I remember a big, rangy bike with long legs, plenty of power and a soft, squishy feel that was still fun. The big blue machine had a nice sound and a nicer look and feel. It was so much more comfortable than the CBR 600 F2 I had been riding for the previous 200 miles that I felt like sobbing with relief, yet I didn't seem to have trouble keeping up with Jason riding my race-replica.
Skip forward a few years to last April, when we at MO pitted an `05 YZF-R1 against an `05 FZ-1. The FZ-1 was actually the bike we at MO would have purchased using our own money. We all appreciated the comfort, power, versatility and friendly nature of the slightly cruder, but cheaper sibling of the fearsome race-replica R1.
The nits we picked were the same things many other R1 fans world wide noticed, like the wobbly tube frame, budget suspension and too much weight. What do we want? We want an R1 that's comfy but gives up nothing in terms of performance or handling.
Mr. Spock, set your taste buds to "drool." In September 2005, Yamaha released photos of an all-new FZ-1, also known as the "Fazer" in Europe. Details included a controlled-fill (CF) aluminum frame, inverted forks, a cool stump of an exhaust, flat bars on tall risers and that lovely current-generation R-1 motor. It looked great, but would we receive the full potential offered by this package, or would the production bikes be a heavier dumbed down version of the sneak-peek prototype?
To find out the answer to this and other pressing questions, MO dispatched me to the site of the FZ-1's USA press launch in lovely Santa Rosa, Calif., just 50 miles from my house in San Francisco. The ride would begin in the scenic wine country and take advantage of some of the most amazing riding roads in the country. I rode my personal bike there, prepared for a possible rain storm with my Aerostich suit and Widder electric vest.
Nobody rides without enduring a tech briefing, so we filed into the conference room for the ubiquitous PowerPoint presentation. It proved to be surprisingly brief and informative. I always like to hear about how the factories plan for a bike like the FZ-1 in a market that is lukewarm, at best, for sport-standards. Judging by the clamor on "Letters to the Editor" pages in motorcycle magazine, you'd think we Americans would buy sporty standards by the Hanjin container ship-load, but total sales of standards in the USA in 2005 (everything that isn't a dual-sport, sportbike, tourer or cruiser) totaled less than 20,000 units out of 600,000 streetbikes sold. I'll bet more people buy surplus mail jeeps.
However, it seems like a large portion of these bikes are FZ-1s. The old girl has a tremendous following, and it's easy to see why; it offers the most performance of any bike in the class (unless you count the K1200R) at a bargain price, plus it offers a great platform for customizing. Still, Yamaha's product planners and engineers wanted to make it better. Yamaha's guys stepped up to the podium to talk about how the bike was improved.
First, though, they told us that this bike was in a category separate from sportbikes and standards. The FZ-1 is a sport-standard, (Yamaha just calls the category "Sport") the best-selling one around; Yamaha's sales growth in this niche has outstripped the rest of the industry by 250 percent since 1999. Figuring out why doesn't take a genius; the FZ-1 makes the most power in a class full of liter-sized (and bigger) machines like the Honda 919, Kawasaki Z1000 and Aprilia Tuono.
Consumers want more than just a powerful motor. They also want handling, comfort and "rational" performance, wrapped up in "sexy styling" that will make them proud to own and ride the bike. Yamaha wants the FZ-1 to be a perfect balance between "radical" high performance and aggressive-handling bikes like the R1 and more rational-performing, comfortable bikes like the FJR 1300. The 2006 FZ-1 refines the older model's balanced qualities.
To figure out what aspects of the new FZ-1 to refine, Yamaha worked with current FZ-1 owners in focus groups and with surveys. These owners, mostly experienced enthusiasts in their mid to late forties, wanted Yamaha to improve the chassis and handling, so that's what the product planners focused on. This led to what is basically a brand-new bike.
Europe and other markets get the smart-looking fully naked version, but we `Mericuns will have to shut up and buy the bike with the fairing. Moto-journalists -- and mouthy letter-writing consumers-claim they want big naked standards, but Yamaha USA's product planners are too smart to fall for that. Each time a big naked is brought in without a fairing it gets outsold two or three to one by its fairing-equipped sister bike and is dropped after a few seasons, but the company is stuck stocking parts and other product support for the next ten years. If you want an FZ-1 with that cool, brutal, naked look, you'll have to buy a USA-spec bike and call a friendly dealer in the UK who will ship the necessary parts to the Colonies.
