This is my guide to buying a used Yamaha R6 (formally known as the Yamaha YZF-R6) — what to look for, what can go wrong, and the best models to buy.
The Yamaha R6 is known as the most uncompromising track-oriented motorcycle on today’s roads.
But buying a used Yamaha R6 is hard. They’ve been around for over twenty years! You’re probably wondering the same things I was, like:
- What’s the best year R6 to buy?
- How do you know if the R6 you’re looking at has been thrashed… or crashed?
- What problems does the R6 have? And how can you check?
- What alternatives are there to the Yamaha R6?
All this and more in my buyers guide to the Yamaha R6, one of the most incredible motorcycles you can put on the road today (if you can find one).
This post was originally published 14 July 2019. It has been significantly updated since then with much more detail, photos, and data.
As one of my favourite reviews (ever) put it:
Basically, if the YZF-R6 could be bottled and sold on street corners we’d end up junkies… trading in our homes for shopping carts, hanging around recycling centers, rummaging through trash bins for cans and bottles, anything to scrounge up enough cash for one more glorious hit at 15,500 revolutions per minute. Rehab be damned.” – Motorcycle.com on the 1999 Yamaha YZF-R6
Don’t worry. The rev limit has since increased from 15,500 to 16,000!
Are you obsessed with motorcycles?
Well, I am. That’s why I created this site — as an outlet. I love learning and sharing what others might find useful. If you like what you read here, and you’re a fraction as obsessed as I am, you might like to know when I’ve published more. (Check the latest for an idea of what you’ll see.)
Why Buy a Yamaha R6?
There are lots of reasons why a Yamaha R6 might be the motorcycle for you.
In a nutshell, you buy a Yamaha YZF-R6 if you want an uncompromising, race-winning, raw motorcycle that you can more easily (but still not easily) push to its limits than a liter-bike.
You buy an R6 if you value power, speed, and thrills all more than your wrists, license, or perhaps your life. (Stay alive, though.)
You can ride a Yamaha YZF-R6 every day. Many people do. Even though it’s not built for everyday riding, it’ll deal with it. In fact, sport bikes can be quite adept at navigating through traffic, as they’re so small and narrow.
You might also buy a Yamaha R6 because you want to ride a 600cc sportbike once in your life before the class is extinguished — something which is slowly happening, as the Yamaha YZF-R6 is no longer sold in a street legal form.
From my favourite review of the Yamaha R6:
“Never mind the bollocks, we’ll get right to the point: The Yamaha R6 kicks ass. It’s one of the most feral, thrilling, heart-pounding motorcycles we’ve ever ridden.” – Motorcycle.com, 1998
There’s also the aesthetic aspect. Even though sportbikes aren’t the practical choice, many people just like the look of bikes with fairings on them. They look fast! For people like that, a naked bike (with no fairings) just won’t ever cut it. (It’s interesting how divided people can be on this aesthetic point — there are many squarely on the other side of the equation.)
Obviously, you might also be interested in an R6 for track days or race meets. The R6 is a great choice for this kind of riding.
You could argue that any other 600cc-class motorcycle is, but according to the opinions of many forum dwellers, none come as close to “track-ready” as the R6 in stock form.
However, for many riders, how well a bike performs on track is more up to the skill of the rider and the way they treat their bike (weight reductions, suspension tuning / changes, tires) than the specific model of bike. So it becomes a question of whether you just want an R6 or not. Which is fine. Buy things that you want!
Regardless of any logical reasons you might try to convince yourself you have, if you’re interested in a sportbike, and want to ride an important part of superbike history, then the Yamaha R6 is going to be one of the top contenders.
A Brief History of the Yamaha R6 — How did we get here?
Yamaha released the first YZF-R6 in 1999. But the bike that set the scene for the R6 was the Yamaha YZF-R1, which Yamaha released the previous year, in 1998.
And before that, there was an escalating arms race in the 600 class of motorcycles. Honda redefined the class with the increasingly focused iterations on the Honda CBR600F, and Kawasaki threw their hat into the ring with the 1995 Kawasaki ZX-6R, which was much more sport-oriented than the previous ZZ-R600.
Manufacturers were gradually moving down a path of separating street bikes and sport bikes, and this is what the YZF-R6 represented.
Both the Yamaha YZF-R1 and YZF-R6 also had direct predecessors, the YZF1000R Thunderace and the YZF600R Thundercat. These were conceptually similar bikes — sport bikes with inline four-cylinder engines in the same classes — but they were heavier, less focused / more relaxed bikes, these days known as being more in “sport touring” territory.
See this pic of the YZF600R Thundercat below.
You can almost see that the Thundercat is heavier from the larger fairings — and it is a solid 20 kg / 44 lbs heavier in dry weight. You can also easily see the more relaxed geometry and higher handlebars.
But still, the YZF600R is a cool bike, now a classic, and unless you’re unrelentingly focused on winning races, it’s likely to make you pretty happy. Plus, it has a cool name. Thundercat!
In the nineties, when manufacturers were figuring out that there was a literbike class thanks to the Honda FireBlade, Yamaha stole the show with the 1998 Yamaha YZF-R1.
Honda built the FireBlade with an ethos of “Total Control”. They were building a balanced sportbike. It was meant to be fast, but not too fast — basically, in tune with its chassis. People loved it, and still do.
But Yamaha’s goal with the YZF-R1 was not to make a “balanced” machine like the FireBlade. In fact, Yamaha’s guiding principle behind both the YZF-R1 and YZF-R6 was “excitement”.
