Yamaha YZF-R6: Review, Specs and What to Look Out For

Published:

Production dates – 1999-2020
Race Production Only Model – 2021 to present

The Yamaha R6 is an institution among sportsbike fans, a motorcycle that exceeds what is expected of a 600cc sportsbike. 

It was the world’s first production four-stroke 600cc motorcycle that could produce over 100 horsepower.

The YZF-R6 was sold alongside the FZR600 and the YZF600R in the early days, but it would outlive both with its lengthy production run. 

This bike is an out-and-out sportsbike, begging to be pushed and challenged at every opportunity. 

In 2020 the R6 was pulled from Yamaha’s lineup, with Yamaha announcing that the model for 2021 onwards would be produced as a limited race-only model. 

This coincided with the 2022 release of the all-new R7. 

Let’s look at the YZF-R6, the bike that has dominated the track and street sportsbike segment for over 20 years. 

Yamaha YZF-R6 Review

1999 Yamaha YZF-R6 in the Yamaha Communication Plaza

With over 20 years in production, the YZF-R6 has had its fair share of changes:

  • 1999 – The very first model was released
  • 2003 – Model received new styling and a new chassis, 90% of the engine was revised with added fuel injection, and the bike was now significantly lighter
  • 2005 – More power, better performance, fresh styling, racetrack focused
  • 2006 – All new revised model, new engine, new chassis, new styling, ride-by-wire throttle, and capable of 127 horsepower
  • 2008 – Highest power-to-weight ratio of any R6. Also received YCC-I variable length intake
  • 2009 – Not a great model year; total power was down due to emissions regulations in various markets
  • 2010-2016 – Yamaha made all the changes necessary to improve the ‘09 model, increased torque, and clawed back some bragging rights as being the best in the class
  • 2017-2020 – The last of the YZF-R6s. Traction control, ride modes, and ABS as standard, the last generation got all the modern technology thrown at it
  • 2021 – The R6 is now only available in limited numbers as a race-only model

Engine and Transmission

The main thing to note about the YZF-R6 is that the engine is powerful, and it wasn’t just one test rider’s opinion that the bike was powerful back in 1999; the bike was proven to have more power than any other in the 600cc class. 

However, the later models from 2010 and then again from 2017 onwards are slightly less powerful so that they could meet the respective emissions regulations. 

The engine unit was a compact setup, a completely new engine design for the model. It ran an optimized ram-air induction system, direct ignition, and side-driven camshafts. 

The side-driven camshafts kept the engine width low and allowed equal space between the cylinders for matching heat dissipation. 

The effective engine cooling and heat dissipation were crucial in the new motor being a high-revving, high-performing unit. 

Yamaha announced on release that the R6 was their first bike equipped with a proper ram air system. 

The cold air is rammed at high pressure into the airbox, then into 37mm carbs into vertical inlet tracts, which then push the air/fuel mix into the high combustion chambers. 

The ram air system ensures the R6 can maintain the powerband at high revs. 

Yamaha built a one-piece crankcase that kept the engine smaller, lighter, and stiffer than previous units. It allowed the engine to be a fully-stressed member of the chassis. 

By 2001 the R6 received forged pistons for increased strength and efficiency. Shortly after the model received fuel injection with the added 40mm throttle bodies in 2005, the bike was hitting 126 horsepower. 

The power peaked in 2008 at 129 horsepower. In the previous year, Yamaha had fitted the bike with a new engine, and the biggest upgrades included YCC-T and YCC-I.

“The YCC-T system optimizes the relationship between the engine speed, intake airflow, and drive torque curve to give a smooth and controlled power delivery for such a high revving, high-performance engine.”

Yamaha Part

As a result of this work into the innovative class-leading engine, the R6’s motor was a raging bull that would race you to 165mph and leave you wondering how you got there. 

Power is limited down low, but that isn’t where the bike wants to be anyway; it needs you to get the revs up and fly through the six-speed transmission. 

The R6 is the bike that takes you to the redline and begs you to go even further (although I wouldn’t recommend that, as you will likely blow the engine).  

There can be no argument that even beyond the 2008 model, the R6 retained its high-revving, exhilarating ride, although it was toned down a bit. 

If you were to ride a 2017 model and then jump on a 2008, you would feel like the motor is breathlessly lacking on the newer version, which we all think is a shame, but emissions regulations dictate these things. 

Chassis, Suspension, Brakes

Yamaha built the R6 with a light aluminum, twin-spar, Deltabox frame, and the compact engine allowed an extra long swingarm. 

The original model had the shortest wheelbase in its class. 

For the first few years, the R6 was fitted with 43mm conventional cartridge forks that were fully adjustable. 

In 2005 the model got KYB inverted forks, inverted forks were then used until the last model year, but the brands varied, with Kayaba producing them for the previous generation. 

On the rear, a mono-shock piggyback reservoir that was either 4-way or fully adjustable has been fitted on the R6 since day one. 

Twin discs and singles on the rear made up the braking system, but through the years and as technology improved, the brakes improved, and stopping power slowly began to equal the engine performance. 

Handling, Comfort, Styling

So we know the bike has the power and a chassis to contain it, but what does that equate to on the road or track? 

Well, it is simple. Regardless of the model year, the R6 handles like the proper sportsbike. 

Yamaha is a race winner. They dial in to their race development to produce great handling sportsbikes. In the case of the R6, this was essential as they wanted to beat off any competition. 

Arguably the 2017 model onwards is the best handling R6, and adding rider aids like traction control, ride modes, and ABS as standard further improves rider safety. 

