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Yamaha YZF600 Thundercat (96-03) Review

Yamaha YZF600 Thundercat

Yamaha has had a long list of successful sports bikes through their history. Almost every engine class has a Yamaha option that is more likely than not to be the best in that class. The other Japanese brands including Suzuki, Honda, and Kawasaki, along with Yamaha are almost constantly locked in hard battle, bringing out among the best bikes we’ve ever seen. From the annals of this illustrious history, this time, we have picked out a crowd pleasing favourite in the form of the Thundercat.

The Thundercat is a bike that was produced between 1996 and 2003 and through its production was a loved bike. It took over the older FZR600R, the OG 600 series from Yamaha. Quite a few changes were made right away. The engine was largely based off the FZR600R, the frame also had a striking resemblance, but the bike was a lot heavier than the outgoing model. What it resulted was a bike that was a lot less focused on the track than the FZR, but had better performance and was so much more ridable.

Design and looks

The bike has a similar, but somehow easily distinguishable and distinct design when compared to the outgoing FZR. The Thundercat had a single nose cone headlight that reminds one of the Thunderace 1000. Another thing that you should know is that the bike had barely any changes done to it over the course of its production run. That is a clear indication that Yamaha pretty nailed it the first time around. The large, dual seat also meant that you could use this bike to tour and it will happily take you there. The large tank and extra fuel in it meant that you could cover more ground than most other 600s of its time.

As far as rider aids and equipment goes, there is enough to keep you on the road. It is not too complicated. They are sufficient, the instrument cluster in front is not as comprehensive as its competition, but no one is really complaining!

Engine and performance

The engine is a 600cc detuned R6 motor, the in-line 4 motor throws out a punchy 100 bhp. The bike is rev happy and has a pick up and goes like no other bike in the class. It seems almost endless, the power. Keep the bike above 6,000 rpm and it really shines. Any gear, at any speed, it never really flattens out. The engine redlines at around 13,000 rpm, you can feel it rocket forward till about 500 rpm short of the redline. That is impressive, even by today’s standards. While not entirely a demon on the track, it is no slouch either. Unless you are a racing rider, you are unlikely to notice the difference between this one and a thoroughbred racer like the R6.

The RAM air induction system fed more engine output as the speed increased. It gave the impression that you have almost limitless power. While this is normal today, it was revolutionary back in the day. What that meant is that the faster you go, the better the engine performed! That is some motivation to get you to really ride the bike like it is intended to.


The large seats, the posture the bikes puts you in and the weight of the vehicle makes it a lot of fun to ride. It is comfortable and the suspension works better in soft, smooth road conditions than in potholes-filled B roads, but it can be tweaked, and will reward you greatly. It can even be used as a daily driver if you so please. It is one of those bikes that you can ride to the track, burn some corners, drive to a cafe, and then back home without a hitch.

Build quality

Yamaha has always built their bikes well. The engine, bodywork, paint job, and general fit and finish is top notch, very Yamaha like. The all aluminium engine is bullet proof, and as long as you do the necessary maintenance, it will pretty much last forever. You can easily find bikes pushing 60,000 to 70,000 miles on the clock and still perform like they always have. If you can find an example within 30,000 to 40,000 miles, just buy it. Do look into the frame and chassis and as long as it is not overly abused, you should be peachy.

So should you buy one?

The verdict is plain and simple, if you find a good example, buy it. It is a beautiful bike that will age amazingly well. It is nice to ride and can take on a challenge like a champ. More importantly, it is also practical, and easy to ride, even through traffic. The Thundercat is a motorcycle that is more ‘motorbike’ than ‘wannabe racer’ and that should be enough reason for you to pick one up if you can.

Yamaha YZF600 Thundercat (96-03) Review was last modified: May 10th, 2019 by Alan Charnock