Though I spend most of my track time on V-twins that remain under 10,000 rpm, I’m obsessed with high-revving inline fours, and nothing quite revs like a Yamaha YZF-R6. When it first appeared in 1999, cranking the engine from 8000 to over 15,000 rpm produced a sound and feel like no other. This helped produce a serious explosion between the legs for supersports.The ’99 R6 immediately impressed, and evolved in performance and handling, though not in electronics. This evolution also took time; the second generation R6 arrived in 2003, and the third in 2006.
Story from our latest issue; subscribe for free at the Ultimate Motorcycling app.Though it remained relatively unchanged for the past 10 years, the R6 took wins and titles across many road racing series. In America, it has claimed the most victories over any other supersport motorcycle, and 97 percent of the wins in the AMA/MotoAmerica series. That helped propel worldwide R6 sales of nearly 340,000 worldwide, with 153,000 of those sold here in the states.Enter the 2017 Yamaha YZF-R6, the first model of the fourth generation. The new R6 is finally here, and while it’s not an all-new motorcycle, the revisions make the wait well worth it.A new electronic suite that includes switchable traction control and ABS highlights the fourth-gen R6, along with new KYB suspension and an aluminum fuel tank. The other more noticeable difference is updated bodywork that takes cues from its big brother, the YZF-R1 superbike, and a new seat for better ergonomics.I headed to Thunderhill Raceway Park at the northern end of California’s Central Valley, to wring out Yamaha’s latest supersport in both wet and dry conditions. I rode the three-mile East Course that contains 15 corners and an awesome Laguna Seca-style corkscrew, along with multiple blind turns.I rode the R6 back-to-back with the 2016 model, and the upgrades were immediately noticed. The big change wasn’t in engine performance or ergos, but definitely was there under braking and front-end feeling, and the attributes of the new electronics.The old adage “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” speaks truth when considering Yamaha didn’t change the R6’s engine. The 124-horsepower (claimed, at crank) engine has more than enough oomph for a Supersport, and utilizes technology such as the Yamaha Chip Controlled Intake that varies intake tract length for smooth power delivery.This engine is happiest between 9000 rpm and its 16,500 rpm redline, though power flattens past 15 grand. Throughout Thunderhill’s turn-two left-handed sweeper, the R6 was happiest in third gear above 9k.Smooth right hand control was key here at the upper rpm band, as harsh throttle inputs quickly upset the chassis. During a few paces in the wet, Turn 2 is also where I experimented with Yamaha’s new six-level traction control.All TC settings, including off, are switchable while riding. Yamaha has a slick left-hand control toggle that is easy to access with gloves on, regardless of being in full tuck or full lean. Yamaha’s TC system relies on the YCCT (Yamaha Chip Control Throttle) ride-by-wire system, and remained transparent throughout the wet rides.Unlike the R1, which uses an IMU, the R6’s system takes data from front- and rear-wheel speed sensors, and instantly adjusts ignition timing, fuel volume, and throttle plate position to properly manage traction without creating an unnatural feel for the rider.While on level six in the rain, I aggressively got on the throttle at Turn 2 while at lean, and the orange TC light did flash, but the intervention was barely noticeable. I experimented with all six settings, and though Level 1 provided some more freedom of sliding before the system intervened, the transparency impressed. The Bridgestone Racing Battlax W01 rain tires also assisted in traction, providing super amounts of confidence in rain situations.As for the TC in dry conditions, it rarely intervened, which again can be attributed to Thunderhill’s traction and Bridgestone’s always-impressive Battlax Racing Street RS10 tires. While riding in the dry, Level 1 only blinked a few times while on wet curbs.There’s not much shifting aboard the 2017 YZF-R6 on Thunderhill’s East Course, but the six-speed transmission with slipper clutch performed flawlessly when called upon.The test bike was also equipped with the $200 optional quick shifter that allows for clutchless upshifts. It’s well worth the money, though I was craving clutchless downshifts heading into the corkscrew and under heavy braking into Turn 14.The new R6 also uses Yamaha’s D-Mode System, which provides three different engine maps: A, B, and Standard. A is the most aggressive. Naturally, it was used for most of the day at Thunderhill, even in the rain. Standard would be great for urban rides thanks to a smoother power delivery. B is for slick conditions thanks to extremely soft power delivery.Thunderhill’s corkscrew and elevation changes provided the perfect situations to truly test the R6’s revised suspension. Spearheading the suspension changes is a 43mm inverted KYB fork (previous generation: 41mm) borrowed from the YZF-R1, and the larger 25mm front axle (previous generation: 22mm).Like the R1, all fork adjustments—preload, rebound and damping—are on top of the fork, making tweaks simple. Out back, the R6 features a new piggyback KYB shock with full adjustability.The most noticeable suspension differences over previous generations are mid-corner feel and the reaction to heavy braking. The 2017 R6 is more stable in both situations. You can also thank the proven Deltabox aluminum frame for the stability.As for the quick transitioning from side-to-side, there was little difference between the 2017 and the 2016 after riding the motorcycles back-to-back.ABS is another upgrade for 2017. It can’t be turned off, but not once did it provide any issues on the track when loading up the front tire for quick turn-ins. Intervention was only noticeable at the front lever when I was replicating emergency braking from 80mph in Thunderhill’s parking lot.The ABS system would have added at least three pounds, but Yamaha offset that someone by using an aluminum gas tank and magnesium subframe. While the R6 is two pounds heavier than the outgoing model, you’re not going to feel it.Yamaha upgraded the brakes with new 320mm Advics front discs—up 10mm from last year—and a radial-pump Nissin master cylinder. There’s a 220mm rear disc out back squeezed by a Nissin caliper. The feel has improved on the front lever over the 2016, especially when trail braking through corners.The new seat slightly tweaked the ergonomics on the R6—rear sets and clip ons remain the same. The seat is three-quarters of an inch slimmer and just less than a quarter-inch higher where the seat meets the tank; this is noticeable when transitioning from side to side. Seat height is unchanged at 33.5 inches.The new bodywork is said to have an eight percent increase in aerodynamics, which was noticeable on Thunderhill’s front straight after riding back-to-back sessions with the 2016. Air flows over the helmet with barely any buffeting, and continues flowing under hard braking when the body is in the wind.While at full tuck down the back straight, I was happy Yamaha kept the giant analog tach on the revised gauge layout, which is much easier to read than before.Though subtle on the track, the improvements provide more benefit for the street rider. On-road safety is vastly improved with the additional of traction control and ABS, and the new styling screams unique and aggressive.It may have taken 10 years, but a new R6 is finally here. The 2017 Yamaha YFZ-R6 is more of a revision than a revolution, but all changes make for a more capable supersport on the racetrack—not an easy job when the predecessor has a 97 percent win rate.Photography by Brian J. Nelson RIDING STYLE
This week, Senior Editor Nic de Sena rides the all new Ducati Monster. Big changes have been made by Ducati–has the company ruined the considerable heritage of the iconic Monster–or are the changes worth it? In the second part of the show, we chat with Nick Ienatsch, Founder and Head Instructor at the Yamaha Champions Riding School. He says: “We aim to change your riding life by introducing you to Champions Habits: The techniques, approaches, skills, and the mindsets of the best riders in the world. These Champions Habits are the foundation of safety and consistency to whatever speed you ride, in any venue on any bike. Street riders, this is just as much for you as track riders. The best way to make safe riders is to make good riders.“ We hope you enjoy this episode!