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Motorcycle News, Editorials, Product Reviews and Bike Reviews

  • July 5, 2011
  • Gabe Ets-Hokin & Lucien Lewis
  • Gary Rather and GotBlueMilk.com
  • 52 Comments

MD Comparo: Yamaha FZ8 vs. Triumph Street Triple R

In the Beginning, in the late 19th century A.D., God created motorcycles, starting with Daimler’s wood-framed Reitwagen, and She saw that they were good. Naked, they felt no shame.

Then, in the mid 20th century, The Devil whispered ‘styling’ and ‘wind protection,’ and the scales fell from their eyes. They felt shame and wanted to be clothed. So God created fairings and windscreens. And She saw that they were good.

Her first mass-produced example? Probably Velocette’s 1948 “LE,” with fairings, windscreen and bags—quiet, smooth and an early water-cooled/shaft-drive design. Others followed, some so big, heavy and burdened with fairings that they had all the disadvantages of ‘cars’ that fell over when you stopped. Motorcyclists: start your arguments about the first such machine, then try to defend the ‘two-wheeled car.’ Lotsa luck.

But among those clothed machines arose spirits yearning to be free, to shed the fairings that encumbered them: costly, heavy, vulnerable plastic, hiding Magnificent Machinery. Their windscreens placed a shield between riders and God’s Elements.

So Naked Bikes returned, based on sportbikes’ core engines/geometries. And it was good, especially for hooligans riding short distances below 80 mph who scorned wind protection and relished wheelies, despite risking “Appearance of Speed” citations. And motojournos called them, appropriately, ‘streetfighters.’ Not, as we shall see, ‘road warriors,’ and searched them out to test.

And we found two such machines, and accepted the task of comparing them. One came from Perfidious Albion, the other from Mysterious Nippon.

2011 Yamaha FZ8

John Joss. Age: 77. Years Riding: 62. Most Recent Flogging: 1955

My wife, Katherine: “It looks like an Arabian stallion—lean, lithe, muscular—with the mask of a comic-book hero.” Picking it up from Yamaha in Cypress, facing a 425-mile ride, it looks to me like a bike with no windscreen . . . uh, naked.

But what a ride. The riding position for my 5-foot-9 frame jis ideal. Virtually new, perfectly prepared, every control functions flawlessly. Within two blocks my inner hooligan is unleashed on this 467-pound (wet) lightweight and my age drops decades. It (and I) would like to wheelie in the bottom three gears and slash through the traffic like a demented otter. Those knife-into-hot-butter gears are close-spaced and low. With its 11,500 rpm redline and seamless, EFI-managed throttle, the 779-cc (68 X 53.6mm) inline-four wants to rip right now on city streets, an engine small and light enough for revs, big and beefy enough to deliver mid range. Hooligantics seem . . . natural.

Then, alas, it’s time to cruise, a task for which this machine is unsuited: up I-5, at an indicated 85 on the wildly optimistic speedometer. I escape the drone at Frazier Park, over gnarly twisties where the nonadjustable front fork (the shock is adjustable for preload) delivers a bone-jarring ride. Then: 166/33, through Taft, onto glorious 58 (perfect surface) to Santa Margarita, dodging Bambi.

At rest, it feels a little top heavy. On the move, handling is light, almost nervous, until it becomes clear that the FZ8 will do exactly what you ask, instantly. Utter joy in the twisties, showing its R1/R6 DNA. Firm, easily modulated Sumitomo brakes. But above 85-90, on the straights, wind pressure (increasing as the square of the speed) is almost unendurable. Despite those silky-smooth four cylinders, residual vibration and wind effects render the mirrors marginal at speed.

After two hours, the saddle’s hard contours fry my aging bum, but four hours remain. On 101, droning, the wind is exhausting, worsened by a 25 mph Salinas Valley headwind. The 4.5-gallon tank delivers 40 mpg but working the gears, rev happy to an indicated 115-plus, pushing into the wind, this declines to 35-37 mpg.

