Big Four. Although the annual bumper crop of 600 class sportbikes has all but dried up, for 2017 the sky is Yamaha blue.
Just as the draught ending watershed winter has transformed the Golden State green, in a sort of symbolic coincidence the first worldwide press ride of the new YZF-R6 took place at Thunderhill Raceway Park located in Northern California. Featuring a sprinkling of performance improvements and fresh styling, a day spent lapping the 15-turn, 3-mile track provided a good taste of the electronic, chassis, and aerodynamic treatment that have been applied to the fourth-generation R6.
VIDEO: 2017 Yamaha YZF-R6 First Ride Review
Our hosts outfitted each bike with sticky Bridestone Battlax R10 radials in place of stock fitment Battlax Hypersport S21 tires. Additionally, an accessory quick shifter ($199.99) and Yamaha Communication Control Unit ($699.99) data logger, of which the bike comes pre-wired allowing simple plug-and-play installation, were in place. The YCCU records lap time, engine rpm, gear position, wheel-speed, throttle position, TC intervention, brake pressure, and more along with GPS positional information. Software supporting Android or Apple tablets allows viewing the data once downloaded from the bike over Wi-Fi.
The reshaped fairing, along with a 50mm taller windscreen, is said to make the new R6 the most aerodynamic production Yamaha available. Clicking seamless upshifts with the throttle pinned netted speeds approaching 140 mph on the track’s medium-length main straight. While there’s plenty more end to be had at a faster venue, I noted very little helmet rocking turbulence while tucked behind the bubble at speed.
VIDEO: Onboard Video: One Lap Aboard The 2017 Yamaha YZF-R6
The rider triangle remains unchanged from last year’s machine, however the now aluminum fuel tank’s revised contour along with a reshaped seat lends an impression of new ergos. The saddle is now wider at the rear and narrower up front for an easier reach to the ground and has less forward slope.
While the engine remains mechanically the same as its predecessor, this titanium valve, 599cc inline-four that ironically pioneered Yamaha Chip Controlled Throttle back in 2006 has finally joined the electronic rider aid age. A thumb toggle on the right grip allows on-the-fly switching between three D-mode throttle response maps (each providing full power output) while a rocker on the left grip switches between six levels of traction control sensitivity (plus off).
I found the STD (middle) D-mode provided a very direct, yet sensual throttle connection. Selecting a high TC setting allowed me to clearly feel the system in action as its combination of ignition timing, fuel delivery and throttle plate management provided very fluid intervention. Power cut was subtle to the point of only knowing it was working thanks to a yellow TC indicator light on the dash flicking when working its magic. A credit to the rear grip provided by the chassis/tire combination, I never saw the light illuminate with TC set below level 4.
While main frame goes unchanged, a narrower cast magnesium subframe and smaller battery have pared some pounds to help offset weight added with ABS and a much beefier front end. Yamaha dipped into the R1 parts bin as the R6 is now equipped with the same KYB 43mm fork (with recalibrated spring and damping) and larger diameter front axle. The Nissin front brake master-cylinder, ADVICS radial monoblock calipers, and larger 320mm rotors also come straight from its liter-class sibling.
Following behind Yamaha factory superbike ace Josh Hayes for a few hot laps quickly got me in touch with the R6’s newfound handling prowess. The confidence in front end grip and feel was wholly on display as the four-time AMA Superbike champion towed me deeper into turn 2 than I had imagined possible. Treating the sweeping medium-speed left as a double apex corner put substantial load on the front at corner entry but held fast lap after lap. Precise fueling allowed mid-corner throttle pickup at deep lean without any unsettling of the chassis. The sense of control and planted feel allowed the bike to effortlessly tighten the line to clip the second apex for a hooked-up, hard-exit drive. This corner alone reminded me just how much I’d forgotten the handling attributes a middleweight supersport can possess over the current tide of literbikes.
The agile nature made negotiating the side-to-side flick through the second gear esses and corkscrew crest that follow an exercise of precise pleasure. A series of increasingly faster dogleg lefts midway through the lap are reminiscent of a similar section at Italy’s original Misano Circuit layout. The safety net of TC allows pinned throttle through much of the section as you snick shifts on cue to shift indicator light. Not a slip or a wiggle, simply excellent grip and trusting stability. Another left-right transition cresting a third-gear rise lightens the front and at times induced a bit of head shake if aggressive with throttle or steering input. Still so, the bike quickly regains a straight and true track with no steering damper fitted.
It’s this blend of steering lightness and inherent stability that makes the latest R6 a better, safer road bike. Double backshifts while braking hard over a crest into the following corner firmly reiterates the forgiving nature of the slipper clutch and ABS, both keeping the chassis in check and wheels in line. Some may question the inability to switch anti-lock off, but I must say the system is calibrated well for track use and not once did I feel a hint of freewheeling sensation.
While there are other middleweight sportbikes offering superior bottom-midrange torque, none feel as race ready. The R6 delivers smooth, linear output through the lower rev range, has a notable hit around 9000 rpm, and the exhilarating rush to its 16,500 redline will stir your soul. Add to this an effective electronics suite, more communicative chassis, and attractive styling, and you have a bike that really does the Tuning Fork brand’s lineup proud. Yamaha’s blue chip championship winning middleweight has the category cornered and looks to continue its winning ways both on track and on the road.
|ENGINE TYPE||Liquid-cooled inline-four|
|BORE & STROKE||67.0 x 42.5mm|
|SEAT HEIGHT||33.5 in.|
|FUEL CAPACITY||4.5 gal.|
|CLAIMED WET WEIGHT||419 lbs.|