Footman James Yamaha R6 Buying Guide

Date: 17 September, 2017

Location: Stanford Hall, Lutterworth, Leicestershire, LE17 6DH

Yamaha may not have necessarily invented the 600 sports bike but they’ve been in the game from the earliest days. Few who rode a late 1980s FZ600 came away anything less than impressed. Born kick and screaming from the FJ600 the sports 600 was a sensation. Succeeded by the FZR600 the bike still held its own, initially at least, whilst the competition caught up then overtook. By 1994 the revised FZR600R was a pale ghost of its grandfather and even the massive revamp that was the YZF600R Thundercat failed to recapture the banzai nature of the earliest air cooled 600. The press liked the bike, extolled its virtues, noted it was probably the best of the bunch and then, quite possibly unintentionally, said it had street orientated power and styling that made it a stunning motorcycle not a track escapee. Suddenly the hugely competent Thundercat was earmarked “sports tourer” in many people’s minds. Yamaha was miffed, period!

1998 and boom, the YZF R6 poleaxes everyone; more than one hundred horses on hand from a 600!  The smaller sports bike might apparently have lived in the shadow of its one litre brother (the R1) but not according to their joint creator Kunihiko Miwa. Yamaha’s talented designer went on record to say “If you want to build a perfect super sport machine, you cannot make faulty compromises. A 600 cc machine has to have a different character than a 1000 cc bike. Naturally, weight, physical size and engine character will be different. If you try to use a 1000 chassis for example, you would automatically weaken certain advantages of a 600 cc." If the Thundercat was the right bike at the wrong time then the R6 addressed the deficit perfectly. No one, especially the opposition, really expected Yamaha to come back and come back so hard. To say the early R6 caught buyers, dealers and manufacturers totally unawares wouldn’t be overegging the pudding. This was suddenly the bike to have; OK so Honda’s various CBR600s might have been a better all-round package but Yamaha had already been there with the Thundercat. Know now that it’s generally accepted the R6 wasn’t threatened until the advent of Suzuki’s 2001 GSX-R600 and you get some idea of just how significant the bike was.

With an overtly track orientated handling package, a manic desire to rev and a 160+ mph potential the R6 was the perfect first bigger bike for those who had recently qualified….once they got used to the razor edge handling and ballistic potential. It also made for a semi sensible, almost practical, alternative to the 900-1000 machines of the period. Following an almost slavish, decade’s long, addiction to the biggest bikes available the buying public finally had access to a smaller capacity machine that still had the correct credentials and cojones. Yamaha’s engineers, designers and marketing guys had done a stunning job.

If you make the fairly reasonable assumption that you will genuinely struggle nowadays to buy a badly designed modern bike know this – Yamaha’s R6 consistently tops out at 94% overall customer satisfaction. Ditto for the brakes and chassis and even higher for the engine. Build quality and equipment get 80% but then dig a little deeper and it’s only things like peripheral brackets or bolt heads that seem to let it down and who the hell really expects high equipment levels on a sports 600 anyway?

So why would you want to consider a Yamaha YZF R6? If it’s thrills per buck you’re after then little comes closer; If you want sports bike performance in a smaller package then the R6 has to be a genuine possibility. If those old grey import, ragged edge, rev happy, 400s used to make you smile yet you want better handling and more power then this is the logical answer. Or perhaps one litre bikes are simply too much for your lifestyle? Here’s an almost rational alternative. Looking from the classic scene perspective we’ve already witnessed the earliest R1s reaching collectable status and it cannot be long before the R6 goes that way too simply because it is so hugely effective at what it does. Now factor in that more people have bought more R6s and binned them than they have R1s and you can see there’s going to be a supply and demand issue sooner rather than later.



Like every carb they don’t like modern fuel and can suffer. Float valves can let by with potentially serious issues.


Semi sealed bearings on the R6’s rear end better than earlier incarnations


The motor revs by its very nature and some high frequency vibes may be apparent at speed…they all do that.


Designed to be exciting an R6 may initially seem very flighty. A steering damper properly fitted and adjusted can be a source of comfort.


They’re light by nature so don’t expect it to feel super planted.  


A robust beast but check out the main panel for the inside line.


Typical cost cutting can see brackets and fixings corroding


Yamaha’s R6 is a stunning piece of kit with few issues but beware an example that runs lumpy at tickover. If fuel leaks past the float valve of carb No. 1 it can run by the valves and into the cylinder. There have been reports that, over time, this residual fuel and its by-products can corrode the electroplated surface of the bore. This then leaves pitting which causes blow by around the pistons rings which in turn pressurises the crank cases which then feed oil mist into the inlet system. This leaves the R6 inhaling its own life’s blood. At higher revs the engine makes enough compression to mask some, most or all of these faults but a low revs tickover is notably rough. A cheeky look inside the inlet system may well show if the issue is present on a prospective purchase. There are also reports that some engines may have been made with overly thin cylinder liners. Both scenarios are seriously expensive issues.

We’d suggest buying with your head and not your heart. Standard or as close to as possible has to be the considered best option; this will ensure desirability later on. Aftermarket parts may still look cool now but in a few years’ time anodised fittings and faux carbon fibre panels may not look quite so chic

Spec Sheet & Useful Contacts

Engine type - Liquid cooled, four stroke, four, 599 cc, DOHC, 4 valves/cylinder
Bore and Stroke - 67.0 x 42.5 mm
Claimed Horsepower - 120bhp @ 13,000 rpm
Maximum Torque - 48.0 ft/lbs @ 10,500 rpm  
Transmission type - 6speed, chain final drive
Compression ratio - 12.4:1
Carburetion - 4 x 37mm Keihin CVRD with TPS system
Brakes - 2 x 298 mm (F), 1 x 220 mm (R)
Tyres - 120/60-ZR17 (F), 180/55-ZR17 (R)
Fuel Capacity - 3.75 gallons (17 litres)
Dry Weight - 169kg (372 lb)
Wheelbase - 1380 mm (54.3 in)