Form should follow function, and Yamaha’s engineers have nailed it: a near-perfect naked bike, at $8490 a steal (get the optional fly screen if you plan to ride more than 100 miles at a time; the saddle? Check the aftermarket). Yamaha has engineered satisfactorily the compromise between simple/low-cost on one hand and exhilarating performance on the other.

For street fighters, terrific.

FZ8 instrumentation

Gabe Ets-Hokin: Age: 42. Years Riding: 23. Most Recent Flogging: Wednesday

If there’s a theme to moto-journalism, (other than figuring out how to score free stuff) it’s the ongoing quest for the perfect motorcycle. A bike that can do it all: tour, commute, do trackdays and still look good enough to motivate the occasional washing. I have yet to own or test such a creature, but I keep trying.

Here’s what I was expecting from the FZ8: slow, heavy and not that interesting. In this eon of 200-horsepower superbikes and sleek sport-tourers, 470-ish pounds and 80-ish hp isn’t very exciting. At least, on paper.

My first ride on the FZ8 kind of confirmed this. John warned me of suspension unpleasantness, with our indifferently maintained local highways cheerfully beating up my lower back and the windblast over 80 just as Sir Joss described. A ride up and back our local twisty backroad was also challenging—you don’t toss the FZ8 around much more than you do the heavier, more-powerful FZ1. Still, it was comfortable (for sub-100-mile rides), well built and had an entertaining motor.

That motor saves the bike from the ‘blah’ pile. It’s reasonably smooth (though that perception is somewhat filtered by the rubber-mounted bars and footpegs) and the throttle response, though abrupt right off idle, is much improved over the FZ1s I rode a few years ago. It also has nice midrange and top end, fast enough to just rip through traffic at 80-plus mph in sixth. Snap it into fifth or (if you’re really impatient) fourth, whack the throttle open and be prepared for some fun.

For some reason (mostly because I can’t resist anything that’s free) I signed up to do a trackday on the FZ8, courtesy of Yamaha and ZoomZoom trackdays (zoomzoomracing.com). I had to filch one of my cat’s Zanaxes* to help me sleep the night before, as I was worried about how well the sport-touring oriented Bridgestone BT-023 tires would do on the slippery, gyrating surface of Laguna Seca.

It was a good thing I signed up, because this would be an uninteresting review without it. The FZ8 was more entertaining on the track than it was on the street (which explains why ZoomZoom’s instructors love the FZ8s Yamaha has provided them so much). On smooth pavement, the suspension works well, with good spring rates and adequate rebound for my 160 pounds. Once I removed the peg feelers there was enough cornering clearance, and the motor gave me enough juice to stay in front of most (okay, more than one) of the B-group guys.

The brakes were good too, as long as you pretended you were riding in 2003, when these monoblocs were tha’ shizzle. Those 023s were grippy enough and didn’t seem to degrade from my (very mild) abuse. And I got more and more track to myself as R6 after R6 was black-flagged by the dreaded Laguna Seca sound-booth fairies. The FZ8 is quiet enough that it doesn’t annoy our non-riding brothers and sisters, but has some good intake noises to make a day on it an interesting (but not painful) aural experience.

Perfect bike? Hardly. That seat does grow hard (call Corbin!), the suspension needs re-tuning and adjustability (but I’ll bet you could find stuff on eBay that would fit and Öhlins makes a shock) and you do feel the weight. Also, like the Street Trip, it has disappointing mileage and fuel range—I saw about 35 mpg and the stupid low-fuel light came on around 115 miles, which is depressingly normal these days, I guess. What’s the point of restricting yourself to 80 hp if you get the same mileage as an ’85 Toyota Corolla? But that’s a question best pointed to the OEMs.

Give me a couple grand to play with and I’ll strip 30 pounds, upgrade the brakes and suspenders, and give the FZ8 some attitude. That’s the fun of a naked bike, I guess—sportbikes these days are so close to perfection they need little modification, but their unclothed cousins always need some dress-up. It’s like having a very fast set of paper dolls. And the ’8 has enough potential attitude that it could be a very adequate only bike.

