The attraction is apparent: Sportbikes scream speed, even when parked in the showroom with a "Do Not Sit" sign on the seat and balloons tied to the bar-ends. Yamaha's research shows that most first-time sportbike buyers sidle up to the YZF-R6, powerless against the hypnotizing appeal of its racetrack styling. Recognizing the need for a stylish, fully faired beginner's bike, the tuning-fork company designed the FZ6R to more directly resemble its Daytona 200-winning sibling. After cutting the half-faired FZ6 and previous-generation YZF-R6S from the 2010 lineup, Yamaha's middleweight offerings are now half what they used to be. So how do the two remaining 600s stack up?
As fraternal fours the FZ6R and YZF-R6 share a certain family resemblance and a fair bit of DNA, but they're as un-identical as twins can be. Although it's based on the potent '03 YZF-R6 engine that powered the FZ6, the FZ6R's motor has little in common with its donor beyond the dimensions of its four ceramic-coated cylinders. Everything above and below has been altered to make power more user-friendly and flexible. Smaller throttle bodies and intake ports help improve low-rpm cylinder filling and boost fuel mileage, while shorter-duration cam focus power in the low and middle revs. Revisions to the clutch and gearbox are aimed at reducing lever effort and improving shifting. All told, the FZ's engine tweaks bring power down to a newbie-friendly 64 bhp at 9750 rpm, with 38 lb.-ft. of torque at 8000 rpm. A great deal of that thrust is available right off idle, just as the engineers intended.
The YZF-R6 has been at the cutting edge of sportbike performance since its inception in 1999, and its focus has only intensified in the past few years. Our dyno wrung out 102 bhp at 14,250 rpm-down 6 ponies from our '08 testbike, but still phenomenal for an engine whose cylinders have less volume than a 24-ounce tall boy. Forged aluminum pistons and double-sprung titanium valves allow the R6 to spin up fast and attain a stratospheric redline: 16.500 rpm on the tach, although it ran out of steam closer to 15,500 rpm on our dyno. Performance is aided by a ride-by-wire throttle and variable-length intake tracts culled from Yamaha's golden child, the YZF-R1. A lightweight aluminum frame and swingarm trim weight to a lean 427 pounds full up with 4.6 gallons of high-test.
Although its name suggests an evolution of the FZ6, the FZ6R is a completely new motorcycle with a much milder temperament. A cheaper-to-produce steel-tube frame and box-section swingarm replace the FZ6's cast-aluminum parts, with more relaxed geometry and a lower seat that welcomes shorter riders. Dab the FZ's starter and the Mikuni fuel injection sets the engine into a smooth, low idle. The cable-operated clutch comes back to the bar with little resistance as you engage first gear. The sound piped out of the 4-2-1 under-ship exhaust isn't impressive, but the engine's off-idle strength almost is. Power is utterly linear: No matter where the tach needle resides, rolling the throttle on results in the same deliberate, unhurried acceleration. Fuel injection feathers the edge between on and off throttle for fluid forward progress-just the sort of thing inexperienced riders will appreciate. Ergonomic are almost ideal, with ample legroom and a high, backswept handlebar that places you upright in the saddle. Delivered at 30.9 inches, the FZ's broad, plush saddle can be raised .8-inch for taller riders by repositioning a spacer plate on the frame rails. Fit can be further tailored by rotating the tubular handlebar forward or backward.
The R6's Akebono calipers bite hard but promptly lose feel. Aftermarket lines and pads sho
Cold mornings make the R6 slow to start, but it awakens with a thrilling growl from the short, GP-style muffler. Less low-end power means merging with traffic requires some clutch finesse and a large dose of throttle, and the racer-boy riding position makes it harder to see oncoming cars over the parked ones lining the curb. Bottom-end performance seems paltry, but only because of the R6's top-end intensity; sub-8000 rpm power is ample and entirely tractable. Heading to work in stop-and-go monotony gives one time to ponder the R6's ergonomics, which reveal themselves to be more aggravating than inviting. The plank of a seat is positioned 33.5 inches above the blacktop, and the bike's forward cant and low clip-ons put an uncomfortable bend in your wrists, forcing them to support the lion's share of your upper body weight. Your lower back balances the rest. Track-tuned suspension sends every pavement irregularity directly to your spine, so use the bike's sharp handling to avoid them or suffer the consequences.
That dash pretty much summarizes the R6's racy design. Speed, mileage, engine temperature
The FZ6R's suspenders are considerably more compliant, smoothing out expansion joints and pavement divots with the same grace as a Coup de Ville. It's got comfort in spades, but the engineers failed to stamp out the wandering vibrations that plagued its FZ6 predecessor. Miraculously, the seat and mirrors are unaffected, although you'll have to tuck your elbows in for a good view of what's behind. Geometry is aimed toward stability rather than agility, but the FZ's wide handlebar allows you to redirect the 477-pound (wet) machine pretty easily. Plentiful steering sweep aids the execution of tight-radius maneuvers, whereas the R6 requires creative use of the rear brake to reverse course. Short gearing helps hustle the FZ up to speed, and its 6000-rpm smooth spot corresponds perfectly with the 70-mph freeway flow. The rubber-clad footrests are slippery when wet and the windscreen is too small to do its job, but otherwise the FZ6R is a commuter's dream, squeezing an average of 46 miles out of a gallon of the cheap stuff.
Off The Record
Zack Courts, CCS and WERA Roadracer
Weight: 190 lbs.
Inseam: 34 in.
Comparing these two Yamaha 600s on paper, you might think that it's simply a matter of racebike versus streetbike. Well, you would be right. The FZ6R is a better commuter, no question: more torque, softer suspension, higher bars and a docile attitude. But I'm a roadracer at heart, and as such the YZF-R6 speaks to me. The throttle response is sharp, the chassis is tight and that razor's-edge feel is somehow comforting. I want a bike that is more capable than I am. And while the FZ is the smart choice, it doesn't inspire me the way the R6 does.