First Ride Review
When the FZ-09 first hit the market in October 2013 (as a 2014 model), it was universally lauded as one of the best “bang-for-the-buck” bikes out there. The bike’s $7,990 price certainly didn’t hurt. But it was the FZ-09’s character-filled Crossplane Concept-inspired in-line triple that won most of us over—including Senior Editor Drevenstedt (read his Road Test Review of the 2014 FZ-09 here).
That’s not to say it was perfect; the FZ-09’s abrupt throttle response, especially at low revs and in lower gears, became a defining (and not very attractive) feature, and it was clear that Yamaha chose to sacrifice suspension to the bike’s sub-$8,000 price when they built the FZ-09. The styling was clean and purposeful, but I never found it particularly inspiring.
Despite a few flaws, the FZ-09 earned a loyal following, and was a large part of what Yamaha says was 318-percent growth in its “Sport” lineup from 2013 to 2014. It has continued to be a strong seller, although over the last three years the FZ-09 has lost some ground to its smaller (and even less expensive) FZ-07 sibling. With the introduction of the flagship FZ-10 and the completion of the FZ family, Yamaha decided it was time to implant some of that FZ-10 DNA and take the 2017 FZ-09 to the next level.
The engine was already the FZ-09’s best feature, and why fix what ain’t broke? The only change to the potent three cylinder was the addition of an optional quick shifter. The aluminum main frame and swingarm also remain unchanged, although the subframe was shortened by 1.14 inches. So what’s new?
For starters, ABS and Traction Control (TCS) are now standard, and the TCS has two settings (and off): Level 1 for low intervention when riding aggressively and Level 2 for high intervention for normal street riding. The YCC-T ride-by-wire system features the same three A, Std and B Drive Modes, ranging from direct to soft throttle response, but a new ECU drastically reduces the abrupt feel that plagued the previous generation. Aiding the FZ-09’s smooth moves is a new assist-and-slipper clutch, which Yamaha says produces a 20 percent reduction in lever effort as well as added stability when downshifting.
On our test ride in the Santa Monica mountains, we spent most of our time leaned over onto one side of the tires or the other, accelerating hard and braking into tight corners as we rode up and down and all around on some of the best roads in Southern California. I found the throttle response to be vastly improved, though most riders will likely never see the need for the A (most direct) setting, as the STD (middle) setting provided a crisp feel for sport riding. I only experimented with the B (softest) mode when crawling through traffic, and while it doesn’t eliminate the STD mode’s crisp off-to-on throttle response, it does scale it back for smooth, easy low-rpm riding.
The other big news for the FZ-09 is its fully adjustable 41mm Kayaba fork; the previous model lacked an adjustment for compression damping. Yamaha says new valving has increased overall compression damping 83 percent, and the new fork proved to be firm and sporting—a much better match to the capabilities of the engine and chassis. I only wish they’d kept the gold anodized finish on the fork sliders! Rear suspension is unchanged, with adjustments for rebound damping and preload only.
Fairly significant performance upgrades such as these call for a style refresh—like picking out new clothes after you’ve lost weight and toned up at the gym for six months. Yamaha tightened up the new FZ, shortening the subframe (yet managing to extend the passenger seat by half an inch) and cleaning up the tail cowl, partly by relocating the license plate bracket to a single-sided holder behind the rear wheel. Responding to complaints about sliding forward into the tank, the rider’s seat has been flattened and the front raised 5mm (about .2 inch). It’s still narrow toward the seat/tank junction, making it easy to get your feet down at stops, but I found the new rounded profile to be a bit uncomfortable as the day wore on.
Up front, the old FZ’s plain single headlight has been replaced with a sharp Twin Eye LED assembly reminiscent of the FZ-10. It features four bright white LEDs; the inner two are illuminated in the low beam setting, while the outer two come on with the high beam. Small LED position lights line the bottom of the assembly. The overall effect is much more aggressive than before, and the bike looks as compact and sharp as it feels.
The new FZ-09 is now an even more effective canyon-carving and urban commuting machine. Winding up the engine until the intakes howl is as addictive as ever, but now that’s matched with confidence-inspiring stability thanks to the ECU improvements, TCS, assist-and-slipper clutch and more capable suspension. Even after 30 minutes of lane splitting through stopped rush hour traffic on Sunset Boulevard—after a full day of sport riding on some challenging mountain roads—I wasn’t ready to give the FZ-09 back.
We’re getting a new FZ-09 for a more thorough test in the next few weeks, and I look forward to getting some more seat time—and maybe even pitting it against some of the competition!
The 2017 FZ-09 is available in Yamaha dealerships right now in three colors: Matte Silver with Neon Yellow, Intensity White and Candy Red. At $8,999, it’s about $800 more expensive than last year’s model, but that $800 buys a lot, and it looks like the FZ-09 is still a great “bang-for-your-buck” ride.