Big Blue calls the 2017 Yamaha YZF-R6 a fourth generation motorcycle, but for those paying attention, it is obvious that Yamaha has merely taken its class-leading 600cc sport bike, made some refinements to the machine, and added an electronics package to the mix.
While there is disappointment that Yamaha didn’t bring as revolutionary of a debut to the YZF-R6 as it did just recently with the YZF-R1 superbike, we should state quite clearly that the Japanese brand continues its dominance in the 600cc sport bike realm with this most-recent addition to its lineup.
The recipe for the 2017 Yamaha YZF-R6 is straight forward, as the chassis and engine from the third generation machine carry on, with the notable exception of a new magnesium rear subframe.
Of course, the changes of real note come in the form of the added electronics: six levels of traction control, three riding modes via ride-by-wire, and (permanently enabled) anti-lock brakes.
Is it better than the last model?
With all these changes afoot, the question surely on everyone’s mind though is how big of a step is the 2017 Yamaha YZF-R6 from its predecessor? Fortunate for us, a 2016 Yamaha YZF-R6 was available to us for back-to-back comparisons. The answer might disappoint or delight, depending on your point of view.
After a handful of laps on the 2016 Yamaha YZF-R6, it was abundantly clear to us that the technical changes made to the 2017 model are modest at best, when compared to the 2016 machine. Electronics aside, the two motorcycles behave almost identically on the race track, with a couple notable exceptions.
Yamaha’s changes to the chassis, especially the front-end of the machine, do produce some different feedback results when pushed the right way and under the right conditions.
The stiffness changes made to the 2017 model are certainly an improvement, though maybe too subtle to matter to anyone that doesn’t ride motorcycles for a living. For the typical street or track rider, the 2016 and 2017 R6 motorcycles will feel exactly the same when railing through the corners.
However, bigger improvements can be found in the braking package, with the larger front brake discs providing noticeably more stopping power, and the Nissin radial master cylinder providing better lever feel. Where the 2016 machine feels wooden when you are on the binders, the 2017 edition modulates nicely.
Interestingly enough, the biggest surprise comes from the ABS setup on the 2017 Yamaha YZF-R6. It would be easy to chastise the Japanese manufacturer for not giving riders the ability to disable ABS on the 2017 Yamaha YZF-R6, but we were impressed with how Yamaha’s the ABS package intervened when pushing the front tire to its threshold.
If the differences from the 2016 machine are subtle to our eye, the reasoning for this might be based on the fact that the out-going YZF-R6 was already such a potent weapon.
And while we lament the lack of “new” that comes with the 2017 model, we also have to remind ourselves that the 2017 Yamaha YZF-R6 benefits greatly from the pedigree it so closely follows.
Scalpel sharp handling
Unsurprisingly then, we found that the delta box chassis provides excellent feedback to the rider, with handling characteristics that conjure words like “scalpel” or “telepathic” from motorcycle journalists.
The handling might be too good, in some respects, as the front-end can easily get out of shape as the load to the front tire decreases.
Yamaha has always walked closely to the thin line that separates the point where razor-sharp handling turns into twitchy front-ends. As such, owners will want to search for an aftermarket steering damper, and then feel confident that they have one of the best handling motorcycles on the market.
The 599cc engine creates similar compliments of its prowess, with the inline-four making predictable and smooth power. Of course like its predecessor, the 2017 Yamaha YZF-R6 doesn’t have anything going on engine-wise below 9,000 rpm – reminding us that riding modern supersports means keeping the needle at the top part of the tachometer.
In typical Yamaha fashion, the six-speed gearbox too on the R6 is smooth and decisive in its operation, and the installed slipper clutch makes aggressive down-shifts a no-drama affair on this pint-sized thoroughbred.
To ride this steed, you better be jockey sized though, because it is not like the YZF-R6 grew any bigger for the 2017 model year.
The new standard
If one was told to ride the 2017 Yamaha YZF-R6, without knowing the machines that came before it, and thus did not have the expectations that come from a 12-year hiatus, the results would be favorable. This R6 is unquestionably the new standard by which all other 600cc sport bikes will be measured – full stop.
The Yamaha YZF-R6 was already at the top of its class before this model year, and the 2017 model just became an even tougher act to follow.
MF NOTE: The stunning white and fluo yellow colour featured in these photos? It’s not available in the UK and Europe for the moment. But if you shout at @yamahamotorEU enough, we’re pretty sure they’ll relent.
New YZF-R6 Key Features
- Next generation R-series design
- Iconic YZF-R1 inspired face
- Pure race-bred DNA for class-leading style and performance
- Best ever YZF-R6 aerodynamics
- Sophisticated electronic control technology
- 6 level TCS to suit changing riding conditions
- QSS for faster full throttle clutchless upshifts
- 43mm YZF-R1 type front forks with YZF-R6 specific settings
- 320mm diameter YZF-R1 type front brakes with radial 4-pot calipers
- Slimline magnesium rear sub frame
- New angled seat
- Lightweight aluminium fuel tank
- Enhanced riding position
- EU4 compliant
YZF-R6 Technical Highlights
- 599cc, 67mm x 42.5mm, liquid-cooled, 4-valve, DOHC, 4-stroke, 4-cylinder
- Forged aluminum pistons, 13.1:1 compression ratio
- Titanium intake/exhaust valves
- Air Induction System and Yamaha Chip Controlled Intake (YCC-I)
- Twin-injector Yamaha Chip Controlled Throttle (YCC-T)
- Slipper clutch
- Close-ratio 6-speed transmission
- Magnesium head and case covers
- EXUP valves contributing to excellent torque characteristics
- Titanium exhaust silencer
- Aluminum frame and swingarm
Genuine Accessories line up
Yamaha offer a range of new and existing performance and styling Genuine Accessories for the 2017 YZF-R6, enabling owners to make it their own. The full accessory line up will be available when the YZF-R6 arrives in Yamaha dealer showrooms.
- Race Blu
- Tech Black
This is an edited version of an original article first published on Asphalt & Rubber; It’s republished here with permission.
Photos: Brian J. Nelson