2011 Yamaha FZ8 - First Ride

Yamaha’s newest naked is holding the middle (weight) ground.

2011 Yamaha FZ8 - First Ride

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Yesterday was one of those clear, dry and mildly warm winter days that draws so many people to Southern California, making it a great day to be out riding the all-new 2011 Yamaha FZ8 middleweight standard. Perhaps the economic recession is partly responsible for Yamaha's choice of a local venue for the bike's Stateside riding introduction. But it also doesn't hurt when the very mix of urban coolness and serpentine coastal canyon roads are within an expensive cab fare of its headquarters. Yamaha put us up for a night at the trendy Erwin Hotel in downtown Venice Beach so we wouldn't be subjected to morning rush-hour madness. Following breakfast, we headed north up the Pacific Coast Highway and into the Santa Monica Mountains.

Slotting in nicely in terms of both displacement and price between its FZ1 and FZ6R siblings, the 779cc FZ8 blends handling agility with power-delivery versatility and has convincingly captured the middle-ground, not only within the FZ model line, but it is also a new force in the category due to its performance value. The FZ8 is manageable enough for the novice while being practical and entertaining for advanced riders. Sharing identical chassis geometry to the FZ1, the 8 is notably lighter on its feet, mostly due to a 30-percent reduction of crankshaft inertia and a 0.5-inch narrower rear wheel. With its ample amount of steering-lock sweep, low-speed maneuverability in and about town is excellent.

The cockpit is narrow in the midsection, helping to broaden the appeal of its 32.1-inch high seat and allowing an easier reach to the ground at stops. The six-speed gearbox uses a lower first-gear ratio and shorter final gearing than that of the FZ1, making for ultra-easy, smooth departures from a standstill. A feathery-light-clutch pull, slick-shifting transmission and spot-on fuel mapping combine with very low vibes and plentiful bottom-to-mid rpm torque delivery, allowing a super-fluid, casual cruise in route to the canyons.

When it came to opening ’er up and putting the chassis to the test threading through the apexes of fantastic twisty roads like Decker, Mulholland and Latigo Canyon roads, I was pleased to find an added surge of controllable power coming in at 6000 rpm. The engine offers minimal vibes, even when nearing the 11,500-rpm redline. Handling proved light and composed to a point, only unraveling when subjected to moderate to severe undulations in the road that overwhelmed the rear shock damping. Sadly, the only adjustment offered is spring preload, and while the shock’s calibration serves well for general-purpose riding, striking a balance between comfort and sport, it appears to be holding back the FZ8 chassis’ potential in a pretty big way when you throw the hammer down.

Riders with more aggressive sporting aspirations can turn to the aftermarket for suspension alternatives. For most, however, the standard FZ8 should easily suffice. And at $8490, it’s a bargain amongst class peers, leaving plenty of change to spare should one wish to tap the broad model-specific accessories Yamaha has to offer.

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