2008 Yamaha FZ6

Text: Ken Freund • Photography: Scott Hirko

Life, as we know, is full of compromises. In a perfect world, each of us could afford a bike for going to work, one for track days, one for touring and another for carving canyons on the weekends. But then again, since Transformers would have to be real in this perfect world, we'd only need one bike to do it all.

Back in our world, where home values and stock portfolios have plunged, sometimes we have to be a tad more practical. That's where Yamaha's FZ6 - affectionately know as a "Fizzer" - comes in. Introduced in 2004 as a budget-priced middleweight 600cc sportbike and powered by the previous year's YZF R6 engine, it combines many of the attributes of a sportbike with an everyday commuter.

The FZ6 essentially mirrors its older, larger sibling, the FZ1. Both are semi-naked sporting machines with an engine retuned for greater mid-range power, and more-comfortable ergonomics than the sportbike that provided the power plant.

Twin cat's-eye headlights, the front fairings, and the under-seat exhaust with dual outlets give the FZ6 the appearance of a full-on sportbike. Viewed from the side, the exposed engine and taller handlebar confirms that this is a semi-naked standard machine, but the absence of the Yamaha name keeps onlookers guessing what it is. The only major clue is the tuning-fork logo, which caused many to ask what brand it is. Their general consensus: the FZ6 is an attractive machine that looks more expensive than it is.

Engine & Transmission

Fitted with milder camshafts and a smaller air box, the Fizzer's 600cc liquid-cooled 16-valve DOHC four-cylinder engine is tuned to produce torque and horsepower at lower-rpm levels than the sportier R6. The FZ6 shares forged pistons, combustion chamber design, valves and crankshaft with the R6, but Yamaha removed two engine-mounting points from the cylinder head and cleaned up a few other details before installing the engine out in the open.

At 12.2:1, the compression ratio is slightly lower than the R6, but it is designed to run on 86-octane or higher regular unleaded gasoline. However, we found that it runs fine on 87-octane regular, with no audible pinging, which saves a heap of money over the bike's life. Factory rated output at the crankshaft is 93.4 horsepower at 11,000 rpm and 46.5 ft-lbs at 10,000 rpm.

An electronic fuel-injection system with 32-bit processor and four-jet bi-directional injectors pairs the cylinders together for simplicity and lower cost. The engine starts quickly every time, hot or cold, and overall drivability is quite good. There's a cam-type throttle pulley designed to reduce abruptness coming up off idle, but throttle tip-in is just not as smooth as the R6's, especially when getting back on the throttle at higher revs.

Exhaust is routed through a 4-into-2-into-1 header and connects under the engine to the three-way catalytic converter with oxygen sensor. Unlike the R6 system (which has a side-mounted can), it then leads up to the dual-outlet under-seat muffler and dual outlets. An insulating cover over the muffler reduces heat emanating through the seat and helps prevent burns, but this setup also seriously reduces storage space beneath the seat.

The FZ6's multi-plate wet clutch is also based on the R6's, but with different friction material and lighter springs. This seems to give the clutch a narrower range of engagement, out near the limit of lever travel. It's not a big problem in normal riding, but makes it difficult to achieve fast launches and high-rpm upshifts smoothly. Adding slack in the clutch cable brings the engagement point in somewhat, but it's still tough to get a smooth and fast launch.

Triangulated input and output shafts make the six-speed gearbox more compact. The transmission is very smooth and easy through the gears, but sometimes gets a bit tricky when you're trying to find neutral. We found ourselves constantly reaching for a gear above sixth when riding on the highway, as it takes about 7,000 rpm to keep up with 80-mph traffic on Southern California freeways. Taller gearing or a seventh cog would be a welcome addition.

At lower speeds the engine is very smooth and lively and yet it can be lugged down to about 30 mpg in sixth. Midrange power is decent, but for quick passes you'll want to shift down a gear or two. It really starts to make some power above 7,500 rpm, pulling strongly on up to its redline at 14,000 revs.

High-frequency vibration, or "buzziness" is a common problem with inline fours, and this one is no exception. Vibes come through the handgrips and (especially) the seat most strongly around 4,500 to 5,500 rpm, which is annoying when driving conditions hold you in this range. Outside of it, the engine is quite smooth though.

Fuel economy is especially important these days, and the FZ6's mileage ranged from a low of 38.9 to a high of 49.2, for an average of 44.7 mpg - and the low-fuel indicator typically came on between 150 and 165 miles. Long range is also very useful on a commuter bike, and the FZ6's fuel capacity of 5.1 gallons with a 0.95-gallon reserve is higher than most bikes in this class. At 44.7 mpg, a full tank of gas could last 228 miles, a nice feature on a bike that's ridden daily or on long trips.

Chassis & Brakes

Yamaha employs what it calls Controlled-Fill aluminum die-casting for the FZ6 frame. This design provides a stiffer chassis than most tubular-steel units while saving weight too. The Fizzer's frame is said to be 11 pounds lighter than the steel frame that was used on the European FZS600 Fazer, which was the predecessor to the new FZ6. Yamaha states that 51 percent of the bike's weight is on the front wheel, minus rider.

