2018 Yamaha YZF-R6 Review:
Blitzing Buttonwillow

In 1999, Yamaha unleashed the YZF-R6 onto the world. Since that time, the R6 has helped define what we know as a modern middleweight supersport machine.

Over nearly two decades, the R6 has collected three World Supersport titles and more AMA and MotoAmerica wins than I’m able to tally without going blurry-eyed. The Yamaha R6 and has become a permanent fixture on circuits and canyons in the US, not to mention its global footprint. In short, the R6 has been dominant within its realm.

In 2017, the Yamaha YZF-R6 received its first major update in nearly a decade. That motorcycle marked the fourth generation of the revered supersport platform. While it wasn’t a complete revision—the frame, engine, and swingarm remained the same—Yamaha has elevated their beloved R6 to new heights with the addition of adjustable traction control, ABS, riding modes, a new fork, revised shock, larger floating rotors, and, of course, a complete aesthetic redesign. Those are big steps for the little 600.

With the fourth generation R6 settled into the market, we wanted to check up on it and see how it was doing. We packed up and headed off to Buttonwillow Raceway Park in California’s Central Valley to test the 2018 Yamaha YZF-R6 on what we might call our home turf and better yet, at the track—the R6’s natural habitat.

Since we’d only be on track, we opted for some phenomenal track rubber in the form of the Bridgestone Battlax Racing R11—a DOT race tire perfect for a track day with ambient temperatures around 85 degrees.

Underneath all the restyled plastic is the familiar 599cc DOHC inline-four powerplant, and here is where we’ll drop the pleasantries—it’s still an absolute ripper of a motor. Twisting the grip of a 600 Supersport means you need to do one thing and thing only—send that tachometer needle straight towards the redline, so that you’re able to extract every tasty, soulful morsel of horsepower that this engine has on tap.

Turning the key and setting off, you might think that it’s quite the demur machine at engine speeds below 7500 rpm, roughly. Continue twisting and bury the needle north of 9000 rpm and you’ll be met with tractable, exhilarating power. The little kitten of an R6 quickly perks up and turns into a screaming hellcat on command, with an impressive intake howl to match and exhaust note to match.

Though Yamaha Motor Corp., USA doesn’t publicly claim horsepower figures, the current R6 engine has spent a whole lot of time on the dyno. Expect about 115 or so horses, depending on your location, fuel, and other variables.

In the R6 chassis, that kind of power is perfect, and I don’t say that lightly. It’s the kind of performance that a rider can wrap his head around and begin to command, instead of being gun-shy as someone might be on a 1000cc Superbike making roughly 160+ hp at the rear wheel.

Unlike a Superbike, a Supersport doesn’t have the same sheer power to park in corners and liter-cheat your way through the straight sections. With a 600, you’ll need to work on braking late, carrying corner speed, and adopt wide, sweeping lines to maintain the momentum. Rest assured, if you get quality seat-time on a 600cc Supersport, you will come back a better rider.

Our test unit was equipped with the Yamaha Genuine Parts & Accessories GYTR YZF-R6 Quick Shifter Kit, which will set you back $200 at the point of purchase. Regarding bang-for-your-buck upgrades, this is at the top of the list and will help you blast through gearbox on straightaways in a hurry. It’s also explicitly designed to work with the R6’s ECU straight out of the box.

This year, Yamaha added three ride modes to the R6. If you’re familiar with Yamaha motorcycles, the choices of A, STD, and B will come as no surprise. A-mode is the most aggressive throttle response and at home on the track. STD is smooth and progressive, and what I stuck with most of the time. B-mode has a more relaxed throttle response, which can be useful for newer riders to the 600cc saddle, or in inclement riding conditions. You receive full power in all modes, but they each deliver it differently.

Also joining the party is six-level traction control, which can be turned off if you choose. To save money for Yamaha, and subsequently the average consumer, a more simplified TC system was developed. It monitors information collected from the wheel speed sensors and adjusts ignition timing, fuel injection volume, and throttle opening accordingly.

That means the R6 doesn’t have a fancy schmancy IMU that is all the rage on Superbikes these days. That would have increased the development cost, and that cost would have been passed onto the consumer. Fortunately, Yamaha has managed to get its simpler TC system to work quite well.

With Bridgestone Battlax Racing R11 tires slapped on the bike, we had loads grip on our hands, and I spent a couple of sessions bouncing around between levels 1 and 2. Intervention between those two settings was negligible, but I settled on level 1 because the chassis felt great underneath me. As you move up, intervention becomes more apparent and speaks to the progressive nature of the TC system.

A keen eye will notice familiar endcaps on the R6’s beefier new fork. That’s because it is the same fully adjustable 43mm KYB fork found on the current generation YZF-R1. Of course, Yamaha and KYB developed internals specifically for this application, so it features unique spring and damping rates. The new fork also increases wheel travel to 4.7 inches. By employing the R1 fork, the R6’s front axle size has fattened to 25mm—a 3mm gain.

