2011 Yamaha FZ8 First Ride

January 14, 2011
Bart Madson
By Bart Madson
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Bashing away at the MotoUSA keyboard for nine years now, Madson lends his scribbling and editorial input on everything from bike reviews to industry analysis and motorcycle racing reports.

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Watch the Yamaha FZ8 First Ride Video to see our initial taste of the new naked entry in the American motorcycle market.

One of the few bits of good news in the motorcycle industry these past few years, at least in America, is that many of the too-cool-for-the-States Euro-only models have finally dropped anchor and headed to the New World. The U.S. gets one such ride, Yamaha’s FZ8, as a 2011 model. Motorcycle USA got a first taste of the new Fazer on a 100-mile run in California’s Santa Monica Mountains, discovering a fun-to-ride and versatile new middleweight.

The FZ8 expands what Yamaha dubs its Total Sportbike line, a designation applying to the high-performance Supersport R1 and R6, as well as the Sport-Touring FJR1300. In between are models Yamaha designates as its Sport models: the fully-faired FZ6R, half-faired FZ1 and the naked FZ8.

Contrasting their best-selling status in Europe, naked street bikes have struggled in the American market. Yet Yamaha sees its FZ8 as servicing a growing segment. Although overall motorcycle sales have tanked since the 2008 economic crisis, the general market distribution remains more or less the same. Citing data from the Motorcycle Industry Council

2011 Yamaha FZ8
Stripped of the half-fairing found on its older sibling, the new FZ8 represents Yamaha’s naked middleweight street bike, making its American debut as a 2011 model.

(MIC), Yamaha claims the Total Sportbike segment of the industry has held steady from 2005 thru 2010 at 20% (cruisers maintain the top position at 45-50% of sales). Within the Total Sportbike category itself, however, the Supersport segment has dropped from 65% to 49% over that six-year stretch. Picking up the slack, the remaining Sport models are up from 29% to 37%, with Sport-Touring bikes more than doubled from 6% to 14%.

Other market indicators deemed favorable for the FZ8 include a growing trend of riders no longer purchasing multiple specialist bikes, but instead investing in a single, more versatile mount. Add in Yamaha’s own customer feedback, which put Rider Position and Price/Deal as their most important purchasing reasons, and Yamaha makes a strong case for its new naked standard.

The FZ8 sources a familiar looking Inline Four, which shares the pre-crossplane R1 pedigree of its larger-displacement FZ1 sibling. The engine cases are in fact identical with FZ1, along with the 53.6mm stroke. But the FZ8 displaces 779cc courtesy of its sleeved down 68mm bore (77mm on FZ1). The FZ8 mill further diverges with a new four-valve cylinder head (five-valve head on FZ1) and higher 12.0:1 compression ratio. Mellower cam profiles and

2011 Yamaha FZ8
Like the FZ1, the new FZ8 mill is derived from the pre-crossplane R1, but displacement drops to 779cc with other changes including different cam profiles and revised valve timing for the now four-valve head. 

revised valve timing tune the FZ8 for low and mid-range power, rather than the top-end bias of the FZ1, the latter bike also sporting a 500 rpm higher redline at 12K.

Variable length intake funnels further refine the engine’s power characteristics. No, it’s not the movable YCC-I system from the R1, rather the outside cylinders are 125mm long, while the middle two cylinders route air from the 7.8-liter airbox through 150mm length funnels. Other internal changes include a narrower throttle bore than the FZ1. The other major change from the FZ1 mill is a lighter crankshaft, with Yamaha claiming a 30% reduction in inertial mass. While giving the engine a quick revving character and smooth throttle response, the company touts the crank’s the reduced rotational force “contributes to light and responsive handling.”

Well-suited to a bike pitched as a step-up model, the engine’s broad powerband has something for all skill levels. The low end churns out ample, yet manageable power, complemented by a forgiving throttle input. Approaching 6K on the tach and a fantastic mid-range zing kicks in. Squeeze the throttle between 6 and 9K and riders had best have firm grip on the controls, because it hauls. Fueling across the powerband is immediate without being abrupt, a very tricky formula to master. The engine’s smooth character holds throughout the revs as well, with no rattling or overt vibes until it buzzes up near the 11.5K redline.

2011 Yamaha FZ8
2011 Yamaha FZ8
2011 Yamaha FZ8
The FZ8 chassis is similar to the FZ1, with identical frame, swingarm and steering geometry. Big differences are the 8’s lack of suspension adjustment and narrower rear tire.

Yamaha refuses to state power claims for this model, but our seat-of-the-pants dyno would confirm its middleweight displacement. It’s got more oomph than a 600 street bike, but lacks the potency of the FZ1 or 1043cc Kawasaki Z1000. In fact, the engine performance it’s most analogous in our estimation to the defunct-in-the-US Kawi Z750, which we fondly recall from many a riding season past.