Kunihiko Miwa, the project leader for the Yamaha YZF-R6 (and Yamaha YZF-R1), who is now a senior executive at Yamaha, wanted to build motorcycles “with no compromise”. This was why the R1 and R6 weren’t based at all on a shared platform, or with any shared parts, for example.
“If you want to build a perfect super-sport machine, you can not make faulty compromises.” Kunihiko Miwa, project leader for the Yamaha R6 and R1
The result is that especially the original R1 and R6 models were raw, visceral, powerful, and dangerous in the wrong hands. But man, are they fun to ride. This has been true through to later generations.
The first Yamaha YZF-R6 was the first 600cc production super-sport that made over 100hp (75kW) in stock form. This is a decent amount of power for any motorcycle, but particularly so for one as light (for its time) as the original R6, which weighed under 197 kg (370 lb) with a full tank.
This focus on power continued for the life span of the YZF-R6. The Yamaha R6 has not been not the most powerful 600cc-class motorcycle in every model year, but it has always been powerful enough to do serious damage.
In numbers, Yamaha hasn’t won as many manufacturer’s titles in the World Superbike Championships as has Honda with its CBR600RR, but it is still in second place! Remember, they get to choose their riders, and they’re mostly smaller than you and I are.
What’s the Yamaha R6 like to ride?
Firstly, the Yamaha YZF-R6 has always been primarily a track bike that just happens to be street legal.
What an R6 is like on the street is most people’s question. After all, we all know it does well on the track.
To be fair, I’m not really a frequent track rider. I’ve done a few track days, but I ride mostly on public roads. I ride motorcycles to the shops, out in the countryside, in the African bush, in the Middle Eastern desert (well, on the roads there), down through America’s snaking highways, and hopefully in the future on the Autobahn (some day).
But to describe what it’s like to ride the R6 — or indeed any 600-class sportsbike (the ZX-6R 636 is very similar in experience, as is the Honda CBR600RR) — you have to understand the torque curve.
Firstly, you’d never describe the Yamaha R6 as “torquey”.
Like most four-cylinder 600cc motorcycles, Yamaha R6 makes most of its power high up. But that’s not the full story.
Let’s look at the torque curve of the Yamaha R6.
Quick note on torque: I like to think of what it’s like to ride a motorcycle by analysing torque curves, because these translate to real world riding experience.
Coupled with gearing, final drive ratio, and the wheel diameter, the torque is the best indicator of what a wide-open throttle feels like at any given rpm number. Torque is pull, whereas power is energy delivered.
You need that energy to get through wind resistance and make top speeds. Also, power = torque * rpms, so a little torque high up gives the same power as a lot of torque down low; that’s why massive V-twins may have huge torque, but little overall power, and it’s why a 600cc motorcycle makes relatively little torque down low, but large high-end power.
Most Yamaha R6 models peak at somewhere around 55-60 Nm of torque (40-45 lb-ft) of torque. And yes, torque peaks somewhere around the 10000-rpm point, and stays up there for a while.
- At around 3000 rpm, the R6 is making about half its peak torque — roughly 30 Nm (or 20 lb-ft) of torque. This is what a Yamaha R3 makes at its peak. Nobody really talks about small 300cc motorcycles as being “peaky”. At 3,000 rpm, a more street-tuned motorcycle like the Suzuki SV650 is making about 50 Nm (36 lb-ft) already.
- At 6000 rpm, a Yamaha R6 makes around 45 Nm (~30 lb-ft) of torque. But by this point, a street-tuned motorcycle like an SV650 is making 50 lb-ft. They’re still pulling harder.
- Where it gets different is above 8-10000 rpm. At this point, the Yamaha R6 reaches 90% of its peak torque. But a street-tuned motorcycle’s torque starts dropping above 8,000 rpm. Because power = torque * rpm (* a multiplier), this is where the power is made.
- The Yamaha R6 keeps pulling with about 95% of peak torque until close to its redline, about 14000 rpm, where its torque starts dropping until the rev limit of 15500-16000 rpm.
This means that to ride a Yamaha R6, you have to keep it revving between 8-14000 rpm to really feel it pull. To ride a Suzuki SV650, you keep it between 3-8000 rpm. It’s a really different feeling and sound.
So back to “torquey”: the R6 isn’t it. Below about 6000 rpm it feels pedestrian, sedated, kind of like an airplane taxiing on a runway. It’s not designed to go this slow, but it’ll do it, just to get to where it’s in its element.
That’s not to say it doesn’t feel cool. A 600-cc sportbike lets everyone know it’s being piloted around at everyday speeds through the roar from the exhaust, which is higher in pitch than you’d hear on nearly every other bike (other than a smaller capacity four-cylinder bike).
But at about 8000 rpm the R6 starts to bellow, and by 10000 rpm (if you’re still with us) it is singing. From that point, there’s a massive stratum of ripping high power that’s a joy to crank up around a deserted road. You feel glad you’re leaning forward onto those bars, because otherwise your arms would be ripped off and/or the nose would rise up (unintentionally). You have to keep the gearbox going to make sure it stays in this range, but if you do, you’ll be laughing into your helmet’s visor!
As you hold on to the throttle, the revs climb to a way higher pitch than you think sounds reasonable. It just keeps going up, and up, and up, and power never really drops off (even though torque does). It’s often only when people hit a limiter that they realise they should shift; it takes discipline to shift earlier, because the rush is so good.
On to a few specific situations.
Riding the Yamaha R6 on the street or traffic
You can ride the Yamaha R6 on the street, and it’s not wholly unpleasant, but it can get annoying if you do it for more than 30 minutes to an hour every day.
The plus side is that the R6 is lightweight and narrow, which means splitting lanes isn’t hard (assuming it’s legal where you are, which is most of the world, but not most of the US).
