Yamaha got down to the basics when designing the FZ-09. It’s all about the fun. PHOTOGRAPHY BY KEVIN WING
Luckily for us, motorcycle manufacturers are always trying to come up with new ways of getting you excited about their products, like coming up with new innovations or piling on the bling to get you to buy one of its bikes. And I have no problem with that at all. But Yamaha took a somewhat different approach with its FZ-09. Rather than wow you with bling and high-tech gizmos, like clutchless transmissions, traction control and electronic windscreens, Yamaha went back to the basics and built a bike for the one reason why we got into riding motorcycles in the first place: For the fun of it. Fun, meaning fast and sporty, and, of course, not too expensive. And this is indeed what the FZ-09 is all about.
But in this day and age, it’s hard to justify laying down good money for something just for fun. Fun, these days, is only half the battle. People are looking to get more bang for their buck, so not only does something like a motorcycle have to be enjoyable but practical, as well. With so much talk about the FZ-09 being such a cool motorcycle to blast around on, we asked the questions: Could the FZ-09 also be a practical mode of transportation? A bike you could also ride comfortably as a commuter and as an everyday around town go-getter? A bike that you can justify dropping $7990 for? A fun bike that you can live with?
I’ve been racking up the miles on the FZ-09, using it as my main mode of transportation for the past three or so months, and can tell you right now — oh yeah! On all counts.
Triple The Fun
Don’t let the FZ-09’s ridiculously low $7990 price tag fool you into thinking that Yamaha skimped when it came to fitting the FZ-09 with some of the company’s latest engineering feats. This bike has plenty of them, most notably, of course, its all-new 847cc liquid-cooled, in-line three-cylinder, DOHC, 12-valve engine, which is hung in an all-new aluminum frame. The motor also features Yamaha’s Chip Controlled Throttle (YCC-T) and D-Mode systems. YCC-T is Yamaha’s version of ride by wire and is carried over from its MotoGP racing technology, and D-Mode allows you to adjust through three throttle valve control maps (Standard, A and B modes) while on the fly.
Hit the starter switch and that sweet and unmistakable sound of the FZ’s three-cylinder motor, through its three-into-one exhaust system, pleasantly fills your ears, and the pleasure certainly doesn’t end there. Pull in the clutch, put it in gear and when you open up the throttle for the first time, you’ll be saying to yourself, “holy crap!” I did. The FZ-09 springs to life as soon as you crack the throttle; it just wants to go. It has tons of torque, it’s downright fast, and it will have you blowing through almost any posted speed limit in an instant if you’re not paying attention. (Yamaha claims 115 horsepower and 64.5 lb-ft of torque at the crank.) Again, the FZ-09 is just plain fast, but it’s the first half of the powerband that is most entertaining - especially if you’re into wheelies. This is certainly the bike for that. Switch into “A” Mode, via a small button on the right handlebar, which emphasizes the ‘09’s already impressive bottom-end performance and, take it from me, you better have a good grip on the handlebars.
As fun as this all is, however, I found myself rarely riding the bike in A Mode; the ride gets a little too herky-jerky and abrupt for basic riding around. But when you’re itching to loft the front wheel and let out some aggression, switch to A Mode and go for it. Even Standard mode is pretty snappy (and still abrupt) for everyday use (to me, there is not a huge difference between Standard and A Mode), that’s why 99-percent of my time on the ’09 was spent in B Mode. The difference between B and Standard/A Modes is dramatic. Throttle roll-ons is a hundred times smoother, milder and far more usable, especially when throttle control is desired, like when you are squeezing through traffic at moderate speeds or cruising down the highway at higher speeds. Standard and A Modes are fun for city riding with lots of stoplights; it makes getting intersection holeshots that much easier and a lot more — here’s that word again — fun. But for all-around everyday riding, B Mode is the way to go.
My only gripe with the whole D Mode system is that it automatically reverts back to Standard Mode every time you shut off the motor. I’d like for it to stay where it is or make B the standard mode.
In B Mode (in the smooth power setting), the FZ-09 makes for an excellent commuter. The motor is still plenty exciting yet can be ridden at a mellow pace without much thought. In top (sixth) gear, the FZ-09 hums along effortlessly at 75 mph at about 4000 rpm. I noticed, however, decent vibes through out the whole bike when you quickly open it up and put the motor under a load (such as when you’re too lazy to downshift just before making a pass) and when you scream it at high rpms. All is good elsewhere, though.