So, do I prefer it to my Triumph? No, but that’s just because the Trumpet is so much freakin’ fun. The FZ8 is solid, capable and drenched in value, but calling it a hooligan is like calling Neal Patrick Harris a doctor. He can play the part, but I don’t want him cutting out my spleen.

*I am not making this up.

Triumph Street Triple R

John: Street Mistress

Do motorcycles have age and gender, education and experience, character and attitude? If they come from the pens of intelligent engineers and stylists, marketers and bean counters, they do. Customers’ psychographics count for plenty as major manufacturers crank up new models or refine existing ones. You ‘are’ what you ride.

So let’s call the FZ8 a school buddy, sensible with a wild streak. Fun to be around, reliable when you need him. He’ll never let you down.

The Street Triple? She’s young and pretty, your best friend or your worst enemy. She’s been around, tough and street smart. She knows the score, she knows what you like and how you want it. She does not suffer fools. She can behave in a ladylike way when she must, but she has a roving eye and she knows that everyone wants a piece of her. She’s a temptress. She taunts and teases, and she gets her way. She’s a city chick with a whole lot of moxie and attitude.

Stretching a metaphor? No. The Street Triple is a hellion, sexy as hell, as close to an all-out race bike for the urban environment as you’ll find—light, agile and lethally quick. A glance at the tach, with a 13,500-rpm red line, is the first hint (the dial goes to 16,000—what could they be thinking?). Then you unsheathe the weapon and . . . begone, dull care, throw caution to the winds. Who cares if tickets cost $500 and up, like a very expensive date. This Is Living.

Triumph’s triples are engineering marvels—smooth, powerful, torquey, pleasant power delivery, glorious growl—and the Street Triple makes the most of them. The bike is a stripped 675 Daytona, a race bike in street drag. The Brilliant Brits, this time around, knew exactly what they were doing. But it’s still . . . naked.

Gabe: Please Don’t Make me do that Again…

John says the FZ8 is like your sensible old buddy, but everybody had that other high school friend your parents told you to avoid (unless you were that friend). He or she always knew where to get beer and pot and had more fake I.D.s than Robert Hanssen. But you liked hanging out with him because he made you do things you wouldn’t have done on your own. Fun things. Bad things.

That’s the appeal of Triumph’s brilliant Street Triple. It’s built on the 675 Daytona chassis, with some subtle tweaks to make it more rideable as a streetbike—1/2 inch longer in the wheelbase, a bit more trail. It also has a different subframe, which allows an inch-lower seat (31.7 inches) and the fitment of old-timer stuff like luggage racks. The motor is also from the Daytona, a 675cc Triple detuned about 15 percent with different cams and whatnot. Wet weight is about 415 pounds.

Where the Daytona feels like a well-engineered and predictable sportbike, the Street Triple is an untrained puppy. The throttle is (maybe too) touchy, especially at low rpm. Steering is wickedly responsive—to be expected from such a light bike with radical chassis numbers and wide, upright handlebars. Throttle wheelies happen easily (thanks to a shorter first gear for the Striple), and the motor makes its peak torque 2000 rpm earlier than the Daytona. This means you should not test ride a Street Triple, under any circumstances, unless you are ready to buy one. You will not be able to resist.

Get out to your favorite twisty road and look out. The handling and incredibly flexible powerband combine to give you superhuman riding powers. Seriously. On my regular Sunday ride, I had to keep waving people in front of me so I would be forced to slow down. The bike turns quickly, effortlessly, yet holds a line very well. At higher rpm the fueling is very smooth and responsive and the suspension is set up just right for bumpy, twisty roads. And that exhaust/intake note…mmm, mmm. When it’s time to slow down, the brakes bite hard, yet are easy to control. One or two fingers are just fine. It’s no wonder Triumph dealers are having a hard time keeping these in stock—watch for a Japanese competitor in the next few years. For instance, a Yamaha R6 streetfighter built on this model would be pretty fun (and cheap for Yamaha to develop).