The aim for all of this was to increase the R6’s rigidity up front and stability under braking, as well as overall feel. This raised the bar for an already impressive chassis.

During testing, Yamaha staffers discovered that they had achieved their goal of greater rigidity, and then some—they’d just made the bike too stiff. For the average rider, that usually translates to a vague feeling motorcycle. To quell those stiffness issues, the lower triple clamp was trimmed down at the cross-section by 7mm, giving back some of the chassis flex needed to create that perfect balance of stiffness and flexibility for the rider.

In the rear, a new fully adjustable KYB shock was part of the 2017 update. Most notably, one will discover a threaded-collar spring-preload adjustment, instead of the stepper adjuster from years past, allowing a more precise level of tuning.

I have a soft spot for Buttonwillow Raceway. It’s a dynamic circuit with a little bit of everything, from great fast flowing sections, tight turns, and a mix of tarmac that allows you to see what a bike does in a wide variety of situations. It makes for a good testing ground for a bike like the R6.

The 2018 Yamaha R6 is an undeniably intuitive machine, nimbly agreeing to whatever input you merely suggest and whips into corners as fast as you like. This is an essential characteristic of this machine—it does what you ask, not what it wants to do. Again, those traits make it an excellent tool for riders working their way up from lower displacement machines.

Go ahead, bury the front end under braking and the Yamaha will maintain its stability commendably. The same can be said when you’re on the edge of the tire railing through long sweeping corners such as Buttonwillow’s Riverside. When transitioning to the throttle and winding the power on, you’ll finish out your corner nicely.

Buttonwillow, to some, is known as Bumpywillow. That was before it was resurfaced several years ago, but some areas are beginning to show signs of age once more. Near the apex of Truck Stop and on the exit of Riverside turns, there is some seriously rough asphalt.

Even in the face of that, the 2018 Yamaha R6 didn’t begin walking across the track. A bit of spring-preload and a little more rebound damping made quick work of those areas, giving me even more confidence throughout the rest of the circuit.

In all, the chassis is mated perfectly with the amount of performance that you’ll find at your wrist. A nimble, stout, chassis coupled with power that we, mere mortals, can comprehend? That’s a winning formula.

A small, but a much-welcomed change in 2017 was the addition of 320mm floating rotors up front—a 10mm increase in size. The same four-pot, radial Advics calipers can be found, but are now paired with a radial Nissin master cylinder, instead of the previous Brembo unit.

By swapping out the master cylinder, Yamaha hoped to get a bit more feel at the lever. In practice, feel at the lever is quite good, allowing riders to modulate their braking inputs. It is especially handy when you are trail braking.

Non-adjustable ABS is also deployed on the fourth generation R6. Even under heavy braking, I didn’t feel it intervene. Sure, a ham-fisted application will trigger the ABS, but even when putting a lot of faith into that front lever in hard braking zones, I didn’t have an issue with the system.

One criticism I do have is regarding the rubber brake line. On the street, it’s a piece of kit that will generally be okay. However, when the speeds pick up and the ambient temperature is higher, such as is the case at most Southern California racetracks, your brakes will be generating far more heat, and the rubber brake lines will cause a bit of brake fade.

Interestingly, outright braking power didn’t seem to be heavily impacted, though the lever was coming back further than I would like. It’s a cheap fix, but I wish all manufacturers would toss steel-braided brake lines in from the get-go and nip the problem in the bud.

The most apparent update was the aesthetics that now borrow heavily from the current YZF-R1. Visually, there are plenty of cues from its big brother, and we’ll let them speak for themselves.

While revising its appearance, Yamaha also made improvements to the ergonomics. Starting at the front, the windscreen is now two inches taller than before, providing more wind deflection for the rider. Yamaha has stated that this is an eight percent improvement over the previous generation and, combined with all the fairing updates, is the most aerodynamic model Yamaha has produced to date.

The fuel tank is now constructed out of aluminum, which has saved a claimed 2.7 pounds compared to the old steel unit that had the same 4.7-gallon capacity. For our purposes, we’ll be keen to notice the new profile that makes for a solid anchoring point while on the brakes or leaned over.

With the implementation of a lighter magnesium subframe, Yamaha engineers had the opportunity to optimize things a bit. To match the newly designed tank, the seat is now flatter and 8mm narrower. Additionally, the seating position is revised, though retains the same 33.5-inch height.

It’s a small change, yet even without tank-grips or a gripper seat, I was able to brace myself well. Also, the lip of the seat mates to the tank, which aims to keep you from smashing up your precious bits.

