Yamaha FZ1

Text: Chris Myers • Photography: Tom Riles, Brian Nelson

A "Jack of All Trades" with handlebars, the Yamaha FZ1 has been handling daily commutes, touring away vacation time, and tearing up track days since 2001. And although it's been called the poster child for limited garage space, this ride is usually much too busy and definitely too much fun to be hanging around for long with the lawn equipment.

For the last several years, the "standard" motorcycle has been making a slow but steady comeback, with Yamaha's venerable FZ1 leading the charge. Many riders are finding themselves drifting away from the racier riding positions of the crotch rockets in search of something a bit more in tune with practical, real-world riding. And, frankly, there's the contingent to which I belong that's grown too old to ignore backaches, although we're still too young to give up speed and performance. Either way, this gentlemanly steed of racetrack lineage has been a grace-saving synthesis of hooligan high jinx and sophisticated pose. But, like all rides that dabble in the performance ring, this street fighter's original incarnation had begun to feel its competitors' blows. Challengers like Honda's 919, Kawasaki's Z1000, and a promised next generation Suzuki Bandit forced the FZ1 back into the engineering gym for 2006; and the result is a leaner, meaner, upright ride poised to take on all comers.

Earlier last year, the fine folks at Yamaha invited us out to California to put the all-new FZ through its paces on a superb ride north of San Francisco. Though we only had a day and a couple of hundred miles, the route they laid out for us was a virtual smorgasbord of road types and conditions that would test any machine's savvy.

It's Go Time
According to Yamaha, the main development target for the latest FZ1 is class-leading engine performance. Honestly, that's a pretty easy target to reach when your starting point is the 2006 YZFR1 supersport mill. Power and torque are no-brainers here, but in striving to make the FZ a little more polite than its track-taming cousin, a few mods were spun into the latest mix. In order to increase the roadworthiness of the torque range, a cam profile with slightly less lift on the intake is coupled with a heavier crankshaft to give some extra grunt in the low- and mid-power range. This characteristic is abundantly evident, and the adrenaline surge you'll get from cracking the throttle in lower gears becomes an addictive part of the riding routine.

Elbow straightening aside, the guttural howl emanating from the state-of-the-art 4-into-2-into-1, low-mounted, shorty exhaust, featuring Yamaha's EXUP (EXhaust Ultimate Powervalve), is a soundtrack meant to inspire that twitchy right wrist. Environmentally, this pipe is EU3 compliant and features two 3-way catalytic converters and a heated O2 sensor. Clean and mean, you gotta love that. The only real gripe this motor elicited is that the first-year fuel injection system has a tendency to be a little on the jumpy side. The 45mm throttle bodies, identical to the R1 system, deliver seamless power everywhere except in the open /close throttle transition. Try as I might, I never could get a smooth segue from "off" to "on" with the gas. Though it's one of those things I could learn to work around, I certainly see how it may annoy others. Simply remember that it's essentially a track-bred engine, keep the revs up, and never roll completely out of the juice. This strategy won't improve gas mileage, but it sure is fun. With a crank horsepower rating of 148, seven more than last year, and 78 ft-lbs of torque, rest assured, inadvertent wheelies and goofy grins come along in bunches on this ride.

For the most part, the tranny is also a shared unit with the R1. First through fourth gears are the same, allowing for riotous, teeth-clenching acceleration, but fifth and sixth sport somewhat higher ratios. This facilitates a drop in rpm, resulting in a smoother ride when cruising at highway speeds. As for shifting, no problems arose and the clutch proved to be smooth as glass no matter the situation.

Taking It To the Streets
Any indication that the current FZ has a sportier feel is purely intentional. The engineers at Yamaha didn't just breathe on the engine and call it "good." An entirely redesigned chassis graces the bike as well. The modern, cast-aluminum frame not only adds greater rigidity, it weighs in twenty pounds lighter than its steel, double-cradle predecessor. Out back, a die-cast, full aluminum swingarm has been lengthened by 45mm, which improves stability. Another step taken to increase the sport appeal is the mass forward layout. Small but significant touches, like moving the engine forward 35mm and a curved radiator that allows the front wheel to slide in a little closer to the frame, have produced a more forward riding position that enhances control when the urge for more aggressive riding strikes.

