2014 Yamaha FZ-09 Review

Yamaha’s back in the three-cylinder game in a big way

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2014 Yamaha FZ-09

Editor Score: 82.0%
Engine 17/20
Suspension/Handling 10/15
Transmission/Clutch 9/10
Brakes 7/10
Instruments/Controls4/5
Ergonomics/Comfort 9/10
Appearance/Quality 8/10
Desirability 8/10
Value 10/10
Overall Score82/100

Maybe it’s a sign of my, ahem, maturity, but as much as I love riding sportbikes, quite frankly they’re a chore to ride during the daily grind. The low bar, high peg, racer crouch is great on a racetrack, but impractical for the street. Plus, they’re not great at carrying things, either. I’m not saying I don’t like riding sporty bikes on the street, but these days I want my sport with a bit of practical and comfortable, too. That’s why I gravitate towards standard/naked bikes. With similar power to supersports, only marginally less performance, and an upright seating position, these really are sportbikes for the road.

The truly special ones, like the Triumph Speed Triple, MV Agusta Brutale 800 and Aprilia Tuono share another key element: character. Determined simply by the size of the grin on your face after each ride, character is the X-factor that turns us into rambling idiots whenever we review one on video.

Visit our Yamaha FZ-09 Forum

Well, now you can add another bike to that list, and this one comes from Japan: the 2014 Yamaha FZ-09. Borrowing the “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” mentality, Yamaha has entered the three-cylinder fray, too, powering the FZ with a 847cc Triple, the company’s first three-cylinder motorcycle engine since the XS850 in the late 1970s. However, other than the number of cylinders each bike has and the lack of any real bodywork, the FZ and XS are worlds apart. Read my Yamaha Triples Retrospective for comparisons between old and new.

2014 Yamaha FZ-09 Beauty

Triples aren’t just the domain of European brands anymore. Yamaha is joining the three-cylinder party with the $7990 2014 FZ-09.

The march in time has been so great that Yamaha never once said a word about the XS750 or 850 during the presentation of the new FZ. When asked about it, Yamaha reps noted appreciation for the past, but the Tuning Fork company isn’t looking backwards, but instead toward the future.

Read our Yamaha Triples retrospective

And that future consists of supersport riders who have come to realize that an R6 or R1 isn’t the most comfortable ride outside the racetrack. Street riders, commuters and weekend riders alike want to feel as alive as they do on their supersports while getting through town. That means an open seating position with a torque-rich engine. And in this economy, an affordable price point means a lot, too. With an MSRP of $7990, the FZ-09 makes a strong case for best value of 2014.

A new era of Yamaha Triples

Enter Yamaha’s all-new 847cc Triple. A clean-sheet design, the inline-Three was chosen for its torquey nature, slim dimensions and because Yamaha engineers understand Triples exude that magic ingredient: character. A first for any production multi-cylinder Yamaha, the FZ-09 cylinders are offset 5mm from the crank axis, meaning the crank pin is beginning its downward path when combustion occurs for less parasitic power loss. Bore and stroke measures 78.0mm x 59.1mm, and pistons are forged aluminum with a compression ratio of 11.5:1.

The 120-degree crankshaft means the FZ-09 has an even 240-degree firing order. Part of Yamaha’s “Crossplane Crankshaft Concept” first introduced on the R1 (a true crossplane design in that its crank pins are situated 90 degrees from each other) Yamaha now uses this phrase to describe the direct connection between rider and the rear wheel. A balancer shaft helps cancel vibes and serves double duty by running the water pump.

2014 Yamaha FZ-09 Engine

Yamaha’s first three-cylinder engine in over 30 years, the 847cc Triple is compact and loaded with torque.

The four-valve cylinder head is an all-new design, with intake and exhaust valves measuring 31mm and 25mm, respectively. Intake valve angle is set at 13 degrees, exhaust at 13.5, and the downdraft intake port provides a direct path for the 41mm Mikuni throttle bodies and Denso 12-hole injectors to feed the air/fuel mixture. Within the 13-liter airbox, intake funnels are staggered with the first cylinder funnel at 102.8 mm, second at 82.8 mm and third at 122.8 mm. The airbox features a built-in resonator, because, well, a three-cylinder intake howl is worth amplifying.

