Family Feud: Yamaha FZ6R vs. YZF-R6

Fraternal Fours

By Ari Henning, Photography by Kevin Wing

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.

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.

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
Age: 26
Height: 6'2"
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.

When the work week is over and it's time to hit the hills for some motorcycling catharsis, it becomes obvious who inherited the athletic genes. Wind the R6 up into double-digit revs and the short-stroke four produces serious power to slingshot you from turn to turn. Staying in the engine's happy zone is easy thanks to a smooth-shifting close-ratio transmission. Conversely, rolling the FZ6R's throttle open is completely underwhelming, and you regularly rev it to the limiter in search of a non-existent top-end rush. In town the FZ's soft throttle response is pleasant, but when you're trying to reel in the R6 on a flowing back road that fluffy feeling becomes an annoyance, and only contributes to the bike's overall disconnected feel. The FZ's budget brakes are surprisingly good, and get points for excellent feel and adequate power. The R6's Akebono calipers are exponentially stronger, but their firm initial bite gives way to a dull feel at the lever. Feedback is further numbed by rubber brake lines, making it difficult to modulate power and sucking the confidence out of hard braking.

Everything that felt awkward while riding the R6 to the office feels fantastic while rampaging up a twisty mountain road. Ride the FZ6R in a sporting fashion and its heft and soft suspension are painfully apparent. Tipped into a fast sweeper, the FZ wallows and constantly tries to right itself. Moving your upper body forward helps settle the bike and finish the turn, but it's just a band-aid to cover the ill effects of abundant trail and a rearward weight bias. Railing through the same turn, the R6 feels so settled and controlled that it practically rides itself. Dunlop Qualifiers offer good traction and the taut chassis relates everything that's going on at the contact patch. The Soqi suspension is fully adjustable, but the R6 handles so flawlessly that we felt no need to stray from the stock settings. If the FZ had options beyond shock preload, we certainly would have liked to add more damping front and rear to help calm its mid-corner nervousness.

But it's an unfair game of tag, so don't play. Let the R6 run ahead and blast through Officer Brown's speed trap at double the limit. Dialed back to the traffic engineer's recommended rate of travel, the FZ feels perfectly composed and comfortable. Just relax and enjoy the scenery, and ignore the feelings of insufficiency. It may look like a supersport to the uninitiated, but the FZ is a sheep in wolf's clothing. Its aerodynamic attire passes for classy at speed, but at a standstill things stand out. Bad things. The combination of painted, matte and textured paneling complicate and sully the bike's appearance, while stamped-steel foot controls, oversized chain guard and footrest brackets, and a swingarm that one tester compared to a piece of lawn furniture make it look cheap. Things get worse the longer you look, so don't.

Parked nearby, the R6 could inspire a design student's senior paper. It probably has. Sleek, sharp bodywork gives way to broad frame spars and a sculptured swingarm. Everything about the bike exudes refinement, speed and purpose, and the R6 has the performance to back up its appearance.

Between your house and work, the FZ6R is king. It'll coddle you with touring-rig comfort, impress your cage-driving co-workers and maybe even get you a nod of approval at Bike Night. Its engine is obedient and user-friendly, and there are even acceptable accommodations for a passenger. It's reliable, functional and ... entirely uninspiring.

The YZF-R6 is arguably the most track-biased supersport on the market, which is exactly why it's so appealing. It's $3000 more expensive and the riding position may be grueling for day-to-day commuting, but that exhilarating, twice-a-workday, first-gear roll-on onto the freeway makes it all worthwhile. And when the weekend comes, you wouldn't want to be riding anything else. With 40 more horsepower, 50 pounds less weight and all the bells and whistles of a thoroughbred racing machine, it's pretty clear the YZF-R6 is the better Yamaha 600.

Off The Record
Justin Fivella, Associate Editor, Super Streetbike magazine
Age: 27
Height: 5'10"
Weight: 195 lbs.
Inseam: 31 in.

I've logged well over 1000 miles on each of these two mounts and can safely say they're worlds apart. On one hand, the YZF-R6 offers zero concessions to civility with pretzel-like ergos and a hard-hitting engine that goes from zero to hero in the blink of an eye. On the other, the FZ6R does little to stir your soul, but offers the kind of practicality the R6 could only dream of. While the FZ is a great all-rounder, in the end I'll throw sensibility to the wind in favor of the high-rpm roar straight from a racebike's pipe. Viva la R6!

