The original 600cc sportsbike class was intended as an ‘everyman’ class to suit all riders. A CBR600 from the 1980s could be used for two-up touring and commuting, as well as leisure-based sport riding. But motorcycling itself has become more of a leisure pursuit, and performance has become more important than practicality – so the 600 class has moved further towards the racetrack.
And Yamaha’s R6 is the most extreme example of this. One look at its tiny dimensions, vestigial passenger seat and radical riding position tells you this is no practical all-rounder. Rather, it’s been designed to go around a racetrack as quickly as possible. The latest 2008 version has a super-compact engine crammed with technology to boost power, including a computer-controlled ‘fly-by-wire’ throttle, and variable intake geometry – both firsts for the class. This high-output powerplant is mounted in a small, stiff cast aluminum frame, then wrapped in angular, aerodynamic bodywork with a large ram-air intake between the headlights. The suspension has a profusion of adjustment options, while the radial-mount front brake calipers provide supreme stopping power.
Indeed, the only real complaint against the R6 is its focus – ridden anywhere except the racetrack, the R6’s extreme nature can make it a chore. But when you’re in the mood, on your favorite circuit, the R6 is hard to beat.