This article was originally published in the February, 1997 issue of Sport Rider.
Yamaha’s revised and refined YZF600R offers numerous facets for admiration. First glance will become a stare because Yamaha’s stylists have finally found a look that works for their midsize sport bike, from the uniquely shaped, wind-tunnel-tested fairing complete with ram-air scoop to the tasteful and, dare we say it, classy paint work.
The same strong YZF chassis that took Jamie James to the ’94 AMA 600 SuperSport championship is updated with all-new cartridge front suspenders matched to a recalibrated shock, while the ram-air scoop feeds pressurized air to carburetors measuring two millimeters larger than last year’s mixers. The power increase we noticed from the seat was blunted amazingly well by the YZF’s stunning front stoppers, a beautiful set of one-piece, cast-aluminum calipers that add whoa to the YZF’s show-and-go. After two months of tireless flogging, touring and track-testing, Yamaha’s YZF600 threatens to be the best 600cc street bike Sport Rider has tested.
The 1997 YZF-600R got a makeover that adds show, go, and whoa to Yamaha’s multifaceted middleweight.
Where is Yamaha Aiming?
Yamaha’s positioning of the ’97 YZF600 depends upon your perspective. Racers will claim Yamaha’s target is the 600 SuperSport class, pointing to the fully adjustable suspension components and reciting the 88 rear-wheel ponies we saw on the Graves Motorsports Dynojet dyno, then referring to the 11.48-second quarter-mile and 119.8-mph trap speed as proof that Yamaha is chasing all-out performance first and foremost. Street riders, however, will find substantial proof that Yamaha’s sights were focused on their interests, fingering the same suspension adjustability that can adapt to differing roads and loads and wrapping their argument around the YZF’s real-world ergonomics and outstanding wind protection from the all-new fairing.
Each faction will find strong points to support its views, but as the Sport Rider staff came to know our black and silver 600 more intimately, we found ourselves convinced that Yamaha aimed its revised YZF600 more at the real-world street rider than the relatively few racers who will make the jump to the track.
Yamaha smoothed the nose by eliminating last year’s dual headlights and glassing in a single resin-lens headlamp; conspicuity is enhanced with front running lights. The fork sliders are protected by plastic rock guards, while the ram-air entrance hides under the headlight.
The bare-bones look of many repli-racers just isn’t apparent in Yamaha’s latest 600. In fact, the YZF’s fit and finish are significantly updated over last year and put the bike on par with Honda’s benchmark CBR600F3, as we discovered when stripping the bike in the studio. The styling received significantly more positive comments than the flash-boy F3 graphics, or last year’s YZF for that matter, and no one can deny the importance of styling in the pride-of-ownership debate.
Yamaha’s YZF600R appears 750-sized and offers 750-size ergonomics as well, with excellent legroom for those under 6 feet 2 inches tall and a relatively short reach to the handlebars mounted just above the upper triple clamp. While the seating position isn’t significantly different from that of the other 600-class competitors, the wind protection from the revised fairing is certainly the best in the class, with a smooth plane of air coming off the sculpted windscreen that is bracketed by wide ABS-plastic borders, similar to Biaggi’s Aprilia racer. You might not notice the improvement in a short ride, but we certainly appreciated the air management during our two months of testing. Last year’s comfortable two-piece seat is now a single unit and is good for most hauls, though some felt it a bit too soft for day-long rides. The YZF spent few if any nights in the SR garage and was a popular ride for weekend duty.
Sumitomo’s four-piston “bridge-pipe” calipers rely on a one-piece aluminum casting for 18 percent more rigidity than last year’s strong YZF600 brakes and carry the fluid externally, which enhances rigidity by eliminating internal ports. The 298mm semifloating discs are thicker this year for better heat dissipation, and the 41mm conventional Kayaba fork offers adjustments for spring preload and compression and rebound damping.
How is it to Live With?