It gets a bit frustrating keeping the motor revving just to move between cars at very low speeds. Again, it’s fine if you’re on your way to somewhere interesting to ride.
The narrow, forward position of the clip-ons (which varies by model year) means that your weight is always over the front wheel, which isn’t an optimal way to steer at low speeds. Plus, it can hurt you if you don’t have a strong core or flexible wrists.
Basically, if my commute had any more than ten minutes of low-speed traffic, I’d be eyeing something like an upright standard.
Finally, if you’re riding just in traffic/in the city, you’ll never have the motor in the peak of its powerband, above 10000 rpm (where it’d be doing at least 60 km/h or 40 mph). This means you’ll always be riding a motorcycle with far less torque than other, similarly-sized, and cheaper motorcycles. So if commuting is your thing… I wouldn’t opt for an R6. Instead, I’d look at something like a CBR650R.
Here’s what Cycle World had to say about the 2008 Yamaha R6:
Around town, though, the low-end and mid-range performance still disappoints. The bike is astonishingly fast if you keep the engine singing at five-digit rpm levels, and its handling on a twisty back road is nothing short of spectacular. But the acceleration anywhere in the bottom half of the rpm range is extremely weak, so much so that roll-on acceleration is practically imperceptible, and attempts to leave a stop light with vigor cause the engine to bog. — Cycle World
In summary, riding a Yamaha YZF-R6 is kind of unsatisfying around town, so be aware of that compromise.
Riding the Yamaha YZF-R6 on the freeway
This is more pleasant than stop-start traffic, but it’s boring.
And you better bring the best earplugs you can get, because that singing high-revving motor can really scream! At 70 mph, you’re at about 5-6000 rpm, which isn’t massive, but when you drop a gear to pass, it howls. (This depends slightly on the generation — earlier ones were geared for lower engine speed).
The Yamaha YZF-R6 is also not near the peak of the torque curve when cruising in top gear. If you compare riding an R6 on the freeway to almost any other medium-sized motorcycle, it can be frustrating, because many of those (like liter-bikes, for example) can pull away with ease without shifting. To pass quickly on an R6, you should shift down.
The question becomes: do you ride a motorcycle because you like shifting? It’s a weird one; for some it’s yes, for some no!
Anyway, a few other things make the Yamaha R6 not great for the freeway:
- The riding position gets uncomfortable
- Wind protection is only enough if you’re in tuck (uncomfortable for very long)
- There is no cruise control, so you will probably always have to glance at the speedo
All in, it’s definitely not what I’d choose if more than 25% of my life were on the freeway.
Riding the R6 in the canyons/twisties
Yes, it’s awesome. Do you even need me to tell you?
The R6 has always been known for razor-sharp handling. In fact, that was the stated engineering goal of the project leaders who led the design of the R6. So it rides well. This is true of any model, even before you start having at the suspension to make it suit you.
It’s relatively difficult, and usually a very bad idea, to push the R6 (or any 600) to its limits out on public roads, even in canyons. Simply put, even Yamaha says that the R6 is a motorcycle designed for the track. Different to a litre-class motorcycle that you can use to power out of turns, with an R6 you brake late, trail braking, and keeping the throttle on the boil for longer. Ridden well, an R6 outperforms a slightly less well-ridden litre-class motorcycle on curvy roads because it’s easier to ride fast.
The R6 is not the most powerful motorcycle on the market, as it’s not an R1 or any larger motorcycle, but it’s definitely one of the most fun.
Because the R6 is quite light, it’s pretty fun to ride at moderate speeds (e.g. 80-130 km/h or 50-80 mph), too.
Is the Yamaha R6 uncomfortable to ride?
If you look through the model pictures below, you’ll notice that early on, the Yamaha R6 was actually quite roomy. The foot-pegs were always quite high, but for a decade after it was launched, the R6’s clip-ons weren’t too low, or angled down too much.
Compared to the modern R6, the original was… roomy. But all of them encourage a distinct forward lean, with pressure on your wrists.
If you want a comfortable four-cylinder sport bike, you maybe should look at a naked bike.
Yamaha R6 Model History
With the basics out of the way, let’s look at how the Yamaha R6 evolved over time. Check the end for my thoughts for the years/models of Yamaha R6 to buy!
A note on horsepower specs — Generally speaking, most Yamaha YZF-R6 models make claimed horsepower somewhere in the 120-130 hp range, peaking at 12-14000 rpm, and with most torque made above 8000 rpm.
Yamaha changed the way in which they claimed power, starting to claim peak power at the rear wheel at one point.
Many things affect peak power, including the presence of ram air, aftermarket parts and tuning, and of course who’s measuring it and on what equipment. So reported numbers from different sources (Cycle World, Motorcyclist.com, and others) differ.
Thus, take the below power specs with a grain of salt, and accept that they’re directionally indicative.