The FZ's suspension is one of the main areas where costs have been contained. A conventional Soqi nonadjustable damper-rod fork with 43mm tubes and 5.1 inches of travel holds up the front end. In back, an aluminum double-sided swingarm is supported by a single Soqi shock that is adjustable for preload (seven positions). It also delivers 5.1 inches of travel, but has no progressive linkage or damping adjustments.

Despite its lack of sophistication, the suspension works surprisingly well in most conditions and strikes a very decent compromise between a comfortable ride and good handling. Steering feels light, nimble and neutral, made even easier by the wide handlebar. Lightweight CF-cast wheels similar to the R6's reduce the gyroscopic effect, allowing the FZ6 to turn in nicely. Handling is quick and sharp, the bike holds a line through a corner without constant correction, and it is steady even at triple-digit velocities. A 25-degree rake and 3.8 inches of trail allow rapid side-to-side transitions, yet the 56.7-inch wheelbase (which is 3.2 inches longer than the R6's) adds to the feeling of confidence.

Our test bike was fitted with BT020 Bridgestone 120/70-ZR17 front and 180/55-ZR17 rear radial tires. These 'Stones have proven over several years to provide good grip in wet and dry weather, and they wear quite well. On the Fizzer, they provide precise tracking and neutral, linear turn-in, along with high-speed stability. We also noticed they don't chase rain grooves in pavement, as some tires do. Dunlop D252 tires are also standard fitment and will be found on some bikes.

Dual 298mm floating front rotors with four-piston calipers deliver strong stopping power with good modulation feel, very little fade and low lever effort. An adjustable brake lever allows for riders to tailor its reach position. The rear brake uses a 245mm rotor and a single-piston Nissin caliper. Rear brake force is adequate, but feedback is quite numb and it's difficult to modulate. As a result, the rear wheel is fairly easy to lock during moderate to hard braking.

Ergonomics & Features

Although the windscreen is not large, it takes quite a bit of the blast off the rider and produces little turbulence. Long stalks move the mirrors out where you can actually see what's behind you, and they are almost vibration-free.

We're a little surprised that the seat height is 31.3 inches, a tad high for many of the beginners and women riders this type of bike tends to appeal to; although it's fine for us taller folks. The tall handlebar and control layout permits a relaxed riding position that's good for long hours in the saddle. Speaking of that, the seat is quite comfortable for both rider and passenger. The pillion has large handgrips to enhance a sense of security and the rear footpegs are well placed. There are plenty of tie-down points for a tailbag, too.

An LCD instrument cluster with digital speedometer, two trip-meters, a clock, fuel gauge on the left and analog-style tachometer on the right - along with the usual indicator lights - keep the rider well informed. Several dash features stand out, particularly for this price range. The brightness of the cluster is adjustable, and you'll find an oil-level warning light and coolant-temp warning lamp. Additionally, you can choose either an air-intake temperature or coolant-temperature readout. It's up in the left top corner and hard to see, but it's there. We also really appreciate the countdown fuel trip-meter, which shows the number of miles since you hit reserve. How many times have you looked down at a low-fuel indicator and wondered how long it's been on?

The FZ6 doesn't include a lot of extra fripperies, but there is a helmet lock on the left side for one lid, a feature all too many bikes lack. Another item that's not widely found on budget bikes is the four-way flasher, with a convenient switch on the left handlebar. If I was King, four-way flashers would be required on all bikes.

Last but not least, the centerstand is a pleasing feature to have on a lower-priced bike, as it makes cleaning, chain and tire service much easier. It's tucked in too, so it doesn't drag the pavement in all but the most spirited cornering maneuvers.

On high beam, both bulbs cast strong beams far ahead into the night. Only the left headlight illuminates on low beam, providing adequate lighting, but an asymmetrical look and less conspicuity to motorists on the right side. We'd modify it to light both lamps on low beam.

Parting Thoughts

The 2009 FZ6 is essentially unchanged from the models of the last two years; the only difference being the "comfort seat' which is now standard. Manufacturer's suggested retail price for the 2008 model was $ 6,999, and the 2009 model is $ 7,290. Colors for 2009 are Raven and Cobalt Blue. In Europe the FZ6 is available with ABS, but not here yet. Beginning in January 2009, Yamaha will also offer an FZ6R, with specifications similar to the FZ6's, but with a steel-tube frame, 20mm narrower rear tire, slightly smaller fuel tank, and lower, adjustable seat height and handlebars, with a retail price starting at $ 6,990.

We found the FZ6 to be well made with quality components and displaying excellent fit and finish. It runs well, has ample power, very good handling and braking performance, long range, and comfortable ergonomics. If you are in the market for a modestly priced motorcycle that can pretty much handle all street-riding chores, this Yamaha should be at, or near, the top of your list.