First Ride Review
There must be something magic about $7,990 because Yamaha has introduced two all-new 2014 models priced $10 below eight grand. Yamaha unveiled the Star Bolt in March, followed by the FZ-09 sport standard in June. By all accounts, the Bolt has been selling like hotcakes and so many deposits have been put down on FZ-09s that Yamaha added a third color option and doubled production.
At last fall’s Intermot show in Germany, Yamaha introduced the Crossplane Concept in-line triple, an engine derived from the YZF-R1 crossplane in-line four, which itself is derived from the engine in Yamaha’s YZR-M1 MotoGP racebike. The R1’s crossplane engine offsets each crankpin 90 degrees from the next and uses an uneven firing interval to reduce fluctuations in inertial crankshaft torque. The result is more linear throttle response, better rear-wheel traction, and a unique engine character.
The FZ-09’s crossplane triple has a different arrangement. Each crankpin is offset 120 degrees from the next, and the three cylinders fire sequentially (1-2-3) in even 240-degree intervals. The liquid-cooled, fuel-injected in-line triple displaces 847cc and has an 11.5:1 compression ratio, dual overhead cams and four valves per cylinder. To enhance sound and feel throughout the rev range, the airbox has a built-in resonator and staggered-length intake funnels. Plated cylinders, forged aluminum pistons and cylinders offset by 5mm reduce friction and boost torque, which is said to be 65 lb-ft at the crank. Similar to the R1, Yamaha’s YCC-T throttle-by-wire enables three Drive Mode throttle maps (Standard, A and B) and a stacked 6-speed transmission saves space.
The cast aluminum frame uses the engine as a stressed member and connects to an externally mounted aluminum swingarm, helping to keep the bike narrow in the middle. A 41mm male-slider fork and progressive-link horizontal shock, both made by KYB, are adjustable for spring preload and rebound, and offer 5.4/5.1 inches of front/rear travel. Dual 298mm floating front discs are squeezed by opposed radial-mount 4-piston Advics calipers, and a single 245mm rear disc is squeezed by a pin-slide 1-piston Nissin caliper. Cast aluminum 10-spoke wheels are shod with either Dunlop Sport Max D214 or Bridgestone Battlax Hypersport S20 tires in 120/70-ZR17 and 180/55-ZR17 sizes.
The FZ-09 replaces the FZ8, and it sells for $900 less. Whereas the FZ8 was a perfectly competent but rather bland sport standard, the FZ-09 looks, sounds and feels different from any other bike on the road. It’s part sportbike, part supermoto and part streetfighter. The FZ-09 has the same 32.1-inch seat height as the FZ8, but its tapered aluminum handlebar is 2.1 inches higher and 1.6 inches closer to the rider, and the footpegs are an inch lower—resulting in a more upright riding position with more legroom. At 414 pounds fully fueled, claimed wet weight for the FZ-09 is 56 pounds lighter than for the FZ8.
Yamaha hosted the press launch for the FZ-09 in San Francisco, where we spent the first afternoon zigzagging through the city, up and down steep inclines, over rough pavement and streetcar tracks, and through dense traffic. With deeply recessed knee cut-outs in the 3.7-gallon fuel tank and a narrow, unforgiving seat, the bike feels extremely narrow, and its light weight and wide handlebar make it easy to flick around corners.
The torquey triple is eager and willing, ready for jackrabbit starts and one-wheeled tomfoolery. Intake growls and exhaust snarls are addictive, encouraging hit after hit of throttle. The FZ-09 cruises smoothly at highway speeds, but some high-pitched buzz can be felt through the grips and pegs. Though not as troublesome when running the stop-n-go urban obstacle course, on the smoother, flowing canyon roads we rode on the second day, the FZ-09’s abrupt on/off throttle response became frustrating, an issue compounded by heavy engine braking in the lower gears. Of the three Drive Modes, “B” has the softest throttle response, “A” is the quickest and “Standard” is in the middle. “A” was downright unpleasant, “Standard” was slightly less so and “B” was better but still not as smooth and linear as the FZ8.
Gear changes are effortless, suspension compliance is decent, and the brakes deliver good power and feedback with just the right amount of initial bite (ABS is not an option). Even though it costs just $7,990, the FZ-09 doesn’t feel cheap or poorly made. Its 3-into-1 exhaust system is all stainless steel, its brake and clutch levers are adjustable, its brake pedal, shift lever and footpegs are forged aluminum, and its instrumentation is fully digital and packed with info (including gear position, fuel consumption and fuel reserve tripmeter).
The 2014 Yamaha FZ-09 offers lots of style, character and performance for the money, but its hard seat, abrupt throttle response and limited range are drawbacks. Yamaha claims 44 mpg, but the trip computer averaged just under 40 mpg during our 100-mile ride, which translates to less than 150 miles per tankful. It will be in dealer showrooms in October, in three colors: Blazing Orange, Rapid Red or Liquid Graphite.