While the Yamaha’s Fazer family has been a European mainstay since 1998, it’s still relatively new in Canada. For 2011 Yamaha has delivered the FZ8, a bike that owes much to its bigger and more brutish sibling the FZ1, and surprisingly little to the defunct FZ6. That positions the bike to be novice and intermediate rider friendly, so it needs to be both frisky (or even occasionally ferocious) and friendly all at once.
Rather than start from scratch, Yamaha’s largely chosen to tame the beast that is the FZ1, which is a trick they’ve not managed previously… in a viciously fun sense. Chassis, swingarm and a majority of the engine’s components are identical between the FZ8 and FZ1 models. With both lifting the 2008 R1’s bottom end and gearbox, but the new FZ8 gets a lighter cranks for faster engine spin up, a reduced bore bringing the 779cc capacity and a four-valve head design rather than the FZ1’s five-valve.
So new riders coming to the FZ8 could play the machismo displacement game and cite R1 credentials to save face, while veering away from the 600cc-sportbikes that 20-something new riders and emergency doctors know and love. Sitting a rider upright and comfortably the FZ8 will give new(er) riders a fighting chance at seeing the dangers around them in comparison to a craning and straining sportbike head-down-ass-up seating position.
The second big advantage for all riders is the FZ8’s power delivery. Usable off the line grunt is delivered from as low as 3500RPM. That’s a result of Yamaha focusing on strong bottom end power development to make the 8 user-friendly, and below 6,000RPM the FZ8 responds with a smooth and fluid power delivery. When you feel the fire though spin the tacho past mid-way, and the FZ8 shoots a towards the horizon (and the red-line) in fast and revvy inline four fashion.
So, there’s no pretense to those streetfighter looks as the engine is more than willing to drive the FZ8 out of corners with solid top end punch. Of course, inheriting the FZ1 chassis, means the FZ8 has no problems keeping it all together. And having four piston calipers biting the twin disks upfront, tame the estimated 110hp and 61ft.lb.
There is some penny pinching here though. The FZ8’s inverted forks aren’t adjustable and the rear shock only offers preload as an adjustment, but even pushed hard the ride quality, security and control aren’t compromised. Though hard bits do start to drag as the nimble and responsive FZ8 carves a mean corner and transitions neutrally through the turns.
Sparks are fun… Except during forest fire season when they are dead serious.
The bike doesn’t feel budget, but there are some dodgy bits. Namely the signals and license plate treatments that seem to have been lifted from a mid-80’s parts bin, and some $1.49 Canada Tire hoses hang off the sides of the engine. Ok, and a few more dollars worth of foam and design per unit could go into the seat. In reality the saddle don’t deserve the drubbing it has received from the Canadian press; it’s fine for around town which is a naked bikes natural habitat, lets you slide around to hang off easily, and is good for a few hours worth of highway work at a time. Don’t worry the 17L tank needs periodic filling ensuring rest breaks.
Highway work isn’t the FZ8’s bag though… If the words “naked” or “streetfighter” didn’t give it away there is next to no wind protection. The instrument cluster sits within easy eyeshot behind a small headlight cowling, and is readable at a quick glance. Actually that sort of attention to human factors and harmonious feel permeates the FZ8, as does a comforting feeling of quality and solidity.
Visually, the jury’s out on the dual-port exhaust. Not so the striking streetfighter silhouette that several of our associates mistook for being “another piece of Italian metal”. The black and gold colour scheme of our tester only reinforced that European feel. So overall the looks are attention grabbing.
With a $10,499 (MSRP) FZ8 may have already won the biggest battle it will face in the current Canadian market. The Yamaha is a hair less than its Japanese competition like Suzuki’s GSX1250FA (nay, Bandit) sitting at $11,799, while Kawasaki’s Z1000 lurks menacingly on the show room floor for $13,199 and Honda’s CBF1000 starts at $12,999. More worrisome is that “premium” brands are sitting nearby in the entry-to-intermediate rider’s niche. For example, Ducati’s Monster 796 starts at $11,495 and the Hypermotard 796 hits the same MSRP, while BMW’s F800R (stripped bare of accessories) starts at $9,990. The ride experience of the FZ8 however gives all these other offerings a tussle.
As one would expect from the name and displacement the Yamaha FZ8 is a fusion of the best of 600 and 1000cc worlds. That’s created a bike that’s near ideal for novice riders ready to step up from their learners bikes or intermediate riders, either of whom are seeking ‘big bike’ credit, near-sportbike grins in the twisties, and a hint of upright practicality. In that sense 8 is the new 6, though it feels closer to a 10.