Army of Darkness

Army of Darkness

Yamaha FZ 1000
Written by Sam Fleming   

FZ 1000

Every generation firmly believes that the music of its youth is the best. This might be a side affect of a psychological need to retain dignity in a youth worshipping culture, a pathetic example of a lack of adaptability or more proof that you can’t teach old dogs new tricks. While the charnel house of youth fashion recycles nostalgia in ever decreasing periods, generations tend to wed a particular style of music and berate the following generation for not appreciating it. Music has virtually no functional capacity but is a pure expression of aesthetics and taste. Critics of music rarely ever mention the quality of a recording, the frequency ranges covered or the number of seconds of music per dollar that a particular CD delivers. They don’t review music technically because the mechanics of the music is seldom the point.

For the most part, American street bikes are a luxury good to be used seldom but shown off regularly. Most of them are ridden fewer than 3,000 miles a year. Most are not ever used for transportation. Like music, street bikes are mainly an expression of the inner baby more than any sort of objective criteria. People listen to different types of music because they like the way it sounds and/or the way it makes them feel. People buy street bikes for much the same reason.

The Consumer Reports approach of review works pretty well for race bikes but fails for street bikes. Street bikes introduce too many emotions and therefore, too many variables. We all know a Ducati or two that would be gathering dust save for the loving polish delivered nightly by their enchanted owners.

My street bike is a 1996 black GSXR 750 with rear sets, clip-ons, a Daytona tuned engine and admittedly blotchy carburetion. It is uncomfortable at low speeds although I use it exclusively around town. I rarely get it out of third gear. It would be panned by every single bike reviewer in the country and yet I choose it over all others. I like the way it sounds and I like the way it makes me feel. I don’t want the easy listening favorites of classic rock, I want something that makes the average Porshe driver feel inadequate.

But that’s just me.

Apparently there is a tremendous amount of people in the US clamoring for heavy, upright bikes with scant fairings but increased fuel capacity who have been holding off their purchase until such a bike is made available with a high horsepower engine. For those people, the wait is over.

Yamaha is famous for building part’s bin bikes. In the past they have often recombined engines, frames, forks, wheels and fairings to create various models all using the same basic parts. In the past this approach has resulted in some surprisingly good motorcycles and some groans from the consumers. Ironically, the first bike touted as a part’s bin bike is not. Marketing materials, pre-release press, and many pundits have all proclaim the FZ 1000 as a naked R1. It is most decidedly not a naked R1.

Differences from the R1 include engine castings, head, cams, carbs, clutch, frame, forks, chassis geometry, rear wheel, bodywork, gas tank, foot pegs, bars, and seat. It rapidly seems like the only thing R1 about the bike is the moving parts of the short block and maybe the starter motor. These changes result in a motorcycle which will be enthusiastically greeted by some but disappointing to those that were hoping for sport bike performance with some additional creature comforts.

“Nothing says street like a rubber mounted engine, rubber covered foot pegs, sidedraft carbs and vanity covers bolted on the frame.”

Dropping the bike off the CENTERSTAND (I am sorry but I haven’t seen a centerstand on a motorcycle in years) I was struck with