For those of you endlessly ranting “I need less weight and more power,” your ship finally came in … with a surprisingly low price. The 2014 Yamaha FZ-09 we just rode in Northern California seems to set a new benchmark in the “light/powerful/low price” sweepstakes. It is not without its flaws, but overall it is a damned impressive piece of work.
When Yamaha unveiled the FZ-09 a few months ago, we gave you all of the juicy details. Those include an 847cc three-cylinder, fuel injected engine with four-valve cylinder heads and an equal firing interval (that Yamaha characterizes as a “crossplane crank”).
A six-speed transmission transfers power through chain drive to a 17″ cast aluminum rear wheel shod with 180/55 section rubber. The 17″ cast front wheel holds twin, 298mm discs squeezed by a radial mount brake caliper that exerts its force through a 120/70 section tire.
The overriding first impression of the FZ-09 is its small size and light weight, perhaps exaggerated by an extremely narrow width between the rider’s knees afforded by the three-cylinder engine, which is held by a frame designed to take advantage of every millimeter saved in comparison to an inline four. Yamaha’s obsession with making the ergonomics as narrow as possible is evidenced, in part, by the mounting of the swingarm pivot on the outside of the frame.
As our riding impression confirmed, the U.S. MSRP of $7,990 is quite remarkable. The build also underscores solid value, as this is far from a “parts bin” motorcycle with its unique engine and components. Yamaha was fastidious about weight savings and included a new aluminum frame and swingarm employing its controlled-filled, die cast technique that allows precise control of shapes and wall thicknesses. Other lightweight components include a magnesium cylinder head cover, aluminum oil cooler, aluminum triple clamps and handlebar, and forged aluminum shift/brake pedals and footrests.
The wheels are also unique to this model and are lighter than those featured on the now discontinued FZ8. The choice of 298mm front brake discs reflects a desire to reduce reciprocating, unsprung weight for lighter handling as well as improved acceleration and braking. The result is a claimed 414 pounds of fully fueled weight, a remarkable 53 pounds lighter than the FZ8! For comparison, the impressive Triumph Street Triple we recently tested is derived directly from a supersport platform (the Daytona 675) has a significantly smaller engine displacement, less horsepower and torque, yet weighs only 14 pounds less than the new FZ-09.
The first day of our test was conducted in downtown San Francisco where we immediately appreciated the bolt upright, dirt bike-style ergos with increased leg room compared to the outgoing FZ8. The stock seat is relatively hard, and has some tendency to push the rider forward, but it is far from the worst stock seat we have experienced, and provided reasonable comfort for shorter rides.
The suspension, both front and rear, offers spring preload and rebound adjustment. Our first day exploring the tight, choppy streets of downtown San Francisco was addressed with softer settings that worked quite well at absorbing the abuse doled out by the journalists storming through town. We rode the steepest streets I have ever encountered, including the famous Lombard Street. Ultra steep launches and stops tested the new, stronger clutch and brakes. Both held up quite well to the abuse (more about the brakes later).
The engine is remarkable for both the outright power and its broad spread. I was told the FZ-09 puts out more torque than a Yamaha R1 everywhere below 8,000 rpm, and I have no reason to doubt this claim. The counter-balanced engine is very smooth. Vibration was never an issue during our test, and the triple is characterful, if not as melodious as the engine in the Triumph Street Triple.
The FZ-09 launches from a stop with a fury matched by very few street legal motorcycles … certainly surpassing that of the race replicas (both supersports and superbikes) tuned for peak power output at the upper reaches of the tachometer. The cages crowded on the city streets were no match for us. Those cages were also easily navigated by our “dirt bikes on steroids” making for one of the most enjoyable and unique days I have spent at a press introduction. This might be the ultimate inner city weapon.
On Day 2, we escaped the city via the Golden Gate bridge and stormed into Marin County for a faster, more flowing ride through the gorgeous roads unique to that area (an area favored by many manufacturers for press launches). For this portion of the test, Yamaha dramatically stiffened the suspension, both front and year. Spring preload was maxed on both the shock and the fork, with appropriate adjustments to rebound damping.
The higher speeds only made the engine performance more impressive, as the FZ-09 pulled with a fierceness out of sweepers that entertained me all day long. The new suspension settings worked well, although I took some of the preload out of the fork (two lines) to add a bit of weight to the front contact patch, and increase feel. Ground clearance was never an issue despite some seriously aggressive riding through the tighter sections of the twisties. The brakes offered excellent power and feel without any noticeable fade.
The longer ride on Day 2 introduced some seat discomfort. Padding seemed a bit stiff under my sit bones, and the new suspension settings seemed to push me toward the tank a bit more than on Day 1. Otherwise, the ergonomics remained comfortable and functional. I should point out here that Yamaha will have FZ-09 specific accessories, such as a “comfort seat”, bikini fairing, soft saddlebags, and other items available in dealerships in January of next year. In addition, there are several current Yamaha accessories that fit the FZ-09. Yamaha’s web site (see link below) should be updated with details shortly.
The FZ-09 has a ride-by-wire throttle and three-position engine mapping that allows the rider to select from Standard, A and B modes. All three modes offer the same peak power, but the “B” mode offers a softer, smoother response off the bottom. The “Standard” setting is quite aggressive, and the “A” setting is the most aggressive in terms of throttle response. Off-idle throttle response is abrupt in both the “Standard” and the “A” settings. The throttle response issue is most noticeable when exiting corners, as it tends to mildly upset the chassis when you get back on the gas. Selecting the “B” mode largely resolves this issue, and the bike is still plenty fast, but I otherwise preferred the “Standard” setting for its greater entertainment value on a faster ride.
The transmission and clutch worked flawlessly despite repeated, very aggressive launches and clutchless shifting. Quite impressive, actually, given the torque they were coping with.
We did not have a chance to test Yamaha’s claimed 44 mpg, so we can’t comment on the range available from the 3.7 gallon gas tank. I can say we rode hard for several hours on Day 2 with the throttle frequently twisted to the stops without needing to take on fuel.
The new FZ-09 is a remarkable motorcycle for many reasons. A skilled rider will find the entertainment value off the charts. Having ridden virtually all of the modern sport bikes and other high performance motorcycles, I can hardly imagine someone being disappointed by the raw acceleration, and usable spread of power offered by this new 847cc triple. Without qualification, this is a very fast motorcycle, particularly at real world rpm levels.
The power can be abrupt off the bottom, particularly for less experienced riders, and I did spin up the rear tire a couple of times during corner exits. Most riders would benefit from selecting the “B” mode that tames the low-end power somewhat and softens off-idle throttle response.
At times, I also felt I was lacking some feedback from the contact surfaces of the tires, although I became much more comfortable with the perceived traction level as my test ride progressed. I suspect that any traction feedback issues relate more to the tires than the chassis, although we conducted our entire test on the optional Dunlops (Dunlop and Bridgestone tires will be split roughly 50/50 on production units).
The bottom line is that, unless you compare the weight of every modern, high performance motorcycle to that of the Hodaka you helped your father carry out to the trash when you were a teenager, Yamaha’s brand new 2014 FZ-09 is hard to fault as a lightweight weapon. It will wheelie on command, and accelerate like a top fuel dragster, while feeling nimble and able to change direction seemingly without effort. Huge fun, and affordable, as well, at the $7,990 suggested retail price for any of three available color options (Yamaha has added Blazing Orange to the Liquid Graphite and Rapid Red versions originally announced, and photographs of all three color options appear in this article). For additional details, visit Yamaha’s web site.