Throttles are opened and closed electronically with YCC-T ride-by-wire, which also allows the use of three different ride modes: A, Standard and B. It’s a similar technology seen on the R1 literbike. Yamaha claims peak horsepower to be 115 at 10,000 rpm and torque 64.5 ft.-lb. at 8500 when measured at the crank. Moreover, a bigger emphasis was placed on useable rather than peak power, as the FZ-09 is intended for city scapes and backroad bombing.

2014 Yamaha FZ-09 Front End

KYB suspension both front and rear is only adjustable for rebound and preload, a sacrifice you make when MSRP is under eight grand. Note also the Advics radial-mounted caliper and 298mm disc.

To accomplish the latter, the aluminum frame uses the engine as a stressed member, with the swingarm externally attached. KYB provides suspension bits, with a 41mm inverted fork up front and nearly horizontal shock in the rear. Both are adjustable for rebound and preload. Trick-looking 10-spoke cast aluminum wheels wear 120/70-17 front and 180/55-17 rubber. Strangely, half the bikes will come with Dunlop Sport Max D214s and the other with Bridgestone Battlax Hypersport S20s. Stopping power is a hodgepodge of parts; Brembo provides the master cylinder, Advics the front radially mounted four-pot calipers and Nissin the rear squeezer.

A true Japanese hooligan

As the leader in the triple-cylinder hooligan bike class, Triumph’s Speed Triple has historically been top dog. I’m not saying it has met its match, but the FZ-09 steals some of Hinckley’s thunder. Considering how much we love the Speed Triple, the Tuning Fork company’s latest creation builds a strong case for itself. Here’s why.

COMPARISON: Read our review of the Triumph Speed Triple R

Designed to be a perfect urban/city tool to slash through traffic and deal with the rigors of city life, the FZ-09’s rider triangle is even more upright than the outgoing FZ8. Bars are 53mm higher and 40mm closer to the rider compared to the 8, and the footpegs are 26mm lower. Seat height is a little on the tall side at 32.1 inches (0.4 inch shorter than the Triumph), but once on, the narrow junction between the seat and 3.7-gallon tank makes touching the ground pretty simple. One gripe is the right-side engine case protrudes out slightly past the frame, forcing shorter riders to angle their legs awkwardly to place a toe down.

2014 Yamaha FZ-09 Action Right

Far from a racer tuck, the upright, tapered aluminum handlebars and relatively low pegs allow the rider to sit in a comfortable, upright position.

Otherwise, the riding position is much more relaxed compared to supersports, and even the Speed Triple. Tall riders will appreciate the leg room, as the high bars and low pegs keep elbows and knees far apart from each other.

In keeping with the city bike theme, Yamaha flew journos to San Francisco to get a taste of the FZ-09 in its natural environment: darting through the city en route to the twisties. With the Speed Triple’s displacement advantage over the FZ-09 (1050cc vs. 847cc), the Triumph clearly wins the power battle, but the Yamaha Triple is every bit as ready for hooligan antics. Its distinguishing trait is the sheer amount of torque available from the bottom end — it’s near impossible to keep the front end down in first gear.

This broad spread of torque mixed with the narrow profile makes filtering through cars easy work. The tapered bars provide ample leverage to heave the bike away from a potential hazard if needed.

2014 Yamaha FZ-09 Action Front Left

I know I’m speaking to a small number, but if you’re a motorcycle courier, snatch up the FZ-09. It has all the traits necessary to get you and your package to the customer deep in the city as quickly as possible.

As we head out of the city on our search for some of the Bay Area’s best two-lane roads, the lack of bodywork, even a windscreen, becomes apparent at highway speeds. The headlight is the only thing diverting air away from the upper body, which means the rider is blasted with wind on the open road. On the bright side, a whole list of Yamaha accessories, including a small flyscreen, are available.

If you can handle the turbulence, the FZ-09 could handle light touring duties well. All six gears are widely spaced to take advantage of the available torque, meaning 80 mph in top gear spins the engine to 5500 rpm. Add on the optional screen, saddlebags and top case, and a long weekend trip is entirely doable.

Conversely, as-is, it’s quite a fun canyon bike. The bars give it leverage to throw it left and right, though the chassis and relatively budget suspension really rewards a smooth rider over one who’s rough with their inputs. I found the KYB bits started to protest and pogo when ridden with any real anger. As damping rates are geared towards a comfy street ride, be gentle with inputs and it’ll lay over and provide a nice arc through turns.

