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Yamaha FZ-07 first ride: low price + light weight + quality looks = big deal

Fz-07-top

With the 2015 Yamaha FZ-07, Yamaha set out to make the perfect entry-level-ish all-rounder. During the initial presentation, the Yamaha team discussed how people who bought the FZ-07's competitors valued fuel economy, rider position, maneuverability, and light weight. Yamaha set out to build a bike that checks those boxes, but whose sum is far greater than its parts.

The bike

The 2015 Yamaha FZ-07 features an all-new, 689cc parallel twin engine that utilizes Yamaha’s Crossplane Concept 270-degree crank. Yamaha claims 75 horsepower and 50.2 foot-pounds of torque at 6,500 rpm. As with its big brother, the FZ-09, the 07 has cylinders that are offset by 7mm to reduce piston friction, which in turn increases fuel economy and decreases horsepower loss.

Compared to even Yamaha's own FZ6R, the FZ-07 is a winner in the fuel economy category. Yamaha says the FZ-07 will get 58 miles per gallon, which produces a range of 214 miles from the smallish 3.7-gallon tank, versus the FZ6R’s 197 miles from its larger 4.6-gallon tank. Nothing really competes with the FZ-07 in terms of fuel economy, until you get down to bikes like Honda's CB500 trio or the 250/300 class, which offers much less bike.

The FZ-07 frame and swingarm are also new. Yamaha used high-tensile steel for both and, by using techniques such as making the engine a stressed member of the frame and mounting the rear shock horizontally (which made the cross brace it normally attaches to unnecessary), has created a frame 11 pounds lighter than the FZ6R frame. That lightness, paired with the FZ-07’s very trim waistline, made the Yamaha feel like the KTM Duke 690 between my legs, despite Yamaha’s claimed 397-pound wet weight being 45 pounds heavier than the single-cylinder Duke.

Yamaha says the suspension has been “tuned for comfort and commuting.” The FZ-07 has KYB suspension front and rear, providing 5.1 inches of travel at each end. The front offers no adjustment, while the rear has a nine-position adjustment for spring preload. If you’re reading all that as “soft” and “low-spec,” then you read PR speak like I do. However, given the FZ-07’s MSRP of $6,990, basic suspension is to be expected. In this case, “low-spec” didn’t actually translate to “poor performing,” and I found the little Yamaha handled well, given its price tag and the market segment it will compete in.

At six feet tall and 150 pounds, I fit well on the FZ-07. Compared to the FZ-09, the bars are 24mm higher and 40mm further back. In addition, the seat is 10mm lower and the footpegs have been pushed forward 70mm and down 28mm. With all of these adjustments, the riding position is decidedly more casual feeling, which will also make it more confidence-inspiring for new riders. Seat height is 31.7 inches.

Stopping power is provided by a 245mm wave-type rotor and a single-piston caliper at the rear, and dual 282mm wave-type rotors with Monobloc four-piston calipers at the front.

Testing the FZ-07

We spent a day riding the 2015 Yamaha FZ-07 around Seattle and surrounding areas. We began our morning in the city, touring through Pikes Place so the guys could see the first Starbucks, and then hopped a ferry to Bainbridge Island. Once on the island, we rode a mix of around town, freeway, and twisty mountain roads to try to put the bike through all the kinds of riding buyers might be considering, which meant I had a pretty good day.

The engine is an absolute joy. After sitting through a presentation that in one sentence compared the FZ-07 to bikes like the Honda CB500F or Suzuki SFV650 and, in the next, talked about its fun and torquey character — I wasn’t sure what to expect. Torque is available instantly and pulls nicely up until about 7,000 rpm, where it starts to drop off. Even putting around town in fourth gear, I could let the bike dip under 2,000 rpm and it would still pull forward quickly when an opening popped up. There is some abruptness in the on-off throttle transition, but fueling is better than the FZ-09's.

The budget suspension held up nicely, despite the potholes, rain grooves, and whatever erratic riding I tried to throw at it. The decrease in weight, paired with the decrease in power, meant the bike didn’t shiver and shake nearly as much under throttle or normal braking as the FZ-09. For such a simple set up, I think it actually performed admirably.

Similarly, the brakes fit the bike’s performance envelope. As with the FZ-09, they still felt a bit soft and dive under heavy braking, but provided ample stopping power and were plenty for the job at hand.

