– Motorcycle News, Editorials, Product Reviews and Bike Reviews

Motorcycle News, Editorials, Product Reviews and Bike Reviews

2003 Yamaha YZF-R6: MD Street Ride

Although we did not get a chance to sample the 2003 YZF-R6 on the track, we rode the bike extensively on the street in various conditions — from freeway droning to canyon carving, and everything in between.

Before talking about our impressions of the R6 on the street, let’s go through a little R6 history and development. First of all, you may want to take a look at our 2003 YZF-R6 preview article, here. The changes noted in our preview article are a pretty good summary of what Yamaha has brought to the table with the new bike. The preview also contains some good photos of the new frame, swingarm and instrument panel.

The R6, of course, was the highly-anticipated little sibling to the YZF-R1 when it was introduced in the 1999 model year. Interestingly, Yamaha followed one of the most comfortable, streetable 600s ever (the 1996 YZF600R, Thunder Cat, which is still sold in the U.S., and which we reviewed on May 20, 2002) with the “no compromises” hard-core supersport R6. The 1999 R6 set new standards for the class in terms of lightweight, flickability and handling . . . although, the original-generation R6 was known for being a bit finicky with regard to rider set-up. Experts loved the bike, but some lesser-skilled riders found the handling nervous as they reached the edge.

In riding the 2003 R6, we took note of Yamaha’s efforts to refine the bike’s handling — particularly, with regard to both straight-line and mid-corner stability. Several of the chassis changes, including the relocated swingarm pivot, longer swingarm, dramatically more rigid frame, and changed fork offset, have done the trick. The new R6 seems just as light and nimble as the old model, without any of the nervous handling traits.

Yamaha’s claim that the new R6 has virtually the same torsional frame stiffness as its homologated superbike (the R7) is very significant for at least two reasons. First of all, it would make the R6 the stiffest 600 available (without the chassis reinforcement sometimes employed by racers). Second, Yamaha achieved this incredible-for-the-class stiffness while reducing the overall weight of the frame by approximately one pound. This was possible due to the employment of the new casting technique described in our preview article.

The ergonomics of the new R6 are similar to the old bike. That is, the bike is compact, but not necessarily cramped for average-sized riders. The reach to the bars is reasonably close, making the bike a bit more comfortable than the hard-core supersport label might imply. Wind protection is not particularly good, but it is on par with other stock supersport machinery.

The engine definitely seems to have taken a step up in terms of power and refinement. The new fuel-injection system (similar to that employed on the impeccably fueled R1) works extremely well, although the bike appears to run a bit on the lean side at lower rpm levels. Unlike some fuel-injected bikes, the R6 can be cold blooded, and requires some warm-up before optimum throttle response is available. With a solid, usable midrange coming on at approximately 4500 rpm, the bike just keeps pulling all the way to its stratospheric red line (15,500 rpm). There is no step in the powerband. It is extremely linear, but far from boring. The bike pulls hard and revs quickly (exhibiting a light flywheel effect).

Although we didn’t run the new R6 against the other 600s available this year, the power delivered by the R6 is easily competitive, and, perhaps, near the top of the class.

As we said earlier, the bike handles very well, with equally light steering, but more stability than the prior model. The rider can feel the chassis stiffness and, overall, the R6 feels like it wants to steer exactly where the rider points it.

The bike flicks from side-to-side easily, and the suspension has a firm, but reasonably streetable feel. Indeed, the stock suspension should handle track days well for average-sized riders without stiffer springs or re-valving.

The transmission seems to have taken a step forward. Shifts were solid and precise, if not buttery smooth.

Those great Yamaha brakes are back, and seem to have been improved, as well. They feature a good blend of initial bite, overall power and feel. As usual, the R6’s front binders have to rank at or near the top of the class.

Looking at the practical side of the 2003 R6, the slightly-lean fuel injection returns very good mileage (40ish) and those fancy looking “gatling beam” headlights actually do a pretty good job of showing you the way home at night.

In looking at the 2003 YZF-R6 as a total package, you have to conclude that Yamaha did a good job of retaining the features everyone liked about last year’s R6, while improving those features that could stand improvement. The bike now handles well for all rider skill levels, and should have a much larger “window” when it comes to setting the suspension up for track days and racing. The fuel-injected engine is smoother, more responsive and more powerful. The total package is well integrated and well thought out.

Let’s face it, the R1/R6 family of sportbikes have that extra bit of cachet, as well. The new bike bears a family resemblance that will tell your friends that you are riding one of the “bad ass” Yamahas. This bike has the performance to back that up. U.S. MSRP is $7,999, except for the Black-with-Red-Flames color scheme, which is $8,099.

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