by Neale Baylyroadtestlogo

Something just won’t allow me to believe drinking a can of Red Bull is legal! How can anything that comes from your local store and makes you feel so good not be against the law? I have to admit to being a little puzzled about the weird tasting liquid that comes in the small can and for some reason find myself feeling the exact same way about the new Yamaha 2003 R6. It has turned me into a shift-light junky, a 16,000-rpm user, a second gear power wheelie addict and the best part is, it is available over the counter.

All new for 2003, the Yamaha R6 has arrived on the scene to some very fierce competition from the Kawasaki’s ZX-6R and the Honda CBR 600RR. With the ZX-6R’s upside down forks, radial brakes and close ratio gearbox and the “race to street design” of the CBR, the R6 is certainly going to be kept “honest.”

Starting with the sleek new frame, Yamaha shaved off 500 grams of weight while increasing the torsional rigidity to the levels of a YZR-R7 Superbike. By using a casting process that forces the aluminum under high pressure into the mold, only two welds, as opposed to the previous model’s sixteen, are required to join the two frame pieces. Attached to this, in my humble opinion, is the slickest looking swing arm to grace a stock motorcycle. Longer, by 10mm at 575.5mm, it is 2.5mm in thickness at its thinnest point and is produced by a new process that is a first for a production motorcycle: “Controlled Filling Aluminum Die Casting Technology.” To offset the extra length, it is now mounted an equal distance closer to the counter shaft sprocket, which also helps reduce chain tension under acceleration.

Tucked into the satin black swing arm is a new five-spoke wheel that has been lightened as well as strengthened. It rolls on a super sticky 180/55 ZR 17 Dunlop D208 Sportmax radial and has a 220mm disc that gets worked on by a two-piston caliper. I could not possibly fault the tires on the street and liked the rear brake, as there is a fair bit of lever travel before lock up.

Up front, the same design that treats the spokes and the hub as one structural unit is used on the front wheel and it rolls on a 120/60-ZR 17 Dunlop D208. Twin 298mm discs grabbed by one-piece four-piston calipers handle braking duties. They are actuated by a five way adjustable lever and have a nice feel for trail braking or parking lot control. Once it gets the pistons biting though, hang on. The incredible rate in which they haul the diminutive Yamaha to a halt borders on painful.

review57aNo earth shattering changes to be found with the conventional 43mm cartridge fork, although the inner tube is now thinner. Adjustable for pre-load, compression and rebound damping, the stock settings were the perfect combination for canyon carving and freeway droning. What has been changed is the offset of the triple clamp by 5mm. Wheelbase remains the same though as the steering head has been positioned 5mm further forward to help give the new Yamaha R6 a greater sense of stability from the front end. Does it work? You bet! The front end feels totally planted in any situation and doesn’t exhibit any nervous feeling mid corner. Getting on the gas hard or flicking the bike side-to-side in the tight twisties leaves me no room for complaint either and I will be interested to see what it is like under track conditions, as it doesn’t come with a steering damper.

As far as I can tell,there are no major changes to the rear shock and it is fully adjustable in all the usual ways. Stock settings work just fine for me and outside of a bit of rear end beating on some extremely rough interstate sections, there are no moans from this corner. It handles manic acceleration out of the turns with ease and if you can induce any wobbles and weaves on public roads, you probably need to join the overachievers club or get some therapy… it is that good!

Moving the R6 down the road at speed, gaining 3 ponies over last year’s model for a total of 123 hp @ 13000 rpm. This has been achieved in a number of ways, the most dramatic change being the switch from carburetors to fuel injection. Utilizing the same system found on the R1, the suction-piston style fuel injection uses no less than seven sensors to monitor its progress and keeps pumping fuel all the way up the Yamaha’s giddy 15500 rpm red line. The air box has been enlarged from 7.3 to 7.6 liters and the throttle bodies have grown to 38mm from last year’s 37mm. Air is forced into the enlarged box through a central intake located between the headlights, which has undergone some surgery to optimize the flow and increase the air pressure. Once the fuel in the cylinders, it is ignited by iridium spark plugs fired by new direct ignition coils.