Yamaha expects the FZ-07 to have a broad appeal, so the group of invited journalists was larger than usual and included not only the regulars from motorcycle magazines and web sites, but also writers from general-interest publications. The result was a somewhat slow pace. I was able to get in a few good runs during our photo section, but I definitely look forward to exploring more of what this bike is capable of in a less restricted ride.

Yamaha FZ-07 highlights

I have come to really enjoy and respect Yamaha’s approach to making an economical motorcycle. Instead of trying to include everything so the bike will compete on paper, they do the essentials well and leave off the rest. A bike like this doesn’t necessarily need ABS or fancy suspension, and I respect that they used the saved time and money to include a nice instrument panel or continue their design language through the rear swingarm (most of 'em just look like big chunks of metal). There is a lot of thought that goes into every aspect of their motorcycles as of late, and the result is that you never feel like you’re on a budget or parts-bin bike.

The 2015 Yamaha FZ-07 is a blast to ride and I cannot wait to get more time on it. Its size, improved fueling, appropriate suspension, and tractable engine meant I felt far more comfortable and actually rode faster on it than I would on its big brother in the twisties. Throw in a cheaper price tag and better gas mileage, and you have a real winner of a bike.

Yamaha mentioned that they see this bike as a nice “sporty” entry into motorcycling. While new riders will feel confident when swinging a leg over the FZ-07, calling it "entry-level" isn’t giving the FZ-07 enough credit for its chops. The “I’ll grow out of it” argument simply doesn’t apply.

Yamaha is also releasing a slew of surprisingly tasteful accessories for the FZ-07. One of the bikes at the launch had the engine guards, anodized accents, levers, and intake covers, and all of the added parts looked incredibly nice. I don’t know that I necessarily need the intake covers, but the rest were things I could totally see myself adding if I bought the bike. Yamaha has done a great job of releasing accessories simultaneously with the bike (they also released parts for the FZ-09 and Star Bolt), and it was nice to see the additions list mature a little.

Yamaha FZ-07 lowlights

I’m hard pressed to find much fault with the FZ-07. Yes, the brakes could be better and yes, the suspension could be better and offer more adjustment. Sure, the engine doesn’t quite pull into the top range or offer nearly the character of the FZ-09, but at this price, how could you expect it to?

My only real complaint is the new rider triangle. Yamaha’s argument is that they tried to make it even friendlier for new riders. Personally, I think the rider position on the FZ-09 offers a better balance between comfort for new riders and control at higher speeds. Riding the FZ-07, even at the incredibly slow speeds the Pacific Northwest people call “freeway speeds,” had me blowing in the wind.

The competition

Comparable naked motorcycles include the V-twin SFV650 mentioned above (more than $1,000 more expensive) and the Ducati Monster 696 (which cost $2,300 more and is no longer available in the United States). The Triumph Street Triple is approaching double the price and is less beginner-friendly. The KTM Duke 690 is an incredibly fun bike, but that giant single is insanely vibey, tickling my hands and feet so bad on the freeway I can barely hold on. The Duke may be more of a wheelie machine, but I think I would actually prefer the 07 and its wider powerband and gearing for sport riding, given my lazy nature.

Comparing the FZ-07 to any of the Honda 500s or other 650 twins really just doesn’t seem fair. It’s faster, lighter, generally higher in quality and nicer looking than those motorcycles, and is also less expensive than all of them except the CB500s.

The conclusion

If you’re a new rider and looking at bikes bigger than the 250s and 300s, get the CB500X if it feels right (it’s still an awesome bike, I just can’t say it’s better in any capacity), the FZ-07, or the Kawasaki Versys if you want to do mostly longer trips.

I can’t wait to dig deeper into this bike. It’s definitely deserving of some more time on a winding and desolate road, and I’m curious to see how some of the aftermarket products, such as the windscreen, change this bike’s nature at Los Angeles freeway speeds.

My real question is, will the FZ-07 and FZ-09 cannibalize sales from each other? After riding them, it’s apparent that they are two very similar looking yet very different motorcycles. I can see a lot of people who are drawn to the FZ-07 being talked into spending the extra grand for the FZ-09. Hopefully, new riders will realize that the “I’ll grow into it” argument is not the best approach to choosing a motorcycle, but it will be interesting to see.

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