The core thing to understand is: The Yamaha YZF-R6 is powerful, but makes its power high-up, and more recent models are slightly strangled in peak power due to emissions regulations.
|Capacity||599.8cc||599.8cc||599.8cc||599.8cc||599.4 cc||599.4 cc||599.4 cc||599.4 cc|
|Bore x Stroke||65.5 x 44.5||65.5 x 44.5||65.5 x 44.5||65.5 x 44.5||67 x 42.5||67 x 42.5||67 x 42.5||67 x 42.5|
|New engine tech||Ram air (first for Yamaha)||Forged pistons (vs cast), carburized connecting rods||Fuel injection via 38mm throttle bodies||40mm throttle bodies||YCC-T (RbW)||YCC-I, Titanium valves, twin injectors, direct ignition||Revised intake and exhaust (100mm longer) for more mid-range||Drive modes (D-modes)|
|Peak power||88 kW / 120 hp @ 13000 rpm|
(with ram air)
|88 kW / 120 hp @ 13000 rpm|
(with ram air)
|90 kW / 123 hp @ 13000 rpm||93 kW / 126 bhp @ 13000 rpm||95 kW / 127 bhp @ 14500 rpm||96 kW / 129 bhp @ 14500 rpm||96 kW / 129 bhp @ 14500 rpm||92 kW / 124 hp @14500 rpm|
|Peak torque||68.5 Nm / 50.5 lb-ft @ 11500 rpm||68.5 Nm / 50.5 lb-ft @ 11500 rpm||66 Nm / 49 lb-ft @ 12000 rpm||66 Nm / 49 lb-ft @ 12000 rpm||66 Nm / 49 lb-ft @ 11000 rpm||69 Nm / 51 lb-ft @ 11000 rpm||69 Nm / 51 lb-ft @ 11000 rpm||68 Nm / 50 lb-ft @ 10500 rpm|
|Front suspension (Note 1)||43mm conventional cartridge fork, fully adjustable||43mm conventional cartridge fork, fully adjustable||43mm conventional cartridge fork, fully adjustable||KYB 41mm USD fork, fully adjustable||Soqi 41mm USD fork, fully adjustable, 4-way adjustable||Soqi 41mm USD fork, fully adjustable, 4-way adjustable||Showa 41mm USD fork, 4-way adjustable||Kayaba 43mm inverted fork, fully adjustable|
|Rear suspension (Note 1)||Single shock, piggyback reservoir, fully adjustable||Single shock, piggyback reservoir, fully adjustable||Single shock, piggyback reservoir, fully adjustable||(Revised) Single shock, piggyback reservoir, fully adjustable||Soqi monoshock, piggyback reservoir, 4-way adjustable||Soqi monoshock, piggyback reservoir, 4-way adjustable||Soqi monoshock, piggyback reservoir, 4-way adjustable||KYB monoshock, fully adjustable|
|Front brakes||2 x 295 mm discs, 4-piston calipers||2 x 295 mm discs, 4-piston calipers||2 x 298 mm discs, 4-piston calipers||2 x 310mm discs, radially-mounted calipers, radial master cylinder||2 x 310mm discs, radially-mounted calipers, radial master cylinder||2 x 310mm discs, radially-mounted calipers, radial master cylinder||2 x 310mm discs, radially-mounted calipers, radial master cylinder||2 x 320mm discs, radially-mounted Nissin calipers, Nissin radial master cylinder|
|Front tire size||120/60-ZR17||120/60-ZR17||120/60-ZR17||120/70-ZR17||120/70-ZR17||120/70-ZR17||120/70-ZR17||120/70-ZR17|
|Rear tire size||180/55-ZR17||180/55-ZR17||180/55-ZR17||180/55-ZR17||180/55-ZR17||180/55-ZR17||180/55-ZR17||180/55-ZR17|
|Ride aids||None||Your wrist||Self-control||Willpower||Slipper clutch||Slipper clutch||Slipper clutch||Slipper clutch, TC, ABS, engine maps, optional QS|
|Dry weight||169 kg / 371 lb||166 kg / 365 lb||162 kg / 356 lb||162 kg / 356 lb||162 kg / 357 lb||166 kg / 366 lb||168 kg / 370 lb|
|170 kg / 373 lb|
- Weights for some of the recent years are estimates, based on reported wet weights, adjusting for fuel tank capacity difference.
- The maker of the suspension components isn’t always clear. I’ve done my best — but if you know better (if what I say is a Soqi shock is actually a Showa, for example — let me know.
1999-2000 Yamaha YZF-R6 — The Original
This was the original Yamaha R6! Released in 1998 as a 1999 model year.
At the time, the original Yamaha R6 made more power than any other 600cc-class supersport motorcycle. The favourite at the time, CBR600F, made 99 hp at most. Yamaha said the first R6 made 120 hp at the crank, so marketed the first YZF-R6 as the first motorcycle to make 200 bhp per liter.
The original Yamaha R6 was also the lightest and most compact motorcycle in its class, with a dry weight of 168 kg / 370 lb and wheelbase of 1382mm (54.4 inches).
Everything said above about the Yamaha R6 in general applies to this original model. It was fast and ferocious, a quick handler, and very easy to ride fast because it was so light.
This was also a more comfortable model than more recent times. Look at the clip-on position: it’s quite high!
The first Yamaha YZF-R6 caused quite a stir in the motorcycle press. It was small, light, and very powerful for its size. It’s even powerful for its class by today’s standards. It does lack a bit of the refinement of more modern motorcycles, like an inverted fork and monoblock calipers, but that just adds to what makes this bike special.
Unfortunately, if you have the eye of a collector, it’s pretty hard to original YZF-R6s in good condition. Even if you do find them, they’re probably more for keeping parked in a museum-like space, as they’re collector’s items and quite expensive.
2001-2002 Yamaha YZF-R6: The Refined Original
This was a small update using the same engine, but with revised power and smoother torque delivery. Yamaha changed the cast pistons for forged pistons, and used carburized connecting rods, both for more reliability at high RPMs.
Yamaha also lightened many bits of the Yamaha YZF-R6 for the 2001 model year, reducing weight by about 3 kg or 6 lbs.
Cosmetically, the 2001-2002 YZF-R6 looks the same as the 1999-2000, though has improved lights at the rear (LED units to help with being destroyed by vibration).
In 2001 and 2002, the R6 was still the best 600cc-class supersport motorcycle to buy. But things would change soon, as competition was ramping up.
