"Large increases in cost with questionable increases in performance can be tolerated only for racehorses and fancy women," wrote 19th-century physicist William Thomson, Lord Kelvin. He would have appreciated the 2005 Yamaha FZ1 then, which offers most of the performance of the company's flagship R1 sportbike for much less money.
"Ye canna change the laws of physics." *
Kelvin well understood the relationship between the R1 and the FZ1: He was one of those responsible for developing the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which says, amongst other things, that heat always flows from something hot to something cooler. In this case, the red-hot R1 donated some of its blistering heat to a pretty cool street standard.
If all this sounds a bit contrived, the simple story is that Yamaha dropped its 20-valve R1 engine into a simple but strong steel tube frame bicycle and swapped out the 40mm carbs for 37mm units. The result is a lightweight street standard with around 140hp at the crank, slick handling and, fortunately, excellent brakes. In Europe, it's sold as the FZS1000 Fazer, where it sells well alongside the likes of Kawasaki's Z1000, Honda's 919, Ducati's high-end Monsters, and the Suzuki Bandit 1200 in a crowded marketplace.
So is there a place for a not-quite sportbike in the land of king-size cruisers? Were merit as important as fashion, the FZ1 would no doubt be a top seller: I could buy three for the price of a high-end cruiser and still have money for hard luggage.
"To boldly go..."
I completed three tours on the FZ1 in 2005, plus a half-dozen 1,000-mile dashes to get to and from Vancouver. In that time, I came to appreciate the considerable merits of the FZ1, and to learn to live with a few very minor niggles. Its most seductive attribute is, without doubt, the engine. Although it really needs to get past a buzzy patch around 4,000rpm to start pulling hard, there's usable power everywhere, and outrageous amounts toward the top of the rev range. This, after all, is a sit-up-and-beg bike with a power/weight ratio that would humiliate an early nineties open class sportbike. So watch out for unintended wheelies!
Everything about the FZ1 feels light: the hand controls, hydraulic clutch, gearshift, brakes, and especially the handling. In spite of the simple-looking steel frame and lazy-ish 26-degree rake, the handling is outstanding with quick turn-in, direct, precise control and good feedback. I found myself pushing ever harder in the swervery, yet always failing to make any metal touch down. This is a well-sorted chassis. The only time it felt less than planted was when I hauled on the front anchor in a turn, and I could probably have dialed most of this out by tweaking the fully-adjustable front fork. The dual 298mm front, fully floating discs and single 267mm rear brake were extremely effective, except that the front felt a little spongy at times, and the rear brake was perhaps too effective and needed careful modulation in a quick stop.
And so to the few niggles. I found the riding position too upright for comfortable long-distance riding. Flatter bars with the foot-pegs moved back three or four inches would have meant I didn't have to hang on quite so tightly after winding on the throttle (the FZ1's whiplash acceleration gives a best standing quarter time of around 11 seconds at over 135mph) and that would have alleviated lower back pain and a numb bum. Until I dropped on a sheepskin pad, the seat was good for about an hour, mostly because there's inadequate thigh support.
And my favorite gripe, one common to most four-cylinder bikes: the lack of crankshaft effect. This means it's difficult to control engine speed, especially in a slow turn, and (on some bikes with fuel injection) snatchy on-off throttle transitions. I understand the reasons for this. A light crankshaft means quicker spool-up, and keeping weight to a minimum saves money while improving performance. But the lack of inertia in the engine causes herky-jerky power delivery, especially at parking lot speeds. Overall it means the FZ1 feels edgy and nervous a lot of the time. This is acceptable in a sportbike, less so in a commuter or tourer.
The only other area where the FZ1 comes up short is around the handlebars. The instrument panel is made for the minimalist, although there are two trip meters, a fuel gauge and a digital clock, but none of the modern electronic wizardry of the type that gives you the latest Dow Jones index or forecasts of the weather. Also lacking are two controls that I consider a safety hazard when omitted: a headlight flasher for passing and a four-way turn signal switch for roadside emergencies.