The bad news is that it’s not as practical as you’d think. It still has steering lock similar to the clip-on-equipped Daytona, which means a wide turning radius. The twitchy throttle can make low-speed maneuvering nerve-wracking. The seat is spartan, wind protection isn’t, and the fuel economy (and range) can be pretty bad—mid 30s or worse—unless you ride the speed limit, and there is no way this bad influence is going to let you do that. Get a KLR and paint it safety yellow if that’s your thing. In 15 years you’ll save enough money to buy another KLR.

My personal bike is a Street Triple R, and the extra $700 (on top of the standard bike’s $8899 MSRP) for the upgraded suspension and brakes is more than worth it. The standard bike’s shock is chintzy enough you’ll want to spend $800 upgrading it in a few weeks, and you’ll still have to have the fork redone and do something about the numb-feeling (but not that bad, considering) two-piston front brakes. With good rubber and set-up suspension, the R is great on the track and you can tear up a twisty road as well. It’s a unique product with a lot of character.

Perfect bike? No closer than the FZ8. But good enough that I can ride it without feeling ashamed by my nudity.

52 Comments

  1. John Joss says:

    Poor Mike D. We suggest a fly screen. He goes ballistic. Sad.

    Report this comment

  2. MikeD says:

    PEOPLE….These are NAKED BIKES, quit it with the F-*&^%$# HABIT of triying to put wind protection on EVERYTHING naked that gets reviewed HERE and trying to turn it into a sport tourer…(-_- )

    Buy urself an FJR1300 OR an ST1300…OR EVEN BETTER, a K1600GT…so u can carry the the bathtub with u.

    LIVE WITH IT…or kill yourself if it’s too much to keep on living.

    Ok, im better now.

    Report this comment

    • MikeD says:

      …and then people wonder why we don’t get any half-decent nakeds here.

    • MikeD says:

      P.S: Im not going off precisely on Foogunheime but rather the whole collective…altough he did bring the thought to my head…just putting that out here before someone goes “MikeD Hunting” for my head.

      And remenber…these were just one man’s opinions…so, don’t mind me.

      Report this comment

  3. Foogunheimer says:

    Sounds like that bikes are great at anything other than high-speed touring. Both could use a little more fairing and would still be classified as nekkids. Just a fairing short of perfection, especially the triple.

    Report this comment

  4. MIKE says:

    BEST ARTICLE YET.

    Report this comment

  5. Sentinel says:

    Nice job guys, and a big thumbs up to John on a lifetime of biking and still going strong! :)

    Report this comment

  6. Dale says:

    When I first heard about the “STriple” (like it, appropriate for a Naked) I thought that it would be one of the funest bikes to ride on the street, ever. Middleweight Tuono (with a Sweet little triple) anyone?

    Nice article guys, thanks for the grins too. Rock On!

    Report this comment

  7. Nuerburgringer says:

    Why on Earth would *any* motorcyclist want a *yellow* centerstand?

    Report this comment

  8. Nomad says:

    Thanks but I’ll be sticking with my 03′ Tuono

  9. Bobo says:

    Spend some more and consider upgrading to a BMW F800R for another type of naked being generally ignored due to price (fair enough). I thought it was far better than both these bikes overall (both of which have narrow niches) but admittedly at a price. Can flog it and still get close to 50 mpg. Stock seat good for me for 400+ mile days. Takes a passenger and a top case if needed with plenty of room instead of those nubbin ends. Even a little wind protection from the tiny fly screen. Never see it discussed much, again likely due to price and only 300 sold in US this year, but it’s a well kept secret, except in Europe. Best naked I have ever owned.

