2014 Yamaha FZ-09 Review | Wolf in…Well, No Clothing

A seriously fun motorcycle at an incredibly bargain price

2014 Yamaha FZ-09

In an age of $13,000 literbikes and $11,000-plus middleweights, it’s easy to assume that any motorcycle less than $8,000 these days usually meets one or all of the following criteria:

  1. It's intended for beginner or novice riders.
  2. It's based on an existing platform in the manufacturer's lineup and/or consists of a conglomeration of parts from existing bikes.
  3. It's got performance that's basically adequate for novice riders but no more.

Building motorcycles these days is an expensive proposition, and although performance has risen to unbelievable heights over the years, the sticker prices have increased as well. So it’s easy to assume a bike that only costs around $8,000 has got to be written off as another boring parts-bin special.

So much for assumptions. The 2014 Yamaha FZ-09 completely and utterly shatters them in one fell swoop. And we're still wondering how the company can sell the bike for the bargain price of $7,990.

Utilizing the P3 Concept engine displayed at the 2012 Intermot Show, the FZ-09 is the first of what will apparently be a number of triplecylinder bikes coming from Yamaha in the future. We covered most of the details of the FZ-09 in the September 2013 issue (Late Braking) when it was introduced, but there were some interesting new details revealed at the US press launch held in San Francisco, California.

2014 Yamaha FZ-09

When we say all-new…
One surprising aspect is that the FZ-09 is indeed all-new. Unlike other bikes in this price range that often consist of components that have amortized their tooling years ago, there are very few parts that the FZ-09 has in common with other Yamaha models. Not the least of which include the 847cc inline three-cylinder engine.

The 41mm Mikuni throttle bodies are devoid of fuel injectors; the 12-hole injectors are now mounted directly in the cylinder head itself, which not only allows them a direct shot at the intake valves for better atomization but also permits the throttle bodies themselves to be shorter, narrower, and lighter. The 12-valve cylinder head utilizing 31mm intake valves and 25mm exhaust valves (midway between the Triumph Street Triple's 30.5mm intake/24.2mm exhaust com- bination and the more oversquare MV Agusta's 31.8mm intake/27.7mm exhaust setup) boasts a narrow included valve angle of 26.5 degrees (13 degrees intake, 13.5 degrees exhaust) working with the forged aluminum pistons to force an 11.5:1 compression ratio.

In order to help reduce internal friction for more power, the FZ-09’s cylinder bores are offset 5mm from the crankshaft centerline. This reduces the “piston slap” that occurs when the piston is thrust downward by combustion, which forces the front portion of the piston into the cylinder wall (this was usually done in the past with offset piston pins, but with piston skirts getting smaller and rpm getting higher, that option has been ruled out). The gearbox clusters are stacked like the R1 and R6 in order to make the engine more compact, and the clutch features two more clutch plates than the FZ8 to handle the additional torque output of the three-cylinder engine.

2014 Yamaha FZ-09

Does it deliver?
The FZ-09 was obviously intended for urban environs, so Yamaha decided to hold its US press launch in San Francisco, California. And not in the suburban outskirts, either; our base of operations was smack dab in the middle of the city's skyscraper-filled civic center complete with bustling heavy traffic, countless traffic lights, and streets with varying degrees of poor pavement condition. Keeping a group of 10 or so bikes together in a dynamic maze like this sounds like a recipe for disaster, but the fact that the first day of riding around San Francisco (coupled with the second day of riding in the mountain roads surrounding the bay—more on that later) came off without a hitch gives ample credence to the new Yamaha's capabilities.

When we interviewed Yamaha Senior Executive Officer Kunihiko Miwa (the man behind the original R1) about the P3 Concept, he stated that, “The triple was the best solution using a cross-plane crank design.” We aren’t about to argue; the FZ-09 pumps out boatloads of torque right off idle, and the smooth clutch offers plenty of feel to let you deliver that to the pavement quickly enough to holeshot any four-wheeled traffic with ridiculous ease. The gearbox ratios are nicely spaced, with none of the overly tall first-gear issues or balky shifting of some of its competitors. With a claimed 65 foot-pounds of torque, that power just keeps on ramping up through the midrange, and cloud-pointing antics with the front wheel frowned upon by law enforcement can be an unintended by-product in the first two gears if you’re not careful.