Yamah FZ6R | $6999
Tech Spec
Engine type: l-c inline-four Rear suspension: Soqi shock with adjustable spring preload Measured horsepower: 64 bhp @ 9750 rpm
Valve train: DOHC, 16v Front brake: Dual Akebono two-piston calipers, 298mm discs Measured torque: 38 lb.-ft. @ 8000 rpm
Displacement: 599cc Rear brake: Nissin single-piston caliper, 245mm disc Corrected 1/4-mile: 12.7 sec. @ 104 mph
Bore x stroke: 65.5 x 44.5mm Front tire: 120/70ZR-17 Dunlop Roadsmart Top-gear roll-on: 4.6 sec.
Compression: 12.2:1 Rear tire: 160/60ZR-17 Dunlop Roadsmart Fuel mileage (high/low/avg.): 49/43/46 mpg
Fuel system: EFI Rake/trail: 26.0°/4.1 in. Colors: Team Yamaha Blue/White, Cadmium Yellow, Pearl White, Raven
Clutch: Wet, multi-plate Seat height: 30.9/31.7 in. Availability: Now
Transmission: 6-speed Wheelbase: 56.7 in. Warranty: 12 mo., unlimited mi.
Frame: Tubular-steel Fuel capacity: 4.6 gal. Contact: Yamaha Motor Corp. USA
6555 Katella Ave.
Cypress, CA 90630
Front suspension: 41mm Soqi fork Weight (tank full/empty): 477/449 lbs.

Ample bottom-end torque makes the FZ6R feel pretty potent around town, but restricted horsepower limits its passing capabilities on the highway and overall amusement factor.

The FZ's high handlebar, ample legroom and lower, softer seat are as good as it gets in the Yamaha sportbike family. Slap on a taller windscreen and you're good to go.

Yamah YZF-R6 | $10, 090
Tech Spec
Engine type: l-c inline-four Rear suspension: Soqi shock with adjustable spring preload, high/low-speed compression and rebound damping Measured horsepower: 102.0 bhp @ 14,250 rpm
Valve train: DOHC, 16v Front brake: Dual Sumitomo four-piston calipers, 310mm discs Measured torque: 44.3 lb.-ft. @ 10,750 rpm
Displacement: 599cc Rear brake: Nissin single-piston caliper, 220mm disc Corrected 1/4-mile: 10.85 sec. @ 130.4 mph
Bore x stroke: 67.0 x 42.5mm Front tire: 120/70ZR-17 Dunlop Qualifier Top-gear roll-on: 3.93 sec.
Compression: 13.1:1 Rear tire: 180/55ZR-17 Dunlop Qualifier Fuel mileage (high/low/avg.): 39/36/38 mpg
Fuel system: EFI Rake/trail: 24.0°/3.8 in. Colors: Vivid Orange/Raven, Pearl White, Team Yamaha Blue/White, Raven
Clutch: Wet, multi-plate slipper Seat height: 33.5 in. Availability: Now
Transmission: 6-speed Wheelbase: 54.3 in. Warranty: 12 mo., unlimited mi.
Frame: Aluminum twin-spar Fuel capacity: 4.6 gal. Contact: Yamaha Motor Corp. USA
6555 Katella Ave.
Cypress, CA 90630
Front suspension: 41mm Soqi inverted fork with adjustable spring preload, high/low-speed compression and rebound damping Weight (tank full/empty): 427/399 lbs.

Keeping the revs up is the key to unlocking the R6's phenomenal power. EPA noise tests are responsible for that big depression at 11,500 rpm.

High rearsets, low clip-ons and a flared gas tank favor control over comfort. The R6 only feels good when you're hanging off or glued to the tank in a full racing tuck.

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You youngsters kill me, with your got to have a bike that is for racing to ride around everyday. I'm cool man I have a R6 under me. As soon as I get out of site I will have to pull over and get the kink out of my legs and back. Point being if you are going to spend $11 to $15,000.00 on a super-sport, then by all means do but take it to the track not on the streets and highways. Buy a second bike for the city streets that wont cripple you in the process. Nuff said
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