A couple weeks back I stumbled across a random ad on social media about a Yamaha demo event in south Cincinnati. Considering my wife has also been putting in the overtime as of late, I decided to get up early and get down to the Queen City to test out some of Yamaha’s wares (6/25/16). More than anything I was stoked about finally getting the opportunity to ride the new XSR900, but after getting “signed-in” the Yamaha rep informed me that I was going to need to wait for a couple hours before a time slot was open for the XSR900. I wasn’t about to pass up a chance to ride Yamaha’s new modern throwback, but asked the gentleman if I could ride something else in the interim. As luck would have it, I was able nab a ride on the FZ-07, a bike that surpassed expectations.
I’ve covered a few bike reviews up to this point; as awesome as life must be as a professional moto-journalist, I’m beginning to understand how difficult it is to review a given bike, and not overuse words like “fast!”, “tractable”, and “Torquey”. I also think it’s very important to understand where the writer’s views are coming from. Obviously, my riding experience is more limited than most of the mainstream moto-media, so I tend to compare a given bike to my current ride, and to similar bikes I’ve ridden. I wish that concept was apparent with more of the media outlets, it’s a lot easier to tell you’re reading a puff piece when a given writer’s daily rider is a sister bike from the same stable (1200 GS…), or that a score of writers spend more time at track days than I do commuting to work (I mean, why else is the Panigale the greatest thing since sliced bread?). That said, this is coming from an entrenched Triumph guy on a parallel twin cruiser writing about a Yamaha sport bike; so… on with the review.
I’ve actually been eyeing the new FZ-07 for a while now, but until that Saturday, I had only appreciated the bike as another extension in the Yamaha range. At first glance, the FZ-07 seems a bit futuristic, with “stealthy” hard lines and modern styling. I assume all the aesthetics are run-of-the-mill with regard to naked bikes, so I take that in stride, especially since I’m a sucker for throwback, but my opinion, overall performance and function is what rules the day among modern naked bikes. I actually like the bright colors; while I normally prefer black and anything matte, the flagrant paint suits the FZ-07. Looking the bike over further, the dash display looks, like the rest of the bike, modern, and impressively large from what I could tell. The bike in general appears a bit tall, especially considering its 689 cc stature (more on that in a minute); when I think 700 I think 650 (ish) sport bikes and the Savage 650 (which is anything but tall). The seat at first glance was certainly on the “thin side”, with the pillion pad even more so; while I imagined ripping around corners on this lightweight machine, I did have some concerns about comfort on long days in the saddle. Throwing a leg over the bike as we readied for departure, I honestly didn’t know entirely what to expect in the coming moments. I knew the FZ-07 was a parallel twin, just like my current ride, but I had no expectations for road manners, electronics, or general “character” of the bike. At a minimum I had no doubt that the FZ-07 would feel lighter and stop faster considering its smaller displacement, naked bike status, and twin binders up front; all of which I was looking forward to.
Leaving from the lot it was I rapidly discovered that the FZ-07 was significantly lighter than I expected; along with the upright riding position, it felt far more nimble than my current steed. I was immediately impressed with the clutch friction zone and overall balance of the bike; it was also impressively easy to drag the rear brake to pause at a stop without putting a foot down and not waver from the “heft” that you experience on heavy cruisers. In general, it was clear from the onset that the FZ-07 is just an easy bike to ride. What seemed like an enormous display proved to be quite agreeable once underway; the screen was very easy to read at speed, and included a large amount of information; speed, tachometer, MPG, gear indicator (nice touch as it’s cheaper than my current ride that lacks this feature), among others. Considering I was riding a twin with less displacement than I’m accustomed to, I was impressed by the mill’s rev happy nature, with a redline beyond my Triumph twin. As the ride progressed, I began to notice the distinct similarity in character between the Yamaha twin and that of my Speedmaster; albeit with better power to weight ratio. Acclimating to the cockpit, it became obvious that I’ve been accustomed to clunky cruiser controls for a years now. It was a somewhat difficult to adjust to what felt like microscopic controls on the FZ-07; I found myself honking the horn at least twice in attempt to cancel the turn signal. I assume that goes away with time, but this is also a preference thing; I’ve read other reviews complain about “clunky” controls. It’s a fine line I’d say; I prefer controls that I can actuate without taking my eyes of the road while not overly cumbersome.