With adjustable electronic aides coming to the Yamaha YZF-R6, it meant that the dash had to be updated to facilitate those new systems. Today, full-color TFT displays are becoming commonplace. As much as I appreciate the dash on the R1, I’m glad Yamaha stuck with a honking analog tachometer and LCD set up on the R6. There is something that primal about catapulting the tachometer needle into the red that’s become intrinsic to the R6 experience.

We also had a few little choice bits on our bike that day sourced from Yamaha Genuine P&A—a sleek rear seat cowl gave us that full-factory race bike look, plus Yamaha frame sliders and tank pads. Final touches came in the form of mirror and light block off plates.

Although we didn’t get to test it, the new R6 boasts the Yamaha Communication Control Unit (YCCU) used on the R1. For those that want to know exactly what they’re doing while out on the track, all you need to do is connect to the Yamaha data-acquisition module, download the iOS or Android app, and you’ll have a whole slew of data to analyze once you are back in the pits.

The YCCU is a great tool to have, as you can compare your collected data with a track map and see exactly what you’re doing and where you’re doing it. Even better, you can send the data off to be analyzed by a coach. Racer and track day junkies will surely learn a thing or two from the data and hopefully, that will drop some precious seconds of their lap times.

As it stands, the 2018 Yamaha YZF-R6 is ready to go out of the box. Now, if you’re reading this review and thinking that all is well in R6 town, you’d be right—mostly. However, there are a few things that I’d recommend upgrading or tuning to get the most out of this package, and consequently, any sport machine under the sun.

First, set up your suspension—it’s a key part to making a good bike a great bike. Second, get some quality tires that you trust—whether that be Bridgestone, Dunlop, Pirelli, Metzeler, that is up to you. Third, toss on some steel-braided brake lines; it’s a cheap way to get consistent braking performance. Fourth, spring for the optional quickshifter. Lastly, bolting on a steering damper adds an extra layer of safety to alleviate tank slappers from occurring. When riding aggressively, we can often put a little too much input into the bars, which will cause negative feedback like that. Chances are, it’s the rider.

It’s true, the 2018 Yamaha YZF-R6 is not an all-new design. As a whole, the Supersport segment has gone quite a while without full redesigns. Looking at it from a motorcycle enthusiast’s perspective, we tend to fixate on what is new instead of what’s right. The fact is, this bike is righteous. It still is and until another manufacturer rolls out something fresh off the presses, it will remain, righteous.

As it stands, Yamaha has gone the furthest with its revisions in contrast to the rest of the market in 2018. It bears repeating—the changes here are meaningful that have an impact.

The 600 Supersport class is one of the best ways to pick up your pace on the track. Once you twist the grip of one, it becomes easy to see as to why all of your favorite MotoAmerica, WSBK, and more than a handful of MotoGP stars spent plenty of time on the platform. If you want to get fast, grab a 600, and the 2018 Yamaha YZF-R6 is a fine place to start that part of your journey.

Action photography by CaliPhotography

RIDING STYLE

Helmet: Shoei X-Fourteen Brink TC-5
Suit: Alpinestars Missile
Base layers: VNM Sport Men’s VnM Compression Top and Unisex VnM Pant
Gloves: Racer High-Speed
Boots: Alpinestars Supertech R

2018 Yamaha YZF-R6 Specs

ENGINE
Type: Inline-4
Displacement: 599cc
Bore x stroke: 67.0 x 42.5mm
Compression ratio: 13.1:1
Valve train: DOHC, 16 valves
Fueling: EFI w/ four 41mm throttle bodies
Exhaust: 4-2-1 stainless steel w/ titanium muffler
Transmission: 6-speed
Clutch: Wet multiplate w/ slipper function
Final drive: Chain

CHASSIS
Frame: Twin-spar cast aluminum w/ magnesium die-cast subframe
Front suspension; travel: Fully adjustable 43mm KYB inverted fork; 4.7 inches
Rear suspension; travel: Linkage-assisted fully adjustable KYB piggyback reservoir shock; 4.7 inches
Wheels: 5-spoke cast aluminum
Front wheel: 3.5 x 17
Rear wheel: 5.5 x 17
Tires: Bridgestone Battlax Racing R11 (as tested, not stock)
Front tire: 120/70 x 17
Rear tire: 180/55 x 17
Front brakes: 320mm discs w/ 4-piston Nissin radially mounted calipers and master cylinder
Rear brake: 220mm disc w/ single-piston Nissin caliper
ABS: Standard

DIMENSIONS and CAPACITIES
Wheelbase: 54.1 inches
Rake: 24.0 degrees
Trail: 3.8 inches
Lean angle: 57 degrees
Seat height: 33.5 inches
Fuel capacity: 4.6 gallons
Estimated fuel economy: 42 mpg
Curb weight: 419 pounds

COLORS
Matte Gray
Intensity White/Matte Silver
Team Yamaha Blue
2018 Yamaha YZF-R6 PRICE: $12,199 MSRP

2018 Yamaha YZF-R6 Photo Gallery