The YZF extracts no penalty for its performance in day-to-day living. Cold starts need only the smallest enrichener settings, facilitated by the bar-mounted lever, and carburetion was marred only by a slight off-idle lean stutter that muddied throttle response below 2500 rpm. Last year the YZF mixed gas and air in a set of 34mm Keihin carbs, but the ’97 wears 36mm units that are better suited to the engine, not just helping to produce more power, but offering cleaner jetting choices as well. The street-based ergonomics are backed by a street-based torque curve that peaks at only 9500 rpm with 45.9 foot-pounds of torque, meaning you don’t need to rev the rings out of it to squirt ahead in traffic; we found ourselves short-shifting the YZF just as if it were a 750 or 900. The bike shifted nicely prior to our dragstrip testing, but a few abusive launches took an early toll on the clutch, affecting not just leaving a stop sign, but the bike’s ability to shift smoothly as well. ’
First-time sport-bike buyers might be surprised to find no centerstand, but that, along with terribly weak horns, is the norm rather than the exception. Unfortunately, Yamaha ditched last year’s electronic reserve switch in favor of a single low-fuel warning light that increases the fuel-level guessing game. Also, Yamaha added a helmet lock that leaves your helmet dangling against the chain side of the swingarm, which isn’t the cleanest place on a motorcycle; the underseat hooks of last year are preferable.
Besides the addition of a nine-row water-cooled oil cooler, the YZF600R’s 599cc engine looks similar to last year’s. Inside, however, reside all-new forged pistons that are lighter and stronger than last year’s slugs, and the clutch wears improved friction plates (yet still became grabby after the first dragstrip launch).
Are Those Brakes as Good as They Look?
In a word: yes. The racy blue-anodized plugs on the outside of the Sumitomo calipers signify the one-piece design of the cast-aluminum calipers, which required the pistons to be inserted from the outside. They’re attractive, distinctive and 18 percent more rigid than last year’s binders, bringing world-class braking to the front of the YFZ in terms of both feel and strength. Despite the YZF’s relatively hefty wet weight of 485 pounds, only one finger is needed on the adjustable brake lever, no matter what speed you’re traveling or how hard you need to stop. Jumping off any other bike and onto the Yamaha necessitates a mental adjustment, because you don’t just grab brakes this strong without either putting your helmet through the windscreen or pivoting the whole machine into the air in a stoppie. And, yes, those are illegal.
The 36mm Keihins are 2mm larger than last year’s mixers and wear trick velocity stacks inside the airbox that houses a restructured air cleaner and a pressurized ram-air system to boost performance. The screwdriver points to a coolant hose that circulates warm coolant to the carburetors to allow more consistent fuel temperature, resulting in more consistent jetting.
Yamaha’s componentry update isn’t just confined to the front brakes, it also includes revised damping rates in the cartridge fork, focusing on a more progressive compression action at the bottom of the fork stroke. We praised the YZF’s around-town ride last year, and the kudos are still applicable. If anything, the YZF seems more poised and confidence-inspiring than last year’s bike, at least at street speeds. Many testers used the word “exact” in their descriptions of the light-steering Yamaha because it could be placed in the corner with precision and slight adjustments were little more than a thought away. The ’96 YZF didn’t care much for small, quick stutter bumps, but the suspension revisions have improved the ’97’s ability to deal with these small jolts. But as we’d later discover during our track testing, the chosen spring rates are biased a bit more toward comfort than performance, being a bit softer than even an aggressive street rider would choose.
If you park a Yamaha in gear and leave the ignition on, no dash lights will show, and we’ve accidentally drained the battery more than once. A punch of the starter button illuminates the low-oil- and low-fuel-level lights as a bulb check. (Yes, Yamaha uses an oil-level light, not an oil-pressure light). The YZF’s “clocks” are legible and bold, though the temp gauge is hidden behind the brake-fluid reservoir.
Are the Springs too Soft?
The answer depends upon how you ride. If you hammer hard or ride extremely rough roads, you may find yourself running the shock and fork springs near their maximum preload, with correspondingly high rebound and compression settings. Our lighter and smoother testers had few complaints, but the hammerheads among us felt the bike a bit loose and in need of an extra moment before it settled during aggressive or bumpy corner entrances. The YZF’s weight certainly hurts in this instance. We were pleased with the mileage and traction quotient of the stock Bridgestone tires, even at elevated street speeds. Hard-core corner chargers would be smart to look at spring upgrades and stickier skins, simple updates that would make the YZF a delightfully responsive canyon charger.