As I mentioned, the FZ-07 “CP2” mill has more horsepower and revs higher than my 865 Triumph Twin (67 vs. 60 HP & 10k vs. 8k RPM). I consider my Triumph quite rev happy, and without fail the Yamaha mill delivers more of the same. The 07’s power plant also delivers a reasonable amount of torque considering its displacement; it also arrives early and in linear fashion as us road faring riders prefer. As the ride progressed I felt myself more and more impressed with the power delivery that you can really “feel” as bike surged out of the corners. I never felt like I was on the verge of a power wheelie, but I was quite subdued considering I was on a demo ride (where wheelies were strictly verboten). Just like the engine, the transmission was also on par with my Triumph. While I did miss an up-shift from 2nd to 3rd gear when we first set off, after that the transmission was very agreeable; I never found myself searching for a gear, including neutral. If I’ve not mentioned before, I tend to engine brake given the opportunity; again the CP2 mill obliged without protest and delivered predictable slowing power that I would expect. The FZ-07 is not sold with throttle by wire “ride modes” or a slipper clutch that are more available on some of its stable mates. This is non-issue in my eyes (again, considering price point), but as I attempted to “blip” the throttle to rev match when engine braking, I found it to be somewhat of a tough task to master in 20 minutes; I assume because of the overly lean throttle map, but I’m sure that skill would eventually be mastered with time. I imagine it would get even easier with an aftermarket exhaust and revised throttle map (sorry EPA…).
Considering I prefer engine braking, I wouldn’t be fair to say, in the interest of an honest review, that I truly tested the brakes . I can say that the overall stopping ability of the bike is better than my current ride, and undoubtedly takes less effort. I would need another look to feel comfortable saying that the sport bike, “two finger” braking method is possible, but it was definitely a lighter touch than I’m accustomed to.
The seat proved to be a bit more comfortable than I expected, however it was only a twenty minute ride. Having a ridiculous amount of space on my stock Speedmaster seat, I didn’t quite know what to expect when riding the FZ-07. The seat is quite narrow on the front end and broadens significantly toward the back. On the road that translated to comfortably flat-footing the bike at stops, but I can see concern about getting uncomfortable in long stretches of hugging the tank when things gets sporty. I pushed back in the seat on the downhill sections of the ride; with the balls of my feet on the pegs, the riding position was comfortable, especially with the wider, more spacious section of the seat. The pillion seat didn’t seem to “arrive” too seen when scooting back, while it also served as a good support as I rolled on the throttle at the apex. At the same time, if my wife thinks she’s got a Spartan seat now, I can only imagine her response to the FZ-07 pillion pad. Beyond just the seat, I really liked how narrow the chassis felt overall; great for street riding and carving canyons, and probably even lane splitting in California, but I’m still curious how the narrow, lightweight frame handles the freeway on a windy day. In general I was really happy with all the ergos, especially considering I’m looking for more upright seating on my next bike, the FZ-07 has the leg room I prefer with the neutral mid-controls I’m looking for. Unlike the Roadster I rode a few weeks back, the Yamaha’s mid controls aren’t positioned exactly where you want to plant your feet at a stop, but a bit forward so it’s not awkward pulling up to a light. The bar height also felt ideal, but as the ride went on I did start to think like they were a bit narrow for city riding. I can see the narrow bars advantageous in the twisties, but long-term I would imagine I’d prefer slightly wider hand placement if I intended to use this bike as a daily rider.
There’s one serious advantage to test riding bikes in Cincinnati versus Dayton; in Cincinnati there’s actually some topography. After we escaped the straight stop and go city roads I began to notice that the FZ-07 suspension is far superior to my current ride. The 5 inch suspension travel could easily soak up the urban bumps but also felt very stable in the curves. I could potentially see the suspension feeling a bit plush for more aggressive riders or on track days, but it’s spot on for the average street rider, especially for the price point. The demo model was also fitted with Michelin Pilot Road 3 tires. Admittedly, I can’t currently mount sport rubber, but I have some friends that do, thus far I’ve heard positive things about the PR3s. Considering the limited riding we did, I certainly had no complaints about the tires, including how they handled some tiny spots of gravel in the road.
