Despite gloomy economic news, there are some bright spots to be found. As budgets tighten and used car lots fill to overflowing with once coveted gas guzzlers, two-wheel alternatives are now beginning to appeal to a much wider cross section of folks.
Motorcycling as an efficient, economical form of transportation is well understood. But more than ever before, manufacturers are tending to business with prospective buyers' wants and needs foremost in mind. And with every dollar being squeezed for all it's worth, the multi-tasking bike has become the choice for those who can no longer realistically justify having a multi-bike garage. The folks at Yamaha are acutely aware of this, and at the recent Santa Rosa, California press introduction of the all-new FZ6R, Team Blue unveiled a machine designed to attract both entry-level and intermediate riders alike. We looked it over during the evening tech briefing and came away buzzing about the hip, supersport-inspired styling, a comfortably low seat height and a MSRP starting as low as $ 6,990. The new FZ6R appears to have everything summed up quite nicely, but looks, as we know, can often be deceiving. Thankfully, there's plenty of twisting northern California asphalt around to tell the tale.
Engine and Transmission
But beforehand, we had to inquire about the fate of Yamaha's longstanding middleweight naked, the FZ6, and we were assured that it would remain in the lineup. Though popular and fun to ride, that bike, with its somewhat tall seat height and peaky engine, is deemed to be better suited for more experienced riders. Comparisons between the two are inevitable, though, and much of their mechanics are similar; however, the FZ6R is a completely new machine with a different target audience. They do share the same basic 600cc, inline four-cylinder, 16-valve motor, but there are several key internal variances intended to make this machine a bit more user friendly. It features a new cylinder head with a narrowed intake port shape and single-spring intake valves. The increased intake airflow speed, the new camshaft profiles and revised valve timing are said to improve low to midrange power and fuel economy. These tweaks give the four banger a more relaxed feel and should indeed be much appreciated by less experienced riders. The R's 4-into-2-into-1 exhaust system complements its easy nature too. More than just a styling cue, the racy, mid-ship muffler design (similar to the supersport R6's) also acts to centralize mass, contributing to a lighter overall feel. It emits a sporty note, but not so much that the neighbors will complain.
Out on the road, the engine performed exceptionally well, exceeding my expectations. Considering all of the "beginner friendly" talk being bandied about, I thought I might be riding a well-dressed dog. That certainly wasn't the case - and though a much more mellow fellow than its track-bred cousin the R6 or even the FZ6, the FZ6R still has a touch of racing heritage stirring in the cylinders. Even with the low and midrange grunt being spot-on in the slower stuff, this bike exhibits some impressive legs when the pavement and the throttle open up. And regardless of speed, the fuel injection is smooth as glass, with no bucks or hitches there to report. If you're looking for a supersport power hit, you may be a little disappointed; but for the touring and commuter set, the all-around usability of this mill is beyond reproach.
Another area Yamaha targeted for improvement was the gearbox. Again, with newer riders in mind, the designers felt easy clutch action and smooth shifting should be of paramount importance. The six-speed close ratio transmission was engineered to provide predictable acceleration while taking full advantage of the engine's power band. Shifting was eerily smooth, producing no unusual quirks at all. If anything, it almost worked too well. The snicks and clicks one normally expects were almost imperceptible, and the new, inner push clutch design was practically effortless. A quick half pull on the lever was all it took for a smooth shift. This new tranny is very forgiving indeed, performing perfectly no matter the road. The clutch lever's ease of use is good news for newbies, but those with more seasoned hands will be happier too, especially after several hundred miles of banging gears in the tight stuff.
Chassis and Brakes
Not long into our ride, it became obvious that the supersport appeal of this machine is more than skin deep. Admittedly, the FZ6R does not have the razor-sharp reflexes of the R6, but it's no slouch in the curves either. To many, the brand-new steel frame and swingarm will be deemed "old school" in comparison to a lighter yet more expensive aluminum construction. But once the bike is in motion, it delivers a stable, confidence-inspiring ride. The engine is a solid mounted, stressed member of the chassis, a feature that adds to the FZ6R's stable, straight-line feel. Though we could split hairs comparing rake, trail and chassis dynamics to the R6, that wouldn't be a fair fight. Suffice it to say, this experienced touring rider had no problems leaning this "learner" hard into corners and exiting comfortably with a mile-wide grin.
