Yamaha Fazer8 Motorcycle | First Ride

For their eyes only

By Roland Brown, Photography by Paul Barshon, Alessio Barbanti

Despite winning the MotoGP world championship and its first-ever World Superbike title, Yamaha posted a debilitating $2.3 billion loss in 2009. That deficit cost the president his job, and sent the company scrambling to find a way to recover from what can only be described as the most horrendous sales year ever.

The Japanese manufacturer's problem is that aside from motorcycles, all it makes are other "big boy's toys" such as ATVs, personal watercraft, snowmobiles and musical instruments, which don't fare well in a recession. With nothing to do but keep on keepin' on, Yamaha created the Fazer8-a 779cc inline-four that's intended to plug the gap between the entry-level 600cc FZ6R and the experts-only 1000cc FZ1.

Most of the Fazer's 16-valve engine is new, including the cylinder head and camshafts, while the bottom end is from the '08 YZF-R1. The aluminum frame and swingarm are from the FZ1, but the suspension has been simplified, with adjustability limited to shock-spring preload. Bodywork is all-new, and retains the FZ1's easily identifiable slanted headlights and pointy nose.

A brief spin through Provence in the south of France revealed that the Fazer8 makes a good commuter. Its upright riding position is comfortable and provides excellent visibility, and the engine has ample low-end torque which is nice in stop-and-go situations. The bike feels reasonably light, and the wide bars make it easy to guide it through traffic. The tank and seat are slightly narrower than the FZ1's and the footpegs are 10mm lower and 15mm further back, so the fit is a little more spacious.

With a claimed 105 horsepower on tap, the Fazer8 is exceedingly entertaining on a traffic-free backroad. Power delivery splits the difference between the grunty feel of a liter-bike and the rev-happy pep of a middleweight, with a noticeable step in power above 6500 rpm. Provided you keep it spinning, the 779cc inline-four accelerates with addictively smooth thrust all the way to its 11,500-rpm redline.

Stable at speed, and with suspension soft enough to give a smooth ride, the Fazer inevitably lacks the tautness of a purebred sportbike. It certainly corners well enough to be fun, but when ridden hard the fork feels soft and vague, and the shock suffers similarly. Stopping power from the 310mm discs and four-pot calipers is respectable if not outstanding, and the Bridgestone BT021 tires are likewise capable but not phenomenal.

This Yamaha is practical in all respects, and a long list of accessories (including ABS) promises to help tailor it to fit many possible uses. City bike, sport-tourer or backroad scratcher, the Fazer is suited to any or all of these pursuits. Its only real drawbacks are a price tag in the vicinity of $12,000 and the fact that it can only be purchased in European dealerships. That last fact may change within the next 12 months, but for now this is one more excellent all-rounder Americans will have to do without.

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