2014 Yamaha FZ-09 Action Black

Handlebars are great for tossing the FZ-09 into turns, and despite the low pegs, I never touched them down. Finesse is key when hustling the FZ. Go rough and the bike will protest.

Compared to the Speed Triple, the FZ-09 feels a tad slower to turn. A closer look at the spec sheets would prove this hunch correct, as the Yamaha has a longer wheelbase (56.7 inches vs. 56.5), lazier rake (25.0 degrees vs. 22.8) and longer trail (4.1-inch vs. 3.6). But don’t get the wrong idea — the FZ is by no means slow.

COMPARISON: Read our review of the MV Agusta Brutale 800

Throughout our ride no journo could resist the temptation to twist the throttle and hear the engine make sweet music, even with the stock exhaust. The thing rips and can embarrass lesser riders on bigger bikes. Second gear is wide enough for most of the tight bits of our press ride, while third easily handles the faster sweepers. The bike could have cruised in a higher cog, but keeping the gear low and the revs high ensured hearing as much engine noise as possible.

Yamaha’s YCC-T ride-by-wire system allows the use of different power modes, but personally, A and Standard modes are too aggressive. Combine this with the abrupt fueling at part-throttle openings, and trying to gently twist my wrist resulted in a noticeable jolt forward. B mode, the softest, provides the best balance of response and drivability.

2014 Yamaha FZ-09 Switchgear

Yamaha has now incorporated the starter button with the kill switch. To start the bike, simply press down on the red switch. Flick the switch up to stop the engine as usual.

Stopping power is good for this budget-minded machine. The Advics calipers offer great stopping power, and the Brembo master cylinder delivers fairly good feel at the lever. I haven’t always been a fan of Yamaha brakes, but these are a decent set. Interesting fact: the FZ-09 uses 298mm rotors, down from the FZ8’s 310mm. Yamaha says this is mainly because the FZ-09’s feather light 414-pound wet weight (53 pounds lighter than the FZ8) doesn’t require as arge a rotor. Unfortunately, ABS is not available on the FZ-09, not even as an option.

Shaking up the scene… again

If you’ve read our Yamaha Triples Retrospective you’ll remember the bit about Yamaha introducing the original XS750 to shake up the motorcycle landscape of the time. Well, they’ve done it again with the FZ-09. The inline-Triple is a great engine with loads of torque and plenty of character. Other than a minor fueling issue and overly aggressive ride modes, it really is a gem.

2014 Yamaha FZ-09 Action Cornering

For the money, it’s hard to think of a motorcycle as capable and entertaining as the FZ-09. We can’t wait to stack it up against its three-cylinder rivals.

The chassis side suffers with rather basic suspension pieces, though even as-is it can take a corner at a good clip. However, for its given intent of being an exciting and well-rounded urban commuter capable of the weekend canyon run, Yamaha nailed it with the FZ-09. Factor in the $7990 price tag and any issues we have with the fueling or handling are easily forgiven.

All that’s left to do now is stack it up against the other leading Triples in its class to battle it out for top honors! Stay tuned.

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  • VagrantCoyote

    Similar minor gripes about suspension and fueling, things that can be easily lived with or modified given the price tag. Great review!

    • TroySiahaan

      Thanks, and you’re exactly right, those are minor inconveniences considering the price tag.

      • WayneJ

        Need to put the 3 banger in a Tenere. Take on BMW 800 GS.

  • dustysquito .

    Did you guys happen to get any pictures with the accessory screen on it? I love the idea of that bike, but I still can’t get over the strange looking front end. I would really like to see this bike in touring trim.

    • TroySiahaan

      No, sorry. The flyscreen isn’t much to look at, and I doubt it will make much difference in the way air hits the rider, but it does help the headlight look a little less strange, sitting out there all by itself.

      • dustysquito .

        I don’t really mind the airflow situation. My DR650 has no real windscreen at all. I’d love to see the fly screen just for cosmetic reasons, because I agree with you, that headlight just looks funky.

  • chumaroot

    No ABS! I made a promise to myself that I will never again buy a bike without it. Cross that one off the list.

    • Rob Halpin

      I know, right? Not sure why. The euro version has ABS. Why not bring it here at least as an option?

      • 80-watt Hamster

        Probably so they have something significant to add in later model years to keep interest up, like convertible versions of cars. Yes, I’m being cynical.

