Lifestyle

Yamaha's Street Fighter


With its second-generation FZ1, Yamaha decided to direct the project toward a harder-edged sporting concept, probably because the company felt that the slightly tamer sport-tourer segment was already catered to by its own FJR1300, among others.

The result is this 148-horsepower sport-standard (if one may coin the term) with tubular handlebars and an upright riding position. This, to a six-foot-five rider like me, introduces a bit of a dilemma. When I rode the previous FZ1 I wondered why a tall rider would buy a machine with so much performance potential, and then have to hang on for dear life from high-mounted bars in a riding position that threatens to fly the rider like a flag off the back of the bike.

But what do I know? The FZ1 was the 1000cc class sales leader in 2005. Nonetheless, this new FZ1 begs the question all over again, because it is even sportier this time around, with a 20-pound lighter aluminum frame, a longer aluminum swing arm, and aggressively firm suspension components. The bike’s overall weight was reduced by 24 pounds and the weight distribution biased 51-percent onto the front wheel for real sport bike balance.

This FZ1 uses the current R1 fuel-injected engine, but with recalibrated camshaft profiles and timing to provide more torque at low engine speeds. Just over five pounds of flywheel mass was added to the crankshaft for smoother transitions, and there is no ram supercharging effect from nose-mounted intakes as there is on the R1.

Taller fifth and sixth gears are the only changes in the R1-derived gearbox, and they were intended to slow engine speeds at cruising velocities to suit the bike’s more-torquey power delivery and its intended role as an all-purpose mount. Strangely enough, the new FZ1 feels softer in first gear than it does in its new, taller high gear. Since the R1 uses a very tall first gear (good for 100 mph), on the FZ1 it feels almost inappropriately unresponsive from rest.

Compared with other so-called streetfighters, such as Suzuki’s Bandit 1200, the FZ1 is still somewhat high-strung, requiring a lot of engine revs to really start rocking. That’s not a bad thing for someone looking for a sporty character in a machine otherwise intended to bypass the various shortcomings of the current crop of race-replica sport motorcycles. It’s just that many of us equate streetfighter, naked, or standard motorcycles with flexible, responsive engines that need comparatively few revs to pick the front wheel up.

Equally sporty in character is the suspension on this new FZ1. Its big gold-anodized upside-down 43 mm Kayaba fork follows Yamaha’s MotoGP practice by having one leg with compression-damping control, and the other with rebound-damping control.

Spring preload adjustment is also provided, and I wish I’d taken the time to fool with all of those variations to reduce bump-impact harshness. The fork’s response to bumps seemed fairly severe given that my 220 pounds ought to have been enough to overwhelm the standard adjustments. Backing off on spring preload and damping is something one would expect with a lighter rider.

But despite the rain, the high gearing, and the firm suspension, I liked the FZ1. The riding position is comfortable for long hauls, and the seat is deep and wide enough to stave off the inevitable saddle soreness for quite some time. Predictable throttle response, clutch take-up, and shifter engagement points make riding an easily co-ordinated business, and even the big front brake rotors and four-pot calipers were easy to modulate in the wet.

As a thoroughly modern take on the street fighter-style sport motorcycle, the FZ1 is beautifully rendered. The attention to detail is exemplary and the mini-fairing in particular, is a beautiful exercise in minimalism. Too beautiful, perhaps. It could use a little more screen area to fend off the elements. All in all, though, the FZ1 works the way you’d expect a contemporary bike from a top-notch company to work. It gets better by the mile. There’s huge speed available when you spin the big four the way it likes to spin, and the chassis has plenty of control and ground clearance for fast corner work.

For those riders who hate being forced into a racer’s crouch just to get to work, this bike will fulfill as many motorcycling roles as there are days in the week. And look good doing it.

SPECIFICATIONS:

Base Price: $9,099

Engine: 998cc dohc inline-4

Horsepower: 148 at 10,000 rpm

Transmission: 6-speed

Fuel Capacity: 4.8 gallons

Dry Weight: 439 pounds

Seat Height: 32.0 inches

Wheelbase: 57.5 inches


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