Personally, I didn’t want to like the new Yamaha FZ-10.
Over the past year, I have grown quite fond of the 847 cc three-cylinder engine in the Yamaha FZ-09. I was certain that no bike powered by an inline four-cylinder was going to provide a visceral thrill to match that wild-child triple.
I got my chance to test that theory in the southernmost tip of the Smoky Mountains, where some of the best roads in the country are nestled in the mountains along the border of North Carolina and Tennessee. It was there that Yamaha unveiled the new flagship of its FZ line, the FZ-10.
Yamaha’s FZ line consists of naked, streetfighter-style sport bikes. Unlike the fully faired, track-bred, “R” line, the FZ-07, FZ-09 and now the FZ-10 feature minimal bodywork, handlebars instead of clip-ons, and a more relaxed, upright body position.
Over the past three years, Yamaha has completely reworked this entire line of bikes from the ground up. They started with the newly designed 847 cc triple engine in the FZ-09, abandoning the inline-four platform that had previously dominated the model line. This trend continued with the introduction of the FZ-07 and its all-new parallel twin. When it was announced that the FZ-10 would replace the FZ-1, we learned it would be powered by the same 998 cc Crossplane four-cylinder found in the new YZF-R1.
Exiting our hotel and pulling onto Route 28 in North Carolina, the long sweeping curves began immediately. The FZ-10’s throttle modes regulate how the power is delivered and Yamaha confused us all by changing the designation of the modes from those found on the FZ-09, FJ-09, and XSR900. Standard mode now elicits the mildest response from the engine while B mode offers the most aggressive. A mode, which falls in between the two, seemed to offer the perfect compromise of throttle response and power delivery and it’s where I spent most of my time.
Engine internals have been changed compared to the R1 to deliver more low- and mid-range torque. Everything from new camshafts, pistons, injectors, and intake valves to revised intake ports and a larger air box work together to accomplish this.
Low in the rev range, the FZ-10 doesn’t hit as hard as the triple found in the FZ-09 (as well as the FJ-09 and XSR900). Instead, you have to spin the engine before it comes to life, but when it does, watch out. In A mode, the engine woke up around 6,000 rpm and from there a big, flat torque curve means the bike pulls like a freight train to the 12,200 rpm redline.
Going into this ride, I was concerned that the FZ-10’s power would be overkill for street use. However, I was impressed with how civilized and balanced it came across. The power delivery and sound remind me a lot of my old gear-driven Honda VFR800, just with a lot more oomph! It winds up smoothly and predictably with gobs of midrange torque that will have you laughing inside your helmet. If only you could get it out of third gear.
On the twisty mountain roads, I spent a lot of time getting very familiar with the first three gears and very little time with fourth through sixth. The internal gearing is identical to that of the R1 while final gearing has been revised to give you an additional two teeth on the rear sprocket in an effort to get power to the asphalt a bit quicker.
On the tight stuff, you never need more than the first two gears. Through long sweepers, it isn’t until you glance down and see that you’re nearing triple digits that you’ll finally need to bump from third into fourth gear. Shifting was perfectly smooth with a light clutch pull aided by the slipper-assist clutch.
I wish that Yamaha had included an adjustable clutch lever. Even with my long fingers, I would have liked to bring it a click or two closer to the bars. I imagine that riders out there with a shorter reach will have to upgrade this piece.
A lot of people have been asking questions on Instagram about overall fuel mileage. After filling up twice, I was averaging about 29 mpg, but that's misleading. This mileage reflects spending nearly the entire day in the top fourth of the rev range in second and third gear. I would imagine sport-touring folks out there tackling highway miles would have a better result by locking in the electronic cruise control in sixth gear.
The electronics on the FZ-10 have more in common with the FJR1300 and the R1 than the FZ lineup. The electronic cruise control appears identical to the FJR1300's and can be activated in fourth through sixth gear, as long as the bike is traveling between 31 mph and 112 mph. Those of you looking to cruise at 115 mph are stuck using your right hand, at least until the point where you're arrested.
The traction control on this bike is derived from the R1. The FZ-10 has four levels of interference. Level one allows riders to loft the front wheel and ride extremely aggressively, with level two offering up only a bit more regulation of one’s hooliganism. Level three offers the highest level of interference and is intended for wet or slippery conditions. The fourth setting allows the rider to disable the system completely. I spent my entire day in level one and never once found the need to disable traction control completely in order to act foolish.
As I mentioned earlier, the FZ-10 also has three throttle modes to choose from. I like the fact that the system remembers your preferred throttle and traction control settings after turning off the ignition.
In an effort to keep costs down, the electronics package is not as advanced as the R1's. This means no inertial measurement unit (IMU) or high-tech dash readout. I can live without these features, as Yamaha had to cut costs somewhere, but it would have been awesome to see the FZ-10 get the R1's quickshifter. There was some debate over lunch as to whether it would be available as an optional accessory and I think the jury is still out for the time being.
