2014 Middleweight Naked-Bike Comparison | Three’s Company

Triumph and Yamaha square off with their three-cylinder naked-bike contenders, the Street Triple R and the FZ-09

2014 Middleweight Naked-Bike Comparison | Triumph Street Triple R and Yamaha FZ-09

As a manufacturer, Triumph has a lot to be proud of: The British-born marque has vastly broadened its model range in recent years, gradually improved upon the reliability of its bikes, and used its long-standing know-how to produce some of the most well-balanced three-cylinder sportbikes currently on the market. Of course, sitting at the top of any segment—the middleweight naked-bike category in this case— only means there's a long list of manufacturers nipping at your heels. Most recently, Triumph's biggest threat has come from Yamaha's sensibly built FZ-09. And people are already beginning to recognize the potential shift in tide.

My grandpa, a longtime sportbike enthusiast and avid street rider, is one of those people. And like every other two-wheel aficionado who has recently pored over FZ-09 reviews while simultaneously sipping on their morning coffee, his most prominent question is this: “Does the FZ-09 work as well as they say it does, or should I just spend the extra money on a Street Triple?” Naturally, I recommended we find out for ourselves.

There were some prerequisites to take into account before jumping into yet another nakedbike comparison test, like whether or not to compare the Yamaha with Triumph's standard Street Triple or up-spec Street Triple R. With its non-adjustable suspension, the standard model seemed like the more sensible choice; however, that wasn't to be since Triumph had already wiped the standard model from its test fleet. Pushed into a corner and forced to pick the R, we still found it hard to overlook the fact that this model is only $600 more expensive than the standard edition and comes with fully adjustable KYB suspension and Nissin four piston (versus two) brake calipers. All things considered, you'd be crazy to not make the same upgrade if given the chance.

The other point to consider is the competition. MV Agusta's Brutale 800 is the FZ-09's most obvious challenger when you take engine displacement into account, but the MV is also $2,499 more expensive than the Street Triple R and a whopping $4,508 more costly than the FZ-09. The 800, featured in a sidebar alongside a few other middle-displacement naked-bike options, is slightly better than the Brutale 675 Triumph's Street Triple R toppled in an earlier comparison ("Triple Duel!" December '13), but the 2014 model is still a polishing stone away from competing with the Yamaha and Triumph. Besides, my grandpa didn't ask if the FZ-09 was better than the Brutale 800, and that's likely the case with the majority of people in the market for a new naked bike.

That brings us back to our main participants, the FZ-09 and Street Triple R. And more importantly, to the overlying question: Is the FZ-09 the new king of the middleweight-ish naked category, or does Triumph’s Street Triple R still reign supreme? After a few days of riding around town and in the canyons, my grandfather and I are pretty sure we’ve figured that out. But first…

2014 Middleweight Naked-Bike Comparison | Triumph Street Triple R and Yamaha FZ-09

The Basics
There are fundamental differences between the Street Triple R and FZ-09 that bear mentioning. To start, the Yamaha rolls into this comparison with a $2,009 price advantage that's hard for potential Triumph owners to overlook. Thanks to an entirely new three-cylinder engine with 107.2 hp at 10,000 rpm and 61.6 foot-pounds of torque at 8,500 rpm, the bike also holds a 10-hp advantage over our Street Triple R test model, which when strapped to our Dynojet dyno, produced 96.9 hp at 12,000 rpm and 46.4 foot-pounds of torque at 9,600 rpm. In Triumph's defense, the Street Triple R's horsepower and torque curves are as straight and smooth as lane one at your local bowling alley. Things are more similar with the bikes on the scale, though the 414-pound Triumph does hold a 3-pound advantage over the 417-pound FZ-09 when filled with fuel and parked curbside, ready to ride. Likewise, the Triumph comes with a two-year warranty and the Yamaha just a one-year warranty.

2014 Middleweight Naked-Bike Comparison | Triumph Street Triple R
The Triumph’s analog tach might not look as hip, but it works better—period. Fuel gauge and gear position indicator on both bikes is a nice touch.

Throw a leg over each bike and you’ll notice the Triumph’s riding position is slightly more committed. Yamaha says the goal was to put its rider in a more upright position by way of a handlebar that is taller and further rearward (along with lower footpegs) than the old FZ8. The Yamaha’s seat is mostly flat like a motard bike’s saddle but props you up when sitting toward the back of it (not always a good thing), and both bikes’ seats are narrow enough at the seat/ tank junction to provide plenty of rider control. The FZ-09’s seat is dirt-bike-firm, whereas the Triumph’s saddle is more bucket-shaped and a bit plusher. Neither is perfect, but after 300 miles in the Yamaha’s saddle you’ll definitely want to upgrade to the manufacturer’s “comfort seat.”

Affixed to the FZ-09’s handlebar is a digital display that’s better aligned with your sightline, but that’s almost a necessity as Yamaha has replaced the FZ8’s analog tachometer with a digital bar graph atop the display that’s difficult to read while putting that three-cylinder to the test on a canyon road. Both bikes have a gear position indicator and fuel level gauge, which is a plus during around-town commuting, but Triumph’s larger tach is undeniably more useful. Mirrors on the Triumph aren’t as adjustable or forthcoming with scenery, and the Yamaha’s highly adjustable glass was easier to reference despite a bit of vibration throughout the bike under acceleration.

2014 Middleweight Naked-Bike Comparison | Yamaha FZ-09
The FZ-09’s digital display is positioned nicely, but the tachometer readout is too small to read at a glance. A, Standard, and B modes are easily adjusted, thankfully.

Twists, Turns, and Traffic
The Street Triple R and FZ-09 are mostly free of electronic rider aids, though the Triumph gets ABS and the FZ-09 three separate riding modes— A, Standard, and B, all of which are selected via an easy-to-access button on the right side of the handlebar. Fueling in any mode isn't perfect, but in A mode the throttle response is so sharp that it's only good for fast, sweeping roads where you aren't continually opening and closing the throttle. Standard mode is the setting the bike will lapse to whenever the key is cycled, but the fueling in that mode will lead you to believe the tank's been topped off with a 12-pack of Red Bull, and the result is a bike that's surprisingly difficult to shuffle through traffic on. Contrastingly, in B mode you can feel the throttle blades opening more slowly than the throttle tube, and the payoff is an on/off transition that's 90 percent as good as the same transition on the Triumph, which fuels seamlessly at just about every rpm, despite a very small hiccup just north of 4,000 rpm.

Yamaha’s quick-revving three-cylinder engine refills the hole dug by the FZ-09’s throttle and is hands down the best attribute of this naked bike. “I really like the engine on the FZ-09 because there’s so much torque down low that you just roll the throttle on,” my grandpa says. “If you’re on the Triumph, you just got to get used to shifting.” The dyno chart supports that claim and shows that the Yamaha produces an impressive 50 foot-pounds of torque (or 80 percent of its maximum torque) as low as 2,500 rpm (versus 37 foot-pounds on the slower-revving Street Triple R at the same rpm). Fortunately for the Triumph, its transmission is among the best non-electronically-assisted transmissions we’ve ever tested. The Yamaha’s six-speed gearbox is exceptionally smooth as well, with what feels like just a slightly longer throw between gears.

2014 Middleweight Naked-Bike Comparison | Triumph Street Triple R
ABS robs some of the aggression we loved on previous Triumph models, but it wasn’t a huge hindrance on the road. Suspension is on the stiff side but fully adjustable.

The FZ-09’s power advantage is mitigated by the bike’s softly sprung suspension, which, when running through a mountain road, causes the bike to move around at the mere thought of a steering input. The Street Triple R steers a bit heavier, especially at parking lot speeds or as you transition from full lean in one direction to full lean in another direction, but its chassis is more sure-footed and planted on its side, which allows you to put bigger inputs into the bar and counter the heavier handling. My grandpa adds: “For a guy who’s just riding around town and going pretty slow up a canyon road the FZ-09 is okay, but if you really start riding it, it’s kind of scary.” Then he goes on to say, “You can steer the Triumph and make it go right where you want it to, but with the Yamaha it’s always moving around and a lot more difficult to keep on a line.” Moreover, we can’t help but wonder how light the Street Triple, with its a shorter wheelbase (1,410mm versus 1,440mm), less rake (23.4 degrees versus 25.0 degrees), and less trail (95mm versus 103mm), would handle if its handlebar was as wide as the piece on the Yamaha; added leverage is undoubtedly good for a motorcycle, and the Triumph’s bar is narrow enough that your hands are typically resting on its ends.

The R’s stiffer suspension provides more support when you grab a handful of brake, and this allows you to get more aggressive with the lever. Stopping power builds progressively through the Triumph’s radially mounted Nissin calipers biting on 310mm discs, whereas the FZ-09 has an initial bite that causes you to overpower the fork if you’re not careful. The Yamaha’s brakes— complete with smaller, 298mm discs—aren’t as powerful or easy to modulate, and the Triumph’s ABS offers an extra safety net without intervening as speeds pick up on a canyon road. Actually, we never did get into the Triumph’s ABS while in the canyons.

2014 Middleweight Naked-Bike Comparison | Yamaha FZ-09
The Yamaha FZ-09 sports Advics calipers and 298mm discs. The fork is too soft for aggressive riding, with very little damping control.

On the freeway ride home you’ll notice the Yamaha’s under-sprung and under-damped suspension is less a hindrance, though with the rebound adjusters turned in we noted an adverse affect on the compression side of the stroke (there’s no compression adjuster on the shock or fork), and that’s a pretty good indicator of the suspension’s bottom-shelf status. My grandpa says: “When I was behind the FZ-09 I could see the back of the bike moving up and down a bunch, but the Street Triple R isn’t bouncing around at all.” That lack of movement on the Street Triple R isn’t accompanied by blended insides either, as the bike’s suspension is still somewhat forgiving. Bigger hits suggest there’s a bit too much high-speed compression damping, and Triumph’s definitely leaned toward a stiffer setup, but with the fully adjustable fork and shock you can tune most of that out; plan on updating the Yamaha’s fork if you want it to handle half as good as the Triumph.

The Street Triple R's advantages trickle into its 4.6-gallon fuel tank, which outshines the Yamaha's diminutive 3.7-gallon cell and offers you more fun between fuel stops. Fuel mileage is slightly better on the Triumph too, with that bike offering an average of 46 mpg and the Yamaha 42 mpg, on average. For obvious reasons, wind protection isn't great on either bike, though we'll admit the taller, wider bar on the FZ-09 broadens your chest and turns you into a slightly larger sail. Tires are a point of interest as well, and we were happier with Triumph's Pirelli Diablo Rosso Corsa tires than the Yamaha's Dunlop Sportmax D214 buns, which weren't as trustworthy when cold and felt overworked by the FZ-09's poor suspension.

2014 Middleweight Naked-Bike Comparison | Triumph Street Triple R and Yamaha FZ-09
Yamaha’s goal was to put its rider in a more upright riding position, and thus the FZ-09’s ergonomics are less committed than the Triumph’s. Unfortunately, the FZ-09’s seat is overly firm.

Which Would We Buy?
When a motorcycle is introduced with an MSRP that significantly undercuts the competition, it's suspected that the manufacturer will have cut more than a few corners in the development process or that the quality of that bike's components is laughable, but that's not entirely the case with Yamaha's FZ-09, and we were actually quite pleased with overall fit and finish—enamored, even, with the engine. Even still, there are some matters you'll need to address if you want the FZ-09 to live up to its full potential outside the confines of your neighborhood—aftermarket suspension and a fuel controller being the most obvious. There goes that $2,000 cost advantage…

And that brings us to the Triumph Street Triple R, which is a more refined motorcycle…now. If you’re willing to spend the extra money on the Yamaha and make it work, we doubt you’ll be disappointed. But if you want something you can ride out of the dealership and never have to worry about setting up, then we suggest the dealer you ride out of has a Triumph logo on its door.

Chances are that’s the dealership you’ll find my grandpa at, too.

2014 Middleweight Naked-Bike Comparison | Triumph Street Triple R

2014 Triumph Street Triple R

Test Notes
**+ **Rock-solid chassis
**+ **Suspension that, you know, works
**– **Steers heavier than FZ-09
**– **Still thinking…
**x **Most refined naked bike money can buy? Possibly.

