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2001 Yamaha FZ1: MD Ride Review

You have heard it before from middle aged guys that remember the Japanese performance bikes from the late 70s and early 80s. “Just give me a modern, standard style motorcycle . . . something with modern suspension, a modern, liquid cooled motor, a stiff chassis and great brakes.”

Yes, standard bikes, or naked bikes (take your pick) are making a comeback here in the U.S. (they have been popular for several years in Europe). Credit Suzuki and its Bandit 1200 for kick-starting the U.S. market. Now Kawasaki and Yamaha have responded.

Yamaha has made more bold moves in the marketplace than any other manufacturer in the last several years. Yamaha seems willing to lead the market in a new direction, rather than follow. We admire this. The 2001 FZ1 takes standards, or nakeds, to a new level in terms of modern chassis and suspension design, handling and braking.

We raved about Kawasaki’s new ZRX1200R in our review of that machine. We still think the big ZRX has, perhaps, the best in-line, four-cylinder street bike motor we have ever tested. The ZRX motor is awesome. The Yamaha FZ1, however, is functionally superior to the ZRX in many respects.

The FZ1 doesn’t quite have the low-down, stump pulling torque of the ZRX, but it has an excellent motor. Derived from Yamaha’s already legendary R1 sportbike, the FZ1 mill is a modern, five valve per cylinder, liquid cooled engine with high peak horsepower and a relatively broad torque curve. Roughly ten horsepower down on the R1, the FZ1 will put out approximately 120 horsepower to the rear wheel, and a broad band of torque peaking in the low seventies. In the real world, the FZ1 pulls hard above 4,000 rpm and, while lacking the ZRX’s off-idle power, has an extremely broad and usable powerband.

So, the FZ1 has an excellent motor, but perhaps not quite the “best in class” in our opinion (we will reserve that for the ZRX). The handling of the FZ1 is even better than that of the ZRX, however. The FZ1 definitely changes directions easier and feels more nimble. Stability remains good, but not quite as good as the ZRX.

Suspension tuning was fine for the street duty we gave the FZ1. Reasonably compliant, but stiff enough to be sporting. Should you want to fiddle with the FZ1′s suspension, you will be happy to see it is fully adjustable front and rear (rebound, compression and preload). Quality stuff.

Braking is another area that sets the FZ1 apart from the competition. Taking its brakes directly from the R1, the FZ1 hauls you to a stop as quickly as you dare. Indeed, the front brake on the FZ1 felt stronger than the front brake on the last R1 I rode. Definitely a high water mark in the naked class.

Wind protection from the bikini fairing is surprisingly good. The small, stylish fairing cuts a big enough hole in the wind to make freeway cruising comfortable and, for my 5 foot 11 inch frame, without annoying buffeting at the helmet level.

Instrumentation is up to today’s standards with tach, speedometer, twin trip meters, fuel meter, and clock. The R1-style headlights are bright with a well-located band of light.

The seating position is relatively upright and comfortable compared to sportbikes, but a bit more aggressive than a traditional sport tourer. The seat was quite comfortable — even on extended trips.

Riding the FZ1 is a blast. When pushed hard through corners, you do notice the FZ1 lacks the rigidity of a pure sportbike, but otherwise the handling is hard to fault. In the real world, the FZ1 has all the chassis rigidity you need, and the added comfort of the upright seating position is much appreciated.

The wide handlebars allow the bike to change direction quickly and decisively, yet the bike does hold a line well in corners.

Basically, the FZ1 is a fun do-it-all motorcycle with loads of power, very competent handling and great brakes. It is the standard those middle age guys have been asking for all these years.

Is it better than the ZRX? That’s a tough call, and to a large extent a matter of taste. The ZRX is an excellent motorcycle with the King Kong motor. The ZRX handles competently, as well, but not quite at the level of the FZ1. Styling of the FZ1 is more controversial and modern, while the ZRX has a decidedly retro look and appeal. Both bikes will burn through the quarter mile in less than 11 seconds — something standards never did before. The FZ1 also offers slightly better wind protection for the rider than the ZRX.

The bottom line is that Yamaha’s FZ1 sets new standards in several performance categories for the naked motorcycle. With this bike, Yamaha is really the first manufacturer to answer the call for a thoroughly modern, standard style motorcycle with open class engine performance. If the styling appeals to you, you cannot go wrong with this bike. The U.S. MSRP of the 2001 Yamaha FZ1 is $8,499.00, and the FZ1 is available in both blue and black. Visit Yamaha’s FZ1 page for more detailed information and specifications.