Between 1908 and 1927, the Ford Motor Company produced and sold one of the most well-known automobiles of all time — the Model T, a car that Henry Ford himself claimed to be “for the great multitude.” The Model T was propelled by a capable 22-horsepower engine that could be pushed to around 45 mph, adequately handled the primitive roads of the time and thanks to low production costs, was sold for a price that most middle-class citizens could afford (towards the end of its 19-year production run, the Model T sold for as little as $290). In a way, Yamaha intends the 2011 FZ8 to be the current-day equivalent of the Model T: Simple, tough and cheap.
Not quite an all-new design
It’s fair to say that the FZ8 is not a true all-new design. After all, the bike’s geometry has been pulled directly from that of its literbike sibling, the FZ1. But in a sense, the FZ1 was nothing more than a platform for the FZ8, since the new bike features revised ergos, a reconfigured engine and an aggressive street-fighter look that makes it feel right at home in an urban environment.
Perhaps the only thing more aggressive than the FZ8’s less-is-more streetfighter look is its newly designed 779cc engine, which Yamaha engineers developed to provide strong midrange power and a crisp, controllable engine response.Even still, some of the FZ8’s engine design has been lifted from other Yamaha models. For instance, the FZ8 engine is built around the same crankcases as the previous generation R1 (as is the FZ1) and runs an R-series-derived crankshaft. From there up however, the engine is practically an all-new design.
One of the biggest differences between the FZ1 engine and the FZ8 engine is the newly designed cylinder head of the latter, which runs only four valves per cylinder, as opposed to five. To give the bike a smoother torque output and broader range of power, Yamaha matched long 125mm outer intake funnels with even longer 150mm inner intake funnels and installed a large-capacity 7.8-liter air box. And to further adapt the engine’s power characteristics, valve timing has been changed, as have the cam profiles.
Compared with the FZ1, compression has been bumped from 11.5:1 to 12.0:1, bore has been decreased from 77mm to 68mm and stroke remains at 56.3mm. Also compared to the FZ1, the FZ8 features a lighter crank that contributes 30 percent less inertial mass and provides for quicker revs. In an effort to further reduce rotational mass and to make the bike more user friendly, the engine features a compact clutch layout that has two fewer plates and a more practical gearbox with a lower final gear ratio. The fuel injection system went under the knife as well and now instead of featuring a 45mm throttle bore, the FZ8 system runs a narrow 35mm bore for a crisp, smooth throttle response.
A strong engine is nothing without a capable chassis though, and so when Yamaha built the FZ8, the company matched the cast aluminum frame with a control-filled die-cast aluminum swingarm rather than a steel one like you would see on the FZ6R. They also gave it an inverted 43mm KYB fork and YHSJ rear shock. Opposed to the FZ1, the bike runs a narrower 5.5-inch rear wheel, but the same 57.5-inch wheelbase and 51/49 percent weight bias.
When Yamaha’s engineers went to the drawing board with the all—new FZ8, they had a handful of objectives in mind. In prior research, the manufacturer found that—in regards to sport—oriented bikes—consumers are most concerned with a bike’s comfortable riding position, easy—to—manage physical dimensions and lightweight feel in terms of handling. So it’s no surprise that when you throw a leg over the motorcycle, you are quickly taken back by how small but comfortable the bike feels, despite the fact that it runs the same geometry as its literbike sibling.
Like the FZ1, the overall seat height is 32 inches, but the footrests have been dropped some 10mm and pushed back an additional 15mm. As well, the handlebars have been rotated some 5mm forward (away from the rider) to put more weight over the front of the motorcycle, and the tank/seat junction is narrow so that riders of a shorter stature can easily touch the ground. The result is an upright seating position that is slightly more aggressive but still comfortable with little pressure on the rider’s wrists and arms.
For the most part, the FZ8 is geared toward city riding so it’s no surprise that when you leave from a stop, the clutch is easy to disengage and the transition from closed throttle to open is smooth as butter. It’s also no surprise that the transmission ratios are spaced just perfectly and few shifts are required as you accelerate to the next light.
As I carried on down the intro’s predetermined route through Venice Beach, CA, I also noticed the bike’s willingness to steer almost without effort, a sensation that is most likely accredited to not only the new bar position, which as previously mentioned, puts more weight over the front of the machine, but also to the bike’s slim 467—pound curb weight (the FZ8 is roughly 15 pounds lighter than the FZ1).
In terms of engine performance, the FZ8 feels like the perfect compromise between literbike grunt and middleweight power. Like the smaller machines, it has an extremely linear power delivery with no abrupt peaks, but like a literbike, it has a strong hit and loads of power. As the road clears and you open the throttle past 5500 rpm, the FZ8’s quick—revving nature really makes itself known. It’s from this point on that the FZ8 engine really impressed me, as it pulls extremely hard all the way up to its 12,000—rpm soft rev limiter. It’s also in this range that you hear the unique buzz from the intake cowl of the FZ8’s fuel tank (something that is more for form than function).
Around town, the KYB front...
Around town, the KYB front fork absorbs all the bumps beautifully. However, the nonadjustable unit feels rather soft when riding more aggressively. Not soft are the FZ8 brakes, which feature 310mm discs as well Sumitomo monobloc calipers that provide an extremely crisp bite and get the bike slowed down in a hurry.
Around town, the suspension provides an extremely comfortable ride and bumps are absorbed without any negative effects on the chassis. But as you get out of the urban environment and into the twistier sections of road, the FZ8’s limits aren’t exactly high. Before long, the front fork begins to move around quite a bit, and since the FZ8 comes with a non—adjustable front fork and a rear shock that is only adjustable for spring preload, there is little that can be done to rid the bike of this unsettling characteristic in the canyons.
Then, as you start to lean the bike further and further into the corner, smack! Ah yes, the good old clatter of the footrests touching down. Count on becoming familiar with that sound if you plan on riding the FZ8 in canyons regularly. But the FZ8 wasn’t necessarily designed to be the ultimate canyon carver. In fact, Yamaha claims that in terms of the suspension package, it was designed with comfort rather than performance in mind — which is partly why the FZ8 is so comfortable to ride around town.
Despite being built “with comfort in mind,” the FZ8 is still very nimble and fun to ride in the canyons. According to Steven Butler, an employee of Yamaha’s testing department, “The nimble handling characteristics in the tighter sections of road are attributed to the bike’s newly designed engine and narrower 5.5—inch rear wheel”, which is wrapped in Bridgestone BT—021 BB sport—touring rubber that was built specifically for the FZ8, provides ample amounts of grip and should offer great wear life. And aside from its slight tendency to shake its head as you shift gears at speed, the FZ8 is extremely stable.
The 310mm brake discs of the FZ8 may be 10mm smaller than that of the FZ1, but in terms of getting the bike stopped, they do a phenomenal job. Like most Yamaha brakes, the Sumitomo calipers provide a crisp first bite and a smooth linear feel as you come to a stop.
And despite the naked bike design, the FZ8 is rather pleasant at speeds floating around 60 mph, with only minimal wind blast to the rider’s upper body. But since the route for the FZ8 intro didn’t include the freeway, we are still curious as to how comfortable the bike will be in a headwind at higher speeds; something we will surely pay attention to when we get a bike to test further. Thankfully, Yamaha’s accessory division already has for sale — alongside other products like frame sliders, engine guards, a center stand, seat cover and lower cowl — a flyscreen for added wind protection. Another thing we’d like to test is fuel mileage, since Yamaha claims you can put just over 200 miles on the 4.5—gallon tank.
Yamaha already has for sale...
Yamaha already has for sale a number of accessories for the FZ8. One of the more popular pieces is sure to be the center stand, which makes parking and working on the bike a breeze.
Yamaha stuck with the less-is-more...
Yamaha stuck with the less-is-more design concept when designing this gauge cluster. Despite its smaller size, the cluster is easy to read and features all the usual indicators.
As previously mentioned, Yamaha had a number of objectives in mind when they set out to build the FZ8. Most importantly, the manufacturer wanted to build a bike that was sport—oriented, but still comfortable and easy to manage. By way of the 2011 FZ8, they have done just that. With its comfortable ergonomics, engine characteristics of a literbike and handling characteristics of a smaller displacement machine, it is as versatile as they come. Even more, it’s the perfect arsenal for an urban assault — just as Henry Ford designed the Model T to be.
And just like the Model T, you can have the FZ8 in any color you want for 2011, so long as it’s black. SR
2011 Yamaha FZ8
Type: liquid—cooled inline four—cylinder DOHC four—stroke, 4 valves/cyl.
Bore x stroke: 78.0 x 53.6mm
Compression ratio: 12.0:1
Induction: Mikuni EFI w/motor drive sub—throttle/TPS, 35mm throttle bodies
Front tire: 120/70—ZR17 Bridgestone BT—021F BB
Rear tire: 180/55—ZR17 Bridgestone BT—021R BB
Rake/trail: 25 degrees/4.3in. (109 mm)
Wheelbase: 57.5 in. (1460mm)
Seat height: 32.1 in. (815mm)
Fuel capacity: 4.5 gal. (17L)
Claimed wet weight: 467 lb (212 kg)
Fore more information about the FZ8, visit www.sportrider.com/magazine/1105