Normally, we lean toward rewarding bikes that provide us the right all-around ride. Maybe our old backs and creaky knees are less willing than ever to suffer racer-rep ergos, who's to say? But there was unanimous praise and agreement that the Yamaha should finish on top. It boils down to this: While the R6 definitely trails the CBR and ZX in comfort and civility, the degree to which it is a more capable and thrilling sportbike is on the far side of two-to-one. A concept that came up repeatedly, headroom, best describes the R6's dominance.
By the second or third corner you realize that the R6 feels like it's carved from billet, a solid chunk of motorcycle that has no excess, no flab. It seems low and stout and as true as a DC-3 wing spar. Not a single movement-neither at the handlebars, footpegs, throttle grip or brake lever-is wasted in flex or displacing nonfunctional mass. You move, the bike moves. There are very few machines that react with the kind of immediacy and honesty as the R6.
That said, it's not a beginner's tool. For one thing, the steering requires more effort than the Honda's or Kawasaki's, despite the Yamaha having the most aggressive geometry of the group. You don't sit there and quietly suggest that the R6 might want to begin making for the apex-nope, you grab it by the scruff and make your commands clear. And even during the most aggressive riding, when you're tossing the bike over to heretofore frightening lean angles as quickly and rapidly as you can summon the strength, the R6 almost seems to glance back and say, "Is that all ya got?"
A stiff chassis is nothing without the right suspension components, and the Yamaha has the best in the class by a generous margin. It is sprung for serious duty, so lighter riders will occasionally find the ride a touch taut. But something revealing occurs as you wick up the pace. What was once slightly unresponsive becomes super-composed, and the R6 merely glides over stutter bumps, tree trunks and ski jumps as though rolling across the garage floor. At the same pace that would have the Honda and Kawasaki feeling unsettled and ready to think about crying uncle, the R6 is begging for more.
So you get carried away and plunge too deep into far too-tight a corner. Simple solution: Stand on the best brakes in the 600 class. Yamaha has no doubt grown weary of praise for these four-piston binders, but we'll risk it. Few brakes combine the rapid ramp-up of the R6's with fine and subtle feedback. Too soon, you start to think you could hold the front tire at the edge of adhesion from terminal velocity down to a crawl.
Part of the velocity equation is the R6's stellar powerplant. We'll freely admit that it's not the smoothest here; that the low-speed carburetion could be improved, particularly below 4000 rpm; and that the gearbox need not be as balky in the first three gears. But there ends our cavils. Sneak over to the dyno chart and take in those numbers. (Go ahead, we'll wait.) Notice the breadth of that high-rpm surge? See how it holds on to peak power over a wider range than the others? There's the key to the R6's ability to make acceleration both electrifying and nonchalant. Forget to row over to exactly the right gear for the corner? Don't worry, the R6 will scramble up the horsepower plot-even though it looks soft on the dyno chart-thanks to the R6's low weight. Require a few extra revs to eliminate a midcorner change of gear? Same deal; let it rev past the peak and no one's the wiser.
Are we so addled by the Yamaha's twisty-road and racetrack capabilities that we're blind to its foibles? Not quite, but we're really close. The more-raceresque riding position will tax the less-limber among us, and the diminutive fairing provides scant protection. You won't know there's a motor cop behind you until he taps you on the shoulder for all the good those mirrors do. So, no, the Yamaha YZF-R6 is not the best all-around, do-everything middleweight on the market-the Kawasaki and Honda vie for that honor. But the R6 is, without question, the most backroad- and track-capable, most exhilarating 600 in the land. And you don't even have to fantasize about a bulging bank account to own one.