Whether a brisk romp or a leisurely tour is on tap, the FZ1 has you covered in the suspension department too. A novel 43mm, upside front fork soaks up the jolts with ease and features a trick, race-inspired adjustment system. All changes are made on top of the fork with the compression damping control on the left leg and the rebound on the right. In the rear, a fully adjustable single shock (weighing 13 percent less than the old one) keeps the tire firmly and predictably planted to the pavement.

Changes are evident in the braking department as well. Four pot calipers squeeze twin front discs that have increased in size from 298mm to 320mm. The rear disc has decreased in circumference from 267 to 245mm and sports a single pot caliper.

Overall, the FZ1 handles superbly and the stock settings worked almost perfectly for my 180-pound frame. No matter the road type or its condition, confident control was never in question.

Ride Time
Comfort wasn't a major issue on the previous generation FZ1 either, and it's certainly not a problem on this one. The appealing, upright seating position opens the door for hours in the saddle with no untimely visits to the chiropractor. An improved windscreen measures 17mm higher than the old model and has been restyled to reduce turbulence and noise. For the passenger, grab bars come standard, and though the pillion may not inspire cross-country journeys, it does look fine for shorter trips and jaunts about town. As for travel, don't hold your breath for Yamaha to introduce the goods to make the FZ1 a big-time sport-touring mount. After all, they have the incredibly capable FJR1300 covering that base. That said, Yamaha reps did tell us that the continuing popularity of the machine all but assures that aftermarket companies will be scrambling to have travel gear available.

All boiled down, the totally redesigned FZ1 is one of those machines that transcends practically all of the street-bike boundaries. There's an aggressive, racy styling that undoubtedly attracts the younger set and the kid in all of us. The handling and the ride are topnotch whether you're settled on that favorite stretch of twisties, the local track, or a trip across the state. And, of course, there's the power - that lovely, grip-twisting, teeth-gnashing power. If a lack of wiggle room in the garage, or the budget for that matter, only allows for one ride, go take a gander at the FZ1. I guarantee, should it happen to follow you home, that you'll keep it.

Second opinion
Text: Trixi Kecheis-Hiller
She may not look too spectacular, but in her "heart" and "bones" Yamaha's new edition of the FZ1 is a real super(star)sports rocket. Bound to win over a new following of fans, this bike, a very close cousin to the YZF-R1, also could be just the ticket for many riders who happen to be smaller and/or shorter than average.

For those long-distance rides, Yamaha has provided efficient wind protection; and for track days, they've supplied the power - lots of power. Although the output is 30hp less than the new R1, I, for one, can get along very well with "only" 150hp between my knees. And you certainly won't miss the loss when cruising in town. In wet conditions, you'll be happy to know the FZ1 performs more sedately under 7,000 revs; but above that line, you'll discover what it means to run wild. She knows how to scream and can break out like a wild mare. However, despite its impressive power, the FZ1 is an easily managed mount to ride - thanks to its light weight, moderate dimensions, relatively low seat, precise handling, absolutely reliable brakes, and a well-balanced chassis. I'll take spectacular feeling over spectacular looking any day.

TECHNICAL SPECS:

Yamaha FZ1

+ horsepower, brakes, just plain fun

- fuel injection takes getting used to
Distributor Yamaha Motor Corporation, U.S.A.
MSRP $ 9,199
Displacement 998cc
Bore and Stroke 77x53.6mm
Carburetion EFI
Power 148hp/78 ft-lbs. torque
Cooling liquid
Ignition Digital TCI w/32 bit ECU
Transmission six-speed
Final Drive chain
Frame aluminum gravity cast w/sub-frame
Front Suspension 43mm inverted fork, fully adjustable, 5.1in travel
Rear Suspension single shock, fully adjustable, 5.1in travel
Rake/Trail 25¼/4.3in (109mm)
Brakes Front/Rear two 320mm discs, 4 piston calipers/one 245mm disc 1 piston caliper
Tires Front/Rear 120/70 ZR 17, 190/50 ZR 17
Dry Weight 439lb (199kg)
Wheelbase 57.5in (1460mm)
Seat Height 32in (815mm)
Fuel Capacity 4.75gal (18l)
Fuel Consumption n/a
Colors '06 Liquid Silver, Shift Red '07 Raven, Cobalt Blue