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Living with the Yamaha FZ-09, a great bike with a few nasty tendencies

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The Yamaha FZ-09 is one of the most exciting bikes released in the past year. It may not have the insane numbers of something like the KTM Super Duke 1290 or the sex appeal of the BMW R nineT, but at $8,000, the bang-for-your-buck value is at the top of the charts. I've been living with one for about six months now, and here's what I've come up with.

The bike

Saying this bike has incredible bang-for-your-buck value in no way means that the FZ-09 is either a budget motorcycle or boring in any way. We’re not talking about a sport-styled motorcycle with a watered-down, standard-styled engine. We’re talking about a legitimate urban sportbike.

The FZ-09 was designed basically from scratch, from the ground up, save for a few things like the blinkers and grips. The 847cc triple features tons of ingenuity, like uneven-length intake funnels to help broaden the torque curve and injectors bolted directly to the cylinder head to fire exactly where needed to improve throttle feel and keep the engine more compact.

If you want to read more about all the various specs, Yamaha’s product page has all the numbers you’ll ever need, plus a nice page discussing all of the various features. They were covered ad nauseum at the bike’s release and in all of the first-ride reports, so I’m not going to make you read them again. Here’s what you need to know: 414 pounds full of fuel, 115 horsepower, 65 foot-pounds of torque, 45 mpg.

Initial impressions

As I sat in the airport waiting for my flight home from the launch, a colleague called and asked me how the ride went. This bike had created a ton of buzz when it was announced, and everyone was curious to see how it stacked up.

"It’s the best thing ever!" I responded. "It’s absolutely incredible and blows everything else like it out of the water, and that’s before you factor in price. It’s also basically un-rideable and feels like it could be trying to kill me. This thing is so close. Someone just has to get it sorted."

After the initial launch, all of us journo-types had the same response. The fueling is extremely hard to modulate, especially in the transition from closed to open throttle, but also just in general. The suspension is way too soft and gets unsorted incredibly easy, and the front end dives to almost comical lengths under any sort of braking. The front brake has decent strength, but feels really squishy. Other than that, it’s one of the most fun things I’ve ever ridden. The torque is downright addicting and a handful of throttle always results in the biggest, stupidest grin you’ve ever seen. It’s a gorgeous bike aesthetically, the price is unbeatable, and there’s nothing else with that kind of power in that size.

I was in Philly this last week for a bunch of meetings with Anthony and the rest of the gang at the mothership. I walked in the door Monday morning and Eric, our resident track guru, grabbed me first thing and said he’d finally gotten a ride on the FZ. His response?

"Dude, I read your first-ride review when the bike launched and just thought you guys we’re trying to nitpick because, you know, you’re journalists. You were spot on. It both makes me want to sell my Street Triple and also makes me kind of terrified for my life. It could be so good though."

What’s the FZ-09 like to live with?

I’d hoped that spending some time with the FZ-09 would help me get used to her. I figured maybe I could tinker with the suspension and get it a little more sorted. However, I kid you not when I say that I weigh under 150 pounds, and it seems a little ridiculous that I should ever be trying to stiffen suspension settings on any stock motorcycle. Uncle Loomis never lets me forget that he’s eaten venison steaks bigger than me, so it seems fair to ask that motorcycles come with suspension prepared to handle my girth, at least. I’d also hoped that more seat time would help me adjust to the throttle sensitivity. It’s easy for us journos to get excited about the top-of-the-line bikes, but the FZ was something I could recommend to anyone. I really hoped it would grow on me.

Well, unfortunately, my feelings have not changed. It’s both the most amazing thing I’ve ridden, given its goals and price, and also absolutely terrifying to ride. I spend most of my time riding it in B mode, which limits the power and (more importantly) the throttle response. Trying to hustle this thing through the twisties is an exercise in both cojones and skill, as most rider inputs and any imperfection in the road set the chassis a-wobbling, which becomes quite unsettling.

That isn’t to say it’s all bad. Every single time I get on the bike, I’m struck by how slender and compact a package it is. It feels as light and nimble as the Duke 690, while still managing to feel fairly planted at freeway speeds up into the 80s. Above that, the front end does feel a little light, but it’s hard to require more from this little package.

I was able to get Yamaha to send me their aftermarket windscreen, which actually does a really nice job of keeping some of the wind off you, for its diminutive size. Buffeting is minimized enough that our fast, Southern California freeways don’t beat me up too badly, though I would love to see someone do a larger screen. I may just need to wait and see what the upcoming FJ-09 will be before thinking about trying to take this engine on any major trips.

The verdict

I’m so torn. At $7,990 the Yamaha FZ-09 is absolutely incredible. Its closest competition is the Triumph Street Triple, but that only makes 97 horsepower and 57 foot-pounds of torque. The Street Triple R comes with upgraded suspension and brakes, but costs $10,000. The intelligent rider knows that it’s the brakes, suspension, and fueling that make a bike fast, because of how they enable the rider to push the bike closer to its limits. If you want a naked bike and don’t want to have to do anything to it, the Street Triple R may be the choice for you.

The alternative is to spend around $2,500 to improve the suspension, brakes and fueling on the FZ-09, which means a little higher cost overall for the Yamaha. For my money, there’s no question that’s the way to go. I’ll spend the extra half a grand or slightly more for a bike with suspension that’s set up for my weight and has gobs more power every day of the week. In the end, you just can’t beat FZ-09’s torque.

Now, if only someone had a proven combination of parts to make that fix on the suspension, brakes and fueling… Here’s the teaser: I found the company, rode the bike with their fixes, and it’s mind-blowingly awesome. Stay tuned for more.

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