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2011 Yamaha FZ8 First Ride

Friday, January 14, 2011
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2011 Yamaha FZ8 First Ride Video
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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
Highs
  • Engine tuned for street-friendly low and mid-range performance
  • Lightweight feel and nimble handling
  • Attractive pricing lowest among comparable rivals
Lows
  • 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.
2011 Yamaha FZ8 Review Photo Gallery
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Yamaha FZ8 Competitors
Below 70 mph the F800R delivers an exceptionally smooth and vibration-free ride.
A number of naked street bikes line with the FZ8, even if its most analogous ride, the Kawasaki Z750, remains a Euro-only model (where its not only the best selling bike in some countries for Kawasaki, but the best-selling bike period). Perhaps the closest right now is the BMW F800R (pictured), which also makes its American debut in 2011. Stay tuned for a planned comparison with the Yamaha and Beemer, and whatever other competitors we can round up.

Aprilia Shiver 750 - $8999 
BMW F800R - $9950
Ducati Monster 796 - $9995
Triumph Street Triple - $8899 
Triumph Street Triple R - $9599
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Comments
arless   October 26, 2011 09:41 PM
After reading the latest comparison the ninja 1000 and suzuki 1250 and the honda afx 1300 vs Yamaha FZ1 vs the BMW. I have to change my mind and get the FZ1 its more than enough power than i could ever use on the street. Fully adjustable forks abd shock, a sinter stand, half fairing and 39.9 miles per gallon. Pus this FZ1 is Bart Madson's pick of the five tested. Read the 2011 test of these bikes and also for my money secetion on the last page. In this Motorcycle USA comparison test of the standard heavy weights.
arless   October 23, 2011 12:52 PM
Ive said it before quote, I consider comfort above almost everything. The Yamaha FZ8 for the money has all that, in one beautiful package.Bart Madson you have put together a great FZ8 introduction which was well said. Also Adam for you video FZ8 details and performance actual run for us cycle nuts to see. God bless and ride safe. Remember like an old man told me one time, he said son ride your bike like everyone is out to get you and you might stay alive. never make a left hand turn during rush hour traffic. At 57 years old I take these words at heart and remember them each time I get on a motor cycle. Also a FZ6R will out run a Corvette up to 100 mph! so take heed. The Best to all
arless   October 15, 2011 10:15 PM
Wow!! It seems no one owns a FZ8 yet? I love a up right riding stint and a 104 bhp motor with 467 lbs fully fueled. that's 11.22 second quarter mile times and 0-60 in 3.9 secs if that does not keep you happy for a long long time then you are insane. And the police will grab you up in a heart beat. Where are you going to rev it out at 130+ mph? and not go to jail, or kill yourself. I'll take the FZ6R 600cc bike with 78 bhp and 65 hp at the wheel. Little over $7000.00 and a great bike for town and freeway hops, even long distant runs with the wife. Plus there is a whole lot more power in the motor than 78 hp at the crank. With a little work on the motor you could be pushing 90-- to 100 bhp at the crankshaft. Thats 87 at the rear wheel.Think about that for a minute. Bikes are easy enough to work on yourself with out the exspence of having it done at a specalty shop. That said both bikes are after all a Yamaha what else is there? Arless
eichelsperg   April 15, 2011 02:33 AM
Today I've seen a white FZ8. A really feast for the eyes : ) . So much for the color options.. ! LG EP
Tim Butler -RJ-Costs  January 31, 2011 08:25 PM
RJ, with all due respect, even if fuel goes up 20%, it's only $4/week for most people. If you can't afford $4/week you've got bigger problems than what bike to buy.
RJ -Actual Costs  January 25, 2011 10:55 AM
I'd like to know how does the fuel economy compare to an FZ1 since obviously it's a little less power. Is it worth living a little less when gas becomes $5 per gallon next summer? In fact, how does it compare to the Bandit or Ninja 1000 for that matter b/c we all know Yamaha is not the best brand in MPG's.
John Duby -The fast and Dirty  January 15, 2011 04:48 PM
Ran across this webpage via thefastanddirty.com.....everyone should check that website out for some amazing flat track racing!!
Victor R. -FZ8  January 15, 2011 12:49 PM
This bike makes mostly good sense; it offers decent performance for a somewhat “fair” price for those who don’t want or need a higher limit bike like the FZ1 or Z1. The big question is are the higher limits of the bigger bikes only worth approx. $2K more; which would mean it is six in one hand and a half dozen in the other, because the FZ8 wouldn’t be a bargain because you are paying less but also getting less. Or is it a poor value because the higher limits of the bigger bikes is well worth only $2K more therefore making the FZ8 a poor value? So basically I conclude that if you don’t want or need the extra performance of the bigger bikes but want something more than a 650cc bike and you know your needs and tastes won’t be changing for awhile then FZ8 is a good value because you are buying want you want and need and not a dime more.
Comparing the FZ8 to other bikes with larger engines and different model years is silly and irrelevant. You get what you pay for so it is nice to see a bike that you can pay for what you want to use it for; moderate paced street riding. Also, considering the point that a Ninja 250R cost over $4K the FZ8 is a lot of bike for the money and if it isn’t enough bike for your riding needs then buy something with higher limits. We would all like bikes with the price of the FZ8 and the performance of an R1 but that has never happened and will never happen unless you buy used of course.

Tom -Casual Sport Rider  January 15, 2011 07:41 AM
Looks great, but it's priced at exactly what I paid for a brand new 2009 FZ1. Nearly immediate discounts will apply though, no doubt, and there won't be any annoying buffeting from the windscreen!
Danny -Dan  January 15, 2011 03:23 AM
I think the suzuki GSR750 is better
W1LLPARKER -the styling isn't bad but...  January 14, 2011 05:58 PM
..looks the same as the FZ1 from 5 years ago..
Ado -Value  January 14, 2011 01:11 PM
That's quite a lot of bike for the money, especially considering the more expensive euro models. Plus it will definately have more power than the Ducati 796, Aprilia 750 or BMMW F800R. I think it would be nice if Yamaha offered a faired version of this bike in the same way Kawasaki now offers the Ninja 1000 variation of the Z1000. Love this style of bike though, hopefully the Suzuki GSR750 comes over next.
PC -Comparison Test Needed  January 14, 2011 12:13 PM
I'm excited about this bike, but when I look at the direct competitors, I'm definitely not sure. Run this against the Triumph (R model), BMW & Ducati -- the truth will out.
JBart -Nice but...  January 14, 2011 10:13 AM
I think it's about $1,500 overpriced. The suspension is basic and the brakes have been around since 1998 R1 (as well as the engine for that matter). For me it's a tough sell considering for $4k you can get a 1st gen Z1000 which has the same tech spec as this bike, has more hp, and arguably looks cooler. Thanks for bringing to the U.S. Yamaha but I dunno...
Drunkula -Could be...  January 14, 2011 10:00 AM
I like the way it looks. Also like that it's an 800 class. If I were in the market I would consider it. Too bad Kawi is not bring the Z750R to the states. :(
adam - motousa -bart looks like a ninja  January 14, 2011 09:17 AM
yes he does
John H -Master Debater  January 14, 2011 08:15 AM
The real question is, will it have the same fuel cut issues as the FZ1?