Yamaha FZ8 Naked Bike | First Ride

Mind the gap

By Ari Henning, Photography by Riles & Nelson

Yamaha’s website asserts that it has the most diverse lineup of any motorcycle manufacturer, but survey data shows that riders feel the “sport” category—that echelon between sport-tourers and pure sportbikes—is lacking. There’s a gulf between the 600cc FZ6R and the 1000cc FZ1 in terms of price and performance, and poll results suggest a bike that fills this gap is exactly what riders want.

Meet the FZ8, an 800cc sport-standard that’s been a big success since it debuted in Europe last year. Though deeply rooted in the FZ1, it’s not simply a small-bore Fazer. The FZ8 utilizes its big brother’s frame, swingarm, brakes, instruments, gas tank and seat, but everything else is all-new or redesigned to meet the objective of creating the ultimate do-it-all motorcycle.

The inline-four is tailored to provide good midrange power and smooth throttle response, and features a raft of technology aimed at that goal. A longer stroke means more torque, so the FZ8 retains the FZ1’s 53.6mm throw but pairs it with a 68.0mm bore for a total displacement of 799cc. A new cylinder head holds 16 valves instead of the Fazer’s 20, and compression has been increased from 11.5:1 to 12.0:1 to improve low-end performance. The large, 7.8-liter airbox contains towering 125 and 150mm intake trumpets, which work in conjunction with smaller, 35mm throttle bodies to improve intake efficiency and thus increase low-rev power and throttle response. The crank is 30 percent lighter than that of the FZ1 and the clutch has fewer plates, while the gearbox features revised ratios to better suit the middleweight’s power characteristics and intended usage.

Visually the FZ8 is everything a naked bike should be: aggressive, exposed and free of unnecessary clutter. The broad tank and tapered tail section lend it a suitably forceful look, and the arrowhead headlight looks sinister perched above the gold-colored fork stanchions.

Departing the Venice, California, launch base through morning traffic, the FZ8 is on point as well. The bike’s ergonomics are a hair more aggressive than those of the FZ1, and the result is a comfortably upright posture that puts you in an excellent command position. Threading the Yamaha through crawling traffic proves easy thanks to the bike’s incredible stability, ample low-end power and light, cable-actuated clutch. The small teardrop mirrors extend outboard just far enough, and although shifts are accompanied by a loud thwack, action is precise. The Kayaba fork and YHS shock offer enough spring and stroke to make even the roughest roads bearable, and while there is some buzz in the bars in the upper revs, it’s far from annoying.

Heading up the coast, we angle inland to sample some of the Santa Monica Mountains’ finest twisties. While our hosts were quick to differentiate between “sport bike” and “sportbike,” the FZ8 handles the winding roads better than its sport siblings and has an engine that rectifies the FZ6R’s overall meekness and the FZ1’s low-rev anemia.

Chassis geometry and wheelbase are identical to those of the FZ1, but the FZ8 turns quicker and with less effort. Assistant Testing Manager Steve Butler chalks that up to lighter spinning parts. “The new engine has considerably less rotating mass,” he says. “The rear wheel is also a half-inch narrower and thus lighter, which helps as well.” While less spinning metal surely helps the bike change direction quicker, there’s also something to be said for the riding position placing more weight on the front wheel. At a claimed 467 lbs. ready to ride, the FZ8 is 33 lbs. lighter than the FZ1 (and 3 lbs. lighter than the FZ6R), which feels more like twice that from the saddle.

Whatever the physics, the FZ8 exhibits inspiring balance and agility. The engine is stupendous, offering gobs of tractable midrange power that morphs into arm-stretching acceleration above 7000 rpm. The intake trumpets’ song is audible between 6000 and 10,000 rpm, and the motor pulls hard all the way to its 11,500 rpm redline. It’s not all good, though: There’s a bit of abruptness to sub-4000-rpm throttle inputs in first gear, and the big step from first to second is annoying during spirited riding.

Monoblock four-piston calipers lifted from the FZ1 provide two-finger stopping power, while the Bridgestone BT021 radials offer enough traction to push the suspension to the limit. Pick up the pace and the footpeg feelers touch down, followed by a loose sensation from the rear end. You can dial-in spring preload on the shock, but that’s the extent of things. Limited adjustability is a disappointing-but-expected concession on a bike that costs less than $8500.

Aside from budget suspension and those minor engine issues, nits are virtually non-existent. Anyone in the market for one bike to do it all should take a long, hard look at the FZ8. It only costs $1000 more than an FZ6R, yet is worlds ahead in terms of performance, and every bit as good (and in many ways better) than the $2000 dearer FZ1. Yamaha has successfully filled the gap in its lineup by introducing a sport bike that splits the difference between supersport agility and superbike power, and in doing so made the FZ6R and FZ1 redundant.

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