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    • Neil says:

      I sat on it and it seemed pretty nice. I have owned many nakeds in the past. There is an FZ8 at the local Yamaha dealer near me but I had an ’02 Thou and I really liked being able to dial in the suspension. I think it is worth the extra money. There are so many variations in pavement here in New England. The Beemer seems like it may stretch its legs more than these bikes.

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      • Bobo says:

        Well put – it stretches its legs much better. I was concerned about the non-adj front end, but for some reason it works well as is. Rear adj is fine. I think a naked mid-weight should do more than just carve a canyon for a few hours and then your butt hurts. At least do weekend jaunts comfortably and aggressively when the need arises. Narrow focus bikes are OK (yeah I have a S1000 which is silly to own, but fun), but if you are gonna have one bike and it’s naked (my absolute preference), it should have a little versatility, IMO.

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    • Jeremy in TX says:

      Whether the F800R is an upgrade or not to the Triple R depends on what you want from the bike. If you are looking for an “all around” bike, the BMW is probably the better choice. I was disappointed with the F800R. I found the suspension to be budget-bikish (at least for my weight anyway) and the engine, while perfectly adequate, wasn’t that exciting. At that price, the fork and shock should be adjustable. Just my opinion.

      The BMW is an upgrade in practicality, but the Triumph is an upgrade in performance. Choose your poison.

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      • Bobo says:

        Concur on all your points. The front end on the F800R likely works well due to the stock steering damper, which I think is not budget. But an adj front would be nice and agree they should have done that at the price. Shock is fully adjustable though. Also, I am a little guy weight-wise, so suspension is really not an issue for me (no insult intended) – it handles well for me. No question the engine isn’t at the performance level of the STriple, but it’s still good fun in the twisties, especially when kept at high rpms for it. I am spoiled by having two bikes and when I want performance, I ride a sportbike, so I guess that’s why I prefer the F to the ST. From a practical point of view as you put it. As far as the buzziness of the engine people mention, I don’t know what everyone is talking about – it’s a parallel twin – that’s what they do. I find it real smooth. I find the various feel of all the engines (V2, triples, inlines, etc.) to be fun – it’s what differentiates them and makes them unique.

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    • Blackcayman says:

      F800 – every review says the motor is buzzy… M
      No thanks

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      • jimbo says:

        Yes…motor “sensation” makes me cross both the F800 and STriple motors off my list…

        Physical vibration and exhaust noise seemed controlled on the Street Triple, while intake and exhaust noise at higher rpm were unpleasant.

        The problems were inverted on the F800GS (rented from Doubleju in SF): physical vibration was unpleasant while the “aural” experience was better controlled.

        I’m very curious about the motor sensation on the ’12 Husky Nuda 900 version of the BMW 800 motor. Performance may be so high (pavement and real estate passes so quickly) that the rider has little mental space to care about motor sensations except while freeway droning, for which primary purpose the Nuda 900 will obviously not be purchased.

        My sensitivity may be higher than average to such issues, being an audiophile, music/recording history, etc. I owned about 70 bikes. My favorites had smooth motors: Honda CX500, at least two Yamaha XZ550 Vision (probably my very favorite), ’00 BMW R1150GS (a particularly smooth sample, prior BMW corporate bike) ’99 Ducati 900SS, two Moto Guzzi 1100i (one idled a bit rough).

        Seat of the pants tells me the F800GS I rented had more straight line performance than my R1150GS. But as a long mileage mount, no contest, the R1150GS is preferred.

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  10. michael says:

    I give all my bikes girls names – beautiful, fun, fast

    The Street Triple R – is named Chuck Norris – it just wants to cause trouble.

    Report this comment

  11. brinskee says:

    I have to admit and brag; I’m riding a Street Triple R across Europe to Brno to watch MotoGP in August, and I can’t wait to ride this bike. Friend in England has an extra bike, so I’m hopping on the Trip. Maybe I’ll write a review/journal…

    Report this comment

  12. John Joss says:

    Many thanks for the many kind comments. I intend to go on riding and writing
    as long as I can still throw a leg over a bike and operate my fingers and
    (alleged) brain. You’re only young once but you can be immature forever.
    Guilty as charged, your Honor.

