2011 Yamaha FZ8

Text: Alfonse Palaima • Photography: Tom Riles, Brian Nelson

As the market changes and so-called "middleweight" sportbikes creep toward quadruple-digit CCs, Yamaha's latest addition joins the party already in progress. Having been released to the Euro market last year to great success, can it attract American riders?

Snagging much of the technology developed for its supersport division, Yamaha continues to blur the line between the commuter-minded sport standard and the purpose-built track bike. Focusing on an affordable ride the new FZ8 cuts a few corners and builds on Yamaha's history for a successful finish.
 
Built on aging R1-bones and shaving weight tip to tail from the big brother FZ1, the FZ8 comes in 20 pounds lighter, $ 2,000 cheaper, and maybe a bit quicker. While no official claims have been made, the FZ8 reportedly made just over 106 horsepower in last year's specs in the countries where it sold. We can expect the 2011 model to perform similarly.
 
At the Southern California introduction, our base camp, the Hotel Erwin, stood so close to the beach I could smell the seaweed from the lobby. Nearby stood a line of FZ8s to evaluate in garbled urban traffic and the freewheeling canyons of Malibu.

Marketplace

Yamaha includes three basic divisions in its sportsbike lineup: "Supersport," which includes the YZF-R1 and R6; "Sport Touring," which includes the FJR1300A; and the "Sport" group, which contains three models: the friendly and fully faired FZ6R; the largest of Yamaha's sport standards, the FZ1; and the most-naked baby in the bunch, the new FZ8.
 
Despite the common lack of traction for naked bikes here in the States, the bottom line is: Fewer parts equal a lower price. A price-conscious buyer needs a price-conscious bike, and one with a 100-plus horsepower is even better. Yamaha's marketing efforts, combined  with Motorcycle Industry Council (MIC) data, help shoehorn this Euro Standard to the States. Yamaha has acknowledged an 11 percent drop in sales of its Supersport bikes (R1, R6) over the last two years. The slack, however, remains loyal to the brand and is evenly divided between the more comfortable sport and sport-touring models in Yamaha's "Total Sportbike" lineup. Seeing the need for more models to reach all of their buyers, the FZ8 joined the party. Sportbikes represent a 20 percent share of the motorcycle-sales market for all manufacturers, and Yamaha understands the needs and wants of its aging rider base and delivers with the new FZ8.

Power

Tuned for street-appropriate revs and mid-range power, the four-valve cylinders and dual overhead cams are built upon the pre-crossplane R1 crank case lowers, carrying the same crankshaft and stroke, but sporting a different bore (68mm x 53.6mm) for a 12:1 compression ratio. Slung from the cast-aluminum main frame, the FZ8's engine is a stressed member with new cam profiles, a 7.8-liter airbox, and dual-length intake funnels for a smoother torque curve. Narrow 35mm throttle bodies spray in the good stuff and a 4-into-2-into-1 stainless-steel exhaust system (with a single catalyst, oxygen sensor and shorty muffler) takes away the bad, delivering a terrific howl between 6,000 rpm and the 11,500 redline.

The width of the remapped FZ1 powerband now offers all-day riding, even if only in third gear, without strain or boredom.

Brakes

A triple-disc package stops the train when the road ends. There are dual 310mm discs up front with monoblock calipers, with the rear disc slightly smaller at 267mm. Part of the overall weight savings and improved rideability over the FZ1s curb weight are thanks to a few things: The rear cast- aluminum wheel is a half-inch narrower than that on the FZ1 and shod with a Bridgestone BT021 (180/55-17", 120/70-17" up front). The FZ1 wears a 190 rear; the FZ8 has a 180 profile tire.  

Ergonomics

Yamaha calls the FZ8 "slightly more aggressive" in its rider ergo department, but makes very little adjustment to the triangles we're used to with the FZ1. Exactly the same flat-foot-friendly saddle height (32.1 inches), wheelbase (57.5 inches), and weight bias (51 percent front). The handlebars are just 5mm forward, and the footrests have moved down and back but 10 and 15mm respectively.
 
A minimally adjustable suspension package helps keep the FZ8 in the price-conscious buyer's eyesight. With only spring preload adjustability in the rear, the bump-soaking (5.1-inch travel on both ends) setup that favors the city dweller might not impress in the canyons.

Accessories include a handful of in-house designed goodies that are built to perfect spec and fit. They include frame sliders ($ 129.95); engine guards ($ 199.95); a color-matched lower cowling ($ 219.95); and a passenger-seat cowl ($ 239.95). There's also a bikini wind fairing ($ 139.95) that purports to push the windblast off the sternum. Also included are passenger grab-rails ($ 109.99); a cool FZ8-branded radiator cover ($ 99.95); a 12-liter tankbag ($ 79.98); and tank stick-on accent/protection pads ($ 19.95-29.95). Lastly there are Yamaha-branded spools ($ 27.95) and a steel-tube center stand ($ 169.95).
 
The 2011 FZ8 has an MSRP $ 2,000 less than the FZ1 at $ 8,490. With 20 less pounds (467 pounds), greater fuel range from the 4.5- gallon tank (claimed 39.8 mpg), and nearly a 30-horsepower gain over the FZ6R, the FZ8 is sure to please startup and old-school riders. The 2011 FZ8 is available now at dealerships.