A weird thing happened to me during the U.S. launch of Yamaha’s latest motorcycle, the FZ-07. As we were rolling through the backroads of Bainbridge Island, just off the coast of Seattle, it hit me. “I think I like this bike more than the FZ-09.” Before the ride, I was expecting a middleweight sporty bike, with performance comparable to the Suzuki SFV650 or Kawasaki Ninja 650. I figured, after riding the FZ-09 and loving its fun-per-dollar quotient, there was no way the 09’s little brother, with one less cylinder and less displacement, could be nearly as fun.
Boy, was I wrong. Put simply, the FZ-07 is an absolute blast. Period. But here’s the real kicker: it costs only $6,990! I’m going to go ahead and call it now: with the FZ-07, Yamaha has just won for best value of 2014. To put this into perspective, Yamaha’s General Manager of Communications, Bob Starr, made a very interesting observation when he told us “there are bicycles that cost more than this.”
Why is the FZ-07 quickly climbing up the ladder of one of my favorite bikes of 2014? There are a number of reasons, but first let’s back up and dig a little deeper into why it’s even here. Compared to five years ago, sales in the Sport category of the market have gone up 18%. Bikes in this segment include anything with a sporting intent but aren’t full-fledged track-focused machines. Nor are they Sport-Tourers with standard hard saddlebags. Think Suzuki SFV650, Kawasaki Ninja 650, Honda CBR500R, and so on.
Within this category, Yamaha conducted numerous surveys to see the type of riding these people do. The results showed these riders spend an overwhelming majority of their time either commuting or going on short rides for fun. Heading to a racetrack or carving up the canyons was of very little concern for these riders. Enter the FZ-07, which slots in just above the more beginner-oriented FZ6R, but below the FZ1 and FZ-09. Of note, it isn’t replacing anything in Yamaha’s lineup.
The Heart Of The Beast
Much like its FZ-09 big brother, the central talking point when it comes to the FZ-07, besides the price, is its engine. The all-new DOHC parallel-Twin sports a bore and stroke of 88.0mm x 68.6mm to net a 689cc displacement. Continuing Yamaha’s popular “Crossplane Concept” engine character first developed on Valentino Rossi’s M1 MotoGP machine, the 07’s uneven firing order is a result of the 270-degree crank, which results in a throaty bark at full song that’s quite pleasing to the ear. Yamaha claims 50.2 ft-lbs of torque and an impressive (if true) 58 mpg.
Besides the cool sound it makes, Yamaha also claims the advantages of the uneven firing order is a more connected feel between rider and motorcycle, linear power response, and a character unlike anything else in its class. The fuel-injected FZ is fed air through twin 38mm Mikuni throttle bodies, and in the interest of cost savings, they are actuated by good ‘ol cables. To reduce horsepower loss due to friction between cylinder and piston, cylinders are offset seven milimeters to the front of the engine. It’s a trick borrowed from the YZF-M1 and FZ-09, which places the connecting rod perfectly straight, instead of at an angle, as the piston reaches the top of its stroke.
Yamaha is touting the new engine as being highly efficient, claiming fuel mileage 34% better than the FZ6R: the FZ returns a claimed 58 mpg, compared to 43 mpg on the FZ6. Despite having a smaller tank, at 3.7 gallons (vs. 4.6 on the 6R), the FZ has a greater range.
Besides being an efficient engine, the impressive mileage comes partially as a result of the equally impressive lightness of the overall bike. The FZ uses a slim and narrow steel frame which Yamaha says is 11 lbs lighter than the FZ6R frame. The engine acts as a stressed member. The swingarm, too, is also steel, but unlike other budget bikes in this category, which use plain box-type construction, Yamaha reps were proud to show off the nicely stylized asymmetrical design of the FZ-07 arm. All told, the bike weighs in at a feathery 397 lbs, ready to ride.
As is the case with bikes built to a budget, such as the FZ, suspension performance suffers somewhat. KYB components adorn both ends, with a 41mm conventional fork up front and single shock, mounted horizontally, handling bump duties. The latter is mounted directly to the engine and utilizes a progressive linkage. The only adjustment available is for rear preload. Comfort takes priority over sportiness, and the damping reflects this.
Stopping duties go to twin 282mm wave-type rotors up front, clamped by four-piston monobloc calipers, not radially mounted. Another wave rotor measuring 245mm sits in back, with a single-piston caliper. There’s no ABS, and no, it’s not even an option. This, clearly, was a cost-cutting measure, but with Europe requiring ABS on all new motorcycles, the FZ-07 (MT-07 in Europe), will surely come with it soon. The 10-spoke cast aluminum wheels come fitted with either Michelin or Bridgestone tires, with Pilot Road 3 or Battlax BT023 rubber coming as standard. And unlike bikes like the Suzuki SFV650 or Kawasaki Ninja 650, which use 160-series rear rubber, the FZ-07 wears a 180/55-17 rear bun, making aftermarket selection plentiful.