The latest model gave great feedback and feel. The brakes were up to stopping the bike with ease, and the chassis was agile, compact, and lightweight. 

Although, earlier editions can all likely stand up to the later bikes, particularly if you aren’t bothered about rider aids. 

The model is known as easy to ride and control; you can throw it into bends as much as you are comfortable doing and straighten it back up with ease. 

Precise steering and increased agility improved by the mid-2000s with better suspension, lighter chassis, and refined geometry. 

You are tilted forward, hunched over the tank, reaching for the clip-ons with your feet behind you in true sportsbike style. 

Is it comfortable? It is as comfortable as any sportsbike can be. 

Taller riders will feel cramped, but this is nothing new to riders familiar with sportsbikes. 

Shorter riders may find the seat height challenging but the light nature of the R6 compensates for that, with most riders quite easily being able to flat-foot the bike on at least one side without fear of dropping it. 

In terms of styling with a 20-year span, the YZF-R6 has gone through various stages, and personal preference will dictate the best choice. 

I think the 1999-2001 model years are the best, but I love 90’s sportsbikes and the R6 kind of rounded off that era in terms of design. 

Yamaha YZF R6 2006 red

Equally, the 2006 model was very sharp and aggressive, with a particularly striking yellow paint scheme, and in 2009 the special edition black and gold was pretty awesome. 

2017 model years onwards are the most modern in styling, which is what you would expect, big, muscular lines, sharp angles, and an aggressive front end.

Although I would argue that the R6 during this period looked like pretty much any other sportsbike out then, with only the standard Yamaha blue indicating what it was.  

How does it stand up against the competition?

The closest competition to the YZF-R6 has come from other big Japanese manufacturers: the Honda CBR600R, the Kawasaki ZX-6R, and the Suzuki GSX-R600

In later years, across some markets, mainly Europe, it stood in a class alone as the other 600cc bikes couldn’t meet emissions regulations to remain in production. 

In the US, we will probably start to see these bikes phased out, too, with a focus on 600cc race spec only models or a jump up to bigger capacities. 

The R6 has always stood alone as the ultimate 600cc. It seems to have had the edge over the competition in power and handling and was the first to exceed 100 horsepower. 

With that said, throughout the years, the ZX-6R may have had increased power and received rider aids earlier, the Suzuki was more affordable and accessible at some points, and Honda’s reliability will have attracted people to the CBR. 

The fact is that riders will have their own preference, and the fierce competition between the brands has existed as long as each of them has. 

Specs (2017 Model)

Engine and Transmission

  • Engine – Four-stroke, transverse four-cylinder, DOHC, 4 valves per cylinder
  • Capacity – 599cc
  • Bore x Stroke – 67 x 42.5 mm
  • Compression Ratio – 13.1:1
  • Cooling System – Liquid
  • Starting – Electric
  • Induction – Fuel injection with YCC-T and YCC-I
  • Transmission – 6-speed
  • Final Drive – Chain
  • Clutch – Multi-plate slipper clutch
  • Max Power – 116.7 horsepower
  • Max Torque – 61.7 Nm

Chassis and Dimensions

  • Frame – Deltabox aluminum frame
  • Front Suspension – 43mm KYB forks
  • Rear Suspension – KYB piggyback shock, 4-way adjustable
  • Front Brakes – 2 x 320mm discs, 4 piston calipers
  • Rear Brakes – Single 220mm disc, 4 piston caliper
  • Wheelbase – 1375 mm
  • Length – 2040 mm
  • Height – 1095 mm
  • Width – 706 mm
  • Seat Height – 850 mm
  • Wet Weight – 190 kg
  • Fuel Capacity – 17.5 liters/ 4.5 Gal. 

Buying One – What To Look Out For?

Prices for a YZF-R6 vary from $2,500 – $10,000. The variations come from age, limited edition versions, condition, and specs. 

When buying a good YZF-R6, there are some essential things to consider. 

  • Ensure you have researched the model years and the differences; we have covered much of that in our review section. 
  • Early models are rarer to find and, as a result, are more expensive.
  • You will quickly realize there are two types of bike from 1999-2001: the first will be a beat-up bike that has had a hard life and needs some TLC. The second bike will be in pristine collectors condition, and the owner will want you to dig deep in your pockets to afford it. 
  • The 2008 model is considered one of the best in performance, but this could be reflected in the asking price or condition. When you have the model year you want or even a rough time frame for models, you need to consider what to look for.
  • Sportsbikes, by nature, are treated quite harshly. Many will have suffered and pushed to their limits. This can reflect in cosmetic damage, oil leaks, faulty clutches, ruined gears, etc. 
  • Do basic checks for damage, get as much history and paperwork as you can from the previous owner for maintenance records and if possible (most likely with the later editions), buy from a dealer for the warranty.
  • Be wary of bikes that seem priced at a point that is too good to be true. This indicates that the bike has suffered some damage and is no longer useful to the owner. 
  • Be patient in your search for the right bike. 
  • Parts are easy to come by and affordable, so should you find a bargain that needs some repair, you could save yourself some money by getting out the wrench and getting the bike back to its old form. 

Final Thoughts

The R6, for me, is the ultimate sportsbike. It has full racing pedigree and has fulfilled many riders’ dreams of being a racer on a track day. 

It is a motorcycle that will be considered a classic in the future and belongs in the motorcycle hall of fame as a game changer for sportsbikes. 

Image Credits

Rainmaker47, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
No machine-readable author provided. P Stalder~commonswiki assumed (based on copyright claims)., CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons