2014 Yamaha FZ-09

Road Test Review

Just three years after its debut, the FZ8 has been axed from Yamaha’s lineup. Replacing it is the all-new, hyphenated FZ-09, another middleweight naked bike with a bigger engine (by 68cc) and a smaller price tag (by $900). At $7,990, the FZ-09 costs the same as Yamaha’s new-for-2013 Star Bolt cruiser, which has been selling like hotcakes. Before the FZ-09 arrived in dealers last October, so many deposits had been put down that Yamaha doubled production. Which begs the question: If the FZ8 struggled to find an audience, why is the FZ-09 poised for success?

On paper, the FZ8 made sense. Lighter, milder and less expensive than the mighty FZ1, it made sporty performance and upright ergonomics available to a broader audience (Rider, April 2011). But its styling turned few heads, and even though its in-line four made decent power, the FZ8 lacked character. We decide with emotion and rationalize with logic. A competent but bland motorcycle ignites few passions and collects dust on the showroom floor, especially during a sluggish economy.

Whereas the FZ8 was conventional, the FZ-09 is anything but. Its muscular stance and sharply pointed tail are influenced by supermotos and streetfighters. Its blacked-out frame and swingarm have rounded, organic lines, and its low-slung, brushed-metal exhaust keeps the bike visually compact. The FZ8 looked like a sportbike in need of a fairing. The FZ-09 looks purpose-built, with a ready-to-pounce athleticism.

Powering the FZ-09 is an all-new in-line triple that packs a wallop and has character in spades. First shown at the 2012 Intermot show in Germany, it was inspired by the “crossplane concept.” Yamaha’s YZF-M1 MotoGP racer and YZF-R1 sportbike have in-line fours with each crankpin offset 90 degrees from the next, forming a cross, rather than the usual 180-degree offset that forms a flat plane. This arrangement, along with an uneven firing interval, allows the crankshaft to rotate more smoothly, improving throttle response and rear-wheel traction and giving the engine a unique character. Rather than a true crossplane, each of the FZ-09’s three crankpins are offset 120 degrees from the next (like the Mercedes-Benz three-pointed star), and the cylinders fire sequentially in even, 240-degree intervals. “Crossplane” refers to similarity of the FZ-09’s torque character to that of the crossplane YZF-R1 rather than the actual positions of the crankpins.

The liquid-cooled, fuel-injected triple displaces 847cc and has an 11.5:1 compression ratio, dual overhead cams and four valves per cylinder. An airbox resonator and staggered-length intake funnels enhance the engine’s distinctive sound and feel. Plated cylinders, forged aluminum pistons and offset cylinders reduce friction and boost torque, and the stacked 6-speed gearbox saves space. Rear-wheel output is nothing short of impressive. Horsepower climbs smoothly and steadily to a peak of 110.3 at 10,000 rpm and the broad, flat torque curve tops out at 63.4 lb-ft, with more than 55 lb-ft on tap from 3,600-10,500 rpm. That’s a lot of grunt for a bike that tips the scales at just 413 pounds fully fueled—54 pounds less than the FZ8, and just one pound heavier than the last Ducati Monster 796 we tested, which made only 80 horsepower and 54.4 lb-ft of torque (Rider, April 2011).

The torquey triple is eager and willing, ready for jackrabbit starts and one-wheeled tomfoolery. The engine revs up quickly and the transmission shifts cleanly. Intake growls and exhaust snarls are addictive, encouraging hit after hit of throttle. Like the R1, Yamaha’s YCC-T throttle-by-wire enables three Drive Modes: “A” has aggressive throttle response down low, “STD” (Standard) has milder throttle response and “B” has the softest throttle response with reduced output at higher revs. The three modes certainly alter the FZ-09’s personality, but they also shine light on its biggest flaw. Throttle response can be very abrupt, particularly at low revs and in lower gears. “A” mode can be so herky-jerky around town or when trying to negotiate tricky corners that it’s downright unpleasant. “B” mode is the easiest to live with, but I found myself spending most of my time in full-power “STD” mode. With practice, I adapted to the throttle sensitivity, but I’d gladly trade three modes for just one that offers the suppleness of the FZ8.

From the saddle, the FZ-09 almost disappears beneath you. It has a minimalist cockpit with a compact, fully digital instrument panel mounted just right of center. The cast aluminum frame connects to an externally mounted aluminum swingarm that keeps the bike slim in the middle. With deeply recessed knee cut-outs and a slender seat, the bike feels extremely narrow. Seat height (32.1 inches) is the same as the FZ8’s, but the FZ-09’s 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. Comfort is generally good, but on longer rides the firm seat takes its toll and windblast induces fatigue. The 3.7-gallon tank limits range (144 miles based on our 38.8 mpg average), so gas stops provide ample opportunities for relief.

Tossing the lightweight FZ-09 around corners is effortless thanks to its wide handlebar, short wheelbase and grippy Dunlop Sportmax D214 tires. Standard settings on the 41mm male-slider fork and progressive-link horizontal shock, both made by KYB and adjustable for spring preload and rebound, are a tad soft, but once firmed up they keep the bike well-behaved. The brakes—dual front discs squeezed by radial-mount opposed 4-piston Advics calipers and a single rear disc squeezed by a 1-piston pin-slide Nissin caliper—offer plenty of power and feedback with just the right amount of initial bite.

The FZ-09’s racy good looks, robust power and well-sorted chassis are a steal at less than $8,000. If it were less interesting or more expensive, its abrupt throttle response and limited range might be deal breakers. But riding the FZ-09 is so thrilling that its shortcomings become easier to live with.