Parked on a Latigo Canyon overlook during a break in the Yamaha FZ-09 press ride, looking down at the Malibu mansions high above the Pacific, I couldn’t help but remember the first time I came here. I was a wide-eyed 22-year-old at the time, astride my trusty 1979 Yamaha SR500 Single, and I vividly recall thinking, “What a beautiful place! Someday I’m going to live here.”
Then I found out how much those places cost.
That scenario probably isn’t much different than what most millennials think about today’s new motorcycles. They really, really want one…right up until they find out how much they cost.
Fortunately, Yamaha has been bucking that trend lately with some seriously affordable sporty standards. Its FZ series—07, 09, and the spanking new 10, along with the FJ-09 sport-tourer and XSR900 retro-bike—offer the kind of bang-for-the-buck that pundits suspected disappeared along with a healthy economy. So successful is the FZ series, in fact, that it has played a key role in changing the sportbike marketplace. Not only are sales of sportbikes up as a whole, the sporty-standard segment has now eclipsed the once -dominant supersports.
The FZ-09 kick-started this trend when it was introduced in 2014, and three years later receives its first significant updates. Although the 120-degree Crossplane-crank three-cylinder engine and Controlled Fill die-cast aluminum chassis remain the same, many of the features introduced on the new FZ-10 have trickled down. Thus the 2017 FZ-09 boasts ABS, traction control, and an assist-and-slipper clutch, plus there’s an optional YZF-R1-derived quick-shifter. While they were at it, the engineers upgraded the FZ’s 41mm KYB fork, giving it a full range of adjustability plus 83 percent firmer compression damping in its standard setting. Bottoming under braking is no longer an issue.
The 2017 FZ-09 also receives new FZ-10-inspired styling featuring a dual headlight with quad LED lamps, restyled plastic front and rear, a new muffler cover, a swingarm-mounted single-sided license-plate bracket, and an LED taillight. Last, the seat is now flatter and 5mm higher at the front to reduce the (sometimes painful) tendency for riders to slide into the gas tank. The boys say thanks for that.
To show off these improvements, Yamaha invited the press corps to spend a full day riding in Southern California’s famed Santa Monica Mountains (and they didn’t say “fake news” once). Challenging on the best of days, the area’s serpentine backroads were made even more so by this winter’s incessant rains, and yet the FZ-09 took everything in stride. You don’t fully appreciate ABS or traction control until you come around a blind corner and find the road strewn with dirt from a mudslide or awash in running water! The ABS is preset but the TC has three positions (1,2, and Off), and there are also three Ride Modes (A,B, and Standard) for the YCC-T ride-by-wire throttle. We spent most of the day riding in “A1” and found that to offer exhilarating performance and an acceptable safety margin. Hooligans (and Motorcyclist’s Ari Henning) will rejoice in the fact that the FZ is still capable of wheelying in the least-obtrusive TC setting, and will also do stoppies if you don’t snatch at the brake lever too hard. So the rider aids don’t intrude on the fun.
The new seat is much more comfortable (especially for long-legged riders), and the revised suspension works great until you start to push the pace. Then, the rear end moves around a bit, creating something of a hobby-horse effect (worse if you tip the scales at 200-plus lbs.). We ramped up the shock spring preload and dialed in a little more rebound damping, and the ride was much more composed.
The original 2014 FZ-09 was marred by snatchy throttle response, and while that improved over the last two years, this year it’s really good. All three 847cc triples—the FZ, FJ and XSR—now share the same mapping and it’s nigh-on perfect. Between that and the new assist-and-slipper clutch, pulling away from a standstill (or splitting lanes for miles on end, as we did at the end of our day) is painless.
All in all, Yamaha has taken one of our favorite motorcycles and made it even better. As impressive as the 2017 FZ-09 is, however, the most impressive thing might be that it offers all of these additional features at a price just $800 higher than last year.
$8999? That’s like one month’s mortgage payment on one of those Malibu mansions…
|ENGINE TYPE||DOHC inline-triple|
|SEAT HEIGHT||32.3 in.|
|FUEL CAPACITY||3.7 gal.|
|CLAIMED WET WEIGHT||425 lbs.|