We've become accustomed to the Japanese Big Four trotting out cautiously updated model lines while motorcycling is still in recovery. There are a few exceptions, in the form of Kawasaki's Ninja 300 or Yamaha's own Star Bolt—plus Honda's huge push in high-value, common-platform models—but for the most part it's been an attitude of stoic survival from Japan.
Perhaps not anymore. I can confidently say that Yamaha's new FZ-09 is the most agile, rowdy, and just plain entertaining motorcycle I've ridden from Japan all year. Heck, maybe ever. It's pure, analog fun. For now, it's unhindered by traction control and ABS, just lights, blinkers, and a dynamite engine in a compact, modern package.
In case you're not familiar with the FZ-09 that was announced this past June, it's the answer to a slew of rumors surrounding the tuning fork marque early in 2013 regarding an inline three-cylinder powerplant. Yamaha delivered, with the 847cc triple bolted into a minimalist chassis in a bold, streetfighter form.
Yamaha staff explained during the technical presentation that the FZ-09 is, "not a parts bin bike." Grips, blinkers, and valve-stem caps were the only parts Yamaha could (jokingly) identify when asked if there are any parts that are not completely new. Make no mistake, this is a totally fresh motorcycle. There's no better indicator that Japan—or Yamaha, at least—has restarted product development and is ready to break out of the mold.
Blipping the throttle and dropping the FZ-09 into first gear is all the time you need to realize you're sitting on an unconventional Yamaha. A narrow, sloped saddle encourages the rider to sit forward, over the pegs and handlebar, almost like a supermotard bike, while the exhaust pumps out a throaty three-cylinder growl.
Let the clutch out a little too abruptly and the front wheel will climb for the heavens. Huge torque is on tap (a claimed 65 pound-feet), and from as low as 15 mph in first gear the FZ-09 will make you strain to hold on. When the front tire is safely back on the ground there is plenty of power (115 claimed horsepower at 10,000 rpm) available all the way to the 11,250-rpm redline. Both horsepower and torque are up from the outgoing four-cylinder FZ8. Top speed? Who knows, but you'll be sick of holding on by the time you get there. Plus, that's not the point. There is far too much fun to be had within the confines of the speed limit to worry about outright speed.
Three ride modes—Standard, A, and B—offer adjustability to the power delivery via the ride-by-wire YCC-T (Yamaha Chip-Controlled Throttle). Standard mode is the baseline, while B mode offers a softer (read: city) input of power and A mode delivers extra crisp response from the engine. I found B mode ideal for more mature riding, but both Standard and A modes took some getting used to; Let's be polite and call the off-idle engine response "snappy."
Brakes are adequate, although much of that probably has to do with the FZ-09's 414-pound claimed wet weight, putting it among the lightest full-size naked bikes on the market. The hardware includes familiar Advics four-piston, radial mounted calipers and 298mm discs. As I said, they're powerful enough for the job but definitely lacking in feel.
The suspension, too, is a little soft. Even with the adjustable preload and rebound damping dialed all the way up, there isn't quite enough stiffness in the fork or the shock (both by KYB, incidentally) for truly sporty riding. The FZ-09 will bounce and wallow a little when pushed hard on a twisty road. In the city, the supple suspenders are welcome, but you'll want the full-stiff setup even around town. Yamaha played it safe with the now-departed FZ8 in the same way, claiming that it was intended for minimally experienced riders who might not appreciate firm suspension, although it gave the bike a much-needed update in its last year of life. Let's hope Yamaha rethinks suspension rates for the American market sooner rather than later.
Yamaha claims 44 mpg from the basket-full-o'-torque triple, a number we've yet to confirm, although a 3.7-gallon fuel tank certainly illustrates that Yamaha is confident of good numbers. That, or the stylists got the upper hand in the development process. Maybe gas stations are closer to each other in Japan.
Potentially good fuel mileage aside, you're probably wondering how this bike can have such allure with squishy brakes, soft suspension, and abrupt throttle response. Two things; one is the engine, which is an absolute gem and undoubtedly worth putting up with the small indiscretions in the chassis and fueling. The other is the MSRP, an amazingly rational $7,990.
That's right. The FZ-09 will go on sale for nearly $1,000 less than the FZ8 it replaces, while making more power and weighing 54 pounds less. If you think I'm the only one who's excited, think again. We were told that the dealer response to the FZ-09 has been so great that Yamaha is slated to build twice as many (!) units as originally planned, and that one California dealer has received 18 deposits.
If that doesn't convince the Big Four that it's time to unleash new, unexpected product into our world, I don't know what will.
||115.0 bhp @ 10,000 rpm
||64.5 lb.-ft. @ 8500 rpm
||KYB 41mm fork adjustable for spring preload and rebound damping
||KYB shock adjustable for spring preload and rebound damping
||Dual Advics four-piston calipers, 298mm discs
||Nissin single-piston caliper, 245mm disc
|Claimed curb weight
Yamaha’s new triple hits the marks for power and character, at a price we can all get behind.