This is the one area where the FZ-10 left me wanting more. I was expecting more bite from the brakes as these, too, were lifted straight off the R1.
The main difference between the two bikes is the master cylinder. Where the R1 utilizes a Nissin radial master cylinder, the FZ-10 gets a Brembo unit. The result is a very soft initial bite when you’re coming in hot. You need to make sure you’re ready to give a nice strong pull on the lever to slow this bad boy down.
The brakes do feature ABS, which is going to be a positive for riders disappointed by the lack of ABS on the FZ-09. The system is not linked and has dual front Advics four-piston calipers clamping down on 320 mm rotors and a rear single-piston caliper with a 220 mm rotor. ABS engaged a few times and I was impressed by the smoothness with which it operated, never causing the bike to feel unsettled.
Unlike full bike reviews, where we get extended time with the bikes to really dig into them, first ride reviews at press events leave us with little to no time to make adjustments. With that being said, this was the first time I have ever gotten on a completely new machine and felt as if it was professionally set up for my 205 pounds.
The FZ-10 shares the aluminum frame and sub-frame with the R1 and I was impressed by how well this setup instilled confidence through the curves while hiding speed. After a few glances down at the speedo, I found I was traveling much faster through the corners than I thought.
While the KYB fork and rear shock come straight from the R1, they receive different internals. They remain fully adjustable for preload, compression, and rebound damping, but the front fork receives a softer spring while the rear shock receives a heavier one. There is also an electronic steering damper hidden under the triple tree that automatically makes adjustments according to speed. The result is a ride that is tailored to better absorb the bumps and bruises of the street. Other than a few tar snakes, softened by the southern sun, nothing seemed to upset this bike.
One of my concerns for riders who are considering the FZ-10 for two-up sport-touring is being able to make the needed adjustments for varied loads. While adjusting the preload to accommodate additional weight is easy enough on the front fork, the rear shock’s lock rings look as if they might require a bit of knuckle busting to reach. This bears mention because Yamaha already has an optional windscreen and luggage in the works for people who wish to turn the FZ-10 into a sport-touring machine.
The other thing I found peculiar was the fact that Yamaha mentioned the FZ-10’s sub-frame was changed to steel to better accommodate the weight of a passenger and luggage. However, according to the spec sheet, the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) of the FZ-10 is 838 pounds, while that of the R1 is 853 pounds. Factor in that the FZ-10 weighs in at 463 pounds wet, nearly 25 pounds more than the R1, and the FZ actually seems to be significantly less capable of handling the additional load.
If these numbers are correct, in order to use the FZ-10 for two-up sport-touring I am going to have to do one of three things: 1. Go on a diet. 2. Carry less gear. 3. Find smaller passengers. (That means no more of this. Sorry, Lem.)
Ergonomics and styling
By the end of the day, I was able to log about 225 miles on this bike before I had to give it back. I could have easily tackled another 225 without hesitation. At six feet, three inches tall, I found there to be plenty of overall room to accommodate my larger build without feeling cramped.
During a stop to address a nail in the tire of one of our test bikes, Troy Siahaan at Motorcycle.com pointed out that he was having problems with his heels coming into contact with the rear passenger peg on the right side. While I, too, have flipper-sized feet, I don’t ride far enough back on the balls of my feet to notice this problem. The one nice thing about the FZ-10 (unlike the Ducati Monster 821) is that the passenger pegs are easily removed via two Allen head bolts.
I think Yamaha took a gamble with the aggressive styling of this motorcycle. As I sit here typing, my dad (and fellow rider) is looking over my shoulder, commenting on how hideous this bike looks. You could argue that my father is not the target audience, and beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but Yamaha has to find enough consumers who behold this bike favorably enough to open their checkbooks.
So is this a worthy FZ flagship?
At $12,999, the FZ-10 can either be viewed as an affordable and more street-oriented alternative to an R1 or a premium upgrade over the FZ-09. At nearly $5,000 more than the FZ-09, the question becomes, is it worth it?
If the FZ-09 is a rebellious teenager with a predilection for Sex Pistols records, the FZ-10 is a college graduate who prefers the sounds of The Gaslight Anthem. The FZ-10 is mature enough to realize that just because it can kick your ass and steal your girl, that doesn’t mean it should.
You could buy an FZ-09, dump a load of time and money into upgrades and you still wouldn’t end up with a bike as confident and capable as the FZ-10. However, the FZ-10 can’t match the FZ-09’s “kick you in the throat and steal your lunch money” low-end punch. It comes down to what you’re looking for and what you can afford.
As I said in the beginning, I didn't expect to like the FZ-10. I didn't think an FZ powered by an inline-four would surpass the fun of the triple. After a day in the Smokies with the new FZ flagship, I have to say: I was wrong.