WRIST: Ari Henning
MSRP (2014): $7,990
Mods: Suspension adjustment
The FZ-09's burly engine begs to be flogged, but with abrupt throttle response and the squishy suspension, it's frightening to try to ride the bike quickly.
So I set about stiffening things up. I know, "make it stiffer" is a cliché tossed out by every speed junky who's done a trackday, and you shouldn't just arbitrarily add more of everything; there are approximate figures and specific behaviors we're aiming for here. For streetbikes, you want about 30 to 35mm of static sag (how much the suspension compresses from fully extended under the weight of the rider) front and rear and controlled, balanced suspension movement.
To get an idea of how far off the stock settings were, I performed a basic suspension assessment, looking at sag figures and doing some "bounce testing" to evaluate damping. It's a good idea to do this with any bike that's new to you—check out racetech.com for detailed sag measurement instructions and loads of other valuable setup info.
With the help of Assistant Editor James Laub, I measured sag at 47.5mm front and 35mm rear. The shock is in the ballpark with the preload collar on the fourth of seven steps, but the fork was way off the mark. I spun in the remaining preload (about 12mm), measured again, and came up with 38.5mm. Still too much sag.
On to damping then. The bounce test isn't just paddock theatrics; it's a means of observing the way the suspension compresses and rebounds. Without damping, you're just bouncing along on springs—think clapped-out Oldsmobile on the freeway. As delivered, the FZ-09 wallowed through corners like an '83 Cutlass with blown struts. After just about closing the front and rear rebound adjusters (you never want to fully close the screws), suspension movement was much more controlled but still not quite where I wanted it.
Out on the road, the revised setup made the FZ-09 more stable while leaned over and less prone to dive when I touch the front brake (it still dives too far—that's primarily a function of spring rate). The Yamaha handles a lot better than it did, but the ride quality has suffered. Typically, adding a bunch of preload to a soft spring to get the desired sag will leave the setup feeling harsh at the top of the stroke, and that's exactly how the FZ-09 feels now. Of course, having the damping maxed out doesn't help, especially since the screws affect not just rebound but compression as well. That overlap is an inherent drawback of putting both compression and rebound valves on the same damper piston.
So where to go from here? Springs, for starters. Stiffer springs with less preload should restore some of that plushness at the top of the stroke and offer more support on the brakes. Then I'll experiment with the damping via heavier weight fork oil, a revalve, or even new fork internals, if necessary. I'll take this one step at a time to see what yields the biggest bang for the buck for FZ-09 owners out there, but I'm also committed to turning this triple into a razor-sharp canyon carver, and I'll do whatever it takes to make that happen.
Besides addressing the chassis, I'll need to attend to the FZ's ride-by-wire throttle if the triple is to be as amicable a back-road dance partner as I'd like. Yamaha endowed the FZ-09 with three engine modes—Standard, A, and B—but none of them is ideal. Throttle response is abrupt in Standard and downright violent in A mode. B mode offers smooth throttle response, but limits peak power. Thankfully, I know of a local shop that specializes in reflashing Yamaha ECUs, so I'm hoping some software manipulation is all it will take tame the FZ's 105 horses.