But it’s not just about low-end and midrange with the new Yamaha triple. There’s plenty of top-end steam available too (claimed peak horsepower is 115 at the crank, and our butt dyno says it feels close to that), with the engine making power practically right up to the 11,250-rpm redline. This is a quick-revving three-cylinder that eats up the rpm range deceptively fast—think Triumph Street Triple times 10. There’s a soft rev limiter that kicks in a couple-hundred rpm before the hard limiter stops the party at 11,500 rpm, which is a good thing since attempting to follow the minuscule bar-graph tachometer atop the tiny LCD instrument panel is an exercise in futility.

Aiding this superb powerplant is a three-level riding mode system in the YCC-T ride-by-wire throttle that sports some subtle differences in response that aren’t the usual fare compared to other adjustable throttle systems we’ve tried. Interestingly, the “mildest” B mode is best for city riding, as its off-idle response is the smoothest and allows you to exploit the engine’s excellent power. But once past quarter throttle, the B mode feels as strong as the other modes for the most part. Both the Standard and A modes are much more aggressive in off-idle throttle response, making them better suited to twisty road adventures. In fact, unless you’re riding in the upper half of the rpm range, the response of both the Standard and A modes is too abrupt.

Incidentally, the YCC-T throttle is the only electronic trickery you’ll find on the Yamaha triple. No traction control, no ABS, just plain ol’ unadulterated (for the most part) fun at your fingertips.

Our only gripe with the powerplant (and it’s a minor one) would be the heavy engine braking in the lower gears resulting from the light crankshaft and fairly high compression. Chop the throttle in first or second gear and the drag from the engine back-torque causes quicker deceleration than you expect; great if you’re into supermoto-style rear-end-hanging-out corner entries and not so great when you’re commuting through heavy traffic.

The FZ-09’s excellent engine would be useless without a good chassis, and the Yamaha’s modelspecific Controlled-Fill die-cast aluminum frame and swingarm (same basic makeup as the R6) fits the bill perfectly. Because the Controlled-Fill process allows intricate castings, the frame spars can hug the perimeter of the engine, in turn allowing a very narrow midsection. And it’s not just thin between the knees, either; Yamaha engineers mounted the swingarm externally to the frame (à la Ducati) so that the footpeg brackets are closer together—a massive 2 inches closer together than the FZ8—making for a very narrowfeeling machine.

Add to that very sporty steering geometry numbers (25 degrees rake/4.1 inches trail), a fairly short wheelbase (56.7 inches), and a claimed wet weight of 414 pounds, and you have the ingredients of a very agile, flickable machine. The Yamaha has the sharp steering habits of the MV Agusta Brutale middleweights (675 and 800) without the twitchiness, and it will slice underneath a Triumph Street Triple with ease. Aiding in those handling manners are the OE -spec Dunlop D214 Sportmax tires (the other 50 percent of US -bound FZ-09s will come shod with OE -spec versions of Bridgestone's excellent S20 rubber), which offer quick steering and above-average grip, as well as the new-design 10-spoke cast-aluminum wheels that are said to be 0.85 of a pound lighter than the FZ8's hoops.

2014 Yamaha FZ-09

Considering the Yamaha’s list price, we were surprised to not only find adjustable rebound damping on both ends with the KYB suspension (the 41mm inverted fork has rebound-damping adjustment on the right fork leg only) but also that it performed admirably despite the FZ-09’s budget-conscious intent. Set up on the softer side of the spectrum for our jaunt through the rough and torn-up pavement of downtown San Francisco, the suspension provided a smooth ride, though the soft spring rates required maximum preload and rebound damping for our canyon rides, which revealed that riders with a very aggressive sporting bent will be left wanting a bit. Even with the soft suspension, the only parts that touched down were the peg feelers during our ride. We doubt that most riders who buy the Yamaha will be riding that hard anyway.