These are minor inconveniences in a bike that performs extremely well overall, and especially for the price. Of course, the 2006 FZ1 is now on sale. The '06 bike inherits the newer R1-type engine, still with five valves per cylinder, but now it has more over-square dimensions (77mm x 53.6mm), higher compression (11.5:1) and fuel injection replacing the carbs. The '06 is 20 pounds lighter, and has 320mm dual disc front brakes with a 245mm rear disc. On the downside, the MSRP goes up $ 500 to $ 9,099, and - a serious consideration for touring - the gas tank loses nearly a gallon to 4.75 U.S. Unless the '06 improves on my overall figure of 39mpg (and with fuel injection I would expect it to), that means range drops from 218 miles to 185.
So if you think the '05 is a better bet, the chances are quite good that if you shopped around you'd be able to pick up a remaindered unit for somewhat below the MSRP.
"I'm giving her all she's got, Captain."
I pull into a gas station in Escalante, Utah, and I'm just hanging up the nozzle when a half-dozen BMWs, mostly R1150RTs, pull in. I park up the FZ1 and introduce myself. We're going the same way, along Highway 12 to Torrey, through the Dixie National Forest. I ask if it's OK for me to stop along the way to photograph their group as they're riding through the Escalante Canyons. No problem.
Before I can get myself organized, they're off. That means I have to catch them, pass them and get far enough ahead to stop and get my camera set up. I manage to do this with relative ease: The FZ1's nimble handling (even with my full load of touring luggage and the World's Largest Camera Bag) and blistering straight-line speed mean I can whiz past the Beemers pretty much at will. Not that they're slow, either. I manage this a couple of times until we climb to the forest summit, where I stop, intrigued by a tree laden with old sneakers hanging by their laces.
Suffice it to say, the FZ1 is a very quick motorcycle in a straight line and in the twisties, and does it with a minimum of effort. The small fairing keeps a surprising amount of wind and weather away as I discovered when riding through a thunderstorm on the Hopi reservation in Northern Arizona.
My last ride on the FZ1, after five months and around 9,000 miles, was to return it to its owners, Yamaha Motor Corporation in the Los Angeles suburb of Cypress: from Moab, Utah, through Monument Valley, across the Hopi lands, along Arizona's Route 66, over the goat-trail Oatman Highway, through the California desert, and then a half-day of grinding across the SoCalopolis. The FZ1 handled all of this without fuss or muss. It's a great all-round motorcycle. Every rider should have a street standard in the garage. And if that street standard happens to be an FZ1, I'm betting it's closest to the door!
*Vancouver-born Actor James Doohan, a.k.a. Chief Engineer Montgomery Scott ("Scotty") of "Star Trek's" U.S.S. Enterprise passed away on July 20, 2005, aged 85.
2005 Yamaha FZ1
Importer/Distributor Yamaha Motor Corporation, Cypress, CA.
Retail Price MSRP (2005) $ 8,599
Warranty One year (Limited Factory Warranty)
Maintenance Schedule 4000 / 8000 / every 4000 miles
Type Four cylinder, in-line
Valve Arrangement DOHC 20-valve
Bore & Stroke 74mm x 58mm
Carburetion (4) Mikuni 37mm CV withTPS Throttle Position Sensor
Exhaust Emission Control None
Gearbox Six speed
Clutch Wet multiplate
Final Drive O-ring chain
Frame Steel tube cradle
Wheelbase 1450mm (57.1in)
Rake (horizontal/vertical)26.0 degrees /64.0 degrees
Trail 104mm (4.1in)
Front Suspension Telescopic fork
Stanchion Diameter 43mm
Adjustments Preload, compression and rebound damping
Travel 140mm (5.6in)
Rear Suspension Single shock with piggyback reservoir
Adjustments Preload, compression and rebound damping;
Travel 135mm (5.3in)
Wheels & Tires
Type Cast aluminum, three spoke
Front 3.5in x 17in
Rear 5.0in x 17in
Front Tire 120/70-ZR17
Rear Tire 180/55-ZR17
Front Brake Dual floating discs with four piston calipers
Diameter 298mm (11.73in)
Rear Brake Single disc with single piston caliper
Diameter 267mm (10.51in)
Dimensions & Capacities
Seat Height 820mm (32.3in)
Dry-Weight 209kg (459lbs)
Fuel capacity 21.3l (5.6gallons)
Claimed Horsepower (measured at crank)140hp (est.)
Top speed 165mph (est.)
Acceleration ¼ mile, 10.9seconds @138mph (est.)
Fuel Consumption 39mpg
Fuel Range 218miles
Center stand, toolkit
RoadRUNNER Test Diagram
Bike for the buck 5/5