2014 Yamaha FZ-09 Test
As hooligan bikes go, the all-new 2014 Yamaha FZ-09 is one of the very best. It is light, torquey, and its upright ergonomics encourage wheelies, stoppies, rear-slides, and the sort of generally appalling behavior that will have the local constabulary take not just a dim view, but also your license.
I should know better. But with my British DNA making itself felt once more, I swung a leg over this gnarly little machine, my brain clicked over into stupid mode (not a huge leap, it has to be said), and I grinned like an idiot in anticipation of what was about to come.
Now when I say “little” in reference to the FZ-09, it can actually be a bit misleading, because this bike is certainly not small. Yet, with a claimed curb weight of just 414 pounds, an upright, wide-handlebar stance, and one of the snappiest motors in its class, the FZ-09 is so insanely responsive that it’s easy to think of it as “small.” That’s a good thing.
Supermoto ergonomics are based on dirt bikes, of course, and the FZ-09’s riding position is clearly influenced by that genre. Yamaha sensibly made sure the handlebar is not too wide, so the FZ-09 feels more like an ideal urban assault vehicle with some dirt bike influence, rather than a refugee from a motocross track.
Another area of good design sense is the reasonable seat height. Although it is the typical 32 inches—the same as the FZ8—the seat and tank come together in a very narrow waistline, so most people will find it easy to plant both feet at the traffic lights. Yamaha offers an accessory comfort seat for those intending to do long distances and, although the standard seat is not uncomfortable, something with a bit more padding is always welcome.
Still, the real buzz to this bike is the motor. This isn’t the first triple from Yamaha — I loved my XS750 back in the day — but this motor is all-new and shares no parts in common with any other Yamaha engine. The DOHC, 12-valve motor displaces 847cc and averaged an impressive 44 mpg for me over two days. Yamaha has included its brilliant Cross-plane Crankshaft Concept from the R1, and the FZ-09 has a 240-degree even-firing motor.
The engine is beautifully smooth; unlike a four, it has no buzz at high revs, so revving to its 11,250 redline isn’t fatiguing. It is balanced by a shaft that doubles as the water-pump drive to keep the power-plant narrow and the weight down.
The cylinder block is offset 5mm behind the crankshaft axis, so when the piston is at top dead center it is already starting its downward path. As you might imagine, this optimizes engine response and low-down torque. Indeed, the engine revs in an instant; it feels as though it has very little flywheel weight and this only adds to the lightning quick throttle response.
There is a neat combo kill-switch/ starter button; push it and the FZ-09 starts immediately and quickly settles into a quiet burble at idle. As soon as I pull away into traffic, the growling engine note coming from the shorty 3-into-1 exhaust becomes a cool sotto-voce drone that is (naturally) a cross between the R1 and any of the Triumph or MV Agusta triples.
Yamaha’s excellent fueling taps the motor’s claimed 65 ft/lbs of torque almost too well. Fortunately, the D-Mode function of the ride-by-wire throttle allows for three fuel map choices that can be toggled through on the fly.
STD (Standard) is the default reverted to each time the engine is switched off. “A” mode is noticeably more responsive, and so snappy that it is really only suitable for the open road. “B” mode reduces the engine’s response, making it ideal for around-town riding.
The upshot is that expert riders will find the FZ-09 incredibly reactive and precisely what they want and expect. Riders not quite so good at feathering the throttle — especially in the lower gears — can quickly go to herky-jerky if they are not careful, and especially if they haven’t selected B mode.
The clutch and six-speed transmission are both light and easy to operate; the cable-actuated clutch has good bite in just the right place.
Handling comes courtesy of a very narrow die cast aluminum chassis that uses the engine as a stressed member for rigidity and light weight. 41mm inverted forks and the single KYB linkage rear shock are adjustable for spring preload and rebound damping.
The stock settings make the suspension positively plush, and that helped the FZ-09 feel great on some truly heinous street surfaces. Landing wheelies and stoppies didn’t faze the chassis or suspension one bit, and even getting small air over some of the extreme elevation changes was soaked up.
The handling is very neutral and, due to the FZ-09’s light weight and upright handlebar, it turns in very, very quickly. A couple of times on the open road it caught me out a little, forcing me to bring the bike back up in mid-corner.
The foot controls are mid-positioned and easy to use, and ground clearance hasn’t been compromised much. I managed to deck the peg-feelers on each side a couple of times, but that was at an extreme pace on a twisty road.
The frame is narrow behind the motor, and the gull-wing swing arm is externally mounted. It is a great innovation that looks cool and gives much more clearance for my heel when rotating my foot on the pegs when turning into a corner.
For the fastest of twisties I cranked up the suspension to the maximum preload and rebound damping settings. To my pleasant surprise, the suspension retained its compliance, yet it was stiff enough to give the FZ-09 a solid feel and confident handling at speed. My personal preference is for softer springing and firm damping, and this Yamaha delivers exactly that; it was nice to keep my kidneys and teeth fillings intact no matter what kind of road surface I found myself on.
The nimble handling is aided by ten-spoke aluminum cast wheels shod with either Dunlop or Bridgestone tires. The rear size is a 180/55—a great compromise and perfect for this motor and chassis.
Radially mounted four-piston Advics front calipers on 298mm floating discs handle braking at the front, aided by a Nissin brake for the rear. The marginally reduced front rotor size keeps unsprung weight down, though in operating terms you will never notice the difference. Feel at the lever is ideal, with a not-too-sharp initial bite and excellent linear power that increases intuitively as you squeeze.
Overall, the FZ-09 oozes good build-quality. Small touches like tapered aluminum bars, aluminum foot controls, the digital gear indicator on the excellent instruments, and LED rear lights, belie the machine’s price — it is an astonishing $900 cheaper than the FZ8 it replaces. The radial brakes, fully adjustable suspension, and overall ride of the bike reinforces the impression that this is a high quality machine.
I had read the hype and I was greatly looking forward to experiencing this motorcycle. Happily, it didn’t disappoint in any way; the FZ-09 is simply, and utterly brilliant. After thrashing the bike mercilessly, I realized why the 2014 Yamaha FZ-09 had made such a positive impression on me and touched my hooligan soul. It brought back the essence of why I ride — laugh out loud fun.
Photography by Tom Riles
- Helmet: Arai Defiant Character
- Jacket: AGV Sport Solare
- Gloves: AGV Sport Vortex
- Pants: AGV Sport Solare
- Boots: Sidi fusion air
Story from the November/December issue of Ultimate MotorCycling magazine. For a digital version, click here.