The ram-air snorkels add performance and complication to the latest YZF6, but all three class competitors wear this technology as well. The smaller hoses pressurize the Keihin float bowls, a mandatory bit of engineering to ensure even fuel flow at all engine and bike speeds.
The engine really helps the first few miles of acclimation because it revs with a willingness that belies its relatively long-stroke design, which has a 62mm piston moving through a 49.6mm stroke (Honda’s F3 uses a 65mm piston in a 45.2mm stroke). Theoretically, the YZF’s longer stroke can limit engine rpm due to elevated piston speed, but the Yamaha redlines at 13,000 rpm, or 250 rpm below the F3. A second long-stroke theory centers around increased midrange due to more complete cylinder filling, and that theory is borne out by the YZF’s willingness to pull from any rpm, with anything over 6000 rpm getting your attention and 8500 rpm serving as the take-off point as the YZF starts making some serious steam. The power flattens about 500 rpm before redline, but we can’t remember a more rev-happy 600cc engine coming from Yamaha since the FJ/FZ600 two-valver. It makes every facet of riding more enjoyable, from zipping through city traffic to grabbing gears on the way up the mountain. One ride will impress you with the packaging that Yamaha has at last achieved with its YZF600.
The lighter and more compact rear subframe retains usable storage room and adds less than half an inch to last year’s seat height of 31.3 inches. The YZF600R relies on a maintenance-free 5-amp hour battery and houses a coolant-overflow tank inside the right subframe rail.
How Does it Work in the Real World?
Yamaha’s suspension choices that may prove marginal at the racetrack’s elevated speeds make perfect sense on the potholed streets of the real world. (We’ll pit the YZF against the CBR, ZX-6R and GSX-R for a full street and track shootout in the near future.) The ’97 model absorbed sharp-edged jolts like frost heaves and cement freeway undulations significantly better than last year’s YZF, the trade-off being slightly increased fork dive under hard braking, even with the preload adjusters showing only three lines. Each tester remarked on the tight, exact steering characteristics, and the planted feel of the bike at sane street speeds. The standard (noninverted) fork was praised for its feedback, even on the stock tires that usually mask traction information, and everyone that rode our black beauty commented on the light, willing steering that made the relatively large 600 immediately ridable. The YZF tends to fall into the corner at steep lean angles due to the triangulated front Bridgestone, but the steering remains predictable and neutral at less radical lean angles, which translates into a bike that’s easy to go quick on.
Rear-spring adjustability is facilitated by the included adjustment wrench and moves through seven stepped positions.
At $7399, Yamaha has created a 600cc sport bike that breaks through the class barrier to ride and feel more like a 750, stressing streetability over racetrack performance. And that’s what the majority of us do most of the time, or so Yamaha hopes by producing a package that combines a street-oriented powerband and chassis with stunning styling that says “beautiful motorcycle” not “repli-racer.” Don’t misunderstand, the YZF600R gets around a racetrack just fine, but it gets through daily life in the real world amazingly well.
Compression damping adjusts through the left tailsection vent; the rebound damping clicker is at the bottom of the shock body.
The physical size (and lack of engine-size designation) led many to believe it was a 1000.
You must unscrew 16 fasteners to remove one fairing side, which seems excessive
We prefer a reserve switch or petcock over the low-fuel-level light.
“I grew very fond of this motorcycle. It may not be the fastest, best handling 600 in the class, but a few more Ben Franklins in your pocket might make that bearable.”