2003-2004 Yamaha YZF-R6: Fuel Injection
For 2003, Yamaha modernised the engine by bringing with it fuel injection. They kept the same rev limit and torque delivery, but increased peak horsepower by three, thanks to increased lift on the intake cam (and tuning to suit).
Aside from fuel injection, Yamaha had other goals for their revised R6: to improve sharpness and stability, to improve cornering, and to increase agility. Part of the way Yamaha achieved this is through the new Delta Box III frame, which is both 50% stiffer (in torsional stiffness) while also lighter.
Yamaha also used lighter five-spoke wheels, an alloy suspension link, and a more compact rear brake caliper to reduce unsprung weight. In total, Yamaha brought dry weight down to 357 lbs (162 kg), 11 lb (5 kg) less than the previous gen.
Yamaha also re-styled the 2003 YZF-R6, with “gatling beam” projector headlights.
The final thing worth noting is that the front brakes on the 2003-2004 YZF R6 run on 298mm discs, rather than 295 mm of the first years.
Some other things changed in 2003 — in the competition.
In the same year, Kawasaki released its refreshed, and fairly mental, ZX-6R 636. It was more powerful, lighter, and also fuel-injected. Because of its “cheater” displacement, people (like me) who have no intention of doing competitive racing love it.
In the same year, Honda decided to stop trying to please everyone with the CBR600F4i, and released the smaller, more powerful, and lighter CBR600RR. This changed everything. That was now the motorcycle to beat, and it took a while for Yamaha to re-find its footing — the CBR600RR won the world superbike championship for the next solid five years in a row.
2005 Yamaha YZF-R6: Better suspension and brakes, more power
In 2005, Yamaha made a few changes that make this one of the coolest early model Yamaha R6s you can buy!
The 2005 Yamaha YZF-R6 looks visually the same as the previous generation, but there were a bunch of internal changes.
Firstly, Yamaha gave the new 2005 YZF-R6 an upside-down (inverted) fork, something that had become popular on top-of-the-line race bikes and was trickling down to smaller classes. These days, many motorcycles have inverted forks.
Yamaha also gave the 2005 YZF-R6 significantly updated braking, with radially-mounted calipers and even a radial brake master cylinder. The front brake discs also got bigger, going up from 298 mm to 310mm in diameter.
In terms of power and weight, the is no difference for the 2005 YZF-R6.
2006-2007 Yamaha YZF-R6: Ride by wire, high/low-speed damping, slipper clutch, and a tachometer scandal
Yamaha released the 2006 Yamaha R6 in “Anniversary Edition” yellow livery, just like its brother the YZF-R1.
Yamaha made a host of changes to the 2006 Yamaha YZF-R6, with the headline change being a new, shorter stroke, higher-compression engine with YCC-T — a ride-by-wire throttle. This made the 2006 YZF-R6 the first production motorcycle with ride by wire (RbW) — this was before even the R1 got it.
Along with the new engine, the 2006 Yamaha R6 got a small bump in power, though it makes it higher up in the rev range — typical of shorter stroke engines. To combat this, Yamaha did change the gearing, including changing the rear sprocket to a 45-tooth gear (down from 48) to improve low-down response.
Yamaha improved the inverted fork on the R6 introduced just the previous year, making the 2006 model adjustable for high-speed and low-speed compression damping. Along with the fork change, the riding position for the 2006 model got slightly more extreme, if you look closely.
The 2006 Yamaha R6 was mired with a minor scandal about the tachometer and redline. Yamaha claimed the 2006 R6 had a redline of 17,500 rpm in all their promotional blurbs. A massive 17,500 rpm! Higher than any consumer motorcycle at the time, and higher than most in memory (the four-cylinder 250cc bikes not having been sold for a while, and for even longer in the US). It would have been amazing if it were true.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t true. While the tachometer showed a needle that went up to 17,500 rpm, the true RPM was around 16,000 (some measured it at 15,800, and some at 16,200). Yamaha initially said it was “tachometer error”. But it was such a scandal that Yamaha actually offered to buy back any R6 if the customers were unhappy.
2008-2009 Yamaha YZF-R6: YCC-I Variable-length intake
The 2008 model year had the highest power-weight ratio of any other R6, even to today. It doesn’t mean it’s the best, but it’s some kind of bragging right!
Yamaha made a ton of changes to the 2008 YZF-R6.
First up, Yamaha one-upped the ride-by-wire throttle of the previous gen by introducing YCC-I variable length intakes. This is tech they brought from the previous year (2007) YZF-R1. The goal of variable-length intakes is to be able to optimise intake tuning for low- and high-rpm work.
How Yamaha YCC-I variable-length intake works: Bikes deliver bigger, smoother power at low revs with a longer set of intake pipes, but make more power when intakes are shorter at high revs. So most motorcycles choose a compromise. Not Yamaha!
Yamaha implemented a set of funnels whose length can be changed by the computer, for longer intakes at low revs but shorter length at high revs.
Yamaha also uses two injectors per cylinder now for better control of fuelling. This, combined with YCC-T and the EXUP exhaust are all just ways Yamaha has tried to keep increasing power in the face of ever-stringent emissions regulations.
The 2008-2009 Yamaha YZF-R6 made a ton of peak power — they claimed it made 108 horsepower at the wheel at 14300 rpm, and YCC-I helps peak torque come lower. But this generation of YZF-R6 in stock form is a little weak in mid-range torque, making it less ideal for everyday use than previous generations, unless you get it tuned of course.
Finally, Yamaha lowered the position of the clip-on bars by 5mm, gradually creeping lower as time passed.