Inside the engine, bore and stroke remain the same, with an increase in compression ratio and some combustion reshaping to increase intake and exhaust efficiency. The cylinder is die-cast with no sleeve for reduced piston friction, better heat dissipation and a more accurate shape. The intake cam now gets a little more lift and is a major contributor to the increased horsepower, especially in the mid-range. The crankshaft has enlarged passages between the cylinders to reduce the fluctuation in air volume caused by the pumping action of the pistons. To further save weight and increase strength, the cylinder and crankcase assembly are a one-piece design.

All of this high revving, horsepower generating action also builds up a lot of heat and a larger, curved radiator design Jim Miller implemented to deal with it. It features a “ring fan” around the outside of the fan that Yamaha claims improves the cooling by 10 to 40 percent. It is also located to the side of the radiator which seems to make more sense; now more cooling fins pointing straight at the oncoming air.

Exhaust gases are dealt with by a quiet sounding four-into-one exhaust system that, like just about everything else on the new R6, has review57bbeen redesigned to save weight and improve performance. Weighing in around 2 lbs lighter than last year’s model, the system is made from a mixture of aluminum and titanium. The specially shaped down tubes, for reduced noise and smoother flow, are double-walled for reduced bluing and are packed with glass wool converging into the conventionally mounted, single muffler. This has its own host of features which include a honeycomb catalyzer to deal with the unburned fuel as well as the regular catalytic converter. This not only meets the new EU2 standards it surpasses them with no loss of power.

Visually, the bike is simply stunning from any angle and made for a photographer’s dream during some beautiful, sun-filled days out in the California Canyons. Slicker-looking bodywork, with new “engine revealing side cowls” and a more compact tail section compliment the Gatling bean multi-reflector headlights. Giving the ’03 a new face, this is the last thing a lot of people will see in their rear view mirrors before it goes past. The net result of all these changes is improved aerodynamics as well as looking might fine. In terms of wind protection it is not too bad, with most of the blast being taken square in the chest (I am a little under six foot). This worked nicely on the highway as it took some pressure off my wrists and shoulders. Tuck in and you are in another world as the wind goes clean over you and the only sounds are the mechanical symphony being played out underneath your chest.

The view from the cockpit is clean and uncluttered and the instrument control panel is very compact and efficient. To the right is a round white-faced tachometer that has an unbelievable 18,000 rpm marked for the upper limit. The redline starts at 14, 750 rpm and next to the tach is the shift light that lets you know it is time to select another gear at 14,250 rpm. On start up, the bike idles at 2,000 rpm before warming up and settling down to 1,500rpm. The speedometer is digital and has a temperature gauge above and an odometer and trip meter below. There are a couple of trip options available and I even managed to figure out how to use the select and reset buttons, so it can’t be too hard. Below the gauges there is a half moon shaped row of warning lights, neutral lights, etc., and the whole plot gives off a warm glow at night. “Tres chic.” The mirrors are ok; I’m unsure of a sport-orientated bike these days that does not give a clear, unobstructed view of my elbows and the R6 is no different, so to get a good look behind, it is necessary to tuck the offending arm slightly.

Out on the highway, I was amazed at the tractability of the R6’s engine; I constantly found myself looking for an up-shift on the freeway, only to find myself already in top. Progress is quick, not rapid, under 70 mph in top, but once over the legal limit little six takes off like a scolded cat without so much as a down shift. Drop to second at this speed and you will find yourself looking at the sky as everything disappears behind you at an alarming rate and it will be interesting to see what the six will do in the quarter mile. Around town, you can run the rpms as low as you like and the perfect fuel injection will let you open the throttle anywhere, anytime without missing a beat. Of course, everything starts happening a lot quicker once you pass 8,000 rpm and the bike pulls hard till red line at this point but, for riding conservatively in traffic, the R6 makes a good friend.

