Yamaha Track Day - Riding the Range
Yamaha recently hosted an Anzac Day track outing at the Hampton Downs International Circuit and invited us along to check out its latest sports machinery.
On offer were the current R6, updated a year or so ago, a 2017-spec R1 and the brand new R3. On top of these road-going weapons were the entries into the NZ Supersport 600 and NZ Superbike race classes, meaning race-ready versions of the R6 and R1, respectively. No pressure to stay upright then.
If you’re unfamiliar, the International variant of the Hampton Downs circuit essentially blends the National and Club circuits into one. Instead of turning right into the ‘Up ‘n Over’ turns two and three, you power on down the 850m back straight and turn right into Foster’s Hairpin. From there it’s a sharp left-hander before hitting a sweeping right. Then it’s the twin-apexed ‘Double Bastard’ corner before you’re back onto the familiar National circuit.
The day kicked off foggy, so we headed out on the R6 as the least threatening R3 was already taken. Yamaha updated its 600cc supersport offering a couple of years back, adding an optional up-only quickshifter, traction control, ABS, new suspenders and a fresh look. The engine, chassis and swingarm hardware remained the same.
Visually, the R6 looks the bomb. Styling reveals hints of the R1 and MotoGP-spec M1, with slimmer headlights and the M1-style air intake. The wing mirrors are folding, with integrated LED indicators and the “flow-thru” tail is largely the same as on R the elder.
The superbike also donates its forks to the R6, now fully adjustable KYB units with unique spring and damping rates for supersport duties. Wheel travel is 12cm while the front axle has fattened out to 25mm. What that translates to is better stability under braking, more rigidity up front and better overall feel. A KYB shock with a new threaded-collar preload adjustment for more precise tuning at the back rounds out the suspension changes.
As for propulsion, the same 599cc inline four is found beneath the fairings. It’s a serious revver, cranking at a lofty 16,000rpm before hitting the limiter, which is where it wants to live. That’s because peak power of 87kW arrives at 14,500rpm. Best torque of 65Nm chimes in 3000rpm earlier.
Assuming the race position and heading out of the pits is all you need to get a good idea of what the R6’s schtick is. It favours track day blitzes as opposed to sunny Sunday cruises, with an aggressive riding triangle and similar engine characteristics. Thankfully, a track day blitz wasn’t on initially but once the fog lifting, the R6 was keen to play. It’s an immersive thing to ride, requiring an active left hand and foot to keep the powertrain in its happy place. Enter a corner in a gear too high and you’re left floundering but enter one cog low and you’ll find that limiter all too soon.
This example was fitted with the optional quickshifter which allows for seamless upshifts and works a treat, especially on the long back straight where getting on the power early out of turn 1 means topping out in fifth gear before slamming the anchors for the hairpin.
These are great, by the by. Modern sports bikes are all close performers in this area, thanks to improvements in ABS technology and clearer feedback through the lever achieved via better calipers and pads.
With five bikes to test and about as many sessions in the day, my time on the road-going R6 was done all too soon. Next up was the race version. In a nutshell, the Supersport 600 R6 is the road version turned up to eleven. The Yamaha techies tune the engine to produce around 97kW at the wheel, ABS is disabled, the handlebars are flared out and there’s a tasty Akrapovic exhaust system. Road necessities like mirrors and headlights are nowhere to be seen.
It’s mental to ride. That power hike might not seem like much on paper but, combined with the weight reduction and the volume produced by the new exhaust system, the R6-R, as I’ll call it, is a proper handful. The wider bars mean it's easier to get into a tuck (as demonstrated perfectly, ahem) and offer more stability in the corners while higher pegs and a foam pad allow for quicker side-to-side movements. Cranking the throttle to the stop has the front wheel lifting in third and fourth gear, while the front brakes need the barest of touches to press the rubber hard into the asphalt. It’s crazy fun.
