Studied Poise

As tastes and trends evolve, so, too, can a particular model of motorcycle. This year, Yamaha repositions the venerable FZ1 from a naked bike inclined toward sport/touring, to a performer that cultivated a new affinity with the track-aimed R1 hyperbike. This is not to infer that it has become a narrowly focused motorcycle—on the contrary, Yamaha has simply sharpened the FZ1’s performance edge while retaining its ability to adapt itself to a wide variety of applications.

Helmet: Shoei X-Eleven Kayagama TC-5
Leathers: Spidi NRG Touring
Gloves: Spidi Tre Composite
Boots: Sidi Strada Evo Te-Por (Click image to enlarge)

This goal has been achieved via a diverse assortment of changes. The aging ’05 motor has been jettisoned, in favor of a retuned ’06-spec R1 powerplant. Horsepower and torque figures are therefore up from its predecessor, with those peaks coming at a slightly higher rpm. Although maximum horsepower of the new FZ1 is only 85-percent of the R1’s number, the five-valves-per-cylinder 998cc in-line four is still delivering nearly 150 horses to the rear wheel at an even 10,000 rpm. Peak torque is nearly the same as the R1, but it is delivered 2,500 rpm sooner. Gear ratios for the first four of the six speeds in the transmission are identical to the R1, and the top two have longer legs helping the motor feel less busy than before. Finally, the previously excellent Mikuni carburetors have been replaced by the R1 fuel injection system.

Additional power requires improvements in handling and suspension, so the FZ1 was blessed with a new all-aluminum chassis that dramatically increases rigidity over the previous tubular framed model. Handling is aided by a claimed dry weight reduction of 20 pounds, and it has also been shifted forward, reversing last year’s 51-percent rear/49-percent front weight bias. The engine is more compact, the swingarm longer and the exhaust shorter, emphasizing Yamaha’s commitment to centralizing the FZ1’s mass. The front wheel and discs share the same specifications as the R1’s components, and 43mm inverted Kayaba forks replace last year’s Yamaha/Soqi conventionals. Kayaba also supplants Soqi for rear suspension, though the new units are less adjustable, as compression damping is now fixed. Finally, the ergonomics are more compact and sport-oriented compared to ’05—the bars are now a bit lower and closer, and the footpegs moved higher and rearward. In a nod to enhanced high-speed comfort, the new windshield is over a half-inch taller. (Click image to enlarge)

Starting up with an absence of fuss thanks to the Mikuni EFI, attention can be focused upon the task at hand. The new riding position is not so extreme as to alarm an existing FZ1 owner; it is just sportier enough to notice and appreciate. The hand and foot controls are flawlessly positioned for intuitive manipulation. These attributes contribute to turning a ride on the FZ1 into a seemingly effortless activity. Once underway, the FZ1’s sole purpose as a mechanized genie is to fulfill every wish the rider can convey.

Contrary to the imposing engine performance figures, the power is delivered in a way that doesn’t bully the rider. As a result, riding the FZ1 at a casual pace is no less satisfying than taking it well into triple-digit speeds. Cruising down the local boulevard to a favorite coffee house is neither painful nor awkward, as is the case with the R1, although the EFI was sometimes a little abrupt when transitioning the throttle open from a fully closed position. For those who value the naked look, the potent motor is on display as a part of a newly aggressive styling package that draws welcome attention, even when parked. (Click image to enlarge)

After a reasonable dosage of caffeine and refined petroleum, both the rider and the FZ1 will be ready for the challenge of twisting roads, or an excursion on the local interstate to a friend living a town or three away. You see, the FZ1 is both a canyon-devouring sport bike, as well as a closet touring bike, thanks to comfortable ergonomics and a motor that is ultra-smooth in both power transfer and vibration. Yamaha Europe is less circumspect about the FZ1’s touring capabilities, offering removable hard luggage, a full fairing and a taller windshield; certainly, for long-distance riders, a weekend trip to your favorite Yamaha dealer in London will be in order. As delivered, 200-mile days on twisting roads are inviting, rather than daunting.

Aggressive sport riders will be elated with the FZ1 directly from the American showroom floors. The new chassis handles corners with precision and confidence. The FZ1’s Dunlops delivered the required controlled lean angle, in addition to a good contact patch for straight line, 150-horsepower-tapping acceleration. The chassis, thanks to its newfound rigidity, remains stable when pointed straight, despite the improved agility in turns. The FZ1’s lighter weight chimes in, and the overall neutrality of the handling allows the rider to transition through repeated S-turns at will. The positioning of the bars gives the rider a degree of leverage and dominance that persistently reminds him that he is in control of the FZ1, and not simply along for the ride. Because of the deserved focus on the handling and potent motor, you have to remind yourself to appreciate that the suspension and braking are also superb. Their essential duties are attended to so transparently, they escape your attention.

By infusing it with the studied poise of a balance beam gymnast, Yamaha has transported the FZ1 into a higher state of equilibrium. A rider need only guide the motorcycle into the realm he prefers at the moment, then let it excel. | 800.962.7926

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