First Ride Review
Yamaha runs a tight ship. Rather than offering a huge cross-section of new models to fulfill any need or desire, the tuning-fork company’s lineup has been focused on just two or three models per category. Supersport? YZF-R1 and YZF-R6. Sport Touring? FJR1300 and FJR1300ES. Adventure Touring? Super Ténéré and Super Ténéré ES. Not too surprising, considering the relatively slow growth in those categories as we drag ourselves out of the Global Financial Crisis. Ah, but wait—what’s this? There has been new interest and solid growth in Sport, the catch-all category we assign to motorcycles that are neither supersports nor pure sport-touring machines, bikes like Yamaha’s FZ-09. This naked and sporty 2014 triple went platinum even before it arrived in dealerships in 2013, and as I write this Yamaha still can’t build them fast enough to satisfy demand.
The FZ-09 succeeded because its three-cylinder engine and fresh neo-streetfighter styling got everyone’s attention, and then its sub-$8,000 price sealed the deal. If it worked once, why not again? Enter the Yamaha FZ-07, yet another rakishly styled naked bike well suited to commuting and “playful” sport riding, without the scary commitment to hard-core knee-dragging or risk-taking that many assume comes with fully faired supersports. And once again the FZ-07 sets the hook with its price point, this time a tick under $7,000.
Both the FZ-07 and FZ-09 began life domestically and in Europe badged MT-07 and MT-09, ostensibly for Master of Torque, not coincidentally the title of a Yamaha anime cartoon series starring several of these “crossplane” crankshaft bikes and their good guy/outlaw riders dashing around in what seems to be downtown Tokyo (but just can’t be because there’s no traffic). Episode 1: Idle Roughness. Seriously. Check it out on YouTube. Anyway, that Master of Torque sobriquet is no joke when it comes to the FZ-09’s power output, as the triple makes 110 horsepower and 63 lb-ft of torque at the rear wheel, and 55 lb-ft from 3,600 rpm all the way to 10,500. That’s no torque “curve,” that’s a pancake. Yamaha says the FZ-07’s parallel twin makes 75 horsepower and 50.2 lb-ft peak at the crank, and no doubt when we get one back here in Rider land it will show off a similarly flat curve, as the bike’s all-new liquid-cooled 689cc engine was also engineered to be a Master of Torque.
At its heart is a 270-degree crankshaft that gives the engine some character from the uneven firing order while enhancing low to midrange power. A gear-driven balancer shaft takes care of the vibes this would otherwise transmit to the rider, since the engine is a stressed member in the tubular-steel frame, and the cylinders are offset 7mm to reduce piston-to-cylinder friction (a lá YZR-M1 and FZ-09). Up top is the usual DOHC 4-valve-per-cylinder head, but with practical 24,000-mile valve inspection intervals, and down below a six-speed transmission with ratios specifically chosen to eliminate the need for frequent shifting. Yet with 11.5:1 compression and a redline of 9,900 rpm, the engine is far from slouchy at high revs.
A pair of 38mm throttle bodies deliver the juice, and Yamaha made an effort to give the engine good fuel economy on regular gas, claiming an average of 58 mpg. It doesn’t hurt that it weighs less than 400 pounds wet, according to Yamaha. I didn’t have the opportunity to verify either at the introduction in Seattle, Washington, and across the Puget Sound on Bainbridge Island, but if the former proves true when we get our hands on one, that would give the bike a tidy range of about 215 miles from its 3.7-gallon tank. Nice.
You can pretty much forget about riding the FZ-07 to conserve fuel, however, because it’s so darn fun to wring its little neck. Light in weight and quick handling, the bike’s comfortable ergonomics and ever-present torque lend themselves to all kinds of hooligan antics, or just squirting from corner to corner without thinking much about what gear you’re in or feeling pressured to go really fast. The spread of torque is incredibly broad, the engine sounds and feels great down low and in the midrange, and there’s a surprising amount of screaming kick on top as well. This is the most versatile engine I’ve experienced in a long while, in fact, and it just may best anything else in this size range. I even liked it better than the more powerful FZ-09 for its less urgent feel and more linear throttle response.
Faced with a dizzying array of electronic engine, suspension and braking modes on many modern motorcycles, the FZ-07’s lack of these complications is a refreshing change (and partly responsible for its low price and weight). No throttle-by-wire, no ABS, not even any adjustments to the KYB 41mm fork or single rear shock except 9-position rear preload. Yamaha has calibrated the suspension for comfort and commuting and given it a generous 5.1 inches of travel at each end, and I spent the entire ride with the rear preload on just the second setting. I found it compliant yet controlled enough for my 200 pounds and some pretty spirited riding, enabled by the miraculously dry day and mysteriously twisty back roads on the lightly inhabited island. Bumpy sections could upset the back a little when I was on the brakes, and the shock could use a little more rebound damping for my weight, but all-in-all the suspension settings seem pretty good for most situations. The rear shock is laid-out horizontally and mounted with progressive linkage between the engine and welded-plate steel swingarm, which is looped-up on the right side (asymmetrical) to clear the stubby muffler for the 2-into-1 exhaust.
The triple disc brakes are nicely done as well, with floating wave rotors and opposed 4-piston pots up front and a single-piston floating caliper in back. Both levers are adjustable, and while the feel at the front lever is a little soft, the bike can still be made to stop quickly.
The FZ-07’s taller handlebar and wide seat make it reasonably comfortable for long rides, and by narrowing the seat in front Yamaha was able to make the 31.7-inch-high seat seem much lower—I can flat-foot it at stops with my 29-inch inseam—yet the distance to the lowish footpegs gives the FZ-07 plenty of legroom underway. Nevertheless it takes some work in a tight corner to touch the pegs down, and the bike handles really smoothly and sticks quite well on its 120/70 and 180/55-ZR17 radials.
The FZ-07 will come in Rapid Red, Pearl White or a very nice looking Liquid Graphite with contrasting blue wheels and frame. Accessories include a rear rack, comfort seats and several soft and hard luggage options and trim pieces. I can’t wait to get one back here in California to put through its paces—the FZ-07 is one of the most fun and interesting motorcycles to come to the U.S. in a long time.