Yamaha’s upright middleweight motorcycle, the FZ6, provides a decent package for the daily commuter with weekend canyon aspirations. Loosely based on their serious sport machine, the R6, the FZ-while not possessing the impressive power and speed of its sibling-makes for an unexpectedly versatile and fun motorcycle.
Initial impression of the bike-formed unfairly in the first few minutes of riding-was that Yamaha had merely created an adequate entry-level machine for new and inexperienced riders. However, as I lived with the bike for a few weeks, it became a pleasant favorite in the garage, getting more miles than I would have guessed after the inaugural ride. The change of heart can be attributed to the Yamaha’s combination of light weight and comfort, welcome attributes for casual outings, whether they be on winding canyon roads or long hauls.
Surprisingly, the FZ works exceptionally well as a sport bike. Once again, the lightweight feel, when combined with the increased maneuverability of the upright handlebars, allows an ease of flick-ability even in the tightest of twists and turns. As a result I revisited various tight routes on the FZ6 that I’ve learned to forego on other sport bikes over the years due the physical exertion required to whip a larger sport bike with low bars through first-gear switchbacks.
Although the FZ6 has the same engine as its race-bred brother (the R6), the 599cc liquid-cooled, in-line 4-cylinder motor has been drastically detuned. In the process, the bike lost significant low- and mid-range torque, a serious drawback for a machine intended as a commuter where the tedium of traffic lights and stop-and-go situations reward, and actually necessitate, bottom-end power.
As a result of lack of torque and low-end bite, there’s a bit of a dance balancing throttle and clutch when getting moving from a dead stop. This can get old at rush hour. On the positive side, there is the FZ’s comfort. From the upright seating position to the plush seat, you can stay in the saddle for hours without any serious bodily aches or pains. Also, the FZ’s lithe silhouette instills confidence when lane-splitting (that is, in states where it’s legal).
The circuitous gearshift linkage contributes to a somewhat loose feel in an otherwise perfect 6-speed gearbox, creating a sense of slop in the lever and requiring a tad more effort to ensure succinct gear changes. Rubber-capped footpegs are a mixed blessing, comfortable and well suited for zipping around town, terrible for any serious canyon-carving due lack of grip.
Brakes are high performers, with new dual four-piston calipers up front capable of slowing the FZ down with ease. Under heavy trail braking the bike tends to want to stand up, but all in all, the bike-in no small part due its 56.7-inch wheelbase and rigid, race-inspired chassis-possesses confident cornering abilities and stability in even the most rambunctious of applications. Weight distribution of the FZ is 51% on the front wheel, 49% on the rear. This contributes to the snappy response and compliant turn-in.
Styling cues are consistent with Yamaha’s sport machines, with aggressive, clean lines. The half-fairing breaks up turbulence decently at freeway speeds and gives the FZ6 a sexy aerodynamic presence. An undertail stainless steel exhaust is tucked up out of the way and manages to avoid heating up the pillion seat. A centerstand is a nice convenience, allowing for easy chain adjustment and lubing (although it’s the first hard element to touch down at severe lean angles).
All tallied, the FZ6 proved itself as a capable machine, a good cross between functional commuter and fun weekender. An excellent candidate for newbies, the FZ6 has pleasant manners that won’t intimidate, while possessing enough in reserve to accommodate a rider as their ability advances. At the same time, the FZ-in the proper hands-is capable of trampling the egos of riders on far more powerful, testosterone laden machines.
Second Opinion – By Don Williams
As much as I liked the handling, suspension, brakes, comfort and ergonomics on the FZ6-they’re all first rate-the engine’s oddly chosen powerband hampered my ability to truly enjoy the bike.
The FZ6′s cousin, the track-ready R6, revs to 16,500 rpm, which is great! But, there’s no reason for the FZ6 to redline at 14,000 rpm, which is simply too high for an upright sport bike. The FZ6 is seriously underpowered below 6,000 rpm. At that point, it starts to pull smartly, but most FZ6 riders won’t be spinning the bike that high around town. At the lower engine speeds, the bike is seriously sluggish when hitting the throttle. It almost feels like turbo lag.
This makes the bike tricky to ride in-town. If you shift up to put the engine into a relaxed state of revolution, the power isn’t there when you need it. I find the alternative of buzzing around town annoying.
In comparison, the Ducati Monster 695 redlines at 10,000 rpm and has plenty of power right off idle. A redline of 14,000 rpm makes sense on a track, but it’s wholly inappropriate for a bike aimed at commuters and more casual riders. If Yamaha would slide the powerband from 6k-14k to 2k-10k, they’d have a great bike. Instead, the flawed motor tuning repeatedly found me longing for an engine that matched the rest of the package.
Photos by Don Williams
Helmet: Icon Mainframe
Jacket: Icon Pursuit
Gloves: Icon TiMax TRX Long
Pants: Icon Anthem
Boots: Sidi Vertigo Corsa