Yamaha’s new FZ8 lives in a tough neighborhood. Not the kind with iron security doors in front and underfed dogs on frayed leashes out back. No, it’s stuffed into that Snoop-dog-eat-dog place in Yamaha’s lineup between the truly high-performance FZ1 and the budget-framed, entry-level FZ6R. Its challenge, besides staying alive for a walk to the 7-Eleven, is to be nearly as good as the FZ1 for $2000 less and $1000 better than the FZ6R. As a 2011 model, the sticker said $8490 (add $200 for the 2012 version), which Yamaha met by making difficult hardware choices that affected performance.
So it’s not perfect, but we like the FZ8 a lot. It trailed only the uncommonly good Triumph Street Triple R in our “Middleweight Mashup” comparo last May. We knew it could do better. Our goal with this project was to chip away at the Yamaha’s shortcomings without spending more than it would cost to just buy an FZ1 in the first place.
Starting with suspension. While the FZ8 shares many components with the FZ1, its suspension came from the wrong side of the tracks. Soft springing and very light damping may be appropriate for beginners, but more-experienced riders chafed, wishing for more control and less sag at both ends. Like, you know, an FZ1. Our first call was to Öhlins (www.ohlinsusa.com; 828/692-4525) to secure one of its new lower-cost shocks. A monotube design with an internal, nitrogen-charged reservoir, the YA 009 shock ($617) features adjustments for rebound damping and spring preload.
While waiting for Sweden to extrude a yellow-springed wonder, we sent the 8’s 43mm inverted cartridge fork to Race Tech (www.racetech.com; 951/279-6655). It came back with fork springs rated at 0.95 kg/mm, up from the 0.89 kg/mm stockers. A new Gold Valve damping pack was installed in the right fork leg. What about the left? No need. As a cost-cutting measure, Yamaha omitted the damping mechanism from the other leg. There’s a damping rod and cartridge tube in there, as well as a spring and oil, but no damping valve. Hmmm, let’s see how that’s going to work. The final bill from Race Tech was $454.96, including parts and $135 in labor.
With both ends of the bike updated, our first impression was that the shock was too stiff and the fork too soft. After a few days’ tweaking and an offer from Öhlins to replace the spring, we snatched success from the pointy claws of defeat. Öhlins provides a 120 Newton/mm spring as standard on the YA 009, but we preferred the optional (at no cost) 115 n/mm spring. Up front, after disassembling the fork and seeing the Gold Valves stacked high with damping shims—Race Tech anticipated the need to have that single cartridge do a ton of work—we refilled the fork with a half-and-half mixture of 5- and 7.5-weight oil in an effort to increase low-speed damping. It had come from Race Tech with the lighter of the two.
With rear preload at 15mm and rebound damping 6 clicks from full stiff, we achieved the front-to-rear balance and dynamic transformation we wanted. Road Test Editor Don Canet called the reworked FZ8 a “big improvement over the stock suspension. The chassis was well-composed at a fairly quick pace through flowing sweepers, and the rear damper offers enough rebound control to eliminate the abrupt top-out through quick side-to-side transitions that plagued the stock unit. The steering feels light and neutral. The reduced fork dive delivers much better feedback when trail braking. I didn’t experience any stability issues, and it was certainly nice to have improved cornering clearance.”
Upping the fork-oil viscosity introduced a tiny bit of harshness compared with the fork’s action the way Race Tech delivered it, but the overall balance and improved low-speed damping are worth the price. Now, the FZ8 remains much more level on the brakes, no longer squats alarmingly on acceleration and even buys the aggressive rider a helpful degree of cornering clearance.
You could stop right there, roughly $1000 closer to your credit limit but with a much-improved Yamaha in your living room. We couldn’t, and didn’t. Call us incorrigible.
Spiegler Performance Parts (www.spieglerusa.com; 937/291-1735) sent an LSL Fat Bar in the Superbike Low configuration ($119.95) plus the accompanying riser clamps ($109.95). You’ll also need new bar ends; we chose the Elliptical Bar Ends ($29.95). Because the FZ8’s stock brake lines are tightly grouped and include an inline tee that clearly wasn’t going to accommodate the wider handlebar, we also had Spiegler make us a set of custom brake lines ($109.95) with black sheaths and matching hardware. The final items from Spiegler were Luca CNC-machined aluminum mirrors ($108).
