WHAT IS IT?
Mid-sized sports bike from the 1990s which is these days quite rare.
WHAT'S IT LIKE?
Pretty damned good, according to our reviewer, who says it's a nicely balanced package.
The YZF600R came so close to being fashionable but missed out, not by being rubbish but by being slightly less sexy than the competition. Which is a shame as Yamaha had built a bike with far greater versatility and appeal than the super-focussed YZF R6 which went on to sell its tits off. Despite being the bridesmaid and not the bride, the Thundercat is a truly superb 600cc motorcycle that deserves a serious look if you're in the market for an all round machine that about now is starting to look different enough to attract a following.
In 1996, what you got for your $11,999 was the engine from the previous YZF600, itself a brilliant and hugely underrated motorcycle, retuned to make a claimed 105hp with the support of forged pistons and the then-new and fashionable Ram Air system. The steel DeltaBox chassis was all new with dimensions focussed towards sports touring rather than lap times. Comfort and ergonomics were good for most sized riders and the brakes were taken from the larger and heavier YZF1000R Thunderace. The trouble was the CBR600F was seen to be better in every respect. Yet while it was undoubtedly very good and became the watchword for all round ability, in my opinion it wasn't as sweet as the Cat on the open road. Why? Torque - that's why. At 6.69kg-m at 9500rpm, the Cat's engine makes more torque and it makes it earlier in the rev range than any of the competition at the time. During its tragically short career of almost four years nothing other than colour schemes changed, which makes choosing a second-hand unit easy. Price, colour and condition need be the only considerations.
Like I said, the Cat's 599cc four-valve-per-cylinder engine makes some serious torque at comparatively low revs. To put this into perspective, consider that eleven years later, the current R6, and the allegedly, better all-rounder - the CBR600RR, makes the same amount of torque, but at 11,000rpm and above.
ON THE ROAD
Now a bit more about the Cat's great ergonomics. The riding position feels instantly roomy. It's more like a 750 than a 600. The seat feels good and wide and even offers good accommodation for a pillion. Bars are positioned above the top triple clamp and are, of course, slanted down. Levers are non-adjustable. The screen is tallish and well shaped, giving better wind protection than most. The well-placed footrests seem a little low at first and could do without the protective bolts to increase cornering clearance. Overall the finish isn't too bad, but the early grey and yellow versions look pretty plain and definitely haven't aged well.
Starting is easy and there's little in the way of mechanical noise. First gear feels like it's dropping in from a fair height and the clunkiness remains as a feature of gearchange thereafter. On the original road tests back in the '90s, many complained that the clutch felt "crude" and even "fragile". To be sure, a succession of monos will have the clutch fading and getting progressively noisier. That said, these days if monos are your gig, you'll choose something else.
The Cat has a nicely balanced feel about it and the Yamaha heritage certainly seems to be there. With good tyres and the suspension in good order, the Cat feels exceptionally planted but neutral enough to line up and lob at bends with a feeling of security. Having a wet weight of about 210kg helps the bike in this regard. Sure the geometry has been engineered to act that way, but the way it translates into action is as delightful today as it was when the bike first came out. Though, if you're a bit of hard charger, you'll find that, as with most all rounders, the suspension gives way when pushed really hard, especially if it's got a few kays under its belt.
Power has enough smoothness and conviction from down low to allow low-speed trickling with the clutch out and a steady build up of urge until 7500 appears on the analogue dial. From this point the Cat really starts to haul through to the redline at 12,000rpm. Used that way the Cat has a surprising turn of speed up to 240km/h and will hang onto most things. It's even reasonably economical. My old road-test notes tell me that on one trip the 19 litre tank emptied at a rate of 19.8km/l although I suspect a realistic 16 in varied use would be more likely.
I mentioned earlier that the Cat has the brakes from the Ace. These are phenomenal units that offer tons of power and feel. Having said that, they certainly punish the soft suspension and they cause the front of the bike to dive forward disconcertingly if you don't get used to it first.
