– Motorcycle News, Editorials, Product Reviews and Bike Reviews

Motorcycle News, Editorials, Product Reviews and Bike Reviews

2004 Yamaha FZ6: MD First Ride

Dirck playing shadow games with the FZ6

When Yamaha press guy Brad Bannister called me recently, he was in his usual, happy mood (press guys take a happy pill every morning . . . Brad takes two), and he had a less-than-usual suggestion. He offered me a ride on a machine that wasn’t supposed to come to the United States and, as far as I knew, did not exist in production form. I was right about the latter point (there are no production FZ6s, anywhere), but the United States will, indeed, get the FZ6 for 2004.

He had two simple requests. First of all, since there were only two hand-built, pre-production FZ6s here in the United States (among a handful in existence in the world), that I be careful when riding the machine and not crash it. He also requested I stay away from the places where large numbers of motorcyclists hang out here in Southern California, because Yamaha wanted to surprise everyone on the morning of September 9 with an announcement about U.S. availability of the FZ6. He explained that we would not get the naked FZ6 here, only the half-faired model. I agreed to both conditions, and took Willy along with me to meet Brad at Yamaha U.S. headquarters the following day.

Since MD has already published the detailed specifications and features of the new FZ6 (see our article dated August 12, 2003), we won’t discuss the surprisingly high specification of this “budget” machine (targeted to sell at a price point similar to the Suzuki SV650S), except to remind you of the R6-based, 600cc, fuel injected engine (tuned for more low-end and mid-range power), the trick die-cast aluminum frame (with no welds — the left and right side are actually bolted together), R6-style wheels (18% lighter than those on the existing Fazer model sold in Europe) and new instrumentation (see the photo in our earlier article).

Since Willy was along to photograph me on the new FZ6, and provide his own riding impressions, we brought MD’s long-term Suzuki V-Strom as a chase vehicle. This would prove interesting.

The new FZ6 has very relaxed ergonomics. The bar/seat/footpeg triangle is similar to a sport tourer, leaving the rider with a slight lean forward, but mostly upright. As it turns out, the ergonomics worked pretty well for both Willy and I (both about 5’10” tall) everywhere from the freeway to the twisties.

Wind protection from the half-fairing was quite good. More importantly, it leaves a fairly clean air stream at helmet level, minimizing helmet buffeting and noise.

After adding a bit more preload to the rear shock (to deal with my middle-aged heft), the FZ6 felt very balanced, and very stable. Indeed, your first impression about the chassis is its stability, both in a straight line and through sweeping corners. That trick looking frame is apparently very stiff, because both Willy and I rode the bike very hard without ever getting it to lose its composure.

Suspension settings were sport tourer soft, but several blasts through tight, twisty canyon roads left us impressed with the cornering ability of the FZ6, as well as its ground clearance.

We did experience a small bit of vibration through the pegs at around 7,000 rpm on this pre-production unit, but nothing overly annoying. In general, the engine revs freely and smoothly. The FZ6 is also genuinely fast.

A few, impromptu drag races with our V-Strom were handily won by the FZ6, and the 1000cc V-Strom is no slouch when it comes to acceleration Not surprisingly, the FZ6, with its R6 motor, would leave a Suzuki SV650 for dead in a drag race.

The FZ6 also has a satisfyingly broad powerband. Indeed, both Willy and I commented that Yamaha did a good job choosing a new cam profile for this R6 engine — taking a little power off the top and spreading it to the low-end and mid-range. The bike still doesn’t have a lot of low-end power, but it has more than your typical 600cc supersport machine. It really comes alive, however, above 6,500 rpm, and still revs hard on top.

In the end, the FZ6 proved both fun and functional. I couldn’t resist wheelieing the bike across a ridge of the coastal foothills at dusk . . . just before returning it to Yamaha. I thought about Yamaha’s warning before lifting the front wheel for the first time, but I knew I wasn’t taking any significant risks. The FZ6 is confidence inspiring.

Obviously, we need to follow up this riding impression with a test of a production unit. Nevertheless, the FZ6 is looking like a winner to us, and needed competition for Suzuki’s SV650S. Yamaha should announce pricing and availability shortly.

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