    Report this comment

  13. Roadrash1 says:

    http://www.twistedthrottle.com/trade/productview/4942/699/

    I’ve seen it in the above link. Not sure if it is the exact unit in the article.
    I have an 09 Street Triple R and it is a tough bike to beat in many ways. You can get 42MPG on it, but not while you are having fun flogging it ! :-)

    Report this comment

  14. Steve P says:

    NIce article. Seeing that J.J. is still enthusiastically riding at age 77 makes me
    happy that at age 57 I have many more riding year left.
    I’m not a big fan of nakeds. I think a half faring would make it much
    more comfortable and extend our relatively short riding season in Maine
    without sacrificing any of the enjoyment. It would be well worth the
    additional cost.
    I would love a Street Triple R with a half fairing and sport touring capabilities.

    Report this comment

    • Blackcayman says:

      We have a winner!!!!! Steve nailed it – that’s exactly the kind of bike I want. So the question is do we start with a Tiger and lower it a bit etc to bring it’s Sporting Prowess up or with a Speed Triple and fit some nasty looking and expensive half fairing with wider higher bars etc?????

      I am thinking the Tiger is the way to go – then I will need a dedicated track bike to exercise the Holligan-Need for Speed.

      Just my 2 cents

      Cheers

      Report this comment

  15. ziggy says:

    Talk about an “apples to oranges” comparison. One’s a bloated top heavy “all rounder” that only rides right on smooth pavement. The other’s a razor sharp screamer that does everything well except for long distance touring.

    I know there’s a certain similarity here in looks, etc. But it would have made a lot more sense to compare the Street Triple with a 990 SMR or even a Versys than the Yammie.

    Report this comment

  16. Dave says:

    Great article. Writing so good and entertaining that it would’ve been a good article about kitchen appliances. Also refreshingly light on the tech stuff, more focused on the actual experience the bikes deliver. Great stiff.

    Report this comment

  17. ko0616 says:

    No offense, but what’s most impressive here is John. Hope we’re all riding like this when we reach that age. Good job guys!

    Report this comment

  18. Gutterslob says:

    Good read. Thanks for taking the time writing/typing it.

    Never got a chance to try either bike, but I currently own a Speed Triple and spend a day on-board a FZ1N a couple of years ago, so I can somewhat relate to what I’m reading (though I’ve never ridden a naked on a track before).

    Major props to Sir Joss for riding at an age I’ll probably never reach.

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  19. max says:

    Anyone know where I can get that yellow center stand for the street triple on the photos?

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  20. Thoppa says:

    Excellent write up – thanks for the enjoyable read. However, you should check your facts because there is no way a female deity invented bikes….

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  21. Gabe says:

    Great job laying out the text and photos, MD staff! Thanks.

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  22. ze says:

    Congrats John, hope i get there as well …

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  23. Jerrylee says:

    fun article

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  24. jimbo says:

    I test rode the Street Triple 675R last summer in Salt Lake City. It’s the first bike on which I did an unintended wheelie at freeway speed (yes I was on the freeway, 215 was wide open with practically no other visible vehicles in my direction, I downshifted a couple time, punched it, and the front wheel came off the ground more than a little).

    It’s fun with a capital F.

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  25. Chuck says:

    Great review — genuine.

    Gabe, in your quest for the perfect motorcycle, did you try the Tiger 1050? It does everything you described in a very aesthetically-pleasing package and at a relatively lower price tag — compared to the competition. It even sounds great! Just a thought…

    Report this comment

  26. kpaul says:

    Excellent and entertaining review. When I grow up I want to be just like John. If I had to pick I would probably go for the Street Triple’s sister the Speed Triple. I heard she is a little wilder :)

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  27. Denny says:

    Guys, my respect to you. Especially to John for his active age, I’m still youngster in comparison. Well written, good bikes, good mood. Thank you.

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