Road Test Review
Remember the days when bikes were inexpensive and could do a little bit of everything? Well, there’s good news-the middleweight standard motorcycle has made a comeback. In a market where most bikes are built with a specific focus, the re-emergence of the middleweight standard category has forced nearly all of the manufacturers to bring a standard back into the fold, as these bikes are great for novices and seasoned veterans alike.
Deep inside the Yamaha lineup there’s a model that doesn’t garner very much fanfare, and yet is something of a welcome salute to the old days-the FZ6. The little brother of the FZ1, the 2007 Yamaha FZ6 hasn’t changed all that much from the bike we tested in April of last year, but the new version gets updated fuel-injection programming, a revised gauge cluster with an easy-to-read analog tachometer (which replaces the old digital unit that was hard to read), and a redesigned fairing and windscreen. The biggest change on the new model is a revised swingarm and a switch to monoblock four-piston calipers (as seen on the R6S) hugging the front discs in place of the old two-piston pin-slide calipers. We never had a problem with the old binders; in fact we gave them the nod in comparison tests with the FZ6’s competitors, but we’ll gladly take the upgrade.
Not only is the Yamaha FZ6 aimed at the new rider, but budget-conscious riders looking for a thrill can get a kick out of the bike as well. At the heart of the FZ6 is the R6S engine, which has been retuned for better midrange rideability. Keep in mind that this is the same basic engine that Yamaha used to win AMA Supersport victories and the 2003 championship, so it’s definitely no slouch. On the dyno the retune translates into 84 rear-wheel horsepower at 12,100 rpm and 41 lb-ft of torque at 10,100 rpm, real punch for a bike in this weight range.
Thumb the starter button on the Yamaha FZ6 and it springs to life, but don’t be too quick to jump on and ride-the fast idle needs some time to bring the bike up to operating temperature. Click it into first gear and an abrupt thud is there to greet you every time. Once moving, the six-speed transmission is slick, with positive engagement from the slightest flick of the toe. Our test bike had a rather stiff throttle spring that made long-distance trips at constant throttle an exercise for the wrist, but for short trips around town-where engine speeds vary-it wasn’t noticeable. Sort your way through the gearbox and the top-end rush of the 600cc mill is so intoxicating that perhaps the throttle was designed that way to protect those with heavy right hands from landing in the slammer!
The new fuel-injection programming is also spot-on, especially during midcorner application, as the engine was always smooth and responsive. Get that left ankle in shape, though, because the peaky nature of the engine means that constant shifting is required to keep the Yamaha FZ6 in the powerband. And while the top-end power is nice, the price you pay for that fun is some buzziness in the handlebar that can numb the hands on a long ride. The shape of the gas tank doesn’t help take weight off the wrists as its narrow and rounded contours make it hard for the rider to support his or her weight with their legs. Fortunately the riding position is rather relaxed, and not much weight is on the wrists anyway. You are sitting slightly forward, but nowhere near sportbike standards. For truly comfortable touring a higher bar position would do the trick.
In the tight stuff the little Yammie performed admirably, my only gripe being that it was difficult to move around in the saddle as the new seat material latched on to my riding pants. Body positioning through turns doesn’t suffer as long as you prepare yourself ahead of time. The same non-adjustable 43mm fork from the previous generation FZ6 sits out front, this time finished in black to complement the aluminum frame and swingarm, while the single preload-adjustable shock resides in the rear. The fork could use a little more damping both in rebound and compression, but turn-in wasn’t overly gish and the bike held its line. Bikes in this price-point often tend to “pogo” through turns as their suspensions can’t keep up, but not so on the FZ6. The rear shock was expectedly soft, and although the preload is the only thing to play with, it didn’t show any signs of wanting to bounce or wallow.
Speaking of price-point, at first glance one would think that the 600cc engine is the star of this show and would drive the price up, but when you look at the complete package and how well it all works together one starts to wonder how Yamaha could only want $6,849 for it. For that price new and experienced riders get a motorcycle that scores high on the smiles-per-mile scale without breaking the bank.
As mentioned earlier, the biggest change to the ’07 model is the four-piston calipers that clamp on dual 298mm floating discs. Braking is strong and linear, although the rubber lines tend to flex and make braking feel spongy after repeated hard usage (like during our photo shoot). This bike isn’t one that would see hard stopping on a repeated basis anyway, so unless you like braking to the point where the discs get red hot, the standard rubber lines are fine for the job.
On the open road the peppy engine is ready at a moment’s notice and the seat is neither too soft nor too firm. Yamaha claims the passenger seat and footpegs are supposed to be more comfortable for a pillion, and the passenger grabrails are some of the biggest in its class. So grab a copilot and go for a ride-just make sure you are quick with that shifter-you’ll need to be if you want to keep the engine happy, especially two-up. During our (mainly solo) testing, the metal gas tank was an ideal location for a magnetic tankbag, and the large, flat flypaperlike rear section proved to be a prime spot to put soft luggage. You’ll need it, too, as the underseat exhaust takes away any storage space. So if two-up touring is your game, then you had better travel light, but if you prefer traveling solo you’ll find yourself comfortable with just enough room to pack a little more.
During our mixed testing of local commuting, jaunts through the canyons and the occasional weekend trip, the Yamaha FZ6 averaged an amazing 47 mpg from its 5.1-gallon gas tank. Great fuel range is something we’ve liked about the FZ6 in the past and fortunately the retuned fuel injection keeps that tradition alive. The restyled fairing and windscreen no doubt punch a cleaner hole in the air, thus also helping in the mileage department. Our previous gripe was that the windscreen was too far forward and didn’t protect the rider much. The new windscreen is closer to the rider but the wind still hit this 5-foot 8-inch rider’s helmet and created some buffeting, sometimes coming underneath the chinbar on a windy day. In a tuck, however, the windscreen does a great job of deflecting the wind away from the hands and the head. Shorter riders should appreciate the windscreen even more.
We’ve logged plenty of miles on current and former models to really notice the little things about the FZ6 that stand out. Yamaha definitely gets points for equipping the 6 with a centerstand-making parking in tight spaces and performing basic maintenance a breeze. Yamaha also gets credit for supplying a fully stocked toolkit that seems fit to perform anything short of a complete overhaul. Rubber-mounted footpegs are a subtle touch on the FZ6 that are normally overlooked on bikes costing twice as much. Despite not damping all the buzz from the engine, they do isolate most of it before it reaches the rider. Again, little things….
What we have with the FZ6 is a legitimate middleweight standard with the versatility to keep experienced tourers entertained and the simplicity to keep the newer rider from getting in over his or her head. Despite our minor gripes, the engine is fit for the job and the adequate suspension is actually a good learning tool for being smooth. Throw in the quality brakes and all the provisions for luggage and you get a bike that’s a welcome tribute to the versatile way things used to be. Sometimes the old ways are the best ways. The fact that Yamaha doesn’t even want seven large for the FZ6 is just icing on the cake.