Suggested Suspension Settings
FRONT: Spring preload—4 lines showing on adjuster; rebound damping—14 clicks out from full stiff; compression damping—17 clicks out from full stiff; ride height—6mm showing above top triple clamp
REAR: Spring preload—10mm thread showing; rebound damping— 8 clicks out from full stiff; compression damping—7 clicks out from full stif

2014 Middleweight Naked-Bike Comparison | Yamaha FZ-09

2014 Yamaha FZ-09

Test Notes
**+ **Torquey, quick-revving engine
**+ **Nimble handling
**– **Soft, bottom-shelf suspension
**– **Abrupt throttle
**x **If only the suspension were as good as the engine…

Suggested Suspension Settings
FRONT: Spring preload—2 lines showing on adjuster; rebound damping—0.5 turn out from full stiff; ride height—0mm showing above top triple clamp
REAR: Spring preload—Position 5 of 7; rebound damping—1 turn out from full stiff

2014 Middleweight Naked-Bike Comparison | Triumph Street Triple R and Yamaha FZ-09

Opinions

Ray Adams
Age: 70
Height: 6'1"
Choosing between these bikes is a tossup, really. I like the motor in the FZ-09 and the extra horsepower over the Street Triple, but the suspension just isn't as good. On the Triumph, everything works really well; the bike runs good, handles fantastic. It's just a good bike. If I wanted a project, I'd have considered the Yamaha. But I'm 70 and don't like working on bikes half as much as I like riding them, so I'd pick the Street Triple over the FZ-09.

Kent Kunitsugu
Age: Old
Height: 5'8"
The Yamaha's suspension didn't seem that bad to me when I first rode it, but it has definitely loosened up since then, which reflects on its budgetary build. Not to worry though, as both that and the abrupt throttle response can surely be cured with some easy aftermarket mods bought with the money you've saved. Add a slightly lower set of bars and I think you've got an excellent midsize naked bike—outside of the small fuel tank. Even with its flaws, the FZ-09 makes the Street Triple feel a bit plain by comparison.

Bradley Adams
Age: 24
Height: 6'4"
I think it says a lot about the FZ-09 that it can make a young, wheelie-happy guy like me just as content as someone like my grandpa. It's one of those bikes that is simple in design but practical and still plenty of fun to ride. I'm really curious to see how the bike would work with aftermarket suspension and a reflashed ECU or fuel controller—or, more importantly, how much that stuff would cost… After all, what's the point of a cost-effective bike if you've got to dump a few thousand dollars into it to make it work?

Not Your Average Grandpa

I remember very vividly the first time I drove a car because as I swung the driver door open, my grandpa stepped up and, with a straight face, asked, “I didn’t hear any burnouts. Are you sure you’re an Adams?”

To say that my grandfather is different from the rest would be a gross understatement, but for that reason I knew no better person to call in for SR ’s 2014 naked-bike test. He’s got the mettle to back up that invitation, too; an avid street rider who raced between the ages of 41 and 50, he’s got a total of eight Over 40 Championships and a State Championship to his name. His list of rides—old and new—is just as impressive and includes no less than four GSX-R1000s, three Suzuki Hayabusas, a Gold Wing, and a B-King that’s currently being outfitted with a turbo. —BA

2014 Middleweight Naked-Bike Comparison | Triumph Street Triple R and Yamaha FZ-09
Yamaha’s new three-cylinder engine is spectacular and has gobs of lowend torque. At the same time, it’s hard to fault the Triumph’s billiardtable- smooth power and torque curve.

