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2014 Yamaha FZ-09 First Ride

Tuesday, September 24, 2013
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2014 Yamaha FZ-09 First Ride Video
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Watch the all-new FZ-09 in action in the 2014 Yamaha FZ-09 First Ride video.

Dodging past the edge of the cable car, I pull in the Yamaha FZ-09 clutch and start to tip-toe down Lombard Street. Tourists line the famed thoroughfare, now gawking as our noisy 10-rider troop descend San Francisco’s curviest street. Lombard makes for a memorable route, but so do the rest of SF’s byways. Clogged traffic, chaotic intersections, freeway interchanges, the imposing contours of its hilly topography, assorted potholes and chuckholes, grooved trolley tracks… trolley tracks!

Yamaha bills its new mount as an urban sportbike, and the Tuning Fork brand certainly didn’t shy away from letting us get a taste of how the FZ performs in the concrete jungle. Day 1 of the press introduction was limited solely to exploring the city proper – an education in urban sport riding to be sure.

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Wheelies were pulled. Stoppies stopped. Bikes launched off hills. And lanes were split… oh, lord, how they were split. Things got rowdy out there. And it says much about the FZ-09 that we returned from what was effectively a four-hour commute with smiles plastered across our faces.

The FZ-09, which replaces the FZ8 in Yamaha’s sport lineup, is a completely new model. In the tech presentation before handing over the keys, Yamaha described the new FZ as “a naked sportbike that combines an emotional performance character and fundamental value.” Emotional performance comes via its surprising Inline Triple, while the $7990 MSRP - $900 less than the bike it replaces – handles the value part. Both aspects make the FZ-09 one of the most intriguing models to debut this year.

Yamaha teased its three-cylinder engine during last year’s Intermot show, dubbing it a crossplane concept. The Triple’s 120-degree crankshaft and even 240-degree firing interval make for a naturally crossplane design – with Yamaha making a big stir when it migrated the crossplane crank from its MotoGP M1 to the R1 Superbike. Lost in the degree/firing order/crankpin plane? Not to worry, what’s important is how the Inline Triple delivers a distinctive sound and engine character. This is old hat for those familiar with Triumph’s sport lineup, defined by its signature powerplant. The latest generation of MV Agustas have seen the three-cylinder light as well, with Yamaha following suit.

The FZ-09 Triple displaces 847cc via 78mm bore and 59.1mm stroke. Its forged aluminum piston thrums up and down an offset cylinder, moved 5mm rearward from the crank axis to reduce friction - the first multi-cylinder production Yamaha to use an offset design (also sourced on the YZ450F, as well as MotoGP’s M1). The four-valve cylinder head incorporates 31mm intake and 25mm exhaust valves. Denso 12-hole fuel injectors are mounted into the intake port, with air routing through staggered intake funnels (cylinders sequenced at 102.8mm, 82.8mm, 122.8mm lengths). New 41mm Mikuni throttle bodies are controlled by the familiar Yamaha Chip Controlled Throttle (YCC-T). The ride-by-wire system also allows for three selectable drive modes: Standard, with a more aggressive A-mode and less assertive B-mode.

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Fire up the 09 and the Triple’s intoxicating tones take over. Blip the throttle and its 3-into-1 exhaust sings, with the airbox’s built-in resonator adding to the FZ’s chorus. MotoUSA has continually lauded the inherent character and performance merits of three-cylinder mills, and this new Yamaha only adds to our praise. The wailing intake howl of a screaming Four is fine, same goes for a grouchy torque-heavy Twin – but the hybrid Triple… It’s a true gem showcased in the FZ-09.

Yamaha claims 115 horsepower and 64.5 lb-ft of torque at the crank. And it doesn’t take long to discover the Triple’s brawn, as it yanks hard from top to bottom with its torque-rich powerband. Even wheelie shy riders like me find themselves effortlessly lofting the front wheel with simple roll-ons. And the FZ’s playful nature goads riders to hoist it further. The FZ-09 engine is a riot, and without question delivers a more engaging ride than the Inline Four-powered FZ8 it replaces.

