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post #1 of 4 (permalink) Old 02-21-2006, 05:48 AM Thread Starter
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2006 Yamaha YZF-R6: MD Track Test

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When we got our invite to the North American press introduction for Yamaha's 2006 R6, at first I considered attending the intro myself. However, Yamaha has made it clear that they designed the '06 to be more of a specialized trackbike (the 05 R6 is still available, now known as the R6S, and is significantly cheaper than the new model). To review a trackbike at a racetrack, we decided we needed a track specialist. Luckily, our friend Stephen Bowline happened to be available that day. Stephen is a former AMA professional racer, having competed in AMA 250cc GP races around the country before retiring several years ago. Considering that, as a former long-time Palmdale resident, he probably has more laps around Willow's big track than all of the Motorcycle Daily staff put together (x10!), Stephen seemed like the perfect guy to take on Yamaha's tiny screamer. Before you read Stephen's track test, you might want to check out our 'First Ride' impressions of the R6 from the World launch last year, and our technical preview from last September. Also take a look at our recent articles about the true redline of the 2006 R6 here and here.

The R6 is awash in hype and innuendo at the moment, so you might be wondering what's really going on. This is a seminal motorcycle for Yamaha, and the stakes are high. MotorcycleDaily.com tested the new R6 at Willow Springs and, in a unique same-day complementary test, at the tight and demanding next door neighbor, The Streets of Willow Springs. This was a fantastic opportunity to evaluate this promising Supersport platform in two very different environments: fast and furious vs. tight and tumultuous.

The new R6 is NEW. This is a completely different motorcycle, dripping with little bits of MotoGP essence. And they're not like shop scraps from the MotoGP dumpster either. We're talking real kid brother inheritance here. Technology like a digital throttle with more processing power than the computer that runs the space shuttle. OK, well even your iPod has more brains that that, but still, a digital throttle is a first for a production motorcycle. Fly-by-wire, as they say.

Let's not forget an all-new slipper clutch, the baby brother of Valentino Rossi's sweetheart, a frame geometry in planetary alignment, a swingarm, excuse me, traction telegraph, that's both more flexible and more rigid at the same time, a fully adustable suspension that antiquates the term "fully adjustable" that you just read five minutes ago when reading last year's bike review in the john, and, AND, an all-new powerplant that pumps out the ponies in so many new and exciting ways that Yamaha themselves lost count.

Would anyone doubt that Yamaha was going to make a fast and nimble motorcycle to replace the one that was already winning races? Of course not. But reality doesn't always conform to a marketing brochure, and real life compromises will always come to light in the racetrack environ.

Willow Springs Raceway, February, it's cold. It's windy. There's not a lot of sun in the photon budget. Traction is not on the well stocked Yamaha buffet table. On a day like this a good rapport with your motocycle is a must. This isn't a day for a lover's quarrel or miscommunications. I left the hot pit on the new R6, shod with new, specially designed Dunlop Qualifier Sportmax radials, and with old habits honed by racing GP motorcycles that don't suffer fools quite so well. I can't think of a better test.

The new skins were "fresh from the fridge" courtesy of the high desert air, so riding the R6 at a snails pace for a few laps gave me a fresh look at the Willow wasteland. Yeah, it was the same. But it was soon pretty clear that my GP habits didn't phase this bike one bit. The missed shifts and rough brake/throttle transitions I tried to confuse the bike with while blowing the cobwebs out of my brain and training my hands and feet to do strange things like use a clutch or operate a shifter were of no consequence. Man, try that with an RS125. You'll never ride one again.

It was abundantly clear on the first lap that this motorcycle was tame enough to be ridden slowly, fast enough to be ridden properly, and could stop with one finger properly applied to the correct control lever and in the proper direction. Yeah, the brakes were that good. Not gobsmacking, retinal detaching good, but firm, solid, linear and immediate. In other words, your best friend. Or in my case, my enemy since you're really not supposed to use the brakes at Willow Springs. Thankfully, I was quickly free of cobwebs, and began to ride the bike like it was supposed to be ridden.

