The 2011 Yamaha FZ1 heads into this Road Sport comparison the most seasoned model. Aside from ECU tweaks, it’s unchanged from the last time we compared it way back in in 2007. Yet, the familiar Yamaha more than holds its own in our Road Sport test.
The FZ1 ran against naked standards in past MotoUSA streetfighter comparison tests, where it felt bulky and overdressed. The opposite is true amongst its new Road Sport competitors, where the half-faired Fazer flaunts its semi-naked styling – foremost being the eye-catching exhaust headers up front.
While the Yamaha stands out with its skimpy looks, it’s the R1-derived Inline Four that delivers unique performance on the road. The FZ1 sources its engine from the pre-crossplane R1, with a dual overhead cam 20-valve design manipulating the older five-valve head. At 998cc the Yamaha is the smallest displacement in the test. It’s also the most oversquare powerplant, with a 77mm bore and 53mm stroke.
Despite its cc disadvantage, the FZ1’s superbike lineage exerts itself on the dyno where it turns the drum up to 129.8 rear wheel horsepower. This edges the Ninja 1000 by more than six ponies, but trails the Honda and BMW, which enjoy a more than 250cc advantage. Its 67.22 lb-ft of torque ranks at the bottom (the beefy BMW twisting its crank with more
The Yamaha FZ1’s 998cc Inline Four is sourced from a pre-crossplane R1 and sports a top-end biased powerband.
than 20 extra lb-ft of force), but the FZ1 makes up for its torque deficit by revving higher. It screams well beyond the competition, revving more than 1000 rpm past the Honda and BMW, and 2500 more than the Suzuki and Kawasaki.
On the street, the FZ1’s top-end biased powerband chases some of the larger competition despite some pretty effective street-biased gearing. It’s slightly more difficult to tap into the good stuff on the Yamaha than the deep torque-rich wells powering its rivals. We also note that where the power delivery was defined as electric back in ’07, it feels much crisper now – perhaps owing to its ECU updates. While it does need to get milked for the good power up top, once wound-out the Fazer’s Four wails. Rev up the tach and there’s a terrific zing from eight grand onward.
“Even though the FZ1 isn’t the fastest bike here,” says Scot, “it’s still a blast to ride. Get that engine spun up and it’s right there with the Ninja and BMW, but the problem is they are a wee bit faster.”
“Every time we did impromptu roll-on tests, no matter what gear we were in, the Ninja and K1300 were the fastest… but not by much,” agrees Ken. “There’s something about that Yamaha mill that makes it fun to ride. It sounds cool, feels cool and hauls butt. That’s a recipe for success.”
The Yamaha’s top-end powerband is the polar opposite, in this test, of the low-end biased Suzuki. And where the Suzuki feels easiest to ride, some of our riders felt the FZ1 requires a little more work. “The Yamaha feels like it has a high peak horsepower,” says Robin, our devil’s advocate of the FZ engine, “but it is all on the top of the rev range, so it isn’t ideal for street riding.”
One thing that is ideal for the street is Yamaha’s six-speed transmission. Test riders laud its smooth gearbox and surefooted engagement of the cable-actuated clutch.
“The Yamaha works so well. The clutch is really good, the tranny is spot on and it feels like it is damn near perfect for the street,” declares Gibson, who abused the drivetrain with more than a few chain stretching wheelies. He also found the gearing ideal for hanging with the big kids. “It rolls on strong and is always right there with the Kawi and Beemer, no matter what gear we were in.”
Riders tout the Yamaha’s brakes for outright power and sporty feel – reckoning only the potent Honda stoppers better. The brakes are free of any the electronic aids, like linking or ABS, found on its competition. Instead it’s direct, precise modulation at the lever from the dual 320mm disc and four-piston monobloc binders up front.
The Yamaha shines in the handling department too, where it bests all but the sublime VFR. Where the FZ1 felt heavy and sluggish in past showdowns against nimble streetfigher foes, the opposite is true in this test. In fact, the Yamaha was the lightest of the Road Sports with a 486-pound curb weight.
The FZ1 delivers sporty engine performance, which it complemented by a potent brakes and supple suspension.
Also light is the steering, the Fazer is easy to tip in and transition. It feels steadier in the corners than the Kawasaki, and while the BMW is a more stable mount, the Yamaha proves far more responsive to rider inputs. Aiding performance in the twisties is a sporty suspension package, with a three-way adjustable inverted fork and preload/rebound-adjustable rear shock. Both are sprung well for an aggressive pace, and the FZ1’s neutral handling and upright riding position make it both easy and comfortable to attack curvy asphalt.
“The latest generation FZ1 is very sporty and the suspension is an excellent compromise between supple comfort and sporting agility,” touts Ken. “When it came time to carve up our back-country byways – I want to be on the Yamaha.”
The FZ1’s half fairing and flat windscreen deliver respectable wind protection. Riding position is comfortably upright, with a slight sporty lean. All riders enjoyed the handlebar contours and placement. Yet the Yamaha lags somewhat in ergonomics thanks to its seat. Most test riders couldn’t agree why they disliked it, only that it rated last with almsot all our riders pegging it as the least comfortable.
“If I owned the FZ1 I would have to change the seat out for an aftermarket first thing,” explains Robin. “While the riding position is reasonably easy on the shoulders, wrist and back, I simply couldn’t get past how uncomfortable the seat is.”
Couching these complaints is contrarian Kenneth, who champions the FZ perch. “The seat was best, by far, and there is quite a bit of wind protection,” promises Hutch. “I could ride all day on the FZ1. It had the best riding position for me at 5’8” tall. The bars have a nice bend, plus I like the way they look compared to the clip-on style of the VFR and Ninja and way better than the cheesy chrome bar on the Suzuki.”
The FZ1 knows what to do when the road kinks up. The suspension holds up well to high-speed cornering attacks.
Ken’s pillion tester raves about the FZ1’s comfort as well. “Almost perfect with a comfortable seat that seemed to be the best in the corners,” says Laura. “The riding position was also very good, as my legs weren’t too cramped up, but the tank was a long reach when I had to brace for braking. The grab rails were good too.”
Despite sporting the highest-revving mill, the Yamaha registers the best fuel efficiency (39.8 mpg) and longest range (191 miles) during our test. This ups the versatility factor, and while it wouldn’t be the most comfortable touring bike, it could be pressed into service with some soft bags and bungees.
While some in our testing troop favor the naked lines of the Yamaha, there’s no getting around that it’s the longest in the tooth. Appearance-wise its lacks some of the flair of the more expensive bikes or the modern, aggressive lines of the Ninja (the Suzuki looks old, even though it’s new for 2011). The instrumentation and switchgear doesn’t stand out either, but they exude practicality. We particularly dig the large, easy-to-read digital speedo.
The biggest argument for the Yamaha is its $10,490 MSRP. Riders get a lot of bang for the buck with the versatile FZ1, more than five grand less than either the BMW or the Honda!
As it is, the Yamaha FZ1 surprises in this comparison. A potent, high-revving engine and sporty chassis deliver exciting road performance, while a lowest-in-class MSRP gives it even more appeal as a practical mount. One thing’s for sure, the familiar Fazer now has us looking at it in an all-new light.