Braking action from the Advics four-piston calipers up front and two-piston caliper out back was more than adequate for the FZ-09’s intended environs. Overall power and response were very good, though feel was lacking up front when you really pulled on the binders. Of course, this is a $7,990 motorcycle we’re talking about here, and certainly none in this price range has brakes that are anywhere near comparable.

Overall ergos are more upright than most naked bikes, with the tapered aluminum handlebar set at an almost supermoto-ish height (in fact, Yamaha reps stated that was the aim, citing the bike’s intended market) and decent legroom for taller riders. The seat has ample room to move about, though we noted that it was beginning to feel pretty hard after about 80 miles. Granted, with no wind protection to speak of, any rider looking to make long weekend trips might want to check out the Genuine Yamaha Accessories catalog, which offers numerous parts such as a thicker seat and a bikini fairing. We couldn’t confirm Yamaha’s claim of 44 mpg with the FZ-09, as both days’ rides didn’t come close to hitting reserve, but suffice it to say that with a 3.7-gallon fuel tank, you’ll need to plan fuel stops on any long journeys.

There’s gotta be a catch somewhere… Yep, we know what a lot of you out there are thinking: “This is too good to be true. All this performance for just $7,990?” We kept looking for some sort of drawback to it all, but truth be told, we couldn’t find any (and no, the FZ-09’s manufacture isn’t outsourced; it is built in Japan). Yes, there are a couple of small gripes, but in the face of how much fun the Yamaha is to ride, those complaints fade away quickly.

Here’s one of those very rare bikes less than $8,000 that doesn’t have to make any excuses for its low price. Not for performance, not for build quality (the FZ-09 sports numerous aluminum and magnesium components you’d find on a full-on supersport bike), and to top it all off, the Yamaha is also one of those rare bikes that will appeal to both novice and expert riders alike. Does Yamaha have a winner on its hands? Even in our short first exposure to the FZ-09, we certainly think so.

Specifications

MSRP: $7990
Engine
Type: Liquid-cooled, transverse DOHC inline three-cylinder
Displacement: 847cc
Bore x stroke: 78.0 x 59.1mm
Compression ratio: 11.5:1
Induction: Mikuni EFI, 41mm throttle bodies, single injector/cyl.
Chassis
Front tire: 120/70ZR-17 Dunlop Sportmax D214 F
Rear tire: 180/55ZR-17 Dunlop Sportmax D214
Rake/trail: 25°/4.1 in. (103mm)
Wheelbase: 56.7 in. (1440mm)
Seat height: 32.1 in. (815mm)
Fuel capacity: 3.7 gal. (14L)
Claimed wet weight: 414 lb. (188kg)

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2014 Yamaha FZ-09
Four-piston Advics radial-mount calipers and 298mm discs provide very good braking power and response, though they lack a bit of feel. Dunlop OE-spec Sportmax D214 tires provide surprisingly good handling and grip.
2014 Yamaha FZ-09
The FZ-09’s stainless-steel exhaust system features the now-common under-engine collector chamber, with connectors between all three header pipes to help with midrange power. Exhaust note is excellent for a stock unit.
2014 Yamaha FZ-09
The single headlight throws out a decent beam pattern, and an accessory fly screen can be mounted atop it for a semblance of wind protection. Lower triple clamp is a nice forged-aluminum item, an example of the Yamaha’s quality build.
2014 Yamaha FZ-09
The one-piece seat on the FZ-09 is narrow at the seat/tank junction to allow easier footing at a stop for shorter riders while allowing enough room and support for taller riders.
2014 Yamaha FZ-09
The FZ-09’s right handlebar switchgear is a bit different than most, with the starter actuated by sliding the red kill switch back toward the rider. The Riding mode button is fairly small, and the throttle must be closed to switch modes.
2014 Yamaha FZ-09
The FZ-09’s minimalist LCD instrument panel is pretty darn small but offers a large amount of information. Trying to decipher that information at a glance can be difficult at best.
2014 Yamaha FZ-09
The FZ-09’s somewhat thin LED taillight is surprisingly bright for its size. Aftermarket should be gearing up to replace the license plate hanger, which detaches easily.