Note on the 2009 Yamaha R6 — Impact of EPA Tier Two
The 2009 Yamaha R6, was a re-program to meet “tier two” EPA regulations. The major changes were a) a 100mm longer muffler and b) an ECU reprogram.
Unfortunately, the 2009 Yamaha R6 wasn’t really a hit. The reprogramming seemed rushed. The earlier ’08 R6 had steady growth all along the RPM range, while 2010-2016 model shows heavy dips and inconsistent fuelling, with a 1500-rpm flat spot. The 2009 Yamaha R6 was down six horsepower (~4 kW) on the 2008 (give or take, depending on who was measuring).
Many riders and reviewers complained about the 2009 Yamaha R6, and it lost its podium momentarily. The only way to rectify this problem is via an ECU remap (and probably a different exhaust system while you’re at it).
2010-2016 Yamaha YZF-R6: Reclaiming glory
For the 2010-2016 generation, Yamaha attempted to claw back its market after fans were disappointed by the 2009 model. Yamaha did this by revising the exhaust, air filter, and mapping.
For 2010, the peak torque, but there’s more torque earlier in the rev range, making it feel less peaky overall. There’s a tiny bit of peak power gain but overall this is a more mid-range focused tune.
The result is a bike that is slightly less powerful than its predecessor, and a bit slower in the sprint to 200 km/h (9.8 seconds, vs 9.7 seconds for its predecessor, per Motociclismo).
The goal of the 2010 Yamaha R6 was to improve overall ride-ability while still meeting the strict 2009 EPA guidelines, and to recover the podium. It did this to a degree — the R6 remained the class leader in the six hundreds — even though peak power was still down.
2017-2020 Yamaha YZF-R6: Electronics. And the final run.
The 2017 R6 got updated styling, looking more like the current R1, which is itself inspired by the YZR-M1 MotoGP motorcycle. The new body work is supposed to reduce drag by 8% over previous models!
The minute I sat on the 2017 (actually a 2018) Yamaha YZF-R6, I noticed how much more relaxed the riding position was than before. Apparently, this is from the shape of the tank and the changes they made to the seat. You can’t tell until you try it! It was different from other super-sports in the 600 class; I felt like I was sitting on the chassis, instead of feeling like I was sitting on top of the front end. The reshaped, larger fairing added to the feeling.
The 2017 Yamaha YZF-R6 also got standard ABS, ride modes, and traction control. Which is pretty amazing since the weight barely changed.
A lot of people say “Traction control? Bah! You don’t need it on a small bike!”. To a degree, this is true. There’s a lot less torque that might call wheel slip. But there still is slip when you really get on it, depending on the conditions and your lean angle. Good traction control is supposed to be imperceptible.
Another update to the electronics is an OBD port, which means you can do engine diagnostics (or remapping) with an OBD adaptor and an Android phone equipped with the TuneBoy app.
Yamaha changed the previous suspension setup with KYB front and rear suspension. The front is fully adjustable, losing the previous ability to be adjusted for high- and low-speed compression damping. But the rear still has this 4-way adjustability.
Finally, the 2017-2020 YZF-R6 did lose a little bit of power, sacrificing it to appease the regulators.
Personally, I found the 2017-2020 Yamaha R6 to be the easiest to ride. I think this is for two reasons:
- Firstly, it has traction control. People say you don’t need it on a 600cc class motorcycle, and they’re right in that you don’t need it like you do on the 200 hp Yamaha R1… cripes. But still, it gives you confidence. Yamaha’s stated intention is to manage traction and tire wear, letting riders push the bike to its limits more easily. You can choose any of 6 levels (plus off), and guide the motorcycle. The result is you can hammer on the throttle, and the motorcycle stays on its line, making me feel like… I’m awesome.
- Secondly, better handling on the newer front end. I’m not sure why, but the latest R6 is even more stable than the previous ones I rode (the last being the 2010, admittedly). On paper, the latest R6 got thicker front forks, and a larger front axle. Whatever, the result is that under hard braking, the R6 feels more stable than ever.
In summary, the latest R6 adds a whole host of tech, without sacrificing power to weight ratio, and improving comfort and handling. It’s nice when the latest is the best!
2020 — The end of the line for the Yamaha R6
After 2020, Yamaha decided to retire the YZF-R6 from street use, so it was discontinued globally. Tighter EURO5 emissions and a dwindling market for 600cc supersport bikes meant Yamaha didn’t want to make the investments necessary to keep the R6 street legal. Wah!
This means that if you have a street-legal R6, you now have a collector’s item. Hold on to that thing.
In 2021, Yamaha kind of replaced the Yamaha R6 with the YZF-R7, which uses the same CP2 engine as in the MT-07. It’s obviously quite different from both the R6 as well as the MT-07. Here’s my full explainer saying what makes the YZF-R7 special — and not the same at all.
What to look for when buying a used Yamaha R6
Oddly, the Yamaha R6 isn’t known for having any systemic faults! No electrical issues it was historically plagued with, no failing starter…
Just go over the used motorcycle checklist, paying particular attention to things that happen on sports motorcycles:
- Low quality “Chinese” fairings. Where are the originals?
- Exhaust add-on (especially just a slip-on exhaust) without a tune. In these cases, look especially for “fake” slip-on mufflers. I like to generally buy a motorcycle with a power commander or one that has had a proper dyno job.
- Evidence of crashing (honestly, it would be rare that an older one isn’t crashed!). This could include slightly scratched fairings, mirrors, replaced bar-ends or foot controls, or rash on the side of the fork bottoms or swingarm.
