There is a general consensus among riders whose years in the saddle rival the number of states in the union. Starting small and working up is the tried and true method for learning the ropes on two wheels. Just as in sports, learning the fundamentals builds the foundation on which all other skills are formed. Motorcycling is no different.
But when you look at what's currently available for the beginning rider the options don't look so appealing. Small displacement motorcycles (except for the Kawasaki Ninja 250) look dated, bland and—dare I say—pathetic. So what, then, makes for the perfect bike for a beginner? From a technical standpoint, the machine needs to have a low seat height, manageable power and be lightweight and maneuverable. Any manufacturer can build a bike that satisfies those demands, but there's so much more to this decision than a spec sheet. And this was the challenge Yamaha faced with the FZ6R.
Better Late Than Never
In doing its market research, Yamaha learned that it's losing a large percentage of new riders because there wasn't anything in its lineup that appealed to them other than the supersports like the R6 and R1. Both of which are anything but beginner friendly. Not only in performance, but also in price. And no, I didn't forget about the original FZ6 but let's face it, that bike won't be winning beauty pageants any time soon. And when it comes to new bike purchases, especially for beginners, style counts.
In order to meet the desired...
In order to meet the desired pricepoint, the non-adjustable Soqi fork and twin-piston Akebono pin-slide calipers are used instead of more exotic fare. Given their low-tech nature, each performs admirably, with the fork a bit on the soft side.
Upon further investigation, it was discovered that potential new or first-time buyers weren't interested in naked motorcycles. With that in mind, what came next was relatively simple: Create a fully faired version of the FZ6 that the masses could afford. And here it is. Actually that's a bit misleading; the FZ6R doesn't share many common parts with its partially naked sibling other than the engine—and even that's slightly tweaked. In the interest of value, the FZ6R's frame and swingarm is comprised entirely of steel with the engine solidly-mounted as a stressed member. Suspension and brake components are also rather standard fare; a conventional, non-adjustable 41mm Soqi fork lies out front while a preload adjustable Soqi shock rests out back. Dual twin-piston, pin-slide calipers bite on 298mm disks up front and a single-piston caliper is mated to a single 245mm disk in the rear. Definitely not supersport technology, but that's not the point.
The point is to create a motorcycle that's easy to ride above all else. One major turnoff for new rider confidence is not being able to touch the ground. This is addressed by way of an adjustable seat height and handlebar controls—a first in its class. At its lowest setting the seat is a mere 30.9 inches above the ground, allowing even the shortest of riders to plant a foot firmly on the ground at a stop. For the taller folks the seat can also be raised 20mm simply by readjusting the stops underneath the seat. The handlebars, too, can be moved 20mm forward of the stock location (which is already 12mm lower and rearward than the standard FZ6) to accommodate a wide variety of body types. It's a simple process, and all tools necessary to make the changes are included in the toolkit.
This diagram gives an idea...
This diagram gives an idea of just how much 20mm of seat adjustment really means. Coupled with the adjustable handlebars, riders of all shapes and sizes should be able to find a comfortable position.
And that leads us to the heart of any motorcycle: the engine. For years now, the current crop of twin cylinder, low-horsepower engines has really been the only option available for new riders, and with most of today's supersports all being powered by inline four-cylinder engines, it's easy to associate engine configurations with presumed skillsets. The FZ6R debunks that myth. Yes, it's powered by what is essentially the same inline four that took the previous generation YZF-R6 (or what is currently the YZF-R6S) to multiple 600 Supersport championships, but Yamaha took great lengths to retune it. Throttle body size has been reduced to 32mm (from 36) compared to the FZ6. A new cylinder head with a narrowed intake port increases intake air flow speed, and revised valve timing coupled with reduced valve lift all make for a user-friendly engine with emphasis placed on low-end torque and drivability instead of peak horsepower lunacy.
Yeah, But Does It Work?
A steel frame cradles an engine...
A steel frame cradles an engine that was once a Supersport champion. Only now it’s softer and easier to harness than its racing descendent could ever be. Note also the underbelly exhaust, positioned for optimum weight centralization, and the 7-step, preload adjustable shock.
Though horsepower and torque figures weren't available to us, the butt dyno indeed confirmed that the FZ6R is in fact a gentle bike as we rode it through central California's scenic roads. Fuel injection was virtually seamless throughout the route, which included some slow-speed switchbacks—where part throttle applications are important. Keeping the engine in its sweet spot between 3,000 and 7,000 revolutions means quick, responsive propulsion, but much beyond that and it starts to lose steam. Rowing through the gears is also a snap as each component of the gearbox simply works without much fuss. From the clutch lever, which takes practically zero effort to pull, to the seamless operation of the shift lever from cog to cog, the FZ6R is just an easy bike to ride.
To accommodate a wide range...
To accommodate a wide range of riders the handlebars and seat are adjustable. Adjustment of the bars is as simple as removing the clamps, turning them 180-degrees and reinstalling. The eccentric location of the mounting bolt on the clamp provides 20mm of movement.
In fact, everything about the 6R is just easy. The moment you hop on board, the low seat height and compact rider triangle between the bars, seat and pegs instills confidence and makes for a bike that a new rider will think is anything but threatening. True, many of the other beginner bikes offer that too, but the difference here is that there's still enough performance to keep the bike interesting as a new rider's skillsets improve. When the road stops going straight, the leverage that the handlebars provide really help when turning the bike, especially since turn-in is a tad on the slow side, but that's only when the pace starts to get hot. Surprisingly, despite the budget suspension the 6R doesn't experience much of the "pogo" effect when cornering that is often a major concern with bottom-shelf components, though overall damping of the suspension leans on the soft side. The pin-slide calipers also don't provide earth-shattering stopping power, but they get the job done and feel at the lever is adequate. Then again, for right around seven grand there really isn't much to complain about.
That's right, seven large is all the FZ6R will set you back and it's available in four colors: Team Yamaha Blue/White, Cadmium Yellow, Raven, and a Pearl White which is aimed directly at you female riders—a segment that's rapidly getting off the passenger seat and jumping at the controls. And while buying a brand new machine is generally not a good idea for a first bike, if you absolutely must then it's hard to overlook the Yamaha. It does everything an entry-level motorcycle should; it's unintimidating, has low-end power that's easily manageable and also has enough in reserve to keep the ride interesting as the miles—and experience—rack up. It's impressive, no doubt, but we'll have to wait and see how it stacks up against Kawasaki's Ninja 650R and Suzuki's new Gladius before we can really call it a winner.
Let the beginner-bike wars begin!
Liquid-cooled, 4-stroke, DOHC inline four
Bore x Stroke:
65.5 x 44.5mm
Mikuni EFI, 32mm throttle bodies, one injector/cyl.
120/70R-17 Bridgestone BT021 / Dunlop Roadsmart
160/60R-17 Bridgestone BT021 / Dunlop Roadsmart
26 deg./4.1 in. (103.5mm)
56.7 in. (1440mm)
Claimed wet weight:
30.90 in. (785mm)
4.6 gal. (17.30L)