Soqi, an in-house division of Yamaha, manufactured the front forks and rear shock. Both ends handle smoother asphalt and moderate speeds admirably. The cushy, 41mm conventional forks are non-adjustable and work very well for everyday duty. The same can also be said of the rear monoshock that features a seven-position, ramp style, preload-only adjustment, which is equally comfortable. The preset spring rates are intended to strike a balance between nimble handling and comfort and, frankly, they've met that goal in a very impressive manner. Though both ends can become overwhelmed if pushed hard, it is important to remember that this bike is not for the racers in the crowd. Fun, easy riding is the modus operandi here, and to that end, the FZ6R delivers excellent results.
The brakes also gave a quality performance. Out front, a Brembo master cylinder pushes the fluid through two, twin-piston calipers that grab 298mm discs. Out back, another Brembo master actuates a single-piston caliper on a single 245mm disc. The front lever is reach adjustable, another nice touch for beginners and the experienced alike. Again, this system is A-OK for easy to lightly spirited rides. But like the suspension, the brakes are a bit underwhelming if the clip really quickens. As long as the pace matches the FZ6R's intended purpose, these binders respond quite well.
Accessories and Arrangements
Although the engine and chassis may not be the stuff of supersport dreams, the styling certainly is. The wrap-around bodywork screams racetrack and the aggressive lines will fit right in at the local hot-shoe gatherings. But while the racer wannabes trade comfort for performance, the FZ6R rider counts comfortable ergonomics as one of his or her bike's strong suits. The low 30.9-inch seat height is quite manageable for shorter legged riders, but taller riders are not out of the picture either. The seat is adjustable and can be raised nearly an inch from the stock position. The handlebars are easily moved almost an inch forward, too. Both adjustments are simply made with the tools Yamaha includes in the kit. The instrument cluster is a nicely designed, easy-to-read unit very similar to the one found on the larger, more expensive FZ1. A good-sized digital readout indicates speed and an analog tach tracks the RPM. Also included are a fuel gauge, odometer, dual tripmeters, turn signal and neutral indicators, and a clock. There are also warning lights for water temperature and oil level. As for bells and whistles, Yamaha's accessory catalog includes a gel seat, a double bubble windscreen, performance air filter, and color-matched pillion cowls. There are even model-specific gel grips and a bike cover available.
The mildly tuned 600cc four is an excellent starting point for less experienced riders, and the ability for many to flat-foot this peppy model will certainly have its appeal. And with the number of women entering the market on the rise, the Yamaha reps made no bones about angling the FZ6R toward this important demographic. But out in the real world of everyday riding, he-man bravado doesn't mean squat. In the end, the features that make riding the FZ6R so much easier are the same ones that will pay dividends in heavy traffic or during extended journeys. And if a low center of gravity, easy handling, sporty styling, comfortable and adjustable ergonomics, and a reasonable entry price aren't enough, the FZ6R also sips petrol at a miserly 43mpg (claimed). It is perfectly understandable for Yamaha to tout this as a beginner bike, but it's just as important to remember that it's a flat-out fun ride for anyone who thumbs the starter. This FizzeR may not be quite as fast and nimble as a pure supersport, but if bonus points are to be awarded for fun, this 600 is guaranteed a podium appearance every time.
+ user friendly ergonomics, user friendly power, slick transmission
- soft suspension, soft brakes
Distributor Yamaha Motor Corp., USA
MSRP $ 6,990 (Raven) $ 7,090 (Yamaha Blue, Cadmium Yellow, Pearl White)
Engine inline four cylinder, DOHC, 16-valve
Bore and Stroke 65.5x44.5mm
Fuel System EFI, 32mm throttle bodies
Ignition 32bit ECU
Final Drive chain
Frame high-tensile steel
Front Suspension 41mm conventional, 5.1in (130mm) travel
Rear Suspension single shock, preload adjustable, 5.1in (130mm) travel
Front Brake two 298mm discs, 2-piston caliper
Rear Brake single 245mm disc, 1-piston caliper
Front Tire 120/70-R17
Rear Tire 160/60-R17
Curb Weight 470lbs (213kg)
Wheelbase 56.7in (1440mm)
Seat Height 30.9in (785mm)
Fuel Capacity 4.5gal (17l)
Fuel Consumption 43mpg (claimed)
Colors Raven, Yamaha Blue, Cadmium Yellow, Pearl White