The Fat Bar rocks. It’s 2 inches wider and 1 in. lower than the original Yamaha piece, with a bend we found comfortable and successful in giving the FZ8 a more aggressive attitude. Gorgeous in the matte-silver finish, the handlebar works with the stock cables (aside from the aforementioned brake-line swap) and transmits but a faint tingle from the Yamaha’s generally smooth inline-Four; a set of Renthal 32mm-diameter dual-compound grips fixed that issue.
Two bar-group items didn’t work as well as we’d hoped. First, those dead-sexy mirrors are more style than substance; their flat reflectors give you a narrow rear view. Second, a set of ASV adjustable levers (a Yamaha accessory, $129.95 each) were a mixed blessing. The shorty brake lever felt great, worked fine, but the same abbreviated blade in the clutch position fouled its adjuster knob on the left-side switch cluster. Oops.
We gave two other items a try. From Givi (www.giviusa.com; 877/679-4484) came a set of its new Easylock semi-hard saddlebags ($299) and mounting kit (the TE366 and 366KIT, $160 total) along with a smoked A287N windscreen ($180). LeoVince (www.leovinceusa.com; 510/232-4040) offered up an LV One slip-on muffler in stainless steel ($399) and one of its new FAST II injection/ignition modules ($499).
We’re impressed with FAST. It allowed us to fine-tune the FZ8’s fueling to mostly (though not completely) eliminate its native off/on throttle abruptness. FAST also makes it possible to switch among three internal maps through an optional handlebar switch. We used multiple maps to compare the provided tune with a “zero map” (stock calibration) and to run a map with leaner settings at highway speeds. Over a 1200-mile, five-day trip, this lean map consistently increased highway mileage from 39 mpg to 43. The FAST system is a fairly involved installation, so have a big cup of Patience before you start.
The LV One slip-on muffler is 7.5 pounds lighter than stock and improved power while emitting a pleasing, muted growl as long as the noise reducer was left in place. In the quieter configuration, torque is up from 1 to 3 foot-pounds between 3250 and 5700 rpm, and an average of just less than 2 ft.-lb. from 6500 rpm to redline. All told, the kitted FZ8 produced 1 ft.-lb. more peak torque (56.1 ft.-lb.) and 1.6 additional horsepower (now 97.6).
LeoVince’s contributions helped the Yamaha everywhere, but the parts from Givi made it a surprisingly adept mid-distance tourer. You read that right. Thanks to the Givi windscreen, which provides substantially improved wind protection without turbulence, the FZ8 could now pile on the miles in unexpected comfort.
To make sure we had clothing and a toothbrush when we got there, we filled the Givi Easylock saddlebags until they bulged. This newly introduced luggage is semi-soft in that a fabric exterior is bonded to a rigid plastic substructure. Protected zippers mean the bags are water resistant for light showers but will admit moisture using the “hose test.” Heavy-duty rain covers come standard. Despite the bags’ modest size, just 15 liters each, we’re impressed. The Easylock luggage looks good, appears to wear well and can be locked onto the bike.
Mods from the Mothership included important pieces from the Yamaha Accessories catalog beyond just those levers we tried. Functional items included frame sliders ($129.95) and a centerstand ($169.95, adding a whopping 6.5 lb. of steel tubing and fasteners). We also tried a few cosmetic updates, including a seat cowl ($239.99), a two-piece lower cowling ($219.95) and a carbon-fiber tank pad ($26.95). The centerstand is a blessing and worth every pound.
Throughout the project, our FZ8 rolled on a set of Bridgestone’s new BT-016 Pro tires ($179.10 for the 120/70ZR17 front and $239.69 for the 180/55ZR17 rear; retail prices are set to come down almost $25 for the set in 2012). Developed to have better wear characteristics and improved wet-weather performance than the familiar BT-016, the Pros got along with our FZ8 marvelously, imparting precise, predictable steering and offering exceptional grip. The rear Bridgestone had just started to look squared off after 2500 miles, the last 1K of which were almost all on the highway and heavily loaded, at that. Considering available grip, that’s decent mileage for a supersport tire.
Were we able to elevate the FZ8 out of its working-class digs without having to work double shifts at the 99-Cent Store? Mostly. The suspension was the best value, of course, but accounting for everything but the tires put us only about $1000 over the cost of an FZ1 for a bike with real luggage, superb handling, plenty of performance and (finally!) enough attitude to survive in a neighborhood no Kardashian has ever visited. Yeah, we can live with that.