This is a fast 600. Power builds sluggishly in the lower 6000 rpms (perfect for an out-lap on a cold winter Willow day) and then increases, mildly but with perfect linearity, until all hell breaks loose at around 12,000 rpm. The explosion of power is impressive for such a small displacement bike, and it's still apparent at higher speeds and in taller gears, likely due to the remarkably effective ram air system. The charge over Willow's Turn 6 opens the floodgates on horsepower and aerodynamic pressure as the you make the transition to lightspeed in Turn 8. This is not hyperbole. For a bike to continue accelerating like this at such high speeds, you know there's some airbox magic in the mix. Just in case you thought the tail wind down that back straight might color the ram air impression, the R6 would consistently loft its front wheel at 140mph while still accelerating over the ever-so-slight dip at the Willow Springs International Raceway start/finish. Yamaha's solution to airbox designs follows the lead of other manufacturers, using an opening in the head stock to channel the air in a direct shot from near the center of pressure of the fairing (a la Honda's RC51). In fact, the leading portion of the fuel tank is actually housing the airbox. Fuel is centrally maintained low and toward the rear of the tank. More on this later as we ride the technical Streets of Willow.

Yamaha claims a peak wheel horsepower of 112 horsepower at 15,200rpm. Entering Turn 8 on the big track with all these ponies dialed in is The Willow Way; however, playing it safe on DOT tires and a cold, blustery day is My Way. I roll out at the mouth of Turn 8 and then roll back into it. No muss. No fuss. Easy Peasy. The crosswind was brutal, but even so I never really felt uncomfortable. The front end was generally stable and communicative. I crawled forward and did my best to weight the front end and mitigate The Breeze.

At the time I was a little disappointed that the wind was punishing us so. But in retrospect I can see that it actually worked to great advantage for the test. Sure, lap times may have suffered, but nothing got puckered and the R6 proved quite stable in the adverse conditions. The big track is not really the best test of a bike's front end, but the low frequency undulations in the surface of Turn 8 work against you to great effect when the wind is trying its best to pry the front wheel off the tarmac. We'd find out in a few hours if this stability would work against the bike on The Streets. It's definitely a plus in the fast stuff.

One of the trickier aspects of WSIR is the fast Turn 9, found at the end of a short chute from Turn 8. In a lot of ways 9 is like an extension of 8, but one of the keys to a fast lap on the big track is to not scrub off hard earned speed on your approach. The other is getting a bike to turn in on time and on target at 120mph. My experience on two-stroke 125s and 250s dictates one or two ultraquick downshifts and a little off-throttle speed scrubbing with the front. This was a great test for the slipper clutch, and I found I could kick it down twice and ease out the clutch, with no worries and with no attention diverted to rev matching as I arced in tighter for the apex. That's impressive. Think about it. Cranked over...120mph...30mph cross wind...tumbleweeds passing you on the inside...and you need to downshift twice without upsetting the bike. OK, forget what I said. Don't think about it. Just do it. It works that well.

It's probably worth noting that at one point early in the day I accidently downshifted the bike while coming down the hill from Turn 4 (I'm used to running a race shift pattern on my GP bikes). I was accelerating out of Turn 4b and went to grab a gear...oops! Street pattern! The wheel spun a bit and the bike slithered its tail in response. Nothing violent and nothing to really mention - except that if the slipper clutch hadn't been working so well I would probably be writing this article from a hospital bed.

One thing for sure is that this screaming banshee loves to spin. The engine just isn't happy unless it's on full boil. It lives to go fast, just like you do. So fast that it's actually hard to remember that it's OK to rev that high. That is until you realize the howling screams of delight are actually coming from the bike. Effective feedback to say the least. Keep the revs low around infants, birds, and those faint of heart.