In America, the Yamaha YZF-R6 is the dream motorcycle for many a kid who gets it as their first motorcycle — and promptly drops it. So, make sure the one you have is fully aligned with no ongoing evidence of crash damage.
Alternatives to the Yamaha R6 to Consider — And How They’re Different)
Here I’ll go over some of the common alternatives to the Yamaha R6, and how they’re different.
Essentially, if you’re looking at a Yamaha YZF-R6 you’re going to be wondering:
- Should I just get an R1? (Or another literbike)
- Should I get one of the other supersports? E.g. a Kawasaki ZX-6R, or a CBR600RR
- Should I get a naked bike, like an MT-07?
- Should I get the latest thing, the YZF-R7?
I’ll answer these in turn.
Yamaha R1 vs Yamaha R6: Depends if you’re riding street or track, and what kind of tracks
Many first-time buyers of a Yamaha motorcycle will ask: Should I buy a Yamaha R6, or a Yamaha R1?
It’s an interesting question. Here are some of the main things to consider:
- Both the Yamaha R6 and R1 are extremely fast motorcycles. You won’t be able to get to the edge of their ability on public roads, even if you exceed speed limits. They can both clear 250 km/h or 150 mph, at which point you’ll be worried about road imperfections and random obstacles unless you’re on a straight freeway, which isn’t really the best place for either of these.
- You’ll never legally redline the Yamaha R1 on public roads. No matter what model year of R1 you choose, you’ll be doing over 150km/h or 90 mph by the redline in first gear, if you even want to do that. Note that if you redline the R6 you’ll still be over most speed limits, at around 110 km/h or 65 mph (depends on the model you buy) — but you’d probably shift before the redline, so you’ll at least get to live a little with the R6.
- The Yamaha R6 makes its power higher up. Compared to the R1, the R6 can actually feel “gutless” in the middle part of the rev range. The R1 has a much wider powerband. For example, at 3000 rpm, a Yamaha R6 is making about 20 lb-ft, whereas the R1 is making about 50 — already above the peak torque that an R6 will only make at 10000 rpm! And the R1 makes a massive 70 lb-ft of torque by 10000 rpm, basically more than many motorcycles described as “torque-rich”. So, the R1 can be ridden in a satisfying way on the street, even if you never have any desire (or legal ability) to take it to the redline.
- The Yamaha R6 has a slightly more extreme and uncomfortable position. The R6 has a more hunched-over, track-oriented position than the Yamaha R1. It’s more exhausting to ride for times longer than an hour. This varies by model year.
- Only the Yamaha R1 (and the more recent naked Yamaha MT-10) ever had a “crossplane” engine. If you want the roar of an engine that sounds like a V4 superbike, only a 2009+ R1 will satisfy you.
- The Yamaha R1 had rider aids since 2012; the R6 only from 2017-2020. This means if you buy a 2012+ Yamaha R1 you’ll get all the power, but also all the safety (in increasing amounts). In fact, since 2015, the R1 has had cornering ABS.
Given all that, people often choose to ride the Yamaha R1 on the street, and the Yamaha R6 on the track. Why is that? Because on the street, having torque down low can feel much more comfortable than power high up. You have to shift less, and can ride lower in the rev range, which means you don’t have to make the engine scream for a normal ride to work or the shops. The R1 sounds better with its crossplane engine, and has had more rider aids earlier, and if often slightly more comfortable.
Which isn’t to say you can’t ride the R6 on the street, or tour with it — many do, and at least you’ll see the redline! (Maybe once, anyway.)
The devil in me wants the R1. It’s a bit like owning a Ferrari or a Lamborghini; you ride them because you want to ride a superbike.
Yamaha MT-07/XSR700 vs Yamaha YZF-R6: Almost completely different
You might also consider a middleweight sport bike of similar capacity. There are many of these, but let’s look at the MT-07 / XSR700 to start with.
The MT-07 and XSR700 are comfortable, upright sports motorcycles. They’re styled differently (the XSR is the “sport heritage” type styling), but powered by the same Yamaha 689cc parallel twin “CP2” motor, with a 270-degree crankshaft offset that gives it the same purr as a 90-degree V-twin. It’s amazing sounding, especially with a great exhaust on it.
Yes, either the MT-07 or XSR700 is fast. They’re sporty. You can have a lot more fun on the street with it, and still have a lot of fun at the track. You could probably keep up with — maybe even beat — a Yamaha R6 up to about 60 km/h or 40 mph, and be even at up to 100 km/h or 60 mph, assuming you can shift quickly, because of gearing and the fact that it’d be easier to put the torque down.
For most of the band between 2,000-7,000rpm, the parallel twins make more torque than the R6. So it’s only if you want to regularly rev above 8,000rpm (like, most of the time!) that you’ll see a huge benefit in riding a high-revving sports motorcycle.
The MT-07 or XSR700 (same engine, remember) produces more torque, and lower down, with 50 lb-ft @ 6,500 rpm and 74 hp @ 9,000 rpm. The torque comes on a lot earlier too, making the the twin a well-known “hooligan machine”, prone to making the owner do wheelies through the city.
It’s also a great starter machine, particularly in restricted form. And that probably says it all: The Yamaha R6 doesn’t have a restricted form, and is absolutely not a beginner’s machine.
Ultimately, the R6 does have a lot more cachet. But realistically, many experienced riders I know would be able to get more joy (and maybe performance) out of an MT-07 in everyday riding.
Yamaha YZF-R7 vs YZF-R6: The P-Twin versus the Inline 4
In 2021, Yamaha released the YZF-R7 (the same name as a bike 20 years ago, but very different), using the same parallel twin as in the MT-07.