IN THE WORKSHOP
It's all good news. A Cat allows easy access to just about everything needed for servicing so those with a liking for home mechanics will find it easy to keep their machine honed and ready. Exercise care though, when taking the fairing panels off and be sure to grease the fasteners with something like Copperslip each time they come off to make sure they don't fracture the plastic.
If you like to keep your hands clean then a minor service at 6000km will cost about $300, which will include setting the carbs up. A major service at 42,000kms that includes valve clearances will set you back about $420.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Start with making a list of all the consumables like brake pads, discs, chain and sprockets or tyres that need replacing. Don't forget to check the fork seals for leaks either, as they get a hard time courtesy of the brakes and the soft suspension. Be sure to check for any pitting on the swept area of the fork tubes.
Find out in advance what the service intervals are and check the kilometres on the dial to be sure that you're not going to cop the cost of a major service shortly after purchase.
Check the panels for signs of damage and with the engine running listen for buzzes or rattles that may indicate those fastening tabs have broken. Telltale signs like scrapes on the ends of the handlebar weights and levers often bear witness to earlier disasters and a cheapo fix-up. While you're grubbing around check the swinging arm for rust and any play in the rear shock linkage.
Although the engine itself is good for 200,000km, it's worth checking out the clutch. Have a listen for rattles at low speed when you open the throttle. The cush springs located behind the clutch basket might be past their use-by date. Any noises here may indicate a less than gentle upbringing and a history of one-wheeled travel. While you're at it make sure the clutch doesn't slip or grab by trying a few swift starts. Oh and make sure it doesn't jump out of gear, especially the mono-poppers' favourite, second gear.
If it's got a lot kays showing, check its appetite for oil by getting the bike warm and blipping the throttle while you watch the muffler for signs of smoke. White smoke is oil being sucked into the combustion chamber and black smoke is excessive fuel probably caused by poor carburettor condition or a blocked air filter.
Beyond those few things it's all down to the service history and whether or not the thing rides well.
Absolutely get the suspension worked over or at the very least rebuilt. And make sure the linkages get cleaned up and greased as well. Not being able to make full use of the handling is a sin. I suppose you can do the pipes and jets thing, after all a few more horses never goes amiss. A Dynojet kit and K&N filter matched to a good exhaust-can will provide 6-8 horses at the top end - more importantly they will deliver a crisper and fatter midrange. By now the brake hoses will have done their best work, so new standard hoses or braided alternatives, along with a set of EBC pads, will restore the efficiency. Lastly because I'd probably buy the Cat as a bit of a sleeper, I'd put a billet clutch in it just to be on the safe side.
The Thundercat is a brilliant "proper" sports road bike. It's more than capable of keeping up with pure sports tackle on real roads and far more capable of being day-to-day transport. Often overlooked these days in favour of lighter sexier tackle, it represents excellent buying. Mind you, if the riding position doesn't work for you, consider the equally excellent but quite rare Yamaha FZS Fazer.
Bike supplied by Redwing Honda (03) 9459 5553.
- Styling - especially in the later blue and white livery.
- Soggy suspension
- Slightly iffy clutch
- No centre stand
|SPECIFICATIONS - YAMAHA YZF600R THUNDERCAT|
|Type: Liquid-cooled, four-stroke, four-valve, in-line four|
|Bore x stroke: 62 x 49.6 mm|
|DFuel system: Four 36mm Keihin CV Downdraft type|
|Type: Six-speed, constant-mesh|
|Final drive: Chain|
|CHASSIS AND RUNNING GEAR|
|Frame type: Deltabox twin spar steel|
|Front suspension: 41mm, fully-adjustable, forks|
|Rear suspension: Rising-rate, fully-adjustable monoshock|
|Front brakes: Twin 298mm discs with Sumitomo four- piston calipers|
|Rear brake: Single 245mm disc with twin-piston caliper|
|DIMENSIONS AND CAPACITIES|
|Dry weight: 187kg|
|Seat height: 808mm|
|Fuel capacity: 19 litres|
|Max power: 105hp at 11,500rpm|
|Max torque: 6.69 kg-m at 9500rpm|