You’d have to go back a couple of decades to find the last three-cylinder Japanese motorcycle. There were a couple of two-stroke inline triples in the mid-1970s, one made by Suzuki and one by Kawasaki, and Honda entered the smoky-triples scene in the mid 1980s with a V3.
But there was only one four-stroke triple, an inline air-cooled design, and it was built by Yamaha. It was the XS750, introduced in 1977, growing to an 850 by its last year of production in 1981.
The 2014 FZ-09 is the first Japanese machine to use a four-stroke inline triple since the XS850, and it has about as much in common with that bike as Anne Wilson has with Lady Gaga. It is also an entirely new machine from the ground up.
The 849 cc engine is pretty conventional fare for a triple, with liquid-cooling, a 12-valve cylinder head (no five-valves per cylinder) and a 120-degree crankshaft.
The cylinder bores are offset 5 mm forward from the crankshaft centreline to reduce friction on the power stroke, a trick Yamaha first used on the YZ450F motocrosser. The compression ratio is 11.5:1, so it runs just fine on regular fuel, and if you’re concerned about valve maintenance intervals, the first time you’ll need to lift the valve cover is at the 42,000 km mark.
Mikuni provides the closed-loop EFI system, which includes 41 mm throttle bodies with YCC-T electronic throttle control. The YCC-T allows Yamaha to include three D-modes, selectable through a button on the right-hand switch assembly. There’s an A mode, a standard mode and a B mode, each mode offering progressively softer throttle mapping without curbing the bike’s 115 hp peak output. Torque peaks at 65 lb-ft.
The FZ-09’s most obvious competitor is the Triumph Street Triple, and its 675 cc mill makes 105 hp and 50 lb-ft of torque. The Yamaha takes full advantage of its additional power by remaining a lightweight, and at 188 kg (415 lb) wet, it is only 5 kilos heavier than the Triumph. Where the FZ-09 really has an advantage over the Brit bike is in its price. At $8,999 it is exactly one grand cheaper than the Street Triple.
That low price doesn’t mean Yamaha cheaped out on build quality.
The bike looks good, and fit and finish are better than its pricing would suggest. It has some higher-end features like a tapered aluminum handlebar, adjustable levers, radial-mount brake calipers and adjustable suspension.
There have been a few cost-cutting measures though. The most obvious to me was the lack of shrouding around the radiator; it just hangs in front of the engine, exposed. I think it’s a pretty good trade-off for the price, though, and maybe Yamaha can consider offering trim pieces as accessories. Also, there’s no ABS, not even as an option.
The FZ-09 is built on a controlled-fill die-cast aluminum frame with a stout gull-wing/truss swingarm, which is also a CF die cast piece. Steering geometry is sport-bike aggressive, with rake at 25 degrees rake, trail at 103 mm and wheelbase at 1,440 mm (56.7 in).
A 41 mm inverted fork and single, horizontally mounted shock provide bump absorption duties, and despite the bike’s low price, there’s preload and rebound damping adjustability at both ends (only the right fork leg has the damping adjuster).
Front discs measure 298 mm in diameter and are squeezed by radial-mount Advic four-piston calipers, and at the rear there’s a 245 mm disc and single-piston Nissin caliper. Brakes are not linked and ABS is not available in Canada, though it is an option in other markets.
The riding position is typical for a naked bike, with a slight forward lean to the handlebar and footpegs located a bit lower than they’d be on a supersport machine.
Its narrow midsection (achieved partially a narrow frame that uses outboard mounting points for the swingarm) and 815 mm (32.1 in) seat height makes it relatively easy to reach the ground; shorter folk might only be able to get one foot flat on the ground.
There’s not much ahead of you when seated, just a cell-phone-sized LCD instrument panel, which is offset to the right. I initially found the offset gauge odd-looking, but then realised that the open space to its left would be an ideal location for a GPS unit. Not a bad idea after all.
Despite the gauge’s small size it displays a wealth of information including engine speed, road speed, time, engine and ambient temperatures, odometer and two trip meters, D-mode selection, gear position, time, fuel consumption numbers, gear position indicator… Oye! You get the point. The only thing I don’t like is the bar tachometer, but I guess it’s something I’m going to have to get used to, as more and more bikes are resorting to this type of rev counter.
The bike feels very light on its feet and has a low centre of gravity, so it’s very nimble at low speeds. Pick the pace up and it gets better. It’s stable in a straight line and very quick to turn in, though it is a bit twitchy if you’re not careful. The wide handlebar combines with the aggressive steering geometry to transmit even small steering inputs to the asphalt. If you pay attention, it’s easy to compensate for this by maintaining a light grip on the handlebar.
The suspension is not ultra-sophisticated in feel but it’s an excellent compromise for the price. It has a wide enough adjustment range to go from too soft to too firm, so you’re likely to find a good setting in between.
I initially began the day on the standard settings, which proved too mushy, and cranked up the rebound damping front and rear by about a half turn, which put the adjusters right in the middle of their range. This proved an ideal setup for a spirited street pace.
I later tried a bike that had been adjusted by Accelerated Technologies’ John Sharrard that had even firmer rebound settings and some preload added front and rear. That bike’s handling was even sharper and more precise but I found it too firm for the bumpy Muskoka roads. It would have been a great track day setup, though.
This new engine and chassis will be the platform for future models, though I couldn’t get a confirmation as to what types of bikes — or in what timeframe — they’d be released. When I asked Yamaha Canada’s John Bayliss if a future adventure model was in the makings based on the FZ-09 chassis, all I got in return was a smile. Make of that what you will, but this new platform can be easily expanded, inexpensively, into other segments, something Honda has proven with its NC700 and CB500 machines.
A comparison with the Street Triple would reveal which bike has the better ride, and I know the Triumph has a great chassis and stellar handling characteristics. However, the FZ-09 is more powerful, is almost as light and handles well enough to compete confidently with the Triumph, or with any other middleweight naked bike for that matter.
Also, an interesting aside, the FZ-09 will replace the four-cylinder powered FZ8, which will be discontinued in 2014 (the Fazer 8 remains in the line up). So Yamaha seems to be willing to remove the four in favour of the triple, which may be an indicator of things to come.
One thing is certain; its low price will give its competitors some grief in the showroom, where it is due to appear in mid-October.
Check out all the pics that go with this story! Click on the main sized pic to transition to the next or just press play to show in a slideshow.
|Bike||2014 Yamaha FZ-09|
|Engine type||Liquid-cooled triple, four valves per cylinder, DOHC|
|Torque*||64.3 ft/lbs@8500 rpm|
|Tank Capacity||14 litres|
|Brakes, front||Dual 298mm discs / radial mount 4-piston calipers|
|Brakes, rear||245mm disc / single piston caliper|
|Seat height||815 mm|
|Wet weight*||188 kg|