Yamaha YZF-R6 (2017) - first UK ride

Steve Rose
By Steve Rose

BikeSocial Publisher. Has been riding since before Frankie said ‘Relax’, owned more than 100 bikes and has written for, edited or published most of the UK’s best known bike magazines. Strangely attracted to riding high miles in all weathers, finds track days ‘confusing’ and describes the secret to better riding as ‘being invincible’. 

Last of the summer whine

It does 17,000rpm, feels like a million mph and can hit a sixpence on an apex. Yamaha’s 2017 R6 in 400 miles of Yorkshire sunshine is Steve Rose’s new favourite bike.

The short version

Yamaha’s 2017 YZF-R6 makes no more power than last year, weighs about the same and costs £1000 more. Thankfully, it’s worth every penny. In this class more power equals more revs and the last thing the old bike needed was more of that. Instead we get forks and brakes from the latest R1 for more accurate steering and a better ride quality, a new shock absorber with easier adjustment, ABS and traction control, to help keep you sunny-side-up and three switchable riding modes. That last one is the key to the R6’s new-found brilliance. In ‘A’ mode the throttle response is sharpened to give extra ‘wahay’ as you wind on the power. Simple, but very effective.  The new bike is also Euro-4 compliant and just happens to be (in this matt black finish, at least) probably the most beautiful motorcycle currently on sale.

On a pcp deal you can ride one for £2300 down and £128 per month for three years.

VIDEO: new for 2017 Yamaha YZF-R6
BikeSocial's Steve Rose gives his first impressions of the new 2017 Yamaha YZF-R6, the first in the UK.
Yamaha

The long version

Spare a thought for the piston. 18 miles into the motorway section of Bike Social’s daftest ever road test I start to wonder just how far these tiny slugs of alloy travel. With a cylinder stroke of 42mm, that’s 84mm per revolution, multiplied by the 10,000rpm we are currently doing and that’s 840,000 mm per minute, or just over half a mile. Imagine how fast you’d have to run to travel half a mile in a minute if your footsteps were only 42mm long?

And that prompts two more thoughts (it’s been a long ride); Given the amount of effort going on downstairs, if this were my bike I’d change the oil about every 20 minutes and, surely, with all that combustion, shouldn’t this thing have a radiator the size of a barn door?

It was my idea to do 400 miles in a day on the R6. Fed up of everyone writing off the 600 class as being gutless, uncomfy irrelevant and killed by Euro 4. The last one is correct, sadly, but Britain is full of sports 600s – I hear hundreds of them come past my house every weekend – and I have nothing but great memories of them, even if it has been almost ten years since I last rode one.

Time to put that right. 

Leg one – Lincolnshire and beyond

The problem with living just a mile and a half from some of the best biking roads is that when me and R6 hit the first set of curves I’m still in my metaphorical pyjamas. Sleepy eyes are watering, muscles not yet unfurled around the Yamaha’s compact riding position and regretting not having that final wee. Thankfully, the R6 has my back. Misjudge corner entry, see apex late, half-heartedly slap inside handlebar. Blimey. That was easy. A sports 600 is a comfy pair of slippers to a generation of UK riders only now, the giggles start at 10,000rpm these days when it used to be 7500.

First impressions are this is a fast bike. I’d been lulled into believing it’d be sluggish; hard work, revvy and gutless. But the throttle feels sharp, building speed quicker than I remembered. Fuelling and ignition technology have come on massively since the R6 (or any sports 600) last had a serious update. This is state of the art and it works faultlessly…almost. The only niggle is a clumsiness just off a closed throttle. Add in the sharp clutch action and it’s easy to kangaroo out of junctions like a novice.

Yamaha R6 test - 03

Riding a (litre) superbike is like fishing with hand grenades – fun for a few minutes, easy and surprisingly effective, but ultimately, just a waste of good fish.

Steve Rose, Publisher, BikeSocial
Yamaha R6 (2017)

20 minutes later I’ve reached the motorway, ten minutes faster than I expected. If you’ve never ridden the B1192, try and find an excuse. Not especially scenic, but challenging, brisk and a test for any bike.

I’m used to the riding position now. Imagine that exercise in PE where you stood with your back against the wall and slid down till your knees made right angles. Remember how your muscles burned after ten minutes? Now imagine doing that for seven hours while being kicked repeatedly up the arse and holding a hand grenade with the pin missing. That’s about it.

This is a test route, not the world’s greatest ride and each section measures different things. Fast, busy A-roads test overtaking ability, urban miles for the comfort and agility, bumpy b-roads question roadholding and the tight, smooth twisties measure ultimate sportiness.

There are two motorway sections; this one on the way out and the other, 350 miles in, on the way back. That’s the killer, but right now, 19 miles from the first stop, I need the loo. So, obviously we get overbanding, stutter bumps and raised lines where the M180 joins the M18. I look right and see one of those enormous field-watering devices pulsing like an elephant with a dodgy nose-prostate. Not funny. 

