If you’ve stumbled upon this review and haven’t yet heard of Yamaha’s new FZ-09, you’re probably not in the right place. This naked bike has lit the Internet ablaze with reviewers tripping over themselves to get some saddle time on this hot little number. With an all-new 847cc inline-3 cylinder engine earning most of the accolades, there’s a lot more to love than just the 2014 Yamaha FZ-09’s power plant.
Let’s rewind nine months. At a consumer motorcycle show in Toronto this past January, Yamaha Canada had a few FZ-09s on display, including one fitted with some accessory saddlebags. Huh, so this bike isn’t just for hooligans terrorizing urban neighbourhoods? Alright then, let’s grab one and go touring.
And that’s just what we did.
Unfortunately Yamaha wasn’t able to secure us a set of the saddle bags in time for my ride, so I threw a trusty tail bag on the pillion seat and set out from home base in Southern Ontario with a few riding buddies destined for the rural woodlands of Northern Pennsylvania. Our goal: to explore some of the best riding roads within only a few hours’ ride of our home.
Many of the byways we sought in and around the Allegheny National Forest are well maintained, contain more twists than a pot of rotini and are blessed with remarkably few fellow motorists. It becomes the perfect playground for those looking to escape the straight, flat and traffic-choked roads of our more heavily populated home region. Adding to this motorcycling paradise is a population that’s not only friendly and accommodating, but also seem to honestly respect motorcyclists out on the roads.
Sensible folks would choose a ride like Yamaha’s own FZ1 sport touring bike or maybe Honda’s new VFR800 for a 1,500 km, 3-day odyssey like this one, but not me, well at least not this time. Will the FZ-09 be stable enough on the highway? Will the windblast be severe? Will the 14 L fuel tank empty out at an annoyingly quick rate?
As it happened, yes, sort of, and no.
The first leg of our journey requires a trek down multi-lane highways at elevated speed. The FZ-09 is stable and smooth at 120 km/h + despite its diminutive size and weight. The wind does grow tiresome fairly quickly at anything above 100-110 km/h, but then, that was to be expected. Yamaha offers a front cowl accessory that may help alleviate some of the hurricane and create a more finished look to the front end (hiding the four big bolts that drew the attention of my riding companions who figured it looked unsightly without the cowl).
Yamaha will also sell you a “Comfort Seat” that offers an additional layer of foam padding, and what appears to be a slightly more rounded edge beneath the thighs. This is another fixture I would have appreciated, especially by the third long day of riding.
This is not to suggest that the FZ-09 is unsuited for touring. In fact, by the end of the first day, I was pleasantly surprised at how good I felt after a nearly 600 km riding day. The rider triangle is ergonomically suited for comfort, given the high bar position and pegs that are positioned perfectly to strike a balance between comfort and clearance. And despite no rubber toppers on the pegs to absorb some of the buzz, the vibrations never became bothersome through the boots or gloves.
Indeed, the praise that has been heaped upon the Fizzer’s new triple is well deserved. It is well suited for any occasion or request, whether cruising comfortably at a constant highway slog for hours on end, or when called upon to execute back road strafing maneuvers. This mill is ready, willing and able for anything. With impressive amounts of torque from 3,000 rpm, the FZ-09 will pull smoothly and cleanly even from as low as 2,000 rpm all the way to redline, again speaking to the incredible flexibility of this engine.
It’s even fuel-efficient too, showing an overall average of 4.4L / 100 km after the full 1,500 km sojourn. When pressed hard on the back roads, the consumption only went up to an indicated 4.5 L / 100 km, and on the highway, would dip to 4.2. Pay careful mind to your mileage or the fuel gauge though, which is frighteningly non-linear, staying at FULL for nearly 100 km, then dropping down to EMPTY within the next 100 km.
The six-speed transmission is also well suited to the FZ-09 with gearing that enables smooth cruising or rapid-fire up-and-down cog-shifting exercises with equal aplomb. It’s a device of sublime precision, never hiding neutral or objecting to any gear selected. I’d have preferred a little less travel on the clutch before its engagement point, but managed to grow accustomed to this bike’s particular set up.
At slow speeds, the highly tractable engine is let down by the throttle mapping that acts like an abrupt toggle switch between a lot of fuel delivery and none at all. This makes for some herky-jerky around town riding, especially in A-mode or STD-mode (where I kept the bike for most of the trip). B-mode can smooth things out a bit, but also pares back on that addictive power delivery. For 2015, Yamaha has reportedly adjusted the throttle calibration to make the FZ-09 more ridable and will make the adjustment for owners of 2014 models free of charge.
A slightly unpredictable delivery of all that thrust had me in paying extra mind to smooth inputs, especially when those wonderful Pennsylvania rural routes started twisting around. I found keeping the bike in a higher gear than I might’ve normally, keeps the FZ-09’s power delivery smoother, and with so much torque and horsepower available, it is never a problem to do so, still easily keeping pace with my riding peers.
The suspension also requires a smooth touch from the rider. While I could’ve wrenched the damping down to its stiffest settings, I elected to keep it on the softer side to serve as a more comfortable touring machine. Only on the tightest section did this setting seem to upset the bike where the road imperfections had the FZ-09 bouncing a few extra times before settling back down. It is a bit surprising that the suspension is set up so soft even for my 160 lb. frame and surely riders of a more generous carriage will have little choice but to keep it in full-on firm, or start swapping out components. My small tail bag couldn’t have weighed more than 15lbs in case you’re thinking I was carting around a sack of gold bars.
Most of our “play” routes on this journey featured near-endless series of high-speed sweeping turns on beautifully pock-free pavement, and it’s here that the soft suspenders didn’t seem to pose any issue. The bike rolls into turns with eagerness and the Bridgestones provide excellent grip. And then of course that beautiful, addictive power pulls the FZ-09 out of the curves with gusto time and again.
The rumor mill suggests that Yamaha will be bringing us an FJ-09 in the next year, which would offer the same sensational engine and transmission, but with a bit more wind protection and space for people and stuff. Taking all that’s great about the FZ-09 and making it more distance-worthy could be the perfect ride to visit my favourite parts of Pennsylvania once more.
As it is, Yamaha’s FZ-09 is a fantastic, fun machine, made even more impressive when one considers its $9,000 cost of admission. It’s a bike that will serve duty as a commuter, hooligan wheelie machine and even a decent choice for moderate touring, making it a killer value and great all-round bike.