The foot pegs are now 5mm further forward for better weight distribution to the front end. They are certainly high and the bars are low, but I found the overall ride package a lot more comfortable than I had thought. You are not going to want to go touring on this thing, but do not despair if your favorite set of twisties are a few hours away, the suspension is not going to beat you to death on the way. I did not keep much of an eye on gas mileage, other than getting the fuel light to come on at around 120 mph after some serious throttle abuse in the deserted canyons.

Weighing in at 8 lbs lighter than last years model, producing 3 more horsepower and costing the same, $7999, Yamaha has done everything in their power to top the sales chart with the 2003 R6. I am off to get some therapy, or at least a support group that can understand my deranged ramblings about shift lights, 16,000 rpms and 2nd gear power wheelies. I am trying to get over the separation anxiety that has plagued me since turning the bike back in to Yamaha, as well as the need to hear the four cylinders howling while the road gets sucked toward the fairing in fast forward. Nothing I have ridden can be so mercilessly thrown into corners with such confidence, and nothing I have ridden has left me so badly wanting more. But until my local Yamaha dealer starts taking in kids or dogs on trade, I am stuck with Red Bull.

by Sev Pearman

Just when you think you own the perfect bike, you ride something like the all new Yamaha R-6. I prefer sport touring. While it is nice to bang out 700-odd miles without feeling tortured, I don’t want to forsake performance for civility. Running just one tank of gas through this injected beast made my ultra civil ST 1100 feel like a clapped out ‘Wing laden with parade lights.

Yamaha is out for blood and has set their sights on Honda for the past few years. They have released several performance-focussed models including the original YZF R-1, the Warrior power cruiser and the FZ-1 super standard. With these and other models, Yamaha raised the bar on perceived market levels of power, engineering, style, fit and finish.

Honda was caught catnapping and lost measurable market share to their largest Japanese competitor. Yamaha wants respect, and through engineering and marketing have generated big sales in the US market. Honda scrambled and is playing catch-up with their “Performance First” campaign.

For those into 600cc sportbikes you already know that Yamaha took their formidable first generation R6 and significantly revamped it for this year. Carbs were tossed in favor of 38mm throttle-body fuel injectors. More power and torque were juiced out of the motor. Precious grams were shaved from engine, chassis and bodywork. It is obvious that Yamaha is serious about creating the best 600cc sportbike, period.

The last small Yamaha I rode was the excellent (and still available) YZF 600. Since I haven’t ridden the previous R-6, I can’t bore you with compare and contrast details. We know that the R-6 screams, but is it civil?

review57cThe bike is small, a result of mass centralization and weight saving. Wheelbase is a paltry 54.3 in with a claimed weight of 380-odd pounds; call it 400 lbs, ready to ride. Seat height is a compromise at 32.3 in. This is low enough to enable many to reach the ground at a stop but high enough to provide some leg relief from the raised footpegs. The seat is flat with generous cutouts for your thighs. These enable you to plant your feet while stopped as well as hang off. While I was easily able to maneuver the R-6 around and pull my legs into riding position, the peg/seat distance is tight, and my 32-inch inseam legs consistently complained after an hour or so.

Yamaha stretched the ergonomics toward the performance end, and you feel it. I looked forward to the illumination of the fuel warning light (128-144 miles as tested) so I had an honest excuse to pry myself off the damned thing. Some will argue that this isn’t a bike for a middle-aged father, but that isn’t the point. I’m all about the virtues of Yamaha’s overlord FJR 1300 sport-tourer over the pure sport R-6. [see MMM # 55 (FJR) ed.]