On the flipside, the mirrors were simply terrible; before we made the first turn I was trying to adjust the mirrors so I could actually see the riders behind me (it was a demo event after all…), to no avail. After twisting the mirror in every direction, I still had to lean over to see past my shoulder; No Bueno. I’ve seen countless comments about stock mirrors being crap on all kinds of new motorcycles, the FZ-07 is more of the same it seems.
It also wasn’t long into the ride before I noticed my ankles were getting a generous waft of engine heat (I also had armored, mesh, pants on). The more demo rides and whatnot I do, the more I realize I’m completely spoiled on my Triumph Twin; where I experience virtually no engine heat except on the hottest days. The FZ-07 is at least the second, liquid cooled, bike I’ve ridden that felt significantly “warmer” than my air cooled twin, but still nothing like a Victory. I realize this is all a fact of ergonomics and aerodynamics; it wasn’t especially bad, I just noticed it… and it’s really tough to fault this bike.
Back at the dealer I stepped off the bike, snapped a few more photos, and started taking some notes. While not really a gripe, I do have concern about the 3.7 gallon gas tank I see on the stat sheet. Mind you, Yamaha claims this bike gets 58 MPG, which doesn’t seem too bad, but obviously I have no idea if that’s legit. I do however know that the heads up display tells you when you’re in “ECO” mode, hopefully sipping the petrol as advertised. Without question, the mirrors desperately need attention. I also have no doubt I’m not the first person to notice the dragline the FZ-07 is pulling behind it; I can’t tell if that tail-light-indicator-license-plate-bracket “thing” was designed that way on purpose or some sort of engineering afterthought. I suppose if it didn’t overtly draw attention to itself it wouldn’t be all that bad, however the indicators bounce all over the place once underway, and it just looks awful (I was also following an FZ-07 on the ride). The Headlight also appears a bit anemic… to say the least. Obviously it was daylight during the ride, so I have no idea what kind of light it throws down the road, but it’s a concern I have. I realize this is not Yamaha’s fault, but there’s a massive catalytic converter hiding under the frame; I imagine that would be quick weight savings when you switch to an aftermarket exhaust. I also find the lack of ABS to be somewhat a disappointment; I have a suspicion it’s standard on the bikes in Europe, but a cost savings here in the U.S. It’s not a deal breaker, but for any every day, rain or shine, commuter, it would be a nice addition. Lastly I have some concern about adjusting the chain. Obviously, I haven’t owned a fleet of motorcycles, but I’m no stranger to adjusting chains and belts; something about this adjuster set up seems “new” or cheap… I’m not sure which. Why would it be any different than the FZ-09 setup?
I’m not going to claim to be some expert in the mid-range naked bike field. That said, I suspect that the FZ-07 is probably in direct competition with every mid-range naked bike, and pretty much every mid-range bike a prospective “new rider” is looking at in order to avoid purchasing a Rebel 250 that they’re just going to sell next year. As a guy currently riding a 900 cc cruiser, the FZ-07 brings enough grunt to the table I could foresee it making a direct replacement for my current ride. I would probably need to figure out some gear for a touring setup, but with bags, fly screen, and comfy seat, I think it’s up to the task for anyone looking at middle weight bikes. I’ll even go out on a limb and suggest the FZ-07 is indirectly competing against the new Street Twin, Ducati Scrambler, and their ilk; assuming that “retro styling” is not a box on the buyers checklist. I’m also sure I’m not the first to say, for guys like me, the FZ-07 is competing against its sister the FZ-09; bang for buck matters.
Pulling back into the lot I was disappointed the ride was over. For an “entry level” bike… I hate that expression… Considering it’s displacement, I was really impressed. I initially suspected that I might find the bike a bit boring and under powered, especially after I rode the XSR900; far from it. In general, the FZ-07 was pleasantly light weight, nimble, surprisingly torquey (yes I said that, but it’s true), and had very manageable throttle response. It also had “character” that grabbed me, something I can’t say about at least one of the other bikes I rode that day. Undoubtedly the bike lacks considerable creature comforts available on its larger stable mates (ride modes, ABS, etc.), but again, considering the price (under $7k), there’s plenty of room for customization and superior aftermarket parts, like new front fork springs and emulators if that’s your thing.