The engine isn’t without flaw, however, owing to abrupt fueling. Riders encounter a herky jerky on-off sensation, particularly at lower rpm. Riding in the muted B-mode eases this complaint, somewhat, which is more exaggerated in the A-mode and Standard engine maps. But it’s easy to forgive the twitchy throttle, as the engine itself runs remarkably smooth. A counterbalancer quells vibes that only escape after the engine is revved up toward the 11,250 rpm redline.

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Riding the all-new FZ-09 through the San Francisco metropolis included a host of surface conditions and elevation changes - as well as some remarkable scenery.

A stacked six-speed gearbox mates with the compact engine package (the FZ-09 Triple shedding 22 pounds from the FZ8’s Inline Four). Engineers added two clutch plates to handle the 09’s extra torque. Calling the transmission wide-ratio doesn’t do it justice, as I found little need to shift up from third gear during the entire press ride, which on Day 2 included a spirited jaunt on the twisty roads north across the Golden Gate. For city use, first and second were more than adequate, and the FZ is happy to crawl along at low rpm without complaint. On the freeway, dropping into the sixth gear overdrive found a super smooth 70 mph obtained right around 4000 rpm.

The new die-cast aluminum frame and swingarm source the engine as a stressed member. Yamaha press is keen to note the swingarm mounts externally, allowing a more slender frame. The narrower feel is immediately evident astride the FZ-09. At 6’1” I found the reach down from the 32.1 inch seat height unintimidating, but the narrow profile should keep things manageable for shorter riders as well.

Ergonomic changes, compared with the FZ8, include 26mm lower footpegs with the handlebar placed 53mm higher and 40mm closer. It transforms the riding position into an even more upright stance, one that I prefer to the hyper aggressive forward lean on most supersports and some fellow naked standards. However, this tester rates the seat less than stellar, as it tended to run me forward toward the tank. I also find the perch’s long-term comfort wanting – not terrible, but not particularly inviting for high mileage runs. One final ergonomic gripe is the engine cases, which slightly crowd the legs.

Kayaba suspension adorns the new mount, with both the 41mm inverted fork and horizontally-mounted shock adjustable for preload and rebound. The units are set-up on the soft side, which proved optimal for our city-scape adventure, sucking up the myriad road conditions with aplomb. The Day 1 settings were so springy that when I stood up and down quickly, my 205-pound frame bounced the FZ like a trampoline.

Yamaha technicians maxed out preload and rebound for Day 2’s sportier terrain. An aggressive pace on the twisty backroads challenged the FZ’s suspension – even with the adjustments. Pressing on uneven surfaces saw it out of sorts, with some occasional wallowing. On one particularly bumpy stretch, I crested a rise and ran down into a depression at high speeds, and got bumped up off the saddle as the suspension started to tap out. The abrupt fueling also hinders stability in corners, as the bike can get upset gassing it out on exit.

On pristine road surfaces, however, the FZ demonstrated its capabilities. It turns in fast and changes direction with ease. I found it immediately responsive to my inputs as well, with lots of leverage afforded from the tall bar placement.


The bike feels like a light weight, and at a claimed 414-pound curb weight it is 53 pounds lighter than the FZ8. The rolling chassis includes new lightweight 10-spoke aluminum wheels, and Yamaha claims a reduction of unsprung mass from the smaller brake rotors as well – 298mm compared with the 310mm discs on the FZ8.

Speaking of brakes, the FZ-09 package is a spec sheet smorgasbord. Radial-mount four-pot Advics calipers are mated to a Brembo master cylinder up front, with a Nissin caliper pinching the 245mm rear (also smaller in diameter than the FZ8’s 267mm rear). Compared with top-shelf (i.e. more expensive) brakes, the FZ-09 stoppers lack a super strong initial bite, but I found that preferable for street riding. I also deemed the lever feel and modulation quite encouraging.