One other thing, every time I fueled the R-6 one or two squidly types would inevitably appear and point out how ‘extreme’ was my bike, or that it was his second choice behind the Gixxer he bought. Uh guys, that would be Gis-ix-her or something, but it sure ain’t “Gixxer.” What do you expect from riders who are convinced that the Japanese characters for Yoshimura translate to “3-E-4-7?” As much as I wanted to stretch my legs, I made a habit of refueling quickly.

OK, so I have a gut and I’m not as flexible as folks in their 20’s. BFD. The R-6 is still a joy to ride. Once underway, it makes sense. The Yamaha is so little and so light it responds to your direction inputs before you do. I lapped my favorite 30 m.p.h.-posted 270º sweeper (sorry lads, I’m not tellin’ where) seven times in an attempt to hang off without unsettling the chassis. I never did get it. The machine is so responsive; it reacted to my upper body English long before I ever weighted a footpeg. This is the most precise-handling street bike I have ever ridden; and I now want serious track time.

I wasn’t about to abuse someone else’s stinky-new ride, so I religiously kept the tach below 8,000 rpm for the first 400 miles, and only breezed past 10K on occasion after that. Even at that strangled level, the motor impresses. There isn’t much torque below 5,000 rpm, but a measurable power spike could be felt at 7,000 and again at around 10,000 rpm. I’m still fantasizing about riding at the 15,500 redline where all 100+ horses are available.

Even with my 240 pound bulk and short shifting, I could easily loft the front wheel in both first and second using only throttle. It is hard to believe the R-6 weighs only 55 per cent of a ST 1100’s 735 pounds, yet sends more power to the rear wheel. Switching bikes, my ST felt more bulldozer than it did sport-tourer…

As with the rest of the bike, the cockpit is designed for weight saving. A small windscreen flows air to your helmet, provided you can review57dtuck that low. The white-faced tach gets top billing in the gauge cluster. A digital speedo incorporates two tripmeters, a clock and a mileage count-up function when you reach reserve. All gauges are backlit red at night.

The R-6 offers a programmable shift light, located above the speedo. You can set the shift point between 10,000 rpm and redline; select whether you want it to flash, remain lit, or be disabled; and even determine the lamp brightness. Read the manual or have your little brother explain the functions to you. The usual idiot lights are to the right of the tach and were of acceptable brightness.

The clutch is linked with a beefy cable (lighter than a hydraulic set-up) and the doglegged lever has no adjustment. Curiously, the front brake lever has a five position adjuster. Other cost savings appear upon scrutiny. While big brother R-1 has a steering damper, none is offered on the R-6. The retro tuning fork badges on the tank look chintzy and glued on, because they in fact are.

Despite these quibbles, the R-6 feels put together. Parts align and fit in a harmonious manner and the entire motorcycle appears integrated. Bodywork panels don’t squeak. Switchgear feels weighted and of good quality. $8,099 is a lot of money, but the R-6 remains a tremendous value.

My heart may belong to sport-tourers but I loved Yamaha’s full-on R-6. Once you negotiate your favorite twisty road unencumbered by mass and you feel the glory of unrestricted horsepower, you may never be content with the status quo again.

Mondo thanks to John Martin and the crew at Moto Primo in Minneapolis for their help with this story. Moto Primo offers special work to lower the R-6 and other bikes for riders who may be shorter in stature. It is a custom engineered and balanced approach, well beyond hastily lowered fork tubes and shaved seat foam. For complete information, contact Moto Primo at 612.729.7200


•Injected 100-plus horse assassin motor.

•Handles better than whatever you’re riding.

•World class fit and finish.


•Comfortable only if you are under 5 ft 6 in and/or 25 years of age.

•Real-world riding ability sacrificed to performance.

•Attracts squids better than a wet T-shirt contest

Wife’s First Reaction: “It looks like some kind of ‘Stealth Bike.'”

Selected Competition: Honda CBR600-RR, Kawasaki ZX-636, Suzuki GSX-R 600, Triumph Daytona 600 (pending)



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