Nobody complained about the FZ-1's motor, but Yamaha decided to update it anyway. They took the revised engine from the '06 YZF-R1 and did the "tuning-for-torque" thing (a polite way to say "neutering") to it by changing the cam profile and valve timing and increasing crankshaft weight by 2.4 kilograms. Bore is increased to 77 mm, stroke is shortened to 53.6 mm, and compression is bumped up to 11.5:1. Gearing is also significantly changed from last year's model. The first four gears are the same as the 2006 R1, but fifth and sixth gears are shorter; apparently 180 mph top speeds weren't mentioned in the focus groups.
Fuel is now delivered by the R1's high-efficiency fuel injection, with 45 mm Mikuni throttle bodies. There's a motor-driven sub throttle valve in there to improve throttle response, as well as Yamaha's EXUP valve in the stylish "shorty" exhaust system to improve low and midrange power. All the gearing and motor changes result in a powerplant that has more torque in the low range than an '06 R1, but with seven more hp -- a claimed 148 -- than the '05 FZ-1. Sounds good on paper.
Where Yamaha's engineers and planners really focused was on the chassis and suspension. We at MO as well as FZ-1 owners complained about the heavy, soft, and squishy feel of the older FZ-1. Yamaha's response was to design a whole new chassis to "combine outstanding agile handling with great stability", according to the press materials. The result is a cast-aluminum design that utilizes controlled-fill castings for an extremely light and rigid design. It's almost 20 pounds lighter than the 2005's steel tube frame, while being 470 percent more rigid torsionally and 410 percent more rigid horizontally. The swingarm is also new, replacing the 2005's simple aluminum twin-beam with a cast unit that is much more rigid and 45 mm longer for improved power transfer and stability. Overall, the new frame balances chassis weight more forward, with 51 percent of the weight over the front wheel. That and the 57.5 inch wheelbase are intended to keep handling stable and confidence inspiring.
Suspension and brakes weren't overlooked, either. For 2006, the FZ-1 gets all-new suspenders; the fork is a 43 mm inverted Kayaba unit, adjustable for compression, rebound and preload (with compression adjuster on one leg and rebound adjuster on the other). The shock is also three-way adjustable, as well as being 13 percent lighter than the 2005's. Brakes are 320 mm discs grabbed by four-piston Sumitomo calipers similar to the R1's, for lighter weight and better performance.
The seating position was also revised. The rider's "hip point" (a term originally coined by Sammy Davis, jr.) was moved forwards 49 mm, the rubber-mounted bar was dropped 25 mm lower and 10 mm closer to the rider, and the rubber-mounted footpegs are now 27 mm further back and 16 mm higher than the 2005's. The resulting position is intended to give "more control for aggressive riding" without sacrificing too much comfort.
All these changes to the motor, chassis and suspension result in a bike that is 24 pounds lighter (wet), with a 10 percent better power-to-weight ratio and improved throttle response, braking performance and more nimble handling. It will also produce fewer emissions with high-efficiency fuel injection and dual catalyzers in the exhaust. Remarkably, the price is only bumped up $500, to $9,099. "We consider it to be the ultimate package in a street motorcycle", said Yamaha product planning manager Derek Brooks.
The next day began with a 30-mile ride in a drenching Northern California rainstorm to the first photo session, all done on the freeway in fairly heavy traffic. Getting on the seat, I noticed the reach to the ground was just do-able for my 30-inch inseam, and the reach to the drag-style bar (which looked a lot like the titanium one from Yamaha's GYT-R performance accessory catalog) was perfect, with just a hint of forward lean. The motor fired up easily and was instantly ready to go. The bike is light and easy to handle at any speed, from a walking pace to 80 mph. Tight U-turns are especially easy. The seat feels broader and wider than it looks, providing good support and comfort for a full tank of gas, although the gas tank is a half-gallon smaller than it was last year. At least it has enough metal surface to hold a magnetic tank bag, unlike the tank on the R1.
PAGE 2 The motor wasn't overwhelming. It feels softer in the midrange and at high RPMs than the R1, but a bit stronger off idle and on top than the old FZ-1. Power delivery is too abrupt off-idle, and I noticed some buzzing through the right handlebar grip and footpegs, despite the FZ-1's profuse use of rubber mounting. It's not that intrusive or annoying (unless you press your feet against the engine covers), just noticeable on a bike that admittedly wasn't through with break-in.
