Throwing your leg over a supersport motorcycle for the first time is similar to jumping on a time trial bicycle — even sitting still, it feels insanely fast. Comfort be damned, supersports are performance machines designed for track use, but street legal, so you can ride to the loop if you’re so inclined. Thanks to a new redesign that includes plenty of trickle-down tech, the Yamaha YZF-R6 is better than ever and even includes features that will trickle up.
The R6 was Introduced in 1999 and has helped riders win races ever since: three World Supersport Championships over the last seven years and 21 AMA Professional Road Racing Championships over the last 13 years. If the R6 is the New England Patriots of the middleweight motorcycle world, the 599cc engine is its Tom Brady. Like the Pats, Yamaha didn’t have much reason to change the titanium-valved powerplant in the 2017 R6, the fourth generation of the supersport.
This update was still a long time coming. Like the other big moto manufacturers, the global recession in the late aughts all but evaporated research budgets for middleweight bikes. More than a decade has passed since Yamaha released the third generation R6, and the new bike includes tech from its big brother, the R1, like a KYB 43mm fork, larger diameter front axle, more powerful front brakes, ABS, tail section, and an adjustable rear shock.
“When you’re leaned over in a corner, there’s just this great feeling that the front end feels very planted, very controlled, and you have a keen awareness of what the front end of the motorcycle is doing,” explains Product Planning Manager Aaron Bast.
The R6’s aero technology will likely trickle up to the R1 because the R6 is the most aerodynamic production bike Yamaha has ever made, thanks to a restyled front end complete with LED lighting, integrated front turn signals, new windscreen that’s 50mm taller, and a new aluminum fuel tank. The seat is also narrower at the front (just 5mm) and higher at the front lip (also 5mm), translating into improved ergonomics, making it easier to tuck into this bullet of a bike and all but completely eliminate wind noise when you’re chest-to-tank. These tweaks also make it more comfortable for smaller riders, without punishing taller riders. At 6’2”, we were as comfortable as one can be on a supersport.
Yamaha also rolled out a new suite of electronic rider aids. The R6 comes stock with a ride-by-wire chip-controlled throttle, as well as three throttle-response maps, and a six-level traction-control system that takes data from front and rear wheel speed sensors and adjusts ignition timing, fuel volume, and throttle-plate position to maximize necessary traction. Our test bike also included a quick shifter ($199), which allows clutchless (read: quicker) upshifts and is awesome (read: get it). The engine starts to sing around 9,500 and redlines at 16,500. If you’re going to keep the bike under 100 mph, you only have to see fourth, fifth, or sixth gear if you want to.
The majority of our miles went down on the twisty, turning Angeles Crest Highway, but we also rode the R6 in crosstown L.A. traffic. Riders can collapse side-view mirrors inward on the fly, to make the already narrow profile even more so, and make tight lane splitting easier. The ride itself? Too much fun. We regularly ate at our desks so we could sneak out for quick lunchtime trips up to Newcombs Ranch, and even postponed a snowboard trip to Mammoth so we could get more saddle time.
Yamaha lists MPG at 42, but we experienced mid-to-high thirties, depending on how aggressively we rode. With a 4.6-gallon tank, most can easily get 150 miles between fill-ups. The R6 is great for riders who are stepping up from small supersports, motorcyclists who want to add a very fast bike to their stable, and aggressive riders who want a track-worthy bike that’s slightly saner than a supersport liter bike. Even though the R6 is a solid race bike, the vast majority of the 153,000 R6s sold to date never see the track, according to Yamaha. The new R6 hit dealer floors this spring and is part of Yamaha’s demo fleet. So, if you’re interested, find out if there’s a demo near you and take it for a spin. Just know that you’re going to have a tough time giving it back. [yamahamotorsports.com; $12,199]