Buying a Secondhand Yamaha YZF600 Thundercat

The Yamaha YZF600 Thundercat revisited. The respected and reliable Yamaha FZR600 engine, tuned slightly for more top end and amazingly a fatter mid-range, equipped with a ram-air system and a 36mm carburetor, installed in a chassis that leaned away from pure sports and more to sports-touring. The Deltabox frame is plain steel, not made of any alloy, but no worse for it.

The fairing and seat are also a good compromise: none of your sportsbike crouching here. It's probably the only other 600 to ever come close to the Honda CBR600 ideal of being a motorcycle for all reasons – sports riding, commuting, touring, you name it. The Yamaha YZF600 Thundercat is fast, very comfy, especially for a pillion, handles well, has decent weather protection and a good range. Unfortunately, when it came out Honda's new model CBR600 was just a bit better in every department, so the Yamaha Thundercat had to be discounted to sell. This reflected now in its secondhand values and makes it a superb used buy.

Still, some people think the Yamaha YZF600 Thundercat fall between two stools, it's not sporty enough for the sports riders and not lardy enough for the tourers, but for Thailand it's a perfect motorcycle.

The Yamaha YZF600 feels like a bigger motorcycle. It weights the same as its competition but the impression is that it's physically bigger. A long-ish wheelbase and a hefty dollop of trail make it slow-steering compared with some of the competition and somehow, you feel that corners have been cut in the suspension. It hasn't got the suppleness of a CBR600 of the same era, never mind the sharpness of a Suzuki GSX-R600. 'It does handle – just in a slightly mushier way than the rest,' we concluded.
So, a biggish, comfortable, slightly soft motorcycle with a stonking engine. More ZZ-R600 than R6, By 1997, it was falling behind in dynamics terms in comparison with the rest of the 600 pack. 'Unfortunately for Yamaha, the CBR600 is almost as suited to touring, while it's a whole lot better on the track, 'the test team concluded. And that was the conclusion of April this year.

The Yamaha YZF600 Thundercat is cheapish motorcycle to run, on the whole. However, you need to be aware that major service time will be pricey because the valve shims are under the buckets (so it's a camshaft-out job). Otherwise, it's like most sports 600s, really good on fuel economics; bodywork is pricey to replace if you drop it; you'll get 10,000 kilometers out of a rear sport-touring tire, 16,000 kilometers to a front tire.

Pretty good. The early FZR600 engines occasionally let go on racetracks (conrods were often blamed), but by the time the Yamaha Thundercat came along it was sorted. The clutch lacks feel compared with some and generally isn't the best, but it works. Don't worry about a clonk when changing from first to second gear – they all do that.

It's a good, sound motorcycle. Look for a service history and quit worrying. There's no single thing you can point to and say: 'This breaks'.

Improving the Yamaha YZF600 Thundercat

The engine doesn't really need much doing to it, though – as ever – the usual carburetor and end can modifications will liberate another few horsepower. A sport or racing slip-on exhaust can and some carburetor needle changes with a K&N airfilter will add 5 horsepower and a bit more torque.

The frame's okay. The suspension has always been a bit low-rent, though, even when it was new. The front fork is a bit soft and the rear shock dies early, so any form of suspension tuning can only improve things. This is the Thundercat's biggest weak spot, but at least it is the easiest to sort.

The brake and clutch levers are non-adjustable, so leafing through online part stores for some span-adjustable aftermarket items is time well spent if your digits are struggling. Oh, and the headlight is crap – an aftermarket 100w bulb works wonders...
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