Returning from a second day’s ride, our testing crew passed back over the Golden Gate and crossed the city in another ecstatic flurry of lane-splitting. Slowing down from the sporty backroad pace I took more notice of the FZ’s instrumentation. The compact switchgear features button-saving steps, like consolidating the starter and kill switch into one. Riders can also shuffle through the engine maps on the fly, but the throttle must be closed, and the Drive-mode button proves hard to reach on the right-side switchgear. The controls felt a hair on the small side to me, but overall enjoyable.

I also enjoyed the FZ’s concise instrument console, with its easy-to-read digital speedo. The digital tach isn’t as prominent, but to be honest, the Triple’s wide powerband didn’t have me searching for any sweet spots in the revs. Also, thumbs up for the gear position indicator, a personal favorite in any dash and located discreetly in the bottom left of the LCD. The display houses a fuel gauge as well, to meter out the smallish 3.7-gallon tank. Yamaha claims 44 mpg, though our average mileage readout for Day 2 registered 37 mpg. Not the most impressive range – but easy to forgive, considering the fun milked out of every mile.

Fit and finish befits a new-for-2014 model. Yamaha made sure to note this bike is not a parts bin special, with virtually every component developed solely for the new FZ-09. Even parts Yamaha could scrimp on have a top quality feel – including the aluminum handlebar and foot controls, or the LED taillights.

Any criticism for the FZ-09 has to be couched by the fact that it sports a head-scratching $7990 MSRP. This is the most astounding spec sheet claim and potential knockout blow to its rivals. Consider the Street Triple 675 is $9399 (add another $600 for the up-spec R version), and the FZ-09 is a steal – not to mention the even more expensive BMW F800R ($10,600) and Ducati Monster 796 ($10,495). Yamaha’s dealers have certainly taken notice, with demand prompting a production increase and the addition of the Blazing Orange colorway to join the Liquid Graphite and Rapid Red models in the US.

The FZ-09 delivers a thrilling ride. The harsh fueling and soft suspension may not be ideal for aggressive riders, but they are easy to forget thanks to the Triple’s impressive performance and character. Perhaps most important is that jaw-dropping MSRP, making the FZ-09 a pivotal model for Yamaha in 2014 and beyond.

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2014 Yamaha FZ-09 Review Photo Gallery
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Comments
Dirtx   May 11, 2014 03:16 PM
I could see myself on this if it had and adventure type of fairing like the v strom Suzuki.
JimD   February 20, 2014 02:21 PM
Why are all of you writers, giving Triumph credit for the triples, and claiming Yamaha "followed suit"? YAMAHA pioneered the triple, with it's EXCELLENT XS750s in the mid 1970s. YAMAHA has a ton of triples experience from which to draw for this motor, so it should be no surprise they got it right.
daltonknox   November 23, 2013 10:39 AM
Unsorted suspension Poor fueling - specially noticeable in town 3.8 gallon tank - looking for gas after 110 miles Hard seat Naked I want to like this bike because I can't afford a Multistrada, but seriously Yamaha, you need to have another go at it.
Cyberfighter   October 17, 2013 11:44 AM
If I had to make a list of 100 things about this bike that were of interest, the fact that it's electronically-limited to 200kph would rank around 90. Do you realize how dumbed-down bikes are in general, these days? Yet still some people will say that they make too much power, are too fast, make it too easy to ride recklessly on the street, etc etc etc. Just the name "streetfighter" is troublesome enough. But yeah soon enough you're going to have to get a special chip from the mfg to enable your bike to go over 85mph. Mandatory anti-wheelie is not far behind. So it's time for another aftermarket category, of replacement instrument-clusters and ECUs. And another set of state regulations.
FZRider   October 12, 2013 01:38 PM
Buyer beware.I purchased my new FZ-09 two weeks ago and learned today that the top speed is restricted to 132 MPH, about the same as a Ninja 650 parallel twin with 50 or so less horsepower.
Kropotkin   September 30, 2013 07:23 AM
Over the weekend I rode the Triumph Street and Speed Triples. They have a similar handlebar position to this Yamaha, straight up but not quite standard style. I didn't care for the riding position. It fights the wind quite a bit. I prefer a little more leaned over, not full tuck race, but more of a reach than this style. Something like the Buell 1125R used to be, to pick one out of a hat.
cggunnersmate   September 26, 2013 07:03 AM
This is an interesting bike, looks aside which aren't bad IMO. But this bike looks like a great platform to start with, both at the company and for personalization as well.

