The "aging marketplace" Yamaha says is being ignored has now come into vogue and the term "over-the-hill" has been replaced by the friendlier, "retro," or "vintage," if you will. And while this bike isn't exactly neutered to that extent, it seems to offer the performance that Gen-Xers crave with the reasonable ergos and accouterments even a Gold Wing rider could appreciate.
Parts from the HeartStraddling the bike, the impression is of a bike that's imminently more upright and "standard" than the R1. But that's not to say the bike has a sit-up-and-beg riding position. The footpegs are still pretty high compared to Suzuki's Bandit 1200S and the reach to the black handlebars is very natural and you immediately feel in control.
A quick glance down at the instrument panel reveals a gauge cluster that's well thought out and informs you of pretty much everything you need to know. The most welcome touch is a fuel gauge which is always appreciated on anything meant to go more than 60 miles in a stint. Conspicuously absent, however, is a temperature gauge that has been replaced by only a high-temp warning light. Also of note is that the digital speedo has been replaced by one of those vintage-style units with a sweeping hand and ever-present numbers. Some might even go as far as saying this strongly shows how Yamaha was going after the record player set with this bike, though we might have to disagree.
About the only thing that catches you out about the ergonomic package on the F-Zed is a universal thing, regardless of age, more dependent on the size and shape of various appendages. The tank's shape puts a bit more girth right in the lap than some people desire. Fuel capacity is increased, though, and that was in direct response to consumer's requests. But maybe they could have dropped a few ounces for a bit more of a cut-away low down in the fuel tank. This isn't much of an issue, really, but it speaks volumes for how light and narrow the rest of the bike feels.The double-cradle steel frame houses the motor that now pumps out a claimed 141 horsepower and 78 foot-pounds of torque, thanks to re-configuring (ixnay on the uternay) of the motor's power delivery. This is down seven horses and four foot-pounds, but the motor is still strong, make no mistake about it. The FZ-1 is not in the same territory as the R1, of course, but it was never meant to be. And in the twisties the rider can definitely feel the additional grunt off the bottom. It's not as strong down there as, say, Suzuki's Bandit 1200S, but the FZ-1 also has a smaller displacement and makes significantly more power up top than the Suzuki. The Yamaha weighs less, too, despite being some 74-pounds heavier than its racier brother.
So what happened internally to cause these outward changes? To start with, a new bank of 37mm carburetors and a re-designed airbox up the grunt quotient while providing more room for the larger tank. Compared to the R1, fuel capacity is increased from 4.8 to 5.5 gallons (which includes a one gallon reserve) which, Yamaha says, should provide 220 miles from a tank. The motor also features a 10-percent heavier crankshaft that's meant to provide smoother acceleration and, basically, lessen the vibes that some people complained about on the R1. Also altered is the compression ratio which went from 11.8:1 to 11.4:1 for more "streetability."The magnesium cylinder head cover of the R1 has been replaced with an aluminum unit, yamaha claims, "to improve appearance," though we'd argue it was more of a cost-cutting measure. Thankfully, though, Yamaha retained the use of their EXUP exhaust system on this 4-into-1 configuration. The new radiator checks in at the same 340mm width, but ducks under the "must be this tall to ride" sign of the R1's 298mm height at only 238mm. The new radiator's fan is the same as the R1's, however.
A number of passes on the rear wheel had local Spanish folks lining the sides of the road, cheering and laughing with each pass. In America we'd have been arrested. Aaah, yes -- freedom.
Another sticky bit on Yamaha's R-series bikes has been the shifting. They addressed this by switching to a more compact and lightweight clutch (410 grams lighter) that uses one less clutch plate and one more friction plate. The six-speed transmission then works through a 3mm longer main shaft and a 10mm longer drive shaft to accommodate the new engine location. Overall gearing has also been changed, thanks to a one tooth larger rear sprocket that moves the final ratio from 2.688:1 to 2.750:1.