The ‘09’s six-speed transmission shifts buttery smooth, and clutch pull is light and predictable. Quick and smooth launches are a breeze on the ’09. The transmission does, however, produce a noticeable gear whine in third and sixth gears that would, depending on my mood, get under my skin a bit.
I felt noticeable heat coming off the motor but it was nothing I couldn’t live with, even with outside temps nearing the century mark. I could also — very easily — live with the approximately 49 mpg I got on the FZ-09, which is significantly more than Yamaha’s published, estimated 44 mpg figure, at least for highway and conservative riding. The highest I ever saw was 49 mpg, which I got on the highway while in B Mode. The lowest I saw was about 38 mpg after nothing but city (okay, hooligan) and back-roads riding.
The fuel tank holds 3.7 gallons. That’s not a lot but for highway commuting it was plenty for me.
Compared to other triples in its class, the FZ-09 is a steal at $7990.
The FZ-09 has a unique feel about it after you climb aboard. It kind of reminds me of sitting on a YZ450F or supermoto bike. The FZ’ feels narrow between your legs and the tapered aluminum handlebars greet you just where the YZ’s handlebars would. The only real difference is that my relatively long legs can reach the ground with a lot more room to spare on the FZ-09. It has a fairly low 32.1-inch seat height but with its narrow junction at the tank, it feels much lower than that.
With the ‘09’s decent seat padding and flat layout, combined with its overall neutral and upright riding positioning, the FZ-09 is surprisingly comfortable. I didn’t suffer at all on my daily hour-long commutes, nor did I on a couple of daylong rides I put in on the bike.
The FZ-09’s soft suspension is good but nothing to write home about. Overall, I found the ride to be a bit bouncy, and the front end to dive excessively when you get on the front brake. Unfortunately, there isn’t a whole lot you can do about it. Both the KYB 41mm inverted fork, with 5.4 inches of wheel travel, and the horizontally mounted single shock, which offers 5.1 inches of travel, do offer preload and rebound damping adjustments (no compression damping), but there is only so much you can do to get the bike to soak up the bumps a bit better. I cranked up the rebound a bit at both ends and went in a few clicks on the fork’s preload, which I thought improved the ride a bit for more aggressive playing and made the bike feel more balanced and a little less busy. Still, the overall ride is a bit on the bouncy side no matter what I did, and I could never adjust out the wiggles in the high-speed corners. You can still make great time on the back canyon roads on the FZ, but you just have to work a little harder on it than you would on a higher-end (and more expensive) sport bike. However, the fun factor is still way up there when you get the FZ-09 on the twisties, especially on pristine roads.
For city riding, the soft stock suspension set-up isn’t worth complaining about. It gets the job done.
As fun as the FZ-09 is on the back roads and on urban streets, the FZ-09 performs well as an everyday commuter.
Grab a handful of front brake and the FZ-09 comes to a quick stop. The dual floating 298mm discs with four-pot opposed piston Advics calipers, which are paired to a Brembo master cylinder, certainly do the trick, as does the singe 245mm disc in the back. Stoppies are very doable. The FZ-09 is not offered with ABS. That’s okay, I never missed them nor did I ever wish for them while I was on the FZ.
For night riding, the FZ-09’s headlight does a great job lighting up the road, and the LED taillight is bright and has separate left and right lamps that illuminate when the taillight is on and across the entire lens when the brake light is on. The extra lighting gives you a bit more confidence that you’ll be seen when the stars are out.
The FZ-09 has a full LCD instrument panel with a digital bar-type display for the tachometer. There is also a gear-position indicator and clock that are easily visible at a quick glance.
It took me a long time getting used to the FZ’s slide-type starter button. Come to think of it, I don’t think I ever got used to it. It’s nothing bad, just different.
For me, living life with the FZ-09 has been simple. Like the brochure says, the FZ-09 is fun to ride yet it is also practical in its own kind of way. But what I like best about the bike, besides its $7990 price tag, is that it just feels like a motorcycle. There is nothing dainty about the FZ-09. It growls when you fire it up, you can feel the vibration in your hands, throttle response isn’t exactly silky smooth, the ride is a little rough and dirty, the front end wants to come off the ground when you grab a handful, it feels like a motocross bike between your legs and it looks mean. Plus, you have to ride it — all of it. There are no ABS, linked-brake system or traction control to aid you, and there is still a clutch lever and a shift lever. There isn’t even a fairing or windscreen to make your life more comfy; heck, those are for sissies — at least that’s the frame of mind I got into whenever I was aboard the FZ-09. Bags or compartments? Forget it. Get a backpack. This is a motorcycle. And a fun and practical one at that. Just like motorcycles should be.