Yamaha FZ-09 | DOIN’ TIME

Long-Term Update: A reader-inspired comparison with the Triumph Street Triple R

WRIST: Ari Henning
MSRP (2014): $7,990
MILES: 7,261
MPG: 38
MODS: None

We receive a fair amount of mail about the Yamaha FZ-09. Readers are excited about it, intrigued by it, and occasionally critical of my efforts to improve it. Such was the sentiment of Joel Widman, who observed in an email that, "You've put around $2,000 in mods into the bike. Couldn't you just buy a bike for $10,000 that would run and ride the way you want to right out of the box?"

Great question, Joel, and one I've had in mind the whole time I've been developing the FZ-09. I've put about $2,000 into improving the FZ's function ($2,081 to be exact, not including aesthetic items or the Akrapovic exhaust, which I've since taken off the bike), bringing the total cost of the "build" to $10,071. Right in line with the Triumph Street Triple R's $9,999 MSRP.

So how does my FZ-09—with modified suspension, brakes, and ECU mapping—compare to the Street Triple R, a perennial staff favorite in the middleweight naked-bike category? Zack Courts and I snagged the keys to a Street Triple R and spent a day in the twisties for a quick comparison.

Ergonomically, the Street Triple has a sportier riding position, with a lower handlebar, higher seat, and higher pegs. It vibrates more on the freeway since it's turning more revs, whereas the FZ is smooth and offers slightly better wind protection. The Triumph's suspension is considerably more compliant and also fully adjustable. The Triumph's brakes have a stronger bite and more feel than the FZ-09's Galfer-enhanced binders (see Doin' Time), but the Triumph's ABS butts in prematurely, limiting your ability to trail brake. Clutch action is better on the Triumph, with a smoother, broader, and more consistent engagement zone.

Throttle response on Triumph’s triples is the bar by which I measure all others. In other words, it’s perfect. Although I’ve improved the FZ-09’s throttle response significantly compared to stock, it’s still frustratingly abrupt compared to the Street Triple’s perfect calibration. I could keep throwing new tunes at it, but the baseline improvements said to really help the FZ have only brought it partway to the silky Triumph.

The only place where the FZ-09 really outperforms the Street Triple R is in outright engine performance. It’s just got so much grunt. I’ll let the dyno numbers do the talking: The Street Triple R makes 94.8 hp at 12,250 rpm and 44.8 pound-feet of torque at 8,350 rpm. The FZ-09 makes 102.8 hp at 10,200 rpm and 59.1 pound-feet at 8,300 rpm. Roll-ons are more exciting on the Yamaha, and overall the engine is much rowdier, with lots of midrange torque and a feisty top-end rush. Man, we love this motor!

Both bikes offer light, sporty handling, but the Street is more agile and more stable and offers a lot more feedback at full lean. Push the FZ-09 hard and the front end starts to feel numb, diminishing confidence. Meanwhile, the Triumph begs for twistier, more challenging roads. The FZ-09 is fine at a seven-tenths pace, but try to keep up with the quicker, more relaxed Triumph rider, and it stops being fun.

Both Zack and I agree that for $10,000, the Street Triple R is a better package. So was it a fool’s errand to try to improve the FZ-09? I certainly don’t think so, especially if the experiment helps others make a more informed purchasing decision.