Suspension-wise, the FZ-1 has very little in common with the R1. The front forks are fully-adjustable 43mm unverted units that are made by SOQI (a Yamaha-owned company) and feature 5.5-inches of travel. They feature dual-rate springs in place of the R1's single-rate items "for improved riding performance in all ranges from low-speed to high-speed." In other words, it's supposed to be more compliant. Likewise with the rear end, though this time it's thanks to a SOQI piggy-back shock that works through a linkage, turning its 65mm of piston travel into 135mm (5.1-inches) of rear wheel travel. Again, pre-load, rebound and compression are all adjustable back here, too
Other changes include a new aluminum swingarm (gone is the heavy bracing of the R1's hind legs) and a rear disc that's now 267mm (the R1's is 245mm) and gets its pressure applied by a Sumitono caliper whose pistons are 4.8mm larger. Oh, and the rear tire is a 180-section in place of the 190-section found on the R1. This is, of course, courtesy of a rim that's one-half an inch smaller (now at 5.5-inches).
PAGE 2The Barber of SevilleWith the tech briefing behind us, it was time to mount up and get about the business that brought us to Spain in the first place. Walking out to the line of new FZ-1s sitting out in front of the hotel with the sun shining and the sort of crisp morning air that reminds you that perforated leathers aren't always a great idea. But it also reminds you how lucky you are, and how many choices of two-wheeled entertainment the manufacturers are giving us nowadays.
After a tasty little mountain road and some preliminary photos, we stood at the intersection of a rural road at the top of a little town in Spain, looking down at the Rock of Gibraltar and, just beyond that, the Mediterranean and then, Africa. The roads up to this point were a bumpy and gnarly sort of sportbike heaven, but heaven nonetheless. This is what the FZ-1 is about. It's not a racebike, but a sport bike that just happens to keep your body on the pleasant side of the comfort/control equation, and the motor on the spritely side of the power pantheon. If a good bike is labeled as such by not finding too much favor at either extreme, then this is a good bike, indeed.
So what's our initial riding impression of this much anticipated machine? We expected more, quite frankly. It was billed by Yamaha as an R1 for the real world -- a bike that was basically a comfortable R1 that had not been neutered at the factory. As it turns out, however, the FZ-1 seems that it may be more of an R1 for people who are scared of an R1. Well, not so much scared as intimidated, anyway, by either that bike's aggressive power, ergos, or both. Okay, so maybe it really is an R1 for the "real world," then.The FZ-1 provides some things that sportbike enthusiasts have come to expect from a race-replica machine, and omitted some of the things that dissuade people from them even at a glance. There's a range of adjustability in just about everything, from the fully adjustable suspension to the adjustable clutch and brake levers. This all helps to get things just right before attacking your favorite roads. There's also a nice set of grab-rails for a passenger and big 'ol mirrors so you can see that truck sneaking up behind you, ye who thinks they own the fast lane even at a snail's pace.
The roads we traversed were not much better than what we have locally, to be honest, but the scenery made it acceptable. Still, sometimes there's nothing better than a foreign road that's littered with bumps and blind corners to really feel some things out.
The R1's suspension was never bad on the road. It was constantly missing from our garage on weekends as staffers often picked it as their main toy even when a few hundred miles in one day were part of he plan. But after leaving the haunches of Harleys and Ducatis, most anything seems plush. To better suit a broader range of riders, Yamaha's suspension, increased compliance and all, worked pretty damn well most of the time. Initially it feels to be sprung more firmly than Suzuki's Bandit 1200, though no more jittery, if at all.Similarly, as we got up to speed and the pace started to elevate, the weight of the FZ-1 came into focus. Sure, it feels a bit heavier than the R1, but not by much, thanks to the more upright riding position and handlebars that offer tons of leverage for throwing the bike into bends. Ground clearance was never an issue at "normal" backroad pace, and only became a thought when we got into a corner a bit faster than we should have in the first place. Then again, we couldn't resist. When another journalist goes by you as you're putting along on a straight, taking in the local scenery, you can't let him think he's got the upper hand going into the twisties!
