It was almost the model intro that never happened. Yamaha have been trying to finish the launch of their new 2006 FZ1 roadster for a few weeks now.
It all started back in January when the initial launch in Cape Town, South Africa was cancelled after a tragic crash resulted in the death of an Italian journalist. After five days exploring in the Cape (including trying to persuade a rather aggressive baboon out of our rental car) I returned home without having even sat on the new FZ1.
The launch was quickly rescheduled to California so I hurriedly repacked and threw myself at the mercy of United Airlines to get ourselves across the continent in time for the one-day ride. Delays and incompetence resulted in missed connections and a real chance that I might only get as far as the Washington Dulles airport.
Mental note – don’t ever fly United Airlines again.
I eventually arrived at the hotel just north of San Francisco just as the presentation was wrapping up – luckily in time for dinner! A planned early night soon went down the tubes when I found out that my room had been double-booked … and unfortunately the hotel was now full.
What the? It was the hotel’s mistake and after 15 minutes of scrambling they shipped me across the road to their competition. I hit the bed and turned on the Weather Channel to see a forecast of cold and wet. Feck.
But lady luck finally decided to grace me with her presence, and the day dawned bright and sunny, albeit a tad cold. A long line-up of shiny growling FZ1s (and a lovely growl it is too) outside the front of the hotel wasn’t at all bad either.
It had taken eight days, and a total of 34,522 km to get to this moment, but as the Golden Gate bridge appeared ahead of us in the early morning sun, and the FZ1 below me floated down California Highway 101, it somehow seemed to be all worth it.
All I had to do now was to work out just what I thought of the bike …
WHAT’S NEW FOR 2006?
The 2006 FZ1 gets a whole host of updates, with the motor surprisingly being taken from the current generation R1 – surprising because roadster bikes always seem to be a generation back from their super-sports brethren. However, it’s not a direct transplant and has received some retuning (heavier crank, milder cams, reduced compression ratio – thanks to a thicker head gasket) for a boost in midrange. Still, it pumps out a healthy claimed 150 hp @11,000rpm, albeit 30 bhp down from the R1.
But giving the ‘06 FZ1 the current R1 motor is just one of the changes. For the first time the FZ1 is graced with fuel injection and a whole host of high-spec chassis bits that promise a bike that’s cutting edge – rather than the usual dated motor in a budget chassis.
For starters, the old tubular steel cradle frame is gone, replaced by a one-piece die-cast unit that now utilizes the motor as a stressed member for increased rigidity. It’s also 89 mm narrower, 50% lighter, and boasts sportbike-like weight distribution – achieved by pulling the motor forward by 35 mm.
However, wheelbase has grown by 1 mm (now 1,460 mm), thanks to a new, longer truss-type swingarm that looks like it’s been taken directly off the R1 and flipped (bracing now at the top). But hang on, don’t long swingarms = fewer wheelies? Amusingly, Yamaha point out that the rear sub-frame is now removable “to reduce cost in the event of a loop out.” So I guess that longer swingarm isn’t a wheelie-killer after all.
Suspension-wise, the front gets USD forks that separate compression and rebound damping into separate legs (as done on Yamaha’s M1 GP bike), with more settings than I have brain cells. Wheels are now five-spoked – which is two more than before – but are also 10% lighter.
Braking is pretty much as the R1, with bigger 320 mm discs up front, along with four-piston calipers. Did I mention that the rear tire has done an ‘Arris and gotten fatter? Sadly (for me) it’s true.
Rider ergonomics get a big change with lower and closer-to-the-rider handlebars and footpegs that have been raised and pushed back – signalling an altogether sportier intention by Yamaha. Thankfully the tubular drag-style bars remain, and a larger screen implies that the FZ1 is not about to morph back into the R1.
And then there’s that styling. It’s got hunched up and looks down at the road ahead. The pipe and the rear-end’s gone stubby and the whole thing looks a lot meaner. Hang about; it’s the Mr. Seck of makeovers!
The end result is a 7 bhp boost, a 4 kg drop in weight, and a chassis that would have been super-sport cutting edge a couple of years ago.
Very good then … so how does it ride?
HOW IT RAN IN SAN FRAN
Getting on the FZ1 for the first time, you can’t help but notice the move toward the sporty side, with the old relaxed position and ample legroom gone in favour of more of a crouch.
It’s not real tight, but it’s definitely not as comfortable as the old model – aggravated somewhat by a leg-splaying tank and a hardish seat, which is now slightly lower at 815 mm. The seat is split into rider and passenger pads as swell, and I found that my lanky frame put my arse somewhat uncomfortably into the gap between the two. But that’s an issue that seemed to be limited to those of a more colossus-like stature.
It sets the feel toward a somewhat less friendly and wholly more aggressive machine, but happily the wide tubular bars remain and allow you to sit upright while giving you a huge amount of steering leverage in the process.
And boy, does it steer quickly. Initially when coming into corners I’d tend to oversteer it and have to correct before leaning it in. However, it didn’t take long to get used to it, and I was soon swooping in and out over double-yellowed line and past four-wheeled tin lumps with ease on the never-ending roller coaster of Pacific Highway One. Even with the lower exhaust, I never actually ended up grinding anything out.
The light front end isn’t twitchy either … unless you drop it a cog and open her up, in which case the front tire will lift off quite pleasingly, yet with reassuring predictability. And that’s what I really like about the FZ1 – predictability. The power comes on quite linearly but very quickly – albeit slightly subdued below 4,000 rpm – and then progressively ‘stretches’ the bike from there to the 12,000 rpm redline.