Leg 2 – Ripon to Hawes

The A6108 is a riot of ups, downs, bumps, jumps and blind, sharp corners. Peppered with tractors and caravans, testing every single element of engines and chassis. And the R6 is lapping it up. Short-shifting between third and fourth gear, revs around 8000rpm, staying off the brakes and flicking the bike hard into blind turns, using even blinder faith in its ability to take more lean if required.

I’m surprised how little lean we’re using. Knee down is nostalgic piffle, swapped for subtle shifts of body weight, wide, arcing lines and trust in modern tyres.

That guttural rasp from the enormous central snout, feeding an airbox the size of bagpipes. There’s a connection here that doesn’t happen on a superbike. On those I feel like a passenger, here it’s a partner. Butch and Sundance, Jake and Elwood, you know what I mean.
2017 Yamaha YZF-R6

The bumps are interesting. Yamaha fitted forks from the R1 and a new rear shock too. The ride quality here is harsh but consistent; lift your arse and ride like a jockey. The bike stays on line and the bars don’t flap. There’s plenty of adjustment if you want a softer ride and, if I had more time, I’d fiddle, but this is manageable.

On the map theses roads look perfect, but in reality the blind corners and steep climbs challenge the power delivery of a peaky, 17,000rpm motor. The R6 pulls cleanly from 2500rpm in high gears even on an ascent needing crampons. Modern fuel injection is a wonderful thing.

Entering Aysgarth village I flick the mode switch from ‘A’ back to Standard, which numbs that initial power delivery but reduces the snatch at low revs. Yamaha’s YCCT makes clever use of the ride-by-wire. Standard is linear; 50 per cent twist gets 50 per cent throttle. In ‘A’ mode, 50 per cent twist gets 70 per cent throttle and in ‘B’ mode (softer for wet riding), 50 per cent twist gets 30 per cent throttle. Simple, but very effective – in ‘A’ mode it feels like a 750.

Leg 3 - Hawes to Pool-in-Wharfedale

Lunch at the Penny Garth caff in Hawes is what looks like four breakfasts piled onto one plate. I’ll never eat it all, but somehow do and in the process negate all the valiant effort Yamaha’s engineers made to offset the extra weight of Euro 4’s requirements. The extra ballast will help over the jumps on the upcoming B6425.

Four hours in and I’m feeling good. No aches or pains, still loving the R6 more with every mile and the next stretch, to Ribbblehead, Settle and Pool is my favourite. The Hawes – Ribblehead road is as close to the TT’s Mountain section as anywhere on the mainland. Open, sweeping corners, well-surfaced and fast if you feel like it. The locals are quick – don’t try and race them, sit up and enjoy the view.

Obviously, I’m not taking my own advice. This is the section where we should be clicking – man and machine in perfect cliché…or summat. But I’m still not quite getting it right. Still shifting up too early, still finding myself in fifth or sixth gear at 8000rpm when I ought to be in third or fourth. Riding bigger bikes has made me lazy. I’ve forgotten how to ride a 600 properly.

To be honest, I thought I was done with sports bikes. A few years back, a summer on a sporty magazine saw a team egging eachother on to dafter and riskier challenges. One such moment (also on an R6 as it happens), trying stupidly to set a 100mph nocturnal lap of the UK’s motorway network, was enough for me. The morning after I looked in the mirror and said ‘no more’.

Weirdly, I’m wearing the same leathers today as on that trip and even more weirdly, I’m feeling the same connection with this R6 as I did with that one. This one is prettier though. If it had rolled out of Ducati or MV we’d all be coo-ing over it. Some of the detail is just beautiful and this matt black finish is the icing on the cake.

And then there’s the noise. The sound of this thing razzing through the hills at 12,000rpm puts the rider in their own TT onboard video fantasy. Suspension chatters, eyeballs resonate, knees, arse and elbows become shock absorbers and every single happy gland dumps buckets of adrenaline and endorphins into your system making you giddy, high and terrified at the same time.
Yamaha YZF-R6

How to make a 2017 YZF-R6

The engine, frame and swing-arm are carried over from the 2016 bike, but the electronics controlling the motor are all new, bringing state of the art control to what was already a very effective engine. Six-stage traction control operates from the left hand switchgear, three selectable riding modes on the right. And that’s it for buttons. The new clocks display the relevant info on these systems and now have a gear indicator too, but otherwise remain simple, clear and very easy to use.

The fuel tank is now made of aluminium, saving 1.2kg, part of a raft of weight saving measures that offset the extra mass of the additional catalyst in the exhaust for Euro-4.

The new magnesium subframe has been designed to lift the seat slightly and move the riding position forwards and the switch to LED lighting means less power consumption, needing a smaller charging system and lighter battery.

