First Ride: 2003 Yamaha YZF-R6

These Andalucian hills could pass for coastal California, but we're 6000 miles away from that reality. Yamaha has flown motorcycling's international press corps to Almeria, Spain, to take a crack at the 2003 R6. At a glance, the bike could pass for a warmed-over version of last year's model, when it's actually 90 percent new everywhere that matters. There's an all-new chassis under that R1-esque bodywork. The fizzy little four breathes through a more efficient ram-air intake system, leading to a vacuum-assisted fuel injection system. With it's newly enlarged airbox fully pressurized, Yamaha claims its fortified four is good for a full 123 horsepower at 13,000 rpm.

On the road, the injected mill is more civil and seemingly more powerful than its carbureted predecessor. The new ergonomic package moves you farther forward, which makes things a little cramped for anyone over 5-foot-eight. Flung through a few Spanish bends, new steering geometry and suspension makes for a more composed ride. Brakes are great, and the whole package manages to be sharper and friendlier at the same time.

Same story on the track, though serious speed freaks might want more urgent braking power at the end of Circuito del Almeria's long back straight. Is it an improvement over 2002? For sure. How much? Pick up the March, 2003 Motorcyclist for the whole story.