A 4-2-1 exhaust system exits out a black, right-side muffler. We found the exhaust sound muted but favorable, with a more robust melody wailing at the upper revs. Keeping it revved out doesn’t help with fuel economy though, and the Fazer seemed to suck down the gas during our test ride. Yamaha reps promise a 200-mile range from the 4.49-gallon tank, a claim we’ll test in a future comparison review.

The FZ8’s six-speed transmission features lower first gear and secondary reduction gear ratios than the FZ1. We found no fault with the gearing, the low first gear praiseworthy for allowing riders to creep along at low speeds without clutch finesse and little to no throttle modulation. The cable-actuated clutch delivers seamless engagement, while the lever pull felt stiffer than ideal but tolerable.

The FZ8’s cast aluminum frame and swingarm are identical with the FZ1. Same goes for the 57.4-inch wheelbase, 32.1-inch seat height and steering geometry. Swing a leg over the 8, however, and it feels smaller than our recollections of its bigger displacement kin. This may be in part due to the missing half fairing (a half-faired version of the FZ8 is available in Europe), but the seat and tank junction have also been slimmed down to deliver an easy reach to the ground (fuel capacity shaved by a little over a quarter-gallon). Smaller riders noted the FZ8 dimensions were easy to handle and not intimidating, and taller riders didn’t feel overbearing on the new model.

Slight repositioning of the handlebars (5mm forward) and footpegs (15mm backward, 10mm downward), compared to the FZ1, deliver a subtle forward pitch for the rider. Increased wind resistance from the naked design counteracts the forward cant, so no pressure is placed on the rider’s wrists or lower back. The standard position makes for a comfortable saddle, though we’d rate the seat only average – comfy for showroom floors and short jaunts, but lacking

2011 Yamaha FZ8
The FZ8 styling is subdued and basic, befitting a stripped down naked street bike.

as the tripmeter turns into triple digits.

Get up to speed and the FZ8 turns in and transitions without much effort at the controls, the front-end light and intuitive when the road kinks up. Here’s where the Yamaha’s assertion of improved handling from the lighter crankshaft come into play. We’ll buy into the claims, as the FZ8 proved more nimble than our recollections of the FZ1 (we last tested the FZ1 during our 2007 Streetfighter Comparison, where it was deemed less svelte than its competitors), though we reckon this could also be owed to the half-inch narrower rear tire. Certainly the FZ8 feels lighter than the 15-pound spec sheet variances of the two FZ models.

The FZ8’s suspension is non-adjustable, save for nine-position preload adjustment for the rear shock. The inverted 43mm KYB fork works sound enough, set up well for its street use. Riders who find the fork’s performance limiting figure to already be drawn to the higher-spec FZ1, which sources fully adjustable KYB sticks. The YHSJ rear shock (Yamaha’s subsidiary suspension company formerly known as SOQI) is less adept. Sprung on the soft side, the FZ8’s rear end wallows when pushed hard on poor road surfaces. Riders in our test group who added preload reported improvement, but the shock would benefit from more rebound.

2011 Yamaha FZ8
At an attractive price, the Yamaha FZ8 delivers value and fun in the saddle.

Braking performance is solid courtesy of the dual front 310mm discs and four-piston, non-radial-mount Sumitomo calipers. The single 267mm single-piston Nissin rear isn’t terribly impressive, but the overall package proves quite effective at bringing the 470-pound (claimed) bike to a safe and speedy halt. ABS is not available as an option.

The FZ8’s $8490 MSRP beats its direct competitors and falls under that imposing 10K mark by a full $1500. Fit and finish on the bike is decent, but not flawless, with things like the flimsy mount of the wind cowling somewhat detracting. Instrumentation is simple and easy to read, with our favorite perks like a gear position indicator absent but not missed. As bikes get more and more complicated the simplicity is refreshing.

Yamaha FZ8 Highs & Lows
  • Engine tuned for street-friendly low and mid-range performance
  • Lightweight feel and nimble handling
  • Attractive pricing lowest among comparable rivals
  • Non-adjustable fork and too-soft rear shock
  • Understated naked styling might not play for American “sportbike” crowd
  • Only available in one color – black

On the styling end, the FZ8 is not a particularly edgy bike. That said, it plays to our particular sensibilities, with its naked profile and exposed header pipes our favorite trait. As far as colorways go, as Henry Ford once said of his Model T, the FZ8 can be had in any color the customer wants, so long as it’s black. Riders can, however, kit out their Fazer with numerous factory accessories including some extra bodywork and useful add-ons like a centerstand.

All told the FZ8 is a fun bike to ride and an exciting new middleweight option from Yamaha. The Tuning Fork logo makes a compelling case for its latest model’s success, even in the current distressed market conditions and traditional low sales of naked street bikes in the States. Now it’s up to the American ridership to decide if these Euro-only bikes are Euro-only for a reason.