        • ‘Mike Smith

          First there’s 3 years of various color/decal schemes, then in the 4th or 5th year of production, oh, wait I got lost on another R1 tangent.

    • Marcel

      In the European version, MT-09, ABS is offered standard. I just ordered one with ABS from Japan.

  • Zach Spurlock

    I wonder how this will compare to the Street Triple R. The adjustable suspension and ABS have me sold on STR but the price of the FZ-09 can’t be beat.

  • selarsson

    Wowww… 82% editor rating? Worse that the 92% the Fat Bob from the HD lawnmower co. got ?

    • Archie Dux

      The Roadliner got a 94.75.

  • Dsvob87

    Please don’t compare this to a Speed Triple or a Tuono. Nobody needs to read an article to know that this doesn’t belong with those bikes. With the FZ 09′s price point/suspension/brakes/power/torque the only real comparison to be done is against the Street Triple (not the R version).

    • contender

      I was thinking exactly this. In my mind this would most likely be cross-shopped with a Street Triple.

      In any case I am very excited about this bike.

      • TroySiahaan

        The other way of thinking about it is weighing the value proposition. Since the Street Triple is more expensive than the FZ-09, has a smaller engine and is relatively equal in suspension (standard version, not the R), you could conceivably take the money you save on the FZ-09, use that dough to make some simple modifications, move up a weight class, and rival, or even beat, the Speed Triple.

        In a straight-up comparison between the Street Triple and FZ-09, my instinct would have to lean towards the Yamaha. But we won’t know for sure until we pit all the Triples together for a battle royal!

  • Craig Hoffman

    Sounds like a great value proposition. It is not fair to compare this to bikes costing thousands more. It clearly blows away anything in it’s price bracket. If the owner is inclined, mods can be done to make it even more fun. I wonder if an R1 front end or R1 shock off eBay will fit. Those are common FZ1 mods :)

  • pdad13

    Glad to see Yamaha breaking away a litle from the ubiquitous Japanese inline-4. And while it’s not exactly earth shattering considering the resurgence of the triple with Triumph, MV (and Benelli before them–remember Benelli?), it does signal a signifcant shift in Japan. I can remember when Kawasaki suprisingly admitted that their bikes had become stagnant and boring in the early ’00s. It did wonders for them.

    Yamaha is no stranger to trying something a little different. The MT-01 was pretty brave. Unfortunately, it wasn’t very sucessful. I have a feeling the 09 will fare better.

    Speaking of which, it’s a lot of bike for the money. No, it’s not a Street Triple R, but that’s okay. My only real gripe is that it seems a little confused between a street naked and a supermotard. From what I’ve read so far, there’s a bit of vagueness in the front end. And it’s not nearly as pretty as it should be.

    • unixfool

      About your bit about Triumph, and MV/Benelli, Yamaha was doing triples with the XS750 of the mid-1970s. They’ve some know-how about triples. In fact, the reason Benelli began to mass-produce triples was to compete with the Japanese, who were already using them.

      • pdad13

        Yes, absolutely. Notice I used the word “resurgence.” The early Hinckley Triumph Triples and the Benelli Tornado were the first bikes in a long time to bring triples back to the fore (at least that I can remember). The triple configuration had long since faded from the Japanese drawing board. Now we’ve got MV and Yamaha joining. I love it; the triple is my favorite engine.

  • Chris_in_Kalifornia

    I like the idea but I’d like to see a bigger fuel tank and a decent sized rack on the back. I’m a commuter at heart and the closest thing to what I needed back in 2004 was a 650 Vstrom. Loved that 5.8 gallons. Put 87,000 miles on it in less than 5 years just by commuting to work. This sounds like a great replacement with those provisos. Otherwise I’m not interested.

  • Bob DeMuth

    I have heard rumors of Kawasaki getting into this class of bikes with a new triple that is bringing back a name from the past that I welcome. The Mach III is coming to bang handlebars with Yamaha, Triumph. MV Agusta, and the like.

  • Tommy Holland

    Hurry for Yamaha, they realized it is about weight. And not being European it will be real world dependable.

  • jim james

    I’m Kinda worried about the chassis. Looks really radical and very low budget. the stearing head is way high on the chassis and the swing arm pivots on the outside of the frame. Also, the reason it likes to wheelie is because its got the shortest swing arm I’ve ever seen on any motorcycle. the price is good but I’ll wait n see whats really up with the chassis.