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2005 Yamaha YZF-R6: MD First Ride

The 600 supersport class has become a vicious game of leap frog in the past decade. Content to make changes every four years (and sometimes not the biggest changes) more than a decade ago, the industry has decided that 600cc supersport machines must be updated every two years — sometimes significantly — and replaced every four years.

2005 marks the two-year “update” stage for Yamaha’s popular R6. MD was invited to test the 2005 model on Southern California’s Angeles Crest Highway with several other journalists last week. Before getting to that riding impression, let’s go through the updates Yamaha made to the R6 for 2005.

If the R6 had a flaw last year (it didn’t have many — it won more than one 600cc sport bike shootout), it was that, under racing conditions, the conventional forks could flex and feel a bit imprecise. Not a big deal on the street (if even noticeable), but for track use and racing, upside down forks seem to add that little bit of extra stiffness and precision needed for confidence in the front end.

The most noticeable change to the 2005 R6 is the switch from a conventional fork to an inverted fork, and the attachment of a radially-mounted brake caliper to the lower legs of that inverted fork. Yamaha also went from a 60 series sidewall on its front tire to a 70 series (i.e., taller) sidewall to compliment the suspension change.

Other visual changes include minor styling adjustments to the under/inner cowling, the headlight lens, and a new front fender.

In the back, the shock receives a new “relay arm”, which changes the rate of progression of the shock, and also raises the seat height by 10mm versus the 2004 R6.

More about that new front brake. The discs are now 310mm (versus 298mm last year) and the master cylinder is a Brembo-style radial pump (same as the master cylinder found on the 2004 R1). The 2005 R6 also gets the same four-piston calipers from the 2004 R1. Yamaha’s goal was greater power with improved feel and linearity (progressiveness).

Yamaha paid attention to the engine for 2005, as well. With throttle-body bore increased to 40mm, re-shaped air funnels and a re-tuned ECU, Yamaha claims peak power is increased by three horsepower, while low-end and mid-range match that of the 2004 R6 engine.

Holding the 2005 R6 together is a stiffer frame — again, designed to provide greater precision and responsiveness during aggressive riding.

MD sent Jeff Whitmer to ride the R6. Jeff has owned and raced 600s before, and has a pretty good knowledge base for judging the performance of the 2005 R6.

The two primary changes made by Yamaha to the new R6 chassis provide a noticeable improvement. The inverted fork has excellent valving and spring rate (even for Jeff — who is well north of 200 lbs.). While the R6 still carves corners like a champ, the new fork provides much greater confidence entering corners (resisting dive better than the old bike — and at mid corner, feedback is improved). Overall, Jeff felt the valving and spring rates were just about perfect — the forks felt like a good after-market tuner had already done his magic.

Even more than the fork, the new front brake set-up impresses. You would expect a massive increase in power going from a conventional caliper mounting to radial mounting, while simultaneously increasing brake disc diameter. That is just what Jeff experienced. The front brake is phenomenal, combining huge power with excellent feel and progressivity. Quite possibly the best brake yet on a stock sport bike!

It isn’t that easy to feel three horsepower when current 600s make more than 100 horsepower at the wheel. Jeff felt the engine was strong, and drove well off corners (reflecting a powerful mid-range). He did not notice a significant change in the already-impressive R6 top end. Perhaps, one would need to ride the 2005 model back-to-back with the 2004 R6 to tell much of a difference.

Sometimes careful refinement results in a better bike than complete replacement. After our first ride, it is clear that Yamaha did an excellent job updating the 2005 R6. The suspension and brake changes will be appreciated by all, not just track riders and racers. While the added stiffness from the inverted fork might not be appreciated in everyday riding, the superb set-up of that fork should provide benefits everywhere, and no one will fail to notice the power and feel of the new front brake.

While the competition never stands still in this class, Yamaha comes to the plate with an excellent 600 supersport model again this year. U.S. MSRP will be $8,399 ($8,499 for the “Raven” color) when the 2005 R6 hits dealers in November. Take a look at Yamaha’s web site for additional details and specifications.