While it has the same engine foundation as the MT-07, Yamaha changed the riding position to be much sportier, and gave the new R7 a lot of high-end components that make it a track contender, even if without the top-end of a four-cylinder sport bike.
It’s a different bike, but it’s worth investigating which one best suits the tracks in your area. See here for a longer discussion of how it fares next to the YZF-R6.
Honda CBR600RR, Suzuki GSX-R600, Kawasaki ZX-6R (636), Triumph Daytona 675
All other four-cylinder 599cc (or 636cc) motorcycles are contenders against the Yamaha R6.
They’re all great, and general advice is to sit on them all and see which one fits your ergonomics best, and which ones you like the look of. In a straight line or on the track, they’re often separated by a fraction of a second. That matters to you if you’re a top-seeded winner — in which case, you probably belong to a racing team, and your bike decision has been made for you!
While models have varied over the years, here’s how the various Japanese four-cylinder motorcycles are often described:
- The Kawasaki ZX-6R (636): Known in many shoot-outs has been the most powerful, partly because for most of the time it has been produced, it has been available as a 636cc motorcycle. Because of this, it’s also known for having better mid-range torque than the other 600s. However, you had better like the colour green! (It’s available in other colours, but green is very popular.) The ZX-6R has had ABS and power modes for much longer, since 2013.
- The Honda CBR600RR: Known simply for being the most comfortable (even though the CBR600F4i was always the REALLY comfortable sports motorcycle), the CBR600RR is fast, light, and effective. This was, after all, the track-focused alternative to the F. It’s still pretty compact, so if you’re tall, it can feel cramped. This was the gold standard for a while, but the CBR600RR hasn’t been updated since 2013 (and has been discontinued by Honda in light of waning global demand, and Euro4). So… future classic?
- The Suzuki GSX-R600: Also as effective as the CBR600RR, but mired a bit by the “Gixxer” bro-like name the community has given it. This shouldn’t put you off if you find a good deal. But be extra attentive to evidence of burnouts and poor maintenance by previous “Gixxer bro” owners.
- Triumph Daytona 675R: Often the lightest in the class, and with power up there in the 120hp range, and a sweet, relatively flat torque curve. Has looks to die for, and is visually distinct from others in the class. Powered by a triple (with more displacement), the Daytona has a unique and intoxicating high-rev howl that separates it from the four-cylinder bikes in its class. Parts are slightly more expensive.
For your average everyday rider, the best bike is going to be a mix of the one that’s in the best condition, nearest to you, for the best price — and you’ll be able to get excellent performance out of any of them.
Wrap up: What’s the Best Yamaha R6 to buy?
If money is no object, get a 2017+ Yamaha R6. The main reason is the electronics package. It’s really nice to have traction control so you can launch more quickly!
My favourite of the earlier used range: Get a 2008-09 Yamaha R6. These are the best Yamaha R6 models to buy for many reasons: They came with Yamaha’s variable-length intake system, and were up on power compared to later, emissions-restricted years.
But they’re all great, and you won’t regret it.
Worst case scenario — Because the Yamaha R6 has a lot of fans, if you find it’s not for you, you will be able to sell it quickly and probably for the same money you bought it (assuming you paid around the median price they go for).
This is a great article! I’ve been pondering what to get next, and you added a reality check that I didn’t really consider, which was the power delivery when stuck in rush hour traffic. Seems like the SV-650 is still king for slogging through commutes and the occasional track day. Man, I love everything about the R6- just wish I lived in the boonies to keep it on the boil.
fabulous writing 🥰
Thanks for the in-depth writeup. Helps alot with the 08-09 vs 2017 and up models. I still can’t decide, though. Maybe, I’ll get both! Which one would choose as a track-only bike?
Problem is I can’t answer this as I wouldn’t want to crash any R6 I could buy other than a super cheap one! I’ll answer a different way… my next track bike will be someone else’s ex-track bike. People get written-off and unregistered bikes, load them up with mods, ride them a few seasons, and sell them. Find one like that from a reputable seller on one of your local track day Facebook groups. Here’s a good Australian-based one: https://www.facebook.com/groups/395188990584795/ — bunch of R6 bikes on there now.
Thank you for writing such an in-depth article on the topic. I bought my 2016 R6 in 2018. Then a 2019 R1 the following year. Both brand new from the dealership where I live. The R1 was cool, but didn’t really make any sense for me after a few years. I guess I just wanted to see what it felt like. Well, it was honestly the most insane feeling on the road I could have ever imagined. I even had the ECU flashed to unlock all the potential, but then started questioning when the inevitable might happen. It was just too stressful riding the thing. I felt like it was trying to kill me sometimes. Sure it was fun. I always kept it in “A” mode, no matter what. I had no intention of “feeling” the less aggressive modes. Full power only. Never crashed it or even came close. But got tired of feeling like I had to ride it, if that makes sense. So I sold it this year in January 2023, and have rekindled my infatuation with my R6. It was patiently waiting for me under the cover. My first love, so to speak. I feel like I can push that thing as hard as I want, and I never feel stressed. Not even close. It’s fast, but manageable. It’s lighter too, which makes it super easy to handle. Like a toy, almost. Honestly, I’m thankful for the years I spent on the R1, because I don’t think any mode of transportation will ever scare me again.
Take care and ride well!
Very well put. I was contemplating on getting a R1. I already have a R6. I think I’m going to stay with my R6.
Amazing article, thank you for writing it. Now my main issue is reliability; I’m confused which to go for in the 2004-2005 models I would really like to get an R6 but I’m very afraid of it failing out on me I’ve had smaller hondas before and with proper maintenance never really faced an issue so could you advise if that’s the case with yamaha as well for the models specified above ?