Yamaha’s FZ1 lives in the shadow of the thoroughbred YZF-R1, earning little respect from hard-core sportbike types. The bike shows a lot of promise on paper, but never quite lives up to its potential on the pavement. Suspension is adequate, but just. Based on the retired 20-valve R1 mill and retuned for broad-spectrum street riding, most of the 998cc inline-four’s 126 horsepower live between 8000 and 11,000 rpm. That shortage of bottom and midrange power, along with chronically abrupt throttle response that persists despite the factory’s attempts to fix it, left most of us uninspired about the idea of an FZ1 project.
Then we met Jay Tanner, FZ1 aficionado and man of many helmets: Brand Manager for Yamaha’s expanding line of GYTR street parts and Genuine Yamaha Accessories, owner of JFT Motorsports in Orange, California, and Fastrack Riders instructor. Tanner has been a fixture on the SoCal roadrace scene for many years, and even served as WSMC Race Director for a few.
Öhlins-fortified ’09 YZF-R1 fork legs are the key to transforming the FZ1’s handling. A Gr
The first time he unloaded this meticulously finished FZ1 at Auto Club Speedway, we mumbled some polite acknowledgment and went back to the business at hand. Then a second look revealed the magnitude of what he’d done: This FZ1 might be a rolling catalog, wearing every bolt-on part in the book, but it also boasts a few advancements that aren’t.
Wearing the 50th Anniversary racing livery of Yamaha’s Retro Body Kit along with a few tasty carbon-fiber accents, the FZ1 could almost pass for a lightly massaged ’09 FZ1 Special Edition. At least until you look close enough to see that all the stock bike’s cost-cutting compromises have been replaced with some very uncompromising solutions…
In place of the original Soqi fork, there’s a pair of 43mm fork legs fortified with an Öhlins 30mm piston kit—along with matching six-piston brake calipers, rotors and front fender, all from an ’09 R1. A tall Graves fork-cap kit and Öhlins springs extend the R1 legs sufficiently to maintain standard FZ1 ride height. The stock Soqi shock was binned in favor of an Öhlins YA-906 unit that balances the front and rear suspension perfectly.
Since control really is everything, Yamaha’s new handlebar kit is probably the single biggest improvement any second-generation FZ1 owner can make for $175. Add a set of Graves Motorsports rearsets from Yamaha’s accessory catalog and you’re in a much more comfortably balanced position for any kind of riding, with more accurate front-end feedback flowing through the surprisingly comfortable Yamaha TZ250 grips. A set of Harris pivoting levers finishes off the cockpit nicely.
Moving into the engine bay, Tanner milled 0.01 of an inch from the stock cylinder head and swapped the standard head gasket for a 0.35mm YEC part to increase compression. He then degreed both cams (105 on the intake side, 108 on the exhaust) to let the engine breathe deeper. Dynojet’s Power Commander V works with an Auto Tune module to erase the stock bike’s fueling glitches and maximize the positive effect of respiratory changes like velocity stacks, an EXUP exhaust-valve eliminator and a stainless-steel/carbon-fiber exhaust system from Graves Motorsports. Interestingly, a good deal of the bike’s precise throttle response comes from dialing-in the adjustable throttle-position sensor with a step-by-step process right from the dash. That won’t cost you anything but time.
Heading out onto the track for a few laps, we were surprised by dramatically improved handling and power delivery. Despite the fact that the original FZ1 design brief never included anything about ripping around a roadrace course, this one got around Auto Club Speedway with surprising haste—especially for a naked streetbike. Back in its natural habitat, this FZ1 is fast, precise and comfortable enough to blur all those traditional boundaries between hard-nosed sportbike and naked standard.
Comfortable enough to let us actually enjoy the obligatory morning freeway stint between home and the twisties—more than we can say for any of its track-bred counterparts—the enhanced FZ1 works as least as well as a standard R1 when it gets there, thanks to a broader spread of useable power, deadly accurate steering and vastly improved suspension. Add to that the fact that it doesn’t require a post-ride chiropractic session and you’re looking at one eminently capable streetbike.
Smooth, predictable power delivery, all the way up to its 146-horse peak—20 more than stock—plus all-day comfort and controlled, compliant suspension makes this one pure pleasure anywhere, anytime. And while all that performance comes at a price, you can get most of it for thousands less than the $10.5K it would take to buy every part on the accompanying list.
Start with Yamaha’s handlebar kit and a set of Graves rearsets. Substitute a pair of pre-owned R1 fork legs for new ones, along with as many of Tanner’s other suspension enhancements as you can afford. Dial-in the throttle position sensor—an official Yamaha shop manual will show you how it’s done—then decide how many of the other engine mods you can swing without breaking the bank. We’d start with the Power Commander and Graves exhaust system.
Riding around on a complete catalog fantasy has always been a pricy proposition. Too pricy for most of us. But choosing wisely—starting with the most effective additions at the top of your list—will transform any second-generation FZ1 from an overqualified underachiever into the sort of real-world R1 it should been in the first place.