Heart-stopping good looks
Heavier than the competition’s 600, and some 750s and 900s as well
Street-smart suspension choices
Undersprung for all-out hammering
Touchy clutch that’s easy to abuse
Impressive stopping power
The F3 and ZX-^R still beat it in a straight line
Sport Rider Opinions:
Last night, I rode home on the blue and white FZR600, and that short 24-mile ride really put the new YZF600R into perspective. I started my motojournalism career at Motorcyclist back in 1989, and the first press introduction I attended was for Yamaha’s new FZR600 at Willow Springs. That year and the one that followed, Yamaha owned the 600 SuperSport racing class, and in most people’s opinion the 600 street-bike title as well. I was so impressed with the bike that I bought one and collected a few roadracing trophies running it bone stock, except for a Fox shock and Storz steering damper. At the time, it was the state-of-the-art 600, and I couldn’t have been any more satisfied.
Yet, riding home last night, after riding the new YZF600R for the better part of a week, I was caught off guard by how raw and unrefined the FZR felt. Its nasally engine note, buzzy powertrain, spindly fork legs, thin seat and bare-bones instrument panel make the YZF feel as refined as a Mercedes in comparison, not to mention the YZF’s superior chassis rigidity, suspension control and power output. I wouldn’t have believed how far eight years of progress have taken us until I rode these two back to back. It makes the additional $900 that Yamaha’s asking for the YZF look like a steal. And it gives me some ammunition next time I hear someone whining about the price of new bikes.
Last month I bought a new guitar. It’s a Taylor acoustic/electric, and after acquiring three other guitars over the past eight years, this is definitely the nicest one yet. It fits my hands well, the strings are just the right distance off the neck, and the sound is impeccable. And unlike the absolute top o’ the line gee-tar, I could afford it.
Those of you who buy this new YZF600 will be making a similar kind of decision. If you like the way it fits you—the feel of the controls in your hands, the way the clip-ons prop you comfortably above the well-spaced footpegs—you’re going to get along as well with this YZF as I do with my Taylor. I grew very fond of this motorcycle. It may not be the fastest, best-handling 600 in the class, but a few more Ben Franklins in your pocket might make that bearable.
Yeah, yeah, I know what a lot of you out there are thinkin’ already: “It isn’t the quickest 600 in the quarter-mile, and it’s not the lightest, either. Yawn. Why bother?” Because you can’t ride a spec sheet. The majority of you out there who’ll never see racetrack tarmac or the upper reaches of your speedometer will probably find the YZF to be one of the best sport bikes around (and those of you who will be blazing through racetrack apexes, take note: the YZF came very close to clinching the European SuperSport championship in its first year, and was the only four-cylinder to beat the dominant Ducati 748s all season). The new suspension improves on last year’s already excellent setup and simply makes the brilliant YZF chassis even better. The ram-aired motor’s power is real-world usable, and the new one-piece caliper front brakes are some of the best I’ve ever experienced. Yamaha even improved the YZF’s ergos, which were one of the best in the class to begin with. And with an asking price of $7399? Don’t dismiss this bike on spec-sheet alone.
Suggested Retail Price:
12 months, unlimited miles
Recommended valve-adjustment intervals:
Liquid-cooled, transverse, in-line, 4-stroke
DOHC, 4 valves, adjusting shims under buckets
Bore x Stroke:
62 x 49.6mm
Straight-cut gears, 1.708:1
No. 503 O-ring chain, 15/47
41mm Kayaba cartridge fork, 5.1 in. travel; adjustments for spring preload, compression and rebound damping
One Kayaba damper, 4.7 in. wheel travel; adjustments for spring preload, compression and rebound damping
2, four-piston calipers, 298mm discs
Two-piston caliper, 245mm disc
3.50 x 17 in.; cast alloy
5.00 x 17 in.; cast alloy
120/60ZR17 Bridgestone Battlax BT50 radial
160/60ZR17 Bridgestone Battlax BT50 radial
25.0 deg/3.8 in. (97mm)
31.7 in. (805mm)
4.9 gal. (19L)
485 lb (220kg) wet; 456 lb. (207kg) tank empty
Red/white, black/silver, blue/white
Speedometer, tachometer, odometer, tripmeter, temperature gauge; lights for neutral, high beam, turn signals, low oil pressure, low fuel
60 mph, actual 57 mph
35 to 49 mpg, 44 mpg avg
Average touring range:
Corrected best 1/4- mile acceleration:
11.48 sec. @ 119.8 mph
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