Yamaha FZ8 Test
One could effectively make the argument that the term “confidence inspiring” has become a cliché. It shows up repeatedly in motorcycle reviews in this publication and beyond. However, the fact of the matter is-thanks to countless technological advancements in chassis, powerplant, suspension, and tire realms-motorcycles continue to expand the envelope of what a rider deems possible.
Accomplishments that were once the exclusive purview of the most skilled riders, be it dragging a knee in a turn or seeing 100 mph on the speedometer, have become commonplace. Calm self-assurance at triple digits has supplanted teeth-gritting steely faith. As riders, we are more confident than ever in our mounts.
This, of course, brings us to the 2011 Yamaha FZ8, one of the most confidence inspiring bikes I have ridden of late. Yamaha says “the FZ8 fills the gap for sport riders who feel a 600cc is too small and a 1000cc is too big.” While that seems hopelessly simplistic, I find it to be some of the most accurate ad-speak I have run across in a while.
Don’t get me wrong. I love 600s, though they do tend to be a bit lacking on the bottom end, increasing the rider effort required to go quickly. Liter-bikes are muscle-bound for the street, generally, particularly those of the four-cylinder persuasion. The four-cylinder 750 class, once a mainstay of the Japanese manufacturers, had virtually disappeared from the marketplace. However, with the difficult economic conditions, Yamaha looked to Europe for a new street bike in 2011, and the Yamaha FZ8 got the call to cross the Atlantic. I couldn’t be happier.
The success of the Yamaha FZ8 is the confluence of a highly forgiving chassis and a motor with a wide powerband. Riding at 10/10ths intensity on the street is both difficult and dangerous, so we tend to make small mistakes when selecting lines or managing the throttle in the real world. The FZ8 happily accommodates those mistakes, while concurrently rewarding precise riding when your focus is heightened.
Boasting roots in the Yamaha FZ1 and R1 franchises, the FZ8 still manages to carve out its own personality. The chassis numbers are quite similar to the FZ1, with matching specifications in the wheelbase, rake, trail, suspension travel, and seat height departments-all crucial statistics. The FZ8 does have a motor based on the FZ1 and previous generation, pre-Crossplane R1, and with smaller pistons and a different top end, it manages to shave 20 pounds off the FZ1. Add in a 10mm narrower rear tire and you have a bike that has similar handling characteristics to the FZ1, with the added benefit of being more nimble and manageable.
Lacking any sort of fairing, the FZ8 feels lighter than the other FZs when you board it, as it is truly a naked bike. The riding position on the FZ8 is slightly forward and more open than the FZ1, and is instantly comfortable. The Yamaha FZ8’s motor has the same stroke and 9mm smaller bores than the FZ1, giving it a less oversquare dimension, tilting power production toward torque.
Although power is delivered in a generally linear fashion, the FZ8’s powerplant has a strong operating range from 4000 rpm to the redline at 10,500. Ride it below 6k, and it is a competent, friendly motor that is superb for gliding through the canyons at a relaxed, though fairly rapid pace.
Let the FZ8 start to sing, and the sound that emits from the new dual-outlet single-muffler exhaust delivers that unmistakable inline-4 wail. It is a stirring prospect, made more inviting by its controllability due to the bike’s more modest displacement. The FZ8 will quickly exceed 100 mph as it enthusiastically runs through its flawless six-speed transmission, causing one to question any desire for more power.
The true magic behind the Yamaha FZ8 is the handling. Everything seems geared toward making the rider’s job as undemanding and intuitive as possible. The twin 310mm discs (a bit smaller than the Yamaha FZ1) feature monoblock calipers that have a pleasantly soft initial bite, but chomp down aggressively as lever pressure increases. Completely controllable, it allows the rider to dial in the braking at a rate that is tailor made to his wishes.
I found myself attracted to the 267mm rear disc’s performance-usually I rely on the front brake to the virtual exclusion of the rear. Perhaps it is an influence of the linked braking on the Honda CBR1000RR, which shows how effective a ginger application of the rear brake before the front can aid in keeping the chassis settled during deceleration. Whatever the reason, I used all three discs effectively. Only once did I get overly enthusiastic with the front, and I entered a corner with the rear tire in a controlled slide.
Turn-ins come naturally, with the FZ8 never over- or under-steered. The FZ8’s high-tech cast aluminum frame with a control-filled die-cast aluminum swingarm finds that elusive balance of flex and stability. The bike always ended up exactly where I intended. If where I pointed it turned out to be the wrong line-on an unexpected decreasing radius turn, for example-changing lines was as simple as the initial turn setup. The FZ8 is a highly willing accomplice with 51-percent of the weight on the front wheel.
Much praise needs to be given to the Bridgestone Battlax BT-021 tires. They may be billed as Sport Touring tires by Bridgestone, but the BT-021s never pushed and they allowed me to take the Yamaha FZ8 to its peg feelers with an unusually high sense of security. The dual compound tires’ feedback through the bars is superb and they are a perfect match for the FZ8 for the sort of riding one is likely to do on the street.
The FZ8’s KYB suspension is spot-on. In smooth corners, there is no wallowing or indecision. When the going gets rough, the suspension minimizes the disruption with well-chosen damping settings-a good thing, as the damping is non-adjustable. There is nothing resembling excessive diving during braking, though, as previously mentioned, the rear can get light when heavy on the front binders alone.
Hard braking did reveal perhaps the most significant flaw in the Yamaha FZ8, albeit one that is easily remedied. The overly soft seat is also quite slippery, making it almost impossible to hold position when you start to push hard. Also, there is an increasing slope in the back that makes it tough to place your bum against the rest except under serious acceleration, so you end up riding at the front of the seat, rather than in the more appropriate position farther back.
Additionally, the rubber-mounted footpegs have too-soft vibration-reducing ribbing, so they do not provide the solid platform you would like on a bike this sporty. The more-aggressive rider will certainly want to look at seat and peg upgrades.
From the moment you are astride the Yamaha FZ8 until you put it away after a day of canyon carving, this motorcycle is about smiles. You feel good when you’re riding it, and it provides the exhilaration of sport motorcycling without the dread of exhausting power production. The FZ6R is a superb entry-point, and the FZ1 is there for those who have a voracious demand for power that must be satisfied. For those in the middle, the highly accommodating and, I have to say it, confidence-inspiring Yamaha FZ8 places itself in a deliciously sweet spot.
- Helmet: Arai Vector-2 Marker Black
- Jacket: Joe Rocket UFO Solid
- Pants: Joe Rocket Rocket Jeans
- Gloves: Cortech Scarab Winter
- Boots: Icon Patrol Waterproof
Photography by Riles & Nelson