Budget Does Not Mean Boring
Since the FZ-07 was meant for commuting and short rides, Yamaha brought the moto-press to Seattle, Washington to sample the bike in its intended environment. Half our day would be spent navigating the city to mimic the typical commute, while the other half was spent exploring the scenic roads nearby Bainbridge Island has to offer. We had a full day of riding on the schedule, but I was impressed within the first five minutes.
Hopping on the bike, you’re greeted to a nice, low 31.7-inch seat height. While that may not sound low to some, my 30-inch inseam could easily place both feet flat on the ground thanks to the narrow tank/seat junction. Even with a full tank of fuel, simply swaying the bike from side to side at a stop took noticeably less effort than anything else I’ve ridden lately – save for maybe the Honda Grom sitting in my garage.
Pull on the light clutch, click it in to gear, and the FZ takes off with little effort. The narrow dimensions of the bike make it great for slicing through traffic, and if you live in an area where filtering lanes is allowed, the FZ is perfect for the task. On the ergo front, it’s quite comfortable, with an even more relaxed riding position than the FZ-09. Handlebars are placed 40mm closer to the rider and 24mm higher, the seat is 10mm lower, and the pegs sit 70mm forward and 28mm downward, placing the rider practically upright. Scoot back in the saddle and a wider portion of foam is there for support, but long-distance comfort leaves something to be desired.
The real gem of the FZ-07, however, is its engine. With plenty of midrange torque, it eats up urban environments with ease, but it really showed its true colors once we left the urban congestion and reached the open roads of Bainbridge. Now able to really show her ability, she roared to life with an athletic urgency none of the journos on the ride were expecting. The 689cc Twin picks up speed easily below 8000 rpm, yet it still has some fight left before the 10,000 rpm redline. Though I personally stink at lofting the front tire in the air, those more experienced in the art of the wheelie had no issues throwing it up in any of the first three gears.
Unlike the FZ-09, the -07’s fuel metering is spot-on. Throttle cables (rather than ride-by-wire) go a long way in contributing a direct feel between rider and bike, and the well-calibrated fueling makes the experience that much more enjoyable. The six cogs are smartly spaced and shift cleanly to focus more attention on the ride, making the always-welcome gear-position indicator on the dash almost unnecessary. It’s able to pull cleanly from a 15-mph roll-on in fourth gear, something other bikes in this category likely would struggle with.
On the handling front, the twisty portions of our route were mainly flowing sweepers, and in this environment the FZ wasn’t fazed. Its 24-degree rake is identical to an R6, though its 55.1-inch wheelbase is a whole inch longer than the supersport. Turn-in was obviously slower than its race-bred counterpart but generally on par with others in this category. It holds a line well, but the budget suspension protests if tasked with absorbing a sharp-edged bump mid-corner. Stopping power from the monoblock calipers was impressive for the class, with good feel at the lever.
Big Fun For Little Money
As a former Suzuki SV650S owner and racer, middleweight Twins have a soft spot in my heart. They are a great package for the competent beginner to start on and not get bored with as skills improve. Almost equally as important for garage mechanics like myself is how accessible everything is with the minimal bodywork. Best of all, the bike is cheap and parts plentiful. What I, and many others, saw in the SV was a foundation for fun, no matter your skill level, built upon a blank canvas, prime for customization.
I see all of those same qualities in the Yamaha FZ-07, only its engine in stock form is worlds better than my racebike ever was. Combine this with the comfy ergos, and the commuter/weekend-warrior types Yamaha is marketing this bike towards will be entirely well served. Look beyond these customers, and it’s only a matter of time before someone sticks an R6 fork and shock on one of these and completely tracks it out.
However, instead of looking towards the future, let’s focus on the present and what an incredible value Yamaha has graced upon us. Without a doubt, the FZ-07’s best selling point is its $6990 price. Compared to other bikes Yamaha thinks consumers will cross shop this with, like the Honda NC700X ($7799, 472 lbs), Kawasaki Ninja 650 ($7699, 461 lbs), Suzuki SFV650 ($8149, 445 lbs) and Ducati Monster 696 ($9295, 407 lbs), the FZ-07 undercuts them all by at least $709 and 10 lbs. Heck, it even undercuts Yamaha’s own FZ-09 by a grand (Yamaha reps denied the two bikes will be competing against each other, of course). Factor in the smiles-per-mile quotient, and the FZ-07 is a home run.