Five laps and a pitside coffee later, the street R1 became free. This bike has been around since 2015, barring year-on-year incremental updates. Yamaha brought a 2017 version out to play, which has an up-only quickshifter instead of the autoblipping unit found on the latest version, and slightly older rider aids. Not that it mattered much; this is still a machine that demands respect. One look at the digital dash that starts at 9000rpm and you realise that it doesn’t want you to baby it. So, still buzzing after the R6-R, I pointed the R1’s nose down the back straight, twisted the throttle and got down to business.
It might be a few years old now but the R1, like any superbike, still has the grapes to scare you. Not surprising with 126kW to hand. Instead of braking into turn 2 from 240km/h, on the R1 it’s down from 260. Doesn’t sound like much of a difference but missing your braking point by a couple of metres means you need to squeeze much harder and push yourself that much further out of your comfort zone. Fortunately it didn’t end badly for me, but I can’t say the same for a gentleman riding a slightly older yellow R1. He got a faceful of gravel and unfortunately that ended the session for everyone. A few laps of ‘normal’ R1 experience was enough, it was deemed by Dave the Yamaha engineer, to put me onto the big daddy of the group - the NZ Superbike-spec R1.
Before I set off, the bike needed some fork work. It gave me time to ask Dave about the essential differences between the two bikes. He said about $20k-$30k of hardware and tuning differences. So around $50k minimum, including buying the bike itself.
This didn’t exactly settle the nerves, but soon we were rumbling down pit lane and onto that long back straight. The R1-R makes roughly 150kW at the wheels, according to Dave, and it certainly felt like that. The front wheel lifted when I breathed on the throttle, let alone cracked it open, and the brakes felt like rare-earth magnets, such were their clamping forces. “ABS is disabled” rang through my head coming into every corner. The whole Club circuit part of the track was taken in second gear, with the right-hand sweeper an absolute joy. The corner is long and wide enough for you to adjust your speed and riding position part of the way around and still get on the gas in time for the Double Bastard.
All too soon and the red lights were flashing, signalling the end of the session. Pulling into the pits, I remembered this bike had a computer that logged the telemetry during a session. You can view things like wheel speed for the front and rear individually, throttle position and how much fuel the bike was using, among other data. Dave pulled up my sessions and I was ready with excuses for why my laptime was slow. The only somewhat valid one was that I stupidly went out in the Novice group by accident and there were lots of new riders. The last thing they would want on their first track outing is some clown on a race bike blasting past and shaking their confidence.
Needless to say, my fastest time was about 40 seconds slower than Alastair Hoogenboezem’s qualifying time from Motofest. Moving right on then.
The last bike I had on my list was the new R3, which offers slick new styling inspired by its R6 and R1 siblings, an LCD instrument panel, a KYB inverted fork and the same smooth 321cc parallel twin engine as before. Unfortunately, the session was cut short so I only managed a few laps but the limited time I had revealed a nicely capable machine for novice riders or those looking to improve their track skills. It loses the power game to Kawasaki’s excellent Ninja 400 but a low weight combined with well sorted chassis means it’s a capable machine in itself.
As an added surprise, a Niken turned up at the end of the day. It was being ridden by a generous man who gave me the keys for one last outing. We’re scheduled to get our mitts on one soon so just a few broad brush impressions here. The stability of this thing is outstanding. It might seem like a given since it has an extra wheel on the front but it’s not a trike; it rides like a regular motorcycle. However, it isn’t self-supporting like a locked up MP3 so don’t go lifting both feet up when you sit on it or the inevitable will happen. The extra hardware up front means it’s heavier than a typical bike. But an extra front wheel translates into an incredibly planted ride, and it ain’t slow, easily carrying 200km/h across the Hamptons start/finish line. Braking is good too, although the immediate bite could be a little better.
The handlebars are wide which adds to the cruisey nature of the bike but the extra wheel makes it harder to flick into corners than a conventional bike. You might not be surprised at that though; the Niken is hardly a track machine, and is aimed mainly at those returning to riding who want added on-road security.
For other Niken details and tidbits, you’ll have to wait until the June issue of Autocar. With any luck, we’ll be able to put the new R6 and R3 through their paces soon as well.