PHOTOGRAPHY BY TOM RILES
The new FZ-09 is pretty much everything Yamaha touted it would be, and that’s fast, torquey and fun. It’s a great in-town and out-of-town ride.
Here’s a fun fact – the new Yamaha FZ-09 is far more entertaining – and thrilling - than it’s ridiculously low $7990 MSRP might suggest. How can that be? After all, it doesn’t have a slipper clutch, high-end brakes, fully adjustable suspension, traction control or even ABS, for that matter. Actually, this is exactly why the FZ-09 is so much fun to ride – it doesn’t do everything for you (except for perhaps one thing, but we’ll get to that in a second). But what you do have is an insanely torquey 847cc three-cylinder motor wrapped by a compact and lightweight chassis that yields realistic ergos. This bike kind of reminds us on why we got into riding motorcycles in the first place – for the simplicity and just plain fun of it. Yamaha is going to sell a ton of these babies. And here’s why.
For one, its motor. Like pretty much every part on the bike, the FZ-09’s powerplant was designed specifically for this made-for-fun naked street machine, though Yamaha officially categorizes the FZ-09 as a “sport” bike (which it certainly is in many respects). It was also designed to be powerful, fast and, most importantly, torquey. And that it is. The FZ-09 oozes torque, 64.5 ft-lb @ 8500 rpm, Yamaha says. No other bike in its class has more, though the BMW F800 R comes pretty close at 63 ft-lb @ 6000 rpm. Although we haven’t had the chance to challenge Yamaha’s torque claims on the dyno yet, our arms, however, seem to think it’s about right after twisting the throttle on the bike for the first time recently. And not only is the FZ-09 torquey but it has tons of midrange gusto and is just plain powerful. And when you combine these elements with a lightweight and agile-handling package, you have the perfect ingredient for some serious f-u-n, which is something we certainly experienced during Yamaha’s recent media launch for the FZ-09.
It’s almost hard not to keep the FZ-09’s front wheel on the ground.
Yamaha chose San Francisco to showcase the new bike so we could experience first-hand its urban street-fighter side, as well as its sportier side in the nearby hills of Mount Tamalpais - just a few miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Remember we said earlier about the FZ-09 still doing one thing for you? That one thing is: wheelie. All you have to do is tell it when (by grabbing a handful of throttle… well, not necessarily a handful) and up she goes. The front end climbs without much coaxing from any other part of your body (or even from the clutch for that matter) but does so in a very controllable manner - more so in B mode than either the Standard or A modes the FZ-09 has to offer. We’re referring to the FZ-09’s YCC-T (Yamaha Chip Controlled – Throttle) three-way Drive-Mode variable throttle mapping, which can be adjusted on the fly via a small button on the handlebar. Standard and A options are both pretty aggressive, bordering on overly snappy. Barely crack the throttle and it’ll jump out of your hands if you’re not gripping the bars tightly, especially in the most aggressive A mode. But in B mode, the softest setting of the three, the motor gets noticeably more manageable, while still rendering easy roll-on second-gear wheelies. The B setting was also by far the mode of choice for the congested streets of San Francisco, where you want smooth, precise and steady throttle control while you’re squeezing through stop-and-go traffic.
Yamaha claims 115 horsepower at 10,000 rpm with a 12,250 redline from the motor. We won’t argue. The FZ-09 feels very fast when you open it up outside the city. It just keeps building speed as you click through all six gears, and you feel very little vibration along the way. Not only does the FZ-09 deliver 115 horsepower, but the sweet-sounding inline triple is hauling around just 414 pounds (claimed), and that’s with a full tank of fuel. Overall, the FZ-09 is a whopping 54 pounds less than the FZ8, the bike it is replacing in Yamaha’s lineup. It also has more power overall than the FZ8, of course.
The compact FZ-09 feels somewhat small between your legs, but is not cramped by any means. Riding position is similar to that of the FZ8, but the fairly flat, tapered aluminum handlebars are 53mm taller and tilted 40mm closer the rider, but you still lean forward just a tad. The footpegs are also set 26mm lower than the FZ8’s. The FZ-09’s seat/tank junction is ultra narrow, giving it a slight motocross-bike feel, but Yamaha did say it tried to mix the elements of naked and motard in the design concept. We did find the FZ-09 to be very ergonomically friendly overall, though the seat tends to lock you into one spot - toward the front. It’s also just 32.1 inches from the ground.