The big track was also a good testground for Yamaha's new "chipped" throttle - the fly-by-wire throttle that everyone's been talking so much about. The combination of very fast turns and a small technical section showcase this effective technology. The YCC-T is flawlessly programmed to translate your wrist angle into an injected mass of fuel. And that's really the operative word - translate. Since there is no direct connection between the throttle and the throttle bodies some kind of interpretive mapping is taking place. The possibilities seem endless. The quarter turn throttle could conceivably be programmed with a different response curve for different gears (and potentially even different riding styles). Imagine a throttle that maps a wider range of small throttle angles in the lower gears (e.g. for fine control exiting turns in low gears) vs. a finer range at wider throttle settings for higher gears and controlling power in fast sweepers. Yamaha is decidedly mum on the particulars, but given the processing power in the engine management system (dual 32 bit processors) there's got to be plenty of capacity in this regard, and I believe that this is exactly what's going on.

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post #2 of 4 (permalink) Old 02-21-2006, 05:48 AM Thread Starter
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Exiting some tighter turns like the uphill Turn 3 (3rd gear), the engine response to the throttle literally feels different than when feathering it in the fast 5th gear Turn 2, where you're seeking the limits of traction in a high gear. It's very difficult to put a fine point on it, but my impression is that the throttle responds unlike any bike I've ever ridden. You could say the throttle is "context sensitive". And it's so good that you really don't notice what's going on. There's not a hint of fuel management issues anywhere, and you can't confuse it. I did have some difficultly speed shifting (shifting without using the clutch) the bike in the faster bits - it seemed like I had to roll out of the throttle a tad bit more than I would on my racebikes, but I'm hesitant to attribute this completely to the throttle. Flipping the linkage to a GP shift pattern (the only request Yamaha refused for our test) would no doubt allow a smooth speed shift since the upshift action could be executed more quickly. It is probably a moot point, however, as most street riders are used to performing upshifts with the help of the clutch.

On the big track, the new R6 showed only two small weak spots: the first a slight traction issue at the entry of Turn 2. The bike was definitely primed and ready to go much faster, but an amount of squirm and an unsettled rear end kept me from granting its wish. This is more than likely a tire/suspension issue that could be completely tuned away. The Dunlop Qualifiers are not race tires, so to some degree this is to be expected. It's a testament to the new swingarm and frame geometry that such feedback was readily broadcast to my senses. As we shall see on The Streets, these tires are perfect for sport riding and for tighter, slower racetracks, but they're not the best choice for the likes of the ultrafast Willow Springs International Raceway.

The second weakness would be the lack of a steering damper. This wasn't a BIG deal, but it was somewhat of a factor in certain sections of the track. Racetracks with cresting turns or funky pavement at high lean angles make this important. I think the R6 gets away as well as it does by virtue of the "tuned flex" characteristics of the frame, but even at my conservative pace I could still end up with a little oscillation on the exit of Turn 9 (note that I didn't say headshake). I should mention that a steering damper for a street only R6 would be unnecessary, and probably a mistake. The bike steers wonderfully, and it would be a shame to slow that down when you don't need to.

Well, that's the little bike at the big track: fast, stable, hard braking, rev loving, and heavy breathing. It was time for fresh skins and a fresh track. The Breeze was out in full force, and any more testing on the big track would have been torture anyway. I'd only ridden The Streets twice before, many years ago, on my 125. I wasn't sure what to expect - you can get a 125 around The Streets like gangbusters, but you'll certainly work for it - shifting and braking and shifting and braking and shifting and braking...I expected a complete workout.

I couldn't have been more wrong. Riding the new R6 around The Streets can only be described as legal ecstacy. My first laps were a little awkward and I was getting bounced about quite a bit. So I did what I do on my racebikes - pick a different line around the bumps. Easy Peasy. Turns out I was riding a different bike than I had been before (easy to get confused with three test bikes in each color), so the Yamaha technicians dutifully took enough preload out for my 142 pounds and set the clickers accordingly. Back out on the track things improved immediately. No more slapstick comedy on my rear end, as the bike was returned to its well adjusted self.

Free to choose my lines and free to go as fast as I dared, I upped my pace a bit. That's when I noticed that not only did the bike steer without effort, I was able to reduce my fatigue because the bike had so much overrev. You might be tempted to charge each corner like Biaggi trying to take out a lapper on a hot lap, but such antics are totally unnecessary and usually counterproductive. I was able to go faster by simply relaxing, accelerating into overrevland (17,000+, uh, indicated) and getting lazy with shifts. I didn't even have to brake that hard, as I could let the engine take care of a lot of that. You don't ride like this in a race, but why should you wear yourself out on a track day when you're there to ride as long as you can as fast as you can? The economy of the decision is a no-brainer.

And it just got better. I came in, asked for some high speed compression damping to be taken out of the front and rear, and then went back out. Both ends are adjustable for preload, high- and low-speed compression damping, and rebound, and those little knobs aren't just bling, dude. They are connected to real stuff inside. Suspension like this doesn't come in cereal boxes, so it's another achievement from Yamaha to bring this to the table for the price that they did. Combined with the excellent geometry and good suspension, the lack of a steering damper was not a problem on this track (and may have even helped).

Relaxing to go fast is a tenet of roadracing. The riding position of the new R6 isn't exactly comfortable, but on the racetrack what makes you comfortable is not what makes you comfortable riding down the interstate. What makes you comfortable and able to relax is a strong connection between yourself and the contact patches. The R6 riding posture places your shoulders as close to over the triple clamps as possible and seemingly aligns your spine parallel with the frame geometry line of the steering head, swingarm pivot, and rear axle. It's on the extreme side for street riding, but it's a very good position for the track. I could stay low in the fast sweepers of the big track and keep my forearms resting on the sides of the tank to reduce the amount of my weight on the bars. Sitting more erect on The Streets, bar leverage was more than adequate for flopping the bike left and right.

Speaking of flopping the bike left and right, Yamaha went to great lengths to keep the center of mass low and centralized on the new R6. This was pretty obvious by the time we got to The Streets. Direction changes were...Easy Peasy. Some of the more sinuous sections of The Streets are more like tight esses than turns. Flicking back and forth, braking, accelerating out, braking and turning, all combinations feel like they are being done so close to the ground that the wheels are just changing direction and the bike itself is just something in between (rather than on top of) them. You could say the bike's mass is right in the bullseye.

The list of things the new R6 does well just gets longer and longer, so we might as well just keep adding to it. How about ground clearance? It's got plenty. This was obvious in some of the tighter sections of the big track and especially clear in the bowl section of The Streets. I don't think I touched a peg all day (feelers removed, natch) even midway through The Bowl with some pretty serious G-forces compressing the suspension.

The brakes that felt almost like overkill on the big track served the bike very well on the small track. At these speeds, this is a one finger braker. You just don't have to work hard to make this bike work hard. So take note if you're used to paleolithic brakes: do not, under any circumstances, grab four fingers of brakes. You, uh, won't do it again.

So it's pretty obvious that the R6 works extremely well on the racetrack. But does it make a better streetbike? Trackbike? Is it too race focused? Look at it this way. This could be the best trackday bike ever produced. Why? Because it's within a few microns of being a racebike already and you don't have a platform on which to build a great track bike - you have a great track bike already. What would you change? Suspension? Not at first - maybe the shock would fade some over time, but the bike has better forks than GP bikes of not too many years ago. You could save some weight on the exhaust, but you'd probably regret it, because the EXUP works so well with the fuel mapping to deliver some seriously smooth and controllable power. Maybe you could mount some fixed footpegs, flip the shift pattern, buy some cheap fiberglass bodywork, and take off the silly "docking station" turn indicator and brake light bracket (which Yamaha designed to be easily removable for just this purpose - same goes for the mirrors). Then for Christmas you'd ask for a steering damper.

In summary, the new R6 does everything Yamaha says it does (ignoring the tach) and does it as well as they say it does. Yamaha will likely sell tons of these bikes to riders who will never approach the performance limits of the new R6 - but they will look cool, nonetheless.

The 2006 YZF-R6 carries a suggested MSRP of $9,199-$9,499 (depending on color scheme) in the U.S. For more the details and specs visit Yamaha's web site.
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post #3 of 4 (permalink) Old 02-22-2006, 06:02 AM Thread Starter
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post #4 of 4 (permalink) Old 02-24-2006, 11:51 AM
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Last edited by Spliffy; 02-24-2006 at 11:53 AM.
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