There is a bit of vibration that comes in around 5 1/2k, but it didn’t feel exactly intrusive, although I find that kind of thing hard to judge on a one-day ride – especially on a road where you never end up being stuck at a certain engine speed for more than 0.01 seconds. Still, in top gear, 5,500 rpm translates to about 135 km/h, so there is some potential for intrusion on a more spirited highway run.
On the subject of gearing, it’s been altered from both the older model and the R1, with taller 5th and 6th gearing for more relaxed cruising. The box is a tad notchy, but smooth enough to allow for plenty of clutchless changes. Throttle response from the fuel-injection system seemed to be fine, but I’ll readily admit that I only really tested it in either the closed or giv'er positions, though I’ll blame Highway 1 for that.
Talking of blaming highways, recent heavy rain in the area saw more than one muddy patch mid-corner and/or the occasional rock. The R1-borrowed brakes worked well when suddenly realizing that some reduction in speed was required – giving good feedback and linearity. I’d usually come into a corner with one finger on the brakes, and the FZ1 wouldn’t get upset if I realized that I needed to scrub off some more mid-corner.
They did seem to lack a bit of final punch though, and a stoppie needed a hard final tug to get the rear end up. That’s also when I lost confidence in the Michelin tires, the front locking up unexpectedly on one such attempt, though I had no ‘moments’ in general use. I was pleased to hear that it looks like we’ll be getting Dunlops on the Canadian imports.
The new USD forks proved to be very compliant, but the rear seems to be a bit on the hard side and over the bumpier stuff my arse would get pushed out of the seat. Again, this is an indication of Yamaha’s move toward the sportier side, albeit with some compromise, as I never actually felt jarred, just ‘pushed’.
As the day drew to a close we veered off the coastal highway and back inland up Russian Canyon and along a glorious swooping road that meandered its way through mighty Redwoods and alongside the Russian River. It was the perfect FZ1 road – less frenzied than the Pacific Highway – allowing the bike and rider to stretch their legs,
As the road opened up, you could apply more speed, and the taller fairing (by 17 mm over the previous model) provided excellent protection from the wind. The FZ1 took to the rhythm – the smooth power and precision steering making every kilometre a joy – providing a magical end to a perfect day.
Despite being an excellent machine, I do have some mixed emotions about the latest evolution of the FZ1. What Yamaha have done is push it into a new market – that of a real-world sportbike.
It’s a market that has effectively been created by the manufacturers’ push to more and more aggressive super-sport machines that resemble their GP brothers. The result, in my opinion, is that the modern sportbike is no longer a usable road machine – suited mainly for either track use or parking out in front of a Starbucks.
As such there’s now a gap for those who still want the thrills of a sportbike but want to be able to put on more than 100 km before having to book into their chiropractor. The FZ1 is their dream come true as it provides a current sportbike motor in a realistic cutting edge chassis.
My emotional conflict is that I really quite like the original concept of erring toward the even more relaxed and comfortable roadster. But that’s just me, and no doubt if my legs were a little happier being squashed and splayed, I’d be singing in the streets and rejoicing at the return of the real-world sports bike, as I’m sure many will.
Of course, getting the average sportbike rider into this frame of mind is a wholly different task, even though I wouldn’t at all be surprised if many an R1 rider saw the disappearing tail-lights of their buddy’s FZ1, especially in the twisties … and toward the end of the day.
NO NAKEDS PLEASE, WE’RE CANADIAN
The FZ1 is now available in fully naked, or nose-faired versions from the factory. The naked version comes with a single large headlight, blacked out USD forks and a stubbier rear end, sans the passenger grab-rails.
Interestingly, Yamaha International has gone with naming the naked as the FZ1 and the faired as the Fazer. We won’t be getting the naked bike in Canada for 2006, but we will be getting the FZ1 ... I mean Fazer … I mean FZ1. Yes, the Fazer (faired) will actually be called the FZ1 (still faired), Cannuck side.
STOP PRESS – It looks like the naked bike might indeed be coming after all. Yamaha Canada should be making a decision on it in the next couple of weeks, depending on interest. Want a naked? Let your thoughts be known on the CMG Soapbox!
Both bikes were made available to us at the launch, and although I spent most of my day on the faired, I did take a quick jaunt on the naked.
Although its specs are identical (save for saving 5Kg at the front) it feels like a very different machine. The light steering is lighter still and the lack of plastic in the rider’s peripheral vision adds to the feeling of agility. It’s quite a different experience from the faired bike, although the lack of wind protection limits using that awesome power to the max.
BTW, IS IT ‘NAKED’ OR ‘ROADSTER’?
We’ve decided that we’re going to call bikes like the FZ1, Roadsters (whether they're naked or not). We used to use the term Naked for all these types of bikes, but then they're not really naked if they have a fairing on them – even if it is a small one. Yamaha have also gone and made a full fairing kit that can be fitted onto the existing nose fairing to give a fully faired, sport touring bike (see below).
And you thought this job was easy …
Want to make your FZ1 into an FJR1000? Well, now you can have the ultimate sports sports-tourer with Yamaha’s optional full faring package and hard bags. The fairing comes with colour-matched side cowls and belly-pan, and the 30 litre hard-bags are also colour-matched, but do require a separate mounting kit.
Other accessories include a stand-along belly-pan, smoked screen, crash pucks, heated grips and that all-important resin tank pad. MSRPs have yet to be set for these accessories, but Yamaha Canada hopes to have prices in a month or two (but when we get them we’ll slap them into the CMG News).
SOME EXTRA SHOTS