The bike’s narrow layout makes it easy to move around on, which compliments the already agile and maneuverable feeling of the FZ-09 on the road.
Suspension is fine for city use, but a little soft and springy for spirited backroads riding - even with preload and rebound maxed out at both ends. We got blown out of the seat a few times over some unseen bumps, but the overall ride from the Kayaba components is okay. It might not be the best suspension around, but it won’t ruin your ride either.
The Advics four-piston, 298mm dual-disc front brake is powerful but most everyone on our ride agreed they lack feel. Neither the front and rear brakes are the high-end stuff like you’ll find on the Yamaha R1, but they are plenty capable - just not the best.
Yamaha claims 44 mpg from the FZ-09. We never saw that on the bike’s trip computer (more like 34 mpg, which we noticed on the more open-riding segment of our ride, though there was still plenty of city stuff involved). Tamer, more real-life riding, however, will probably be much closer to Yamaha’s 44 mpg figure, but we can’t tell you for sure yet. The FZ-09 holds 3.7 gallons, which isn’t a lot but not bad if you’re getting 44 mpg.
Speaking of the trip computer, the FZ-09 is fitted with a fairly small but stylish all-digital meter, which offers plenty of info, including gear position, instant and average mpg, air intake temperature, clock and eco lamp.
The FZ-09, with its new inline three-cylinder motor, is faster, lighter and much better sounding than the FZ8 it replaces. It’s also nearly $1000 cheaper.
As much as we liked the FZ8 and were sad to see it go, we didn’t weep for long. Not after riding its replacement for the first time. The FZ-09 is a much better machine in just about every way. It’s got more power and torque, not to mention that unmistakable sweet inline triple sound. It also weighs 54 pounds less than the FZ8 and cost $900 less ($7990). It also cost significantly less than some of its comparable competitors, like the Triumph Street Triple 675 at $9399 and the Ducati Monster 796 at $10,495.
Okay, so the FZ-09 might not be perfect – abrupt throttle on/off throttle response, vague-feeling brakes and middle-of-the road suspension quickly come to mind, and its out-there styling might be a problem for some as well. Although no one in our group had anything bad to say about the FZ-09’s appearance, not much was said about how great it looked either – but we can easily turn our head on these things because of its awesome motor, agile handling and bargain price. And, no, we didn’t miss ABS, slipper clutch or traction control one bit.
The FZ-09 was originally going to be offered in two colors – Liquid Graphite and Rapid Red – but they have since added Blazing Orange to the menu, which we have not yet seen in person. Yamaha will be offering quite a few accessories for the FZ-09, too, including a softer seat, a front cowl, radiator side covers, a GPS mount, soft saddlebags and a tank bag, among other things.
Hopefully, the FZ-09 is just the first of many other three-cylinder-powered models from the company. Like an FZ-01 perhaps? They’re not saying.
2014 Yamaha FZ-09
ENGINE TYPE Inline three-cylinder
VALVE TRAIN DOHC, 12 valves
BORE X STROKE 78.0mm X 59.1mm
COMPRESSION RATIO 11.5:1
FUELING Denso 12-hole injectors, 41mm Mikuni throttle body with YCC-T and Yamaha Drive Mod (D-Mode)
CLAIMED HORSEPOWER 115.0 bhp @ 10,000 rpm
CLAIMED TORQUE 64.5 lb.-ft. @ 8500 rpm
FRAME Aluminum twin-spar
HANDLEBARS Tapered aluminum
FRONT SUSPENSION KYB 41mm fork adjustable for spring preload and rebound damping
REAR SUSPENSION KYB shock adjustable for spring preload and rebound damping
FRONT BRAKE Dual Advics four-piston calipers, 298mm discs
REAR BRAKE Nissin single-piston caliper, 245mm disc
FRONT TIRE 120/70ZR-17
REAR TIRE 180/55ZR-17
TIRES Dunlop Sport Max D214 or Bridgestone Battlax Hypersport S20
SEAT HEIGHT 32.1 in.
WHEELBASE 56.7 in.
FUEL CAPACITY 3.7 gal.
CLAIMED CURB WEIGHT 414 lbs.
COLORS Liquid Graphite, Rapid Red, Blazing Orange