When the pace was stepped up, a few of us noticed the bike moving around quite a bit, especially coming out of corners on the throttle. Sure this bike has power, but it just felt too sketchy. Then, at a photo stop, another journalist (who happens to be a pretty good racer, too) reached into his bag of tricks and pulled out an air-pressure gauge. The findings? 40 pounds of pressure in each Metzeler ME-Z4. Needless to say, we dropped six from each end and headed back out.
These lower pressures made the rest of the day's ride far more enjoyable. Gone were the lurid slides, but the trade-off was slightly mushier steering since the tire was now able to flex more. It's a trade we were willing to make, though, and some of us were more glad than others.Heading into a blind, downhill right-hander, the journalist in front of us came around the corner to find a family of sheep occupying the preferred line through the next bend. Actually, they occupied pretty much every line that would have sent us anywhere but off into the bushes. And so, the brakes were applied hard and fast. And we came to rest, staring the winter coat in its baby browns. And it was good, with the brakes hauling us down, the tire biting on the dirty road like a rabid sheep after an, um, what is it that rabid sheep bite down on, again? Oh, well - off we go, then.
Back underway onto a faster, windy stretch of coastline road where speeds were well into the triple-digits at times, we started to feel a bit of flex from the FZ-1's chassis. It felt like things were getting a bit wound up, not quite working in concert with each other. Chances are, thanks to the fully-adjustable suspension, we would be able to tune out most of what we felt. Still, this is understandable given the bike's stock settings that err on the side of all-around usability and not corner-carving prowess. It's that whole "R1 for the real world" thing again.
As for all the changes made to the R1's motor, "for the real-world," Yamaha did a really good job here as well. The motor feels strong everywhere, pulling from way down low up to redline without hesitation. Thanks to the FZ-1's additional weight, however, the acceleration is a bit tame comparatively. Then again, Richard Ramirez was tame compared to Charles Manson, though you'd have to agree that both were pretty brutal.Wait, did we just call the FZ-1 "brutal?" In a way it is, actually. The Bandit 1200S may have more pulling power off the bottom thanks to some added displacement, but the Yammie's got a snappier power delivery that will definitely roll people's eyes back into their heads. This bike will easily loft the front wheel coming out of slower corners and, with just a bit of coercion, replicate that feat in second gear with similar alacrity.
Somewhere between the 5,000 rpm grunt and the rev-limiter is a healthy mid-range that makes the gearbox a mostly set-it-and-leave-it affair. That's a bit of a shame, really, since this gearbox is so much more of a pleasure to row through than on either the R1 or R6. It's still not a very slick-shifting tranny, but the changes to the clutch and the linkage make a significant difference, as does the additional rotating mass in the crankcase. The vibes are noticeably less than what the R1 tends to dish out and make for a much more enjoyable and buzz-free ride.
The Rain in Spain...Well, when the smoke settled and our eyes could finally see through the glaze caused by 20-something hours of travel each way, it appears that Yamaha's new FZ-1 is not quite an "R1 for the real-world" like some of us had hoped for. For most people, though, that's the best news they can get. What this bike does give people is the sort of open-class performance that many race-replicas can't even match, packed tightly away in one easy-to-use container, available over-the-counter for $2,000 US Dollars less than an R1.
Striking a pose on a beautiful Spanish road. Actually it looks just like any other road, doesn't it? Who writes these captions, anyway?
The F-Zed has true liter-bike performance, minus the committed riding position. You want to chase state-lines? You want to go chase Ducatis up and down your favorite road? Add on some of the numerous accessories Yamaha is manufacturing and you can make this bike into pretty much anything you've ever wanted from something on two wheels.
This is definitely a bike that may have been over-sold at first, but it certainly delivers on most counts -- and those are the counts that, um, count.