By Barb Piatkowski
(photos by Wilfred Gaube)
So, what's the reward for not crashing your first test ride bike? Why, it's another test ride bike in the form of a 1999 Yamaha R6, no less!
No one was more surprised than I was when the call came in from Editor 'arris, that my second test bike was to be, reportedly, one of this year's greatest and most popular outputs from Yamaha. I didn't bother to question why I alone was selected from the hordes of test pilots er ... riders at the boss' disposal, I just found my way to Yamaha's test bike pick-up facility, and made note of Editor 'arris' one simple directive: DON'T CRASH!
WHATEVER YOU DO DON'T CRASH !!!!
When I arrived at Yamaha, I learned that the R6 garners a lot of attention, even from people that probably see it on a daily basis. It really is a sexy little number.
The first time you swing a leg over and balance it, you realise just how lacking in heft a 372 lb bike is. You also get one simple instruction from the Marketing Co-ordinator: DON'T CRASH!!!
With this, I was off to the gas station to fill the 17-litre tank. There is no manual reserve switch, just a small gas light that illuminates when the bike switches itself to reserve. When this occurs a counter called "TRIP F" appears under the digital speedometer and proceeds to count the kilometers done while on reserve. Very clever!
Fuel range proved to be about average, with mine being between 230 and 250 km before reserve.
During the gas station departure I attempted a tight U-turn manoeuvre, which allowed me to discover the one thing about this bike that I truly disliked: the bulbous gas tank which severely impedes tight, slow speed turns. Below 15 km/h, you really have to watch your wrist position, or you may end up doing what neither 'arris nor Yamaha wants you to do.
So, was it love at first ride for me? Well, frankly no but I was definitely developing quite a soft spot in my heart by the second tank of gas. It takes a bit to get comfortable with the lightness and quickness of this bike, (horsepower is reported as 120 at the crank by Yamaha). I found that it had to be coaxed out of and slightly pushed into turns. The 1380 mm wheelbase and 56-degree lean angle are definitely designed to corner, and do it well, but there is a learning process that requires respect and concentration.
The throttle responded smoothly and deliberately to the slightest input. With redline being at 15,500 rpm, there is always some "meat left on the stick." Once aboard the R6, there is a smooth delivery of power until about 7500 to 8000 rpm, then it begins to get "heart in your mouth" fast, and just keeps pulling and pulling until you get to "Editor 'arris" fast, at which point your head feels like it's going to pop off, since the windshield is shooting air directly at it. (How close can YOU get YOUR head to the tank?) .
Speed and engine temperatures are recorded via a digital readout, as are the two trip meters and clock. Although I began to get accustomed to the digital speedo, I'm an old fashioned girl who cut her teeth on dials, and found myself not liking it, or the temperature readout.
However, I am being very picky. As a daily bike the R6 has some excellent features, beginning with its overall appearance. Mine was the lovely Yamaha blue, with its bold white graphics. The frontal view is specifically appealing with its slanted dual headlights, (which I am told, are bright enough to blind you if you happen to be the bike in front at night). The 6-speed transmission, activated through the aluminum forged shift pedal is smooth and un-clunky, and I found it quiet and almost soft to operate.
The mirrors on the R6 are excellent, as far as sport bike mirrors go. There is no shake to them, they are an intelligent shape, and produce clear images of what you want to see. Bravo Yamaha, I know this one was a toughie.
Seating position is comfortable, with no aches or pains developing after time spent in regular traffic. Those of you used to sport bike ergonomics will have little to adjust to with the R6.
The brakes on the R6 are nothing short of phenomenal. They are the best brakes that I have ever experienced. Not only do they feel smooth and strong, but their response is deliberate and even a bit forgiving if you find yourself braking too late into a corner. If you've never been able to do stoppies, then the "dual 298 mm floating front disc brakes with one-piece four piston calipers" will have you mastering this important trick within minutes.
And what about those tires? Well, for me it took some convincing. After hitting a few hard bumps, I couldn't decide whether the tires had slipped, or whether the lightness of the bike had failed to absorb the bumps, so, it was off to an empty parking lot to figure it out. After riding the tires to the edges, (no, no knee downs after all, the instructions were NOT to crash), I was won over by the Dunlop D207's and had a renewed confidence in the R6's manoeuvrability and handling ease. You really do end up becoming one with the bike.
