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An Evolution Long Overdue

June 7, 2017
2017 Yamaha R6 Line

While others are scaling back 600 cc supersport production, Yamaha is ramping its up

Story by Costa Mouzouris

Photos by: Brian J. Nelson

There was a time not that long ago when 600 cc supersport motorcycles were the pinnacle of high performance. So popular was the category that the Big Four were redesigning their respective 600s every couple of years. And we’re not just talking plastering on new graphics – 600s were being completely made over from the ground up with new frames and new engines, and with each makeover they got lighter and more powerful. This frenetic pace in development was partially driven by the 600 Supersport class, which was at the time the most popular race class, with 600 cc machines filling race grids across North America. The cost of this rapid development must have been staggering, though worldwide sales made the expense worthwhile.

Riding a 2017 Yamaha R6Then the economy tanked in 2008, sapping the disposable income of the largest segment of buyers of middleweight supersport bikes – twentysomething males. Sales took a nosedive almost overnight. Yamaha, for instance, sold about 110,000 R6s in the U.S. in the first nine years of production, and only another 40,000 units in the nine years since the market crash. Race grids subsequently dried up, and motorcycle manufacturers rolled back on 600-class development. To give you an idea of just how much they rolled back, while the R6 saw three major updates in the eight years following its introduction, it’s been 11 years since the third-generation model rolled off the factory floor in 2006.

Perhaps more telling, Honda no longer offers the CBR600RR in Europe, and Suzuki is rumoured to stop producing the GSX-R600 when the next-generation GSX-R750 is introduced; the two were usually developed simultaneously. Nonetheless, Yamaha felt it was time to refresh the YZF-R6 for 2017. Although this fourth-generation R6 looks very different from the previous model, it’s actually an evolution of the model it replaces.

Why Change a Good Thing?

2017 Yamaha R6Aside from the reduced demand for 600 cc supersport machines, perhaps another reason that they haven’t been experiencing major overhauls every couple of years in the last decade is they had already evolved into very potent track bikes. From 2015 until this issue went to press, the R6 had recorded 56 wins out of 58 Moto America Supersport and Superstock races, as well as winning this year’s Daytona 200 – and that’s on a bike that hasn’t changed much since 2006, though to be fair, neither has the competition.

It’s for this reason, and perhaps because it’s more economically viable, that the 2017 YZF-R6 retains its major components, like the same 599 cc inline-four and aluminum deltabox frame as the previous model. The engine uses ride-by-wire throttle control (introduced in 2006, though it has been better exploited in the new bike), as well as twin injectors and electronically controlled intake stacks that help boost low-end torque. The R6 also retains the slipper clutch introduced in the previous-generation model. And that’s pretty much it – everything else is new.


Big Brother Styling

Racing on a 2017 Yamaha R6Styling is now modelled after the YZF-R1, which itself is modelled after Yamaha’s YZR-M1 MotoGP bike. The new bodywork is more efficient aerodynamically, with improved wind protection for the rider and reduced wind resistance. Tucked underneath the fairing’s nose are LED headlights, and in the new tailpiece is an LED taillight.

The fuel tank is now made from aluminum and is 1.2 kg lighter, and it’s reshaped at the rear for a more comfortable fit. The seat is also flatter and has less of a forward slant, so there’s less of a tendency to slide forward into the tank. 

The big improvement within the…

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