Specifications

Bike 2014 Triumph Street Triple R 2014 Yamaha FZ-09
MSRP $9999 $7990
ENGINE
Type Liquid-cooled, DOHC, inline transverse three-cylinder, 4 valves/cyl. Liquid-cooled, DOHC, inline transverse three-cylinder, 4 valves/cyl.
Displacement 675cc 847cc
Bore x stroke 74.0 x 52.3mm 78.0 x 59.1mm
Compression ratio 12.7:1 11.5:1
Induction Keihin EFI, 44mm throttle bodies, single injector/cyl. Mikuni EFI, 41mm throttle bodies, single injector/cyl.
CHASSIS
Front suspension 41mm KYB inverted fork, 4.5 in. travel 41mm KYB inverted fork, 5.4 in. travel
Rear suspension KYB shock absorber, 5.3 in. travel KYB shock absorber, 5.1 in. travel
Front tire 120/70ZR-17 Pirelli Diablo Rosso Corsa 120/70ZR-17 Dunlop Sportmax D214 F
Rear tire 180/55ZR-17 Pirelli Diablo Rosso Corsa 180/55ZR-17 Dunlop Sportmax D214
Rake/trail 23.4º/3.7 in. (95mm) 25.0º/4.1 in. (103mm)
Wheelbase 55.5 in. (1410mm) 56.7 in. (1440mm)
Seat height 32.3 in. (820mm) 32.1 in. (815mm)
Fuel capacity 4.6 gal. (17.4L) 3.7 gal. (14.0L)
Weight 414 lb. (188kg) wet; 386 lb. (175kg) dry 417 lb. (189kg) wet; 395 lb. (179kg) dry
Fuel consumption 41–49 mpg, 46 mpg avg. 38–46 mpg, 42 mpg avg.
PERFORMANCE
Quarter-mile 11.00 sec. @ 121.9 mph 11.06 sec. @ 123.4 mph
Roll-ons 60–80 mph/3.08 sec.; 80–100 mph/3.09 sec. 60–80 mph/2.96 sec.; 80–100 mph/3.29 sec.

Alternatives

2014 Middleweight Naked-Bike Comparison | MV Agusta Brutale 675

MV Agusta Brutale 675 | MSRP $11,998
The Brutale 675 is MV Agusta's gateway to the wheelie-saturated world of naked bikes, but entry-level here means you still get an electronics package with four riding modes and an eight-level traction control system. Bump absorption comes courtesy of a non-adjustable Marzocchi fork and Sachs shock, and like the Italian manufacturer's supersport models, the Brutale 675 is equipped with a counter-rotating crankshaft for quicker steering characteristics.

Albeit non-adjustable, the Brutale 675’s suspension provides decent support on a canyon road in addition to some compliance on the highway. The counter-rotating crankshaft aids noticeably in handling, and while the transmission won’t fare well in a back-to-back comparison with the Triumph 675’s gearbox, the engine is quite impressive, with great power from 7,000 rpm up. In fact, if MV engineers can smooth out the power—and torque—curve while simultaneously refining the Brutale 675’s electronics, they’ll have a great package on their hands. —BA

2014 Middleweight Naked-Bike Comparison | MV Agusta Brutale 800

MV Agusta Brutale 800 | MSRP $12,498
MV Agusta's Brutale 800 is intended to fill the middle ground between MV's quick-steering Brutale 675 and arm-stretching Brutale 1090. The list of differences between it and the 675 is quite short, but in addition to a longer-stroke engine with around 16 more horsepower, you get fully adjustable suspension and stickier Pirelli Rosso II tires.

The Brutale 800’s Eldor ECU continues to be updated in an attempt to make the bike more user-friendly, and the latest settings are definitely noticeable, as even in Sport—one of four riding modes—the 800’s throttle response is much softer. This makes the bike less strenuous in stoplight-to-stoplight riding situations, but at the same time the connection between rider, throttle, and rear tire isn’t completely natural. Expect the settings to evolve further, and don’t be surprised if the 800 engine leaves you entirely satisfied; this is one hell of a powerplant. —BA

2014 Middleweight Naked-Bike Comparison | Ducati Streetfighter 848

Ducati Streetfighter 848 | MSRP $13,495
The Ducati Streetfighter 848 was first introduced as a 2012 model but, more importantly, as a practical alternative to Ducati's wheelieprone Streetfighter 1098. The Testastretta 11° engine, with its reduced valve overlap, produces around 113 hp and 60.5 foot-pounds of torque, which gives the Duc a slight advantage over Yamaha's new three-cylinder platform. A typical Ducati, the Streetfighter's styling is hard to argue with, too.

The less-is-more 848 doesn’t fall short in the performance category, and thanks to its surplus of low-end torque and beefy Brembo brakes it’ll give a bike like the Triumph Street Triple R a run for its money. Due to overly aggressive ergonomics (for a naked bike), laborious controls, and a glitch in the fueling below 3,500 rpm, it’s a bit less favorable around town but still plenty entertaining. If you prefer a bike with Italian flair, the Streetfighter 848 could be exactly what your garage is missing. —BA

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