Forks and brakes come from the YZF-R1 and a revised shock absorber now adjusts preload with locking rings via a C-spanner. ABS is standard.

The new bodywork, based on Yamaha’s M1 Moto GP bike is more aerodynamic and the indicators are now in the mirrors.

Yamaha YZF-R6 details

We stop at Ribblehead for the obligatory photo of the viaduct. I hear now that if you don’t take a photo they send you on a ‘viaduct awareness course’. Too right, it’s one hell of a fancy bridge.

Settle to Skipton is twisty and always busy – peppered with solid, white lines and a real test of overtaking agility. You get split-seconds to see a pass and make it safely Head-down, bum-up sports bikes do badly here and the R6 is no exception although it is surprisingly nippy when a gap does appear. Arms, wrists and knees are aching as we pass the 300 mile mark. Thankfully the B6451 s there to put a smile back on my face. Ten more miles of head-down, knees-out motorcycle pilates; apexes hit with a precision this rider rarely manages.

Leg 4: Pool to home

Heavy traffic on the afternoon school run is the last thing I need. Six miles of dawdling people carriers have the same effect on my broken ageing body as being simultaneously beaten up and stamped on. Neck, wrists, knees and back are all crying out for mercy, but it all disappears the moment the road clears.

The last stretch is 35 miles of Lincolnshire’s other greatest B-roads and this is where it all comes together. Nine hours after leaving home, seven of them in the saddle and I’ve got it; third gear, 14,000rpm, the world’s noisiest, fastest and most aggressive twist-and-go. The acceleration up here is stunning and the throttle response is lightning fast. On, off, quick, slow…boy, those new brakes are powerful. The way the engine works with the chassis, the riding position and the brakes is phenomenal. Little things like the clocks being simple enough to read in a split second. The slick quickshifter changes up in a moment and, time it well and you can downchange without the clutch as well.

These are the miles when it all comes together. This is why 600s still matter because right now, this is not a poor-man’s 1000cc superbike, not a stepping stone or the easy option. This is the bike you buy because you’ve learned your craft, done the miles and now have the skills to ride one. Seriously, riding a superbike is like fishing with hand grenades – fun for a few minutes, easy and surprisingly effective, but ultimately, just a waste of good fish.

This is riding, this is living every single moment, this is like no other experience on earth. Wow.

If you buy things based simply on the numbers, like a fridge, or a bed, or a car, then yes, maybe you need the biggest, fastest bike too. 

But bikes are different. Bikes are a daft, irrational, passionate decision and buying a 2017 R6 is about as daft, passionate and irrational as it gets. In the same way as spending several thousand quid restoring your first big bike, building the worlds least practical cafe racing street scrambler or still trying to squeeze into your 20 year old leathers for a road test.

The case against 600s goes like this. The 1000cc bikes have had all the development over the last few years and now make 30% more power than they used to, with all the fancy electronics and now weigh the same as a 600.

Which is true, but they also cost much fifty per cent more money for no more actual speed. Believe me...there was a lot stopping me going any faster today but none of it was down this being 'just' a 600. 

Home. I stop for fuel and almost drop the bike. My legs are weak, every part of me is frazzled. I feel like those riders you see at the end of a 24 hour race. That much living for £128 a month? Where do I sign?

Scuffed fuel tank - invest in a protector

Photo: the marks polished out but if you order the matt black version you might wish to invest in a tank pad too

TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS: YZF-R6

Engine Type

Inline-four cylinder, 4 valves per cylinder, dual overhead cam, water-cooled

Displacement

599 cc

Bore x stroke

67 x 42.5 mm

Compression ratio

13.1:1

Power

120bhp @ 14,500 rpm

Torque

44 lb-ft @ 10,500 rpm

Emissions

Euro 4

Consumption

41mpg (tested)

Frame

Alloy twin spar

Front suspension

Upside down 43 mm fork (preload, compression and rebound adjustment)

Front wheel travel

120 mm

Front wheel

Cast Aluminium, 3.50" x 17"

Front tyre

Bridgestone S21 radial 120/70 ZR17

Rear suspension

Monoshock; adjustable preload, compression and rebound

Rear wheel travel

120 mm

Rear wheel

Cast Aluminium, 5.5" x 17

Rear tyre

Bridgestone S21 radial 180/55 ZR17

Front brake

Twin 320 mm fixed discs, 4-piston radial calipers, ABS as standard

Rear brake

220 mm disc, 2--piston caliper, ABS as standard

Wheelbase

1375 mm

Rake

24 °

Trail

97mm

Fuel tank capacity

17 L – 3.8 gallons

Wet weight*

190 kg

Seat height

850 mm

Max height

1150 mm

Max width

695 mm

Max length

2040 mm

Number of seats

Dual seat

Warranty

24 months unlimited mileage

PRICE

£10,999

Photos: Jason Critchell

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