2013 Yamaha FZ8 Test
Compromise is not a very attractive word. It conjures up a wishy-washy image and implies that the subject in question isn’t very much good in any way at all – but it will do.
So, when I say the new Yamaha FZ8 is the perfect compromise, I think you will expect the worst. That would be a shame, because I have had more fun on this brilliant little motorcycle than I can remember for a long time.
The FZ8 falls neatly between Yamaha’s upright novice-friendly FZ6R and the potent FZ1. As a horsepower snob, it was easy for me to assume that the smaller engine would be a disappointment. Boy, was I wrong.
The 779cc four-cylinder mill spins up incredibly willingly to its 11,500 redline and feels more like a liter-bike with the crazy edge taken off than a peppy 600. The motor is uncannily smooth, and the few vibes it does produce are well insulated from the rider.
Four 35mm throttle bodies and excellent fuel mapping feed the engine, and the inner cylinders’ intake tracts are 25mm longer than the outside pair, helping maximize the engine’s impressive mid-range punch. A new-for-2013 single muffler looks good and is positioned so it helps with centralization of mass.
Power delivery is linear, and the throttle connection is excellent. The 16-valve motor has more than enough torque at the lower end of the rpm range for riding in traffic, yet if you want a burst of speed it is only a quick gear change away.
At around 6500 rpm, something happens in the engine room and the FZ8 goes into warp drive. It doesn’t quite have the beans to loft the front wheel, but the bike absolutely doesn’t feel like it is lacking either. In fact, on the street where irregular road surfaces and patchwork tarmac can catch you unawares, the marginally lessened danger of a highside inspires enough confidence that I was able to hit the power more aggressively than usual on corner exits.
On one twisting and turning deserted section of Central California highway that I rode for over an hour at speeds my mother wouldn’t approve of, the close-ratio six-speed gearbox tapped out a tune, the FZ8 sang its heart out at pretty much redline all the way. The power was smooth and enough; the motor never felt overly stretched.
The advantage of a motor with such great power delivery is that the gearing is always about right. Aided by a creamy gearbox with minimal lever movement, the FZ8 will go up and down the ratios so quickly and easily that I was always in the right gear. On slightly less insane roads, second and third gears are ideal, and the motor’s excellent spread of power makes fast cruising a pleasure.
Even with my hard riding, the FZ8 returned an average of 46 mpg, and it was only by thrashing it mercilessly did the fuel consumption dip into the 30s. On long rides with my friends, I never quite managed to get even three gallons into the 4.5-gallon tank. At the end of a day, it was very satisfying to have used not much more than half the amount of gas as my partners-in-crime.
The FZ8 is a whole lot more than its engine, to be sure. Ergonomically the FZ8 feels compact – not cramped. The short fuel tank makes for minimal reach to the bars, and its slim-waist at the rear is easy to grip, although this is the one area where the engine’s slightly buzzy vibes can be felt. I opted to not grip the tank and relax.
Leaning in to the perfectly shaped, shoulder-width tubular handlebar, the FZ8 is just incredibly comfortable. The riding position is aggressive while still upright, and the front-end weight bias of 51-percent contributes to the spectacular handling. The footpegs aren’t quite mid-mounted, but they are not overly rear-set either, and the rubber footrests absorb any engine buzz.
Yamaha gave the seat a revised textured cover this year, and suede-like side panels improve grip. Unlikely though it sounds, the seat is one of the most comfortable I have ever used. Day-long rides can be tackled with aplomb. Any saddle will have you wriggling a bit by day’s end, but the FZ8 seat has the perfect blend of firmness at the front and with a deeper, plusher feel at the back. Sliding your riding position slightly is all that is needed to keep you feeling good.
The cast aluminum frame uses the engine as a stressed member and gives the chassis its excellent longitudinal rigidity. With 25 degrees of rake and 4.3 inches of trail, the FZ8 definitely has sporting steering geometry, but it is fairly relaxed compared to Yamaha’s YZF-R6 supersport bike, which has a degree less rake. A little more than three extra inches of wheelbase over the R6 means it is stable and reassuring to ride fast, yet the length doesn’t hinder the FZ8′s agility.
The big change for 2013 is adjustable suspension. The new 43mm inverted forks allow you to set compression and rebound damping, along with spring preload. The rear shock omits the compression damping, but this suspension package addresses the one weakness of last year’s version – a little softness at the rear. Now, the FZ8 can be dialed in to preference, and the fabulous, neutral handling can be fully exploited.
Five-spoke cast aluminum wheels, with a conventional 120mm front and 180mm rear tire, are just what you’d expect on a bike like this, and they work as anticipated. The Bridgestone Battlax tires stick until the peg feelers touch down when riding hard. As the pegs fold willingly, I removed the feelers for a bit more cornering clearance.
The 310mm front disc brakes are monobloc four-piston calipers, but they are “gasp” not radial. While a handicap on the track, the brakes had tons of feel for street riding and were never wanting for power.
Yamaha’s new FZ8 is a perfect example of how compromise can benefit the motorcycle rider when done well – it excels on every front. Equally at home going slow in an urban setting as it is comfortable droning on a boring highway, the FZ8 will blaze through any type of twisty road you ask of it and fill you with amazing confidence. Truly, the FZ8 is a magical motorcycle.
Photography by Don Williams
This story is featured in the May/June 2013 issue of Ultimate MotorCycling magazine — available on newsstands and good bookstores everywhere. The issue is also available free to readers on Apple Newsstand (for iOS devices) and Google Play (Android). To subscribe to the print edition, please visit our Subscriber Services page.