Just recently, Yamaha held a press intro for the all-new 2011 FZ8 in Venice Beach, CA – just miles from SR headquarters - during which Sport Rider Magazine was able to put over 120 miles on the newly-designed machine along the coast of Southern California.
The bike, which was offered as a ’10 model in Europe, is not what many would consider an all-new design though, as it features geometry numbers that are identical to the FZ1. Where the FZ8 is different than previous models though, is in the engine department. The bike runs a 779cc DOHC four-cylinder engine with a newly developed top end that runs four valves per cylinder (rather than five like the FZ1) and boasts a 12.0:1 compression ratio. The crankcase and crankshaft of the FZ8 are taken directly from the five-valve R1 engine, and while the stroke is unchanged, bore numbers have been reduced from 77mm to 68mm.
As previously mentioned, the geometry of the FZ8 is unchanged from that of the FZ1. Weight balance between both bikes stays the same and the 57.5 inch wheelbase has gone untouched. But when you throw a leg over the motorcycle, Yamaha’s efforts to make the bike feel smaller but still comfortable are immediately apparent. This is because ergonomically speaking; the FZ8 has taken on a number of changes. The handlebars are pushed some 5mm forward and the foot rests are down some 10mm and back an additional 15mm.
To further accommodate the rider and to make the bike feel less cumbersome, the bike was designed with a narrow tank/seat junction. The result is an upright seating position that is similar to the FZ1 and FZ6R, but with more room to move around in the saddle.
In an effort to provide strong midrange power and a controllable engine response, Yamaha engineers altered the engine’s cam lift and valve timing. And although the 749cc engine does not seem overwhelmingly strong on the bottom, it did impress us with its very linear power delivery that makes riding through the canyons very enjoyable. As you exit a corner and open the throttle, the build of power is so smooth and manageable that getting from one corner to the next is quick and effortless.
When pushing past 6000rpm, the FZ8 really comes to life and the engine pulls to the 12000 redline quickly and with ease. The practical gearbox also makes riding through the canyons and commuting less stressful as you are not constantly searching for a more apt gear.
Another aspect that quickly becomes apparent as you ride the FZ8 is its extremely nimble feel that is more accustomed to a 600cc machine than a larger displacement bike. While much of the handling characteristics can be accredited to the bikes 470 pound wet weight (the FZ8 is 15 pounds less than the FZ1) much of it can be attributed to the bikes smaller 5.5 inch rear wheel and light crankshaft. Not only were the handling characteristics beneficial in the canyons, but also in the streets where lane changes and turns are done without having to muscle the bike around.
Out front, the Yamaha runs a 43mm inverted KYB fork, and out back the FZ8 is mounted up with a YHSJ rear shock. Around town, the suspension package is very compliant and makes for a smooth ride, but in the canyons the package is rather soft and the bike squirms over most every bump and ditch. And because the front fork is non-adjustable, there is little that can be done in regards to overcoming this weakness in the suspension. In addition, dragging the footrests quickly became a problem.
As opposed to the 320mm front discs mounted to the FZ1, the FZ8 features 310mm discs. However, the Sumitomo calipers provide an extremely crisp, linear feel that makes quick stops both in the canyons and on the streets a breeze. In terms of rubber, the FZ8 is mounted with Bridgestone BT021R BB Sport Touring tires that are built specifically for this model and provide ample amounts of grip. And considering their sport-touring designation, the tires should provide for great wear life.
Already available for the FZ8, are a number of Yamaha accessories that add both to the bike’s style and protection. This includes frame sliders, engine guards, a lower cowling, fly screen, radiator cover, center stand and more.
Overall, the FZ8 is a great package. The naked bike’s design may not be the most sophisticated in the eyes of some, but the bike’s refined engine and comfortable ergonomics make it a great commuter bike and a great choice for persons looking to step-up from a smaller displacement bike.
The FZ8, which is shipping to dealers as you read this, is priced at a reasonable $8490 and is offered in one color, Raven.
For more information and a full first-ride review of the 2011 Yamaha FZ8, check out the May 2011 issue of Sport Rider Magazine, on shelves March 29.