The R6 shined at the track thanks to an insanely high rev range and light, easy to toss around chassis.
Pro Race 2000, DOT 4
If you didn't know much about bikes, you'd probably expect them all to be pretty similar-especially Japanese 600 sportbikes. Inline-four engines, 600cc capacity, similar power, similar weight, similara price. They can't be too different, right?
Of course, it'd only take a few minutes to prove this notion wrong. And you couldn't pick a much better example than a Yamaha R6. The little Yam has always been the standout crazy horse option in the 600 class, particularly in the early days. Way back in 1999, if you'd hopped off a Honda CBR600F4 and onto an R6, you'd have thought someone had dressed up a racebike with lights and turn signals. The R6 revved like a chainsaw, turned like a dog chasing a rabbit and stopped like it carried its own brick wall to hit.
The engine screamed out for more revs, more gas and more gear changes, while the chassis tracked like glue through every bend, changed direction like a 250GP bike and hovered on the edge of stability.
But while the R6 looked a lot like its bigger brother, the R1, which had launched the year before, it didn't quite have the same impact. Perhaps it was because the class was more competitive, but the other Japanese 600s seemed closer to the R6 than the R1 to its competition. The CBR600F4, for example, didn't have the craziness of the R6, but was a much better road bike. Suzuki's GSX-R600 was dated but great on the track, and Kawasaki's venerable ZX-6R could also stick with the R6 in most conditions.
The competition heated up, and within a few years of the R6's launch it was looking rather long in the tooth. A minor update in 2001 marked time with new cosmetics, and while the 2003 update was much more serious, Yamaha was beginning to fall behind. First, Kawasaki's ZX-636 appeared with USD forks, radial-mount brakes, radical styling and a white-hot fuel injected 636cc engine. Then Honda earned some payback from its MotoGP program by bringing out the RC211V-aping CBR600RR. Its styling, underseat exhaust and superb handling made up for the rather flat motor, and both the Kawi and the Honda left the 2003 R6 reeling. Even Suzuki's plain-Jane GSX-R600 was catching up on the R6 with fuel injection, ram-air, and the kudos of its 1000 and 750 brethren.
By 2005, Yamaha was finally getting it right. It bolted on some radial-mount brake calipers, USD forks and added another couple horsepower. While the R6 looked similar to the previous model, it was a much more competitive, rounded bike. Minor criticism centered on slightly jerky fuel injection, but the strong engine, balanced chassis and high-quality components put the R6 back at the top of the class.
Ironically, that much-improved bike turned out to be a bit of a stopgap. Yamaha had the next generation R6 up its sleeve for 2006, marking a definite break from the original design. The new bike boasted a whole heap of cutting-edge technology, including ride-by-wire fueling, but it also marked a further move towards the racetrack, with ever-revvier power and little compromise for road use.
What's the best model?
No question here-the '05 was the best of the first-generation R6s. The new front end improved handling, stability and stopping, while the engine was at the peak of its development. The styling still looks good too, with a classier feel than the rather fussy second-generation bike. Finally, the fact it was only on sale for a year makes it a rare sight on the road, unlike the second-generation bike.
The Mods To Make
This isn't the bike for bling. Instead, push it in the direction it already suggests in stock form-performance. A slip-on pipe and fender eliminator will give it instant racetrack looks, while new fluids all-around will get her feeling fresh and clean.
The first R6 in 1999 had some startling numbers, including a (claimed) 120 HP motor-the first time a four-stroke bike motor had managed to produce 200 HP per liter. The measure of HP produced per liter, is a common comparison between engines of differing capacities, giving an idea of how highly tuned an engine is. To get the number, we multiply the power output by 1000, then divide by the engine cc. So on the R6, we multiply the 120 HP power output by 1000, then divide by 600 to give 200 HP/liter.
Looking at some other motors, no 1,000cc bike has ever got close-the BMW S1000RR is around 185 HP/liter - and even big-HP lumps like the Kawasaki ZX-14 and Yamaha VMAX are way off, using 1,352cc and 1,679cc respectively to make 200 HP, giving 148 and 119 HP/liter.
The real demons of power output are two-strokes and turbocharged engines though. The last street-going two-stroke, Aprilia's RS250, made around 70 HP, giving 280 HP/liter, thanks to the two-stroke engine having twice as many power strokes as a four-stroke. And in the car world, where turbocharged engines are common, high-tech Japanese rally cars like Mitsubishi's Lancer Evolution produce up to 400 HP from two-liter engines, just matching the normally-aspirated output of the little R6.
The R6's 2003 fuel injection was a pretty wacked-out setup, with each throttle body having what looked like the top half of a CV carburetor bolted on. The "suction piston" in the top half automatically regulated the airflow, like in a CV carb, while the ECU matched the fuel flow digitally. It was a halfway house, with analog airflow-control that attempted to emulate the digital airflow-control used by Suzuki's dual-valve throttle design, which had an ECU-operated secondary butterfly. It worked well enough in practice, and made a brief appearance on the Yamaha R1 too, but no other manufacturer adopted it (the dual-butterfly system has been used by Suzuki and Kawasaki). Yamaha replaced the suction-piston setup with a ride-by-wire system for 2006.
The R1 appeared the previous year, so it wasn't a big surprise when the R6 arrived. But it was pretty exciting to see such a direct copy of the big bike in 600cc form-even more so when you spotted the huge ram-air intakes that the literbike had missed out on. The r6 got the one-piece Sumitomo brake calipers that made the R1 an ace stopper, and while the front fork was a vanilla right-way-up design, the sharp bodywork and racy paint made up for it. As did the power output; at a claimed 120 HP, the R6 was the first ever 200 HP/liter production four-stroke bike engine. The dyno marked this claim out as optimistic, but on the street, the R6 was the most exciting 600 around.
Yamaha was clearly pleased with the R6 because it didn't change a whole lot for its first two-year update. The weight dropped by a few pounds thanks to details like LED taillights and an aluminum steering stem. The engine got new, tougher pistons and conrods with modded gear change components. Graphics got an update, and the rear end got a new fender and license plate holder.
Lots of change at last, including fuel injection and a cast aluminum frame. But the basics remained the same; a light, powerful head banger with 3 HP more peak power and 7 pounds less weight. The fuel injection used a unique "suction piston" system to match the intake airflow to the engine's requirements, and it worked well enough. On the chassis front, the swingarm was half an inch longer to add some stability, and an LCD dash and projector headlamps gave a higher-quality feel to life on board.
Led taillights with clear lenses were unique back in the day and set the trend for future models from all makes.
At last, Yamaha fitted the upside-down forks the R6 should arguably have had from the beginning. Also new were radial-mount front brake calipers and a radial-pump master cylinder. New throttle bodies added a touch more peak power.