They could do a few models off this platform, realistically I could see them doing an adventure bike version similar to the BMW GS800 and Triumph Tiger. This is also a good starting point for a super motard as well.

I fully expect the aftermarket to put out tons of stuff for this bike. A new exhaust, Power Commander and some decent suspension and this bike could make one killer streetfighter.

And if Yamaha is smart, they could build up their own line of accessories for this bike like Triumph has done. Stock to stock, I'd say the Triumph Street Triple would beat this, but with the money you'd save on the FZ-09 you could tweak to be just as good as the Triumph. Possibly even better.

And I love Triumphs having owned a Speed Triple, so I do love 3 cylinder mills.
HerckyJercky   September 26, 2013 04:49 AM
"They could follow Hondas example with the new 500 engine and use it to power multiple bikes of different character. " maybe they could just have the one bike and let the aftermarket step up to the plate and provide the custom parts to craft your own personalized bike. I think that has been the idea for years with the R1. But sure thy could take the same basic frame, engine and chassis, add specialized parts and have 4 different models ready on the showroom floor. Sure they *could* do that. But they would be trying to beat Honda at its own game. And not just Honda but Kawasaki, Suzuki, BMW and the rest. The triple is good first step. Now what do you do with it so that you have something more & better than your average bike with a triple instead of with a 4 or twin. Well for one you can keep the price down and the easiest way to do that is through increased standardization. The opposite of what Honda has done, in diversifying its product-line. Honda is the Sony of motorcycling. Let Yamaha be Yamaha. We need that.
HerckyJercky   September 26, 2013 04:37 AM
Now to be fair maybe that was not the only change, maybe that was not even *the* change. Maybe I'm just wrong about it. It was just one test-ride and I really should have said "practically unrideable". Of course I could ride it, it was just unnervingly touchy off-idle. Before it was smooth and fast, but maybe they had a map on it before which dialed-back the power at low rpms in the lower gears. Plenty of other mfgs do that with their large-displacement bikes, it's done on the Busa, the 14R and the VFR1200 that I know of. Maybe they thought it was a little too hard to sell a literbike in the face of such competition that was giving up some of its power at the low end just to make the bike easier to ride. Maybe the people who might actually buy such a bike want it to be touchy off-idle...and slightly scary to ride even at low RPMs. Who knows, maybe first gear is a little lower on the '13 model as well.
HerckyJercky   September 26, 2013 04:30 AM
I test-rode the '13 FZ1 in Daytona, on a nice clear, dry spring day after some morning rain, the road was slightly damp in spots...I found the bike unrideable and I'd test-ridden earlier FZ1s plenty of times. For '13 they seem to have dialed-up the throtte-response off-idle to an insane degree. Otherwise it was the same bike. And the bike was already plenty fast-enough. They took what was a good strong yet comfortable and maneuverable ride and ruined it with that one change.
Buford59   September 26, 2013 02:01 AM
I'm excited to see where else Yamaha decides to use this engine. They could follow Hondas example with the new 500 engine and use it to power multiple bikes of different character. Who knows a Tenere style adventure bike based on this engine with its distinct drive modes, add ABS braking, some upgraded suspension and even several thousand to price it would still be a bargain compared to the competition.
Poncho167   September 25, 2013 02:53 PM
Not bad for another naked bike. The price is reasonable, but the mileage is not.
neo1piv014   September 25, 2013 10:05 AM
Considering how funky that bike looks, what has me the most excited is that there should be a lot of FZ8s on the cheap at dealers trying to get rid of them before the 9's come in. The FZ8 was an awesome looking bike, especially compared to this one. I'd give up a little bit of performance to get something that looks like the 8.
chr1s   September 25, 2013 08:15 AM
"Not a parts bin special," but they couldn't do a better job with that tail?
Drunkula   September 25, 2013 06:39 AM
I think it's hard to overlook this model. It may just have me tempted to trade in the old 636. O_o