The new FZ-1 is truly a fine looking motorcycle.
Overall, comfort is very good, with a decent seat, comfortable riding position and very nice wind protection from the low windscreen. I also found the styling very pleasing, with nice curves and balanced proportions. The design is similar to the FZ-6's, but I think it works much better on the bigger machine. The instruments are also nice, with a balanced, visible layout. My only gripe is the very small coolant temperature readout, although it's better than a cruder bar display or Spartan warning light.
The ride to lunch was pretty wet and miserable, although the rain tapered off enough for a certain journalist to attract the attention of the local constabulary by testing the FZ-1's wheelie ability. I found the FZ-1 a little wheelie-resistant, with the long wheelbase and swingarm and tall R1-spec gearing. It takes more than a simple goosing of the throttle to send that front Michelin skyward.
On that portion of pavement, marked by fast sweepers and long straights, the FZ-1 seemed to work very well. The handling is indeed excellent; balanced and neutral while being light and easy to steer. The bike feels 60 pounds lighter instead of just the claimed 24, and that mushy, squashy '76 Lincoln Mark IV feel is banished by the gold-anodized suspension. If anything, the ride was a bit too taut, and I asked that the suspension be softened on my bike for the afternoon.
After a lovely lunch at my favorite Sunday Morning breakfast spot, we did another photo session and headed north on the drying roads along the coast. Highway One north of Point Reyes Station is a flowing, dipping, twisting amusement park ride for a sporting motorcycle, and the FZ-1 really does seem purpose-built for a day of sport riding. The tires are great, too; the Michelin Pilot Powers work equally well on wet or dry pavement. The FZ-1 is comfortable while feeling light and agile, and only a maniac would find this kind of powerplant--with what feels like about 130-140 hp at the wheel--lacking.
However, the bike is not quite perfect. The off-idle abruptness kills the rider's confidence, especially coming out of turns. It almost feels like some kind of drive-line lash, but I'm sure it's fueling-related. I got used to it by the end of the day and coped by being smoother with my throttle hand, but it's still quite noticeable and more pronounced than most of the fuel-injected bikes I've ridden. The engine vibration is also a bit bothersome, and the brakes, although strong and sensitive indeed, don't feel quite as good as the R1's, although the extra 50 pounds could have something to do with that.
Near the end of the ride we had done about 150 miles on a variety of pavement types. I felt rested, relaxed and if my shorts hadn't been wet from Aerostich Crotch, ready for more riding. I passed through Guerneville and came upon that same patch of road where I first rode an old FZ-1. This new FZ-1, in addition to being faster, lighter and better-looking than the old bike, captures the "naked R1" feel that the original never quite had.
You naive Americans say you want Yamaha to just rip the fairing off the R1, slap some superbike bars and a headlight on the front and sell it to you. It's not that easy, even if Triumph and Aprilia do almost exactly that. More so than a supersport, a sport standard must be carefully engineered to provide balance for a huge range of riders, yet not feel bland.
We won't be able to fully pass judgment on this new FZ-1 until we compare it to some other bikes in the category, but my initial impression is of a comfortable, nice-handling bike that has plenty of power. The only niggles were that abrupt throttle response and a little too much vibration, but if you are looking for a big, fast, comfortable bike that pares motorcycling down to the essentials without cramping your budget-or your back-this new Yamaha deserves your attention.
|** Specifications Courtesy of Yamaha **|
|MSRP*||$9,099 (Shift Red; Liquid Silver)|
|Type||998cc, liquid-cooled, 20-valve, DOHC, in-line four-cylinder|
|Bore x Stroke||77 x 53.6mm|
|Transmission||6-speed w/multi-plate clutch|
|Final Drive||O-ring chain|
|Suspension/Front||43mm telescopic fork w/adjustable preload, compression and rebound damping; 5.1" travel|
|Suspension/Rear||Single shock w/piggyback reservoir and adjustable preload, compression and rebound damping; 5.1" travel|
|Brakes/Front||Dual 320mm floating discs w/4-piston calipers|
|Brakes/Rear||245mm disc w/single-piston caliper|
|Rake (Caster Angle)||25.0°|
|Fuel Capacity||4.75 Gallons|
|Oil Capacity (with oil filter change)||N/A|
|*Claimed* Dry Weight||438 lbs.|
|Warranty||1 Year (Limited Factory Warranty)|