Unfortunately, when aboard a motorcycle that weighs less than the average Jerry Springer guest, the downside can sometimes be the lack of weight. This may result in your feeling less than one with the bike over some of life's harsher bumps. On the R6, my butt and feet lost contact on bumps that on my own bike would only result in bumping my butt. I also took some unexpected shots to the ovaries that I could have lived without, so be warned. A firm grip with the hands and springy knees will go far in adding to your comfort aboard this fierce little squirt.
The good people at Yamaha were kind enough to provide me with a spec sheet along with the R6 that had this: "Important Note: The YZF-R6 is a "no compromise" extreme performance sport bike. It is not intended for novice or inexperienced riders."
I couldn't agree with you more, Yamaha.
The R6 makes a good rider feel like a great rider. It is also a LOT of motorcycle for a suggested price of $10,899, and should be treated with respect. It got me out of a jam on the highway between a tractor trailer and a guard rail through it's quick squirting throttle ability, but it could also get you into a jam if your ego falls out of check.
By the end of my test ride, as Editor 'arris was insisting that he ride it before it went back to Yamaha, I was having a very tough time giving up the R6.
For those of you that are in need of reaffirming your R6 purchase, or future R6 purchase, check out the impressive stats after 'arris' Second View. Although this is not my all-time favourite bike, it certainly is all that, and a bag of chips.
SECOND VIEW By Rob Harris
As Barb mentioned, one condition of a CMG test ride is to make sure Editor 'arris gets a ride on the bike before it goes back. The other one is not to crash, at least not when you're on a CMG test ride (F3's in Georgia being the only exemption to this rule).
Having the R6 for a couple of days is woefully short on time for a full test ride, that's why this is a second opinion, a quick view if you like. Having read over Barb's piece, I think she about covered all the points I found. In fact, one of the first things she warned me about was to watch my bollocks. I thought I was about to get a quick swift kick to them for the 250 Marauder test ride last time, but what she was actually referring to the R6's tendency to get intimate with yer crown jewels during hard braking. And she was right. Even after a relatively gentle ride me jewels felt like they'd been lightly smacked with a paddle. Not too pleasant for me, but maybe a real bonus for some.
In typical sports bike fashion, I also found a lot of weight was carried on my wrists. Now, I should point out that I tend to be a bit sensitive in the wrist area. I seem to remember that the Honda CBR 600 F4 was a lot less heavy here. The fairing was also rather low, doing some protection work up to about 140, at which point it would transfer all wind to head buffeting duties. Here it was wise to adapt the balls out (as opposed to pummelled), tucked into racer pose.
With an extremely high (and noticeably vibration free) redline of 14,500 rpm, the R6 rather expectedly likes a good thrashin' but lacks much power below 4,000 rpm. As it quickly winds up to 8,000 rpm, there's a noticeable surge and another one at 12,000, lasting all the way to the redline. Fun? Yes. Addictive? Yes. Licence danger territory? Most definitely. The highest speed that I dared attempt was 220 Km/h and at that point it was howling like an F1 car. At 100 Km/h in 6th, the tach showed 5,500 rpm, giving a projected top speed of about 260 Km/h (presuming that the power could pull the gearing at this speed).
Having said all that, thankfully the front brakes were quite capable of inducing lurid stoppies and the rear brake well tuned to add something to the stopping equation without going into instant rear wheel lock, which was actually quite hard to do - with full effort trying.
Other general riding impressions include the general feeling that I was a bit too tall for the R6 at 6'4". My knees just fit into the tank recesses, but I generally felt a bit cramped. I also noticed that annoying tendency to knock my wrists against the tank during slow and tight cornering manoeuvres.
Overall, the R6 fits it's billing as little brother to the R1 well. Similar styling, but with a slightly less aggressive riding position, Yamaha don't seem to have lost anything in the downsizing process. While the R6 could well have the edge in the 600 'balls out' super sport market, the Honda F4 comes to mind as a bike with a bit more compromise, resulting in a more real world rideability. If you're thinking of laying down your cash on the Yam, then what you see is what you get and you will not be disappointed.
© 1999 Canadian
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