A back-to-basics motorcycle, Yamaha FZ-07 with simple, solid, middleweight naked credentials is the latest addition to the FZ family and not as junior to the FZ-09 as one might think.
A Case of Sibling Rivalry
If there are keys to motorcycle success in this decade, the 2015 Yamaha FZ-07 might hold most of them. Make it cool, make it perform and make it available at a reasonable price. Following Yamaha’s launch of the FZ-09 last year, a bike easily considered one of the best bangs for the buck on the market today, the company comes to the table with a sibling to the larger triple, a little brother powered by a 689cc parallel twin.
But little brother is a misnomer in this case as the FZ-07 is more like the younger brother everyone mistakes for a twin (the fraternal kind). The family resemblance is unmistakable. Both hit the current naked styling highlights of a stubby exhaust, broad bars with a comfortable neutral upright seating position and a short minimalist tail section. A few styling cues on the FZ-07 like the two-piece seat are even a little more aggressive.
The dimensions, with the exception of width, fall within 45mm of each other. Tire size is the same for both bikes at 120/70-17s up front and 180/55-17s out back. The weight difference is only eight kg in favour of the FZ-07 at 180 kg (397 lbs). The two even go so far as to share an 11.5:1 compression ratio. The new FZ-07 is so intrinsically linked to the FZ-09 the two bikes almost need to be addressed in tandem. While previous models that fell into the FZ line were less unified in style and objective the 07 and 09 are virtually joined at the crankcase.
The theory behind the siblings is basic. Give the consumer as much bike as possible for as low a price as possible. The FZ-07 comes to the market with a price of $7,299, not as spectacular as the FZ-09’s $8,999 but close.
The FZ-07 with its particular engine characteristics and power delivery is more suited to the less experienced rider, but even an experienced rider walking into a Yamaha dealer might pause before spending an extra $1,700 for the FZ-09. But often when it comes to any type of motorcycle (and marketing for years relied upon it) few people want to say, “Yeah, I got the little one.” There are exceptions to the rule and these two bikes could be an example as nothing about the appearance or performance of the 07 loudly proclaims it to be the junior bike. There isn’t a bad choice to be made.
There is little indication the bike was built to meet a competitive entry price beyond the absence of features that may enhance the ride but don’t make or break it. The traditional 41mm front fork is not adjustable but it is set compliantly within the range for a sport-oriented bike with a rider of average weight. The ride is firm but not harsh. The hand control buttons are small and the turn signals wave and vibrate on their long flexible stalks. Useful if you inadvertently tip the bike over but that is as far as that goes. The indicators are so utilitarian they beg to be replaced with something that matches the aggressive styling of the rest of the bike.
When it comes to inadvertent tip overs (are there any other kind?) the metal fuel tank is concealed under plastic panels. Should a dent somehow make its way to the tank (what? it was there when I got on!) the solution is to replace that section of tank bodywork in red, gray or white—or, if it’s your style, one of each.
The tank capacity under those plastic pieces is a small 14 litres but the stats on fuel economy are good. Yamaha estimates the fuel economy of the 07 to be around 68 mpg or almost 4l/100K. Those are impressive numbers and while few North American motorcyclists buy their bikes based on fuel economy, some potential 07 owners might just do that.
The ECO riding mode icon, a nanny of fuel economy, may be a source of slight consolation when the fuel light comes on and you stretch your range looking for a gas station. But other than that you may never look at it again once you have figured out where and when it activates. Which doesn’t take long and was a factor the few times the transmission was shifted all the way up to sixth gear. Besides, your throttle hand itself has a pretty good idea where ECO lives, if it was interested and due to the surprisingly throaty sound of the exhaust and torque of the motor it often wasn’t.
Your throttle hand also knows where the front brake is. The braking package for the FZ-07, nudging toward unusual for the segment, does not include ABS but for almost all situations the dual 282mm, four piston front set up and single 245mm single piston in the rear stop the light bike quickly. The lack of ABS is probably the most obvious accommodation to the low price.
Not to sound nostalgic but it wasn’t long ago that a 689cc motorcycle was clearly in the middleweight class of sportbikes and not long before that a 700cc machine was a big bike. But back up 25 years and 1100 was big, 350 was small and 700 was somewhere in the middle and often it was the sweet spot. The motor didn’t have to be wrung hard, acceleration was quick and the displacement came in under the next bump in insurance rates that, in the day, was 750cc and up. The 700 platform was just all around more versatile and willing to accept any task you threw at it.
The motor in the FZ-07 is both rewarding and obliging. Rewarding in that it pulls strongly. Obliging in that Yamaha softened the learning curve for newer riders by making peak torque available low in the rev range so the bike will pull effortlessly from a stop and reduces the need for shifting. Realizing that real top end isn’t the objective on a middleweight naked, the torque curve of the bike is incredibly wide. On a long loop with a few long straights and continuous tight curves through the mountains of Vancouver Island where the FZ-07 was introduced to press in May, the bike happily responded to all throttle input in fourth gear while also supplying just the right amount of engine braking. Yes, select fifth or sixth if the notion takes you there, but fourth seems to be the place for speeds anywhere from 80 to 120 kmh—although you won’t see the ECO light winking from the dash. The power is right where most people are going to use it in normal, street riding situations. In comparison the -09 has an additional 14.3 ft/lb. torque at 64.3 ft/lb. but they are gathered a further 2,000 rpm closer to redline. Yes, you are going to get more from the FZ-09’s 850cc triple but you also need to look for it—although, if you did drop the additional $1,700 for the triple and its additional features, that’s probably what you want.
But while the 07 is modern in styling it refreshingly embraces the simplicity of old school motorcycles (and by old school I mean the late ‘80s). Gone are the bodywork and fairings, absent is traction control and ABS, abandoned are the adjustable front suspensions and the riding mode button that grace the dash of the 09.
Input requirements from the rider consist of throttle, brakes and a little pressure on those wide bars. No techno assistance given, none required although it would not be a surprise to find ABS turning up within a year or two. Yamaha has several accessories available for the bike to expand its horizons: soft bags and a more comfortable seat. Low-cost sport touring might well be in the future.
That Yamaha got the FZ-07 right probably has somewhat to do with what they learned from the FZ-09. What shortcomings the bike might have are small and worth it for all the good stuff that is packed into the motorcycle, such as a grunty parallel engine that feels and sounds a little mean, a six-speed transmission and good looks. Simple and to the point are not synonymous with a lack of fun.
It would be easy to think Yamaha isn’t done with this formula for success. Going bigger than the FZ-09 might be against the concept but smaller is another matter. What would be another bike amid this little band of brothers? How about a FZ-04 priced around the mid $5k mark? That would be interesting, but for now the FZ-09 will have to contain its sibling rivalry to one very competent “little” brother.