I rolled my eyes, sighed, and then looked over at the lunch table, then looked at my watch. In front of me, covered with black cloth, were two Yamaha motorcycles, waiting for a top-secret, embargoed reveal to the gathered he-men of the motorcycle press, sitting in a private-events room at an indoor go-kart track in Irvine, California. One was obviously an off-road bike—I could see the knobbies. The other looked about the same size and shape as a 2014 Star Bolt. Yawn! The Bolt is a cool bike, but I made a 450-mile trip for Bold New Graphics and an afternoon of go-karting?
And then the cloth came off. Not a tarted-up Bolt: Yamaha is bringing in the all-new FZ-07 (called the MT-07 in other markets) for the USA, and it may shake things up as much as the FZ-09 did last year. Here’s why.
When Yamaha launched the FZ-09, it expected the torquey, light, fun and affordable bike to be a success…but the demand for the bike may have been a surprise. At $7,990, it has a dollar-per-horsepower ratio that’s out of reach for almost every new motorcycle as well as a lot of used ones. According to product planner Derek Brooks, “a lot” of Yamaha’s 14 percent sales growth in its sport category was due to the success of the FZ-09. “We felt it was time to expand,” so Yamaha is bringing in the FZ-07.
Where the FZ-09 is built for experienced (but budget-conscious) riders, the 07 is for first-time and entry-level ones. That means it needed to be inexpensive, light and easy to ride. To do that, Yamaha designed an all-new tube-steel frame that delivers a narrow seat (it isn’t that low at 31.7 inches) and 397-pound claimed ready-to-ride weight. The 689cc, liquid-cooled 8-valve motor is all new, and it’s gutsy—output is a claimed 75 horsepower, with 50 ft.-lbs. of torque, but it uses a “Crossplane Concept” 270-degree crank like the 09. First-ride reports from foreign markets are favorable—no complaints about the fuel delivery, in contrast to the kvetching about the FZ-09′s abrupt power delivery.
The bike is laden with classy details. Brakes are four-piston calipers with wave-style discs, the LCD instrument display is jammed with info, the rear shock is preload-adjustable and linkage-equipped (a nice touch for budget-class machines) and the 3.8-gallon tank should offer decent cruising range if the 58-mpg fuel economy claim is true. I actually like the styling better than the FZ-09′s—it seems sharper and more aggressive, with a tail section that looks lifted off the YZF-R6 and compact, underbelly exhaust.
We guessed the new model would retail for around $6,500, based on the Euro and Canadian model’s pricing, so the actual MSRP of $6,990 is a little disappointing…but not very. After all, that’s $5,072 in 1999 dollars, $700 less than the excellent SV650, which was heavier, had worse brakes and a narrower 160-section rear tire (the 07 gets a 180). Competing machines—KTM”s 690 Duke, Aprilia’s Shiver, the Ducati Monster 696, Kawasaki’s Ninja 650R—are more (but many of them offer ABS, conspicuously absent in both the 07 and 09). Icing on the cake is the FZ-09 remains at $7,990 for 2015…if you can find one.
I took a seat on the bike on display, and found it compact and comfortable, with a narrow seat and reasonable reach to the bars. Build quality is nice, but exactly what you’d expect in this price range. I also noticed how light it is—it’s just 13 pounds heavier than the Kawasaki Ninja 300R, and the weight felt nicely balanced (of course it would with the tank empty).
So will this bike be the next SV650? Well, it’s got the price, performance and features that give it the bones of a club racer while still being kind of new-rider friendly (I firmly believe your first motorcycle should be one you know you’ll out grow, not grow into) and entertaining for experienced riders. I’m as eagerly awaiting my first ride as Derek Brooks is anticipating dealer orders: “At that price, with those features, it’s definitely going to be a home run for us.” Colors are white, red and graphite and bikes should be in dealers in July.
Another home run may be the other big reveal: reworked YZ125 and YZ250 motocrossers. Yep, in this age of enviro-consciousness, Yamaha doubled down on its two-smokers, as it claims its sales of the oil-burners was up 26 percent from April 2013 to March 2014. And why not? They’re more affordable, easier to maintain, have that killer ring-a-ding exhaust note (and top-end hit) and make your clothes smell awesome. For 2015, both models get a plethora of new parts, including bodywork, airbox, rear sprocket, foot pegs, tires, triple clamps and other odds and ends. Even the little YZ85 gets a similar makeover. Pricing for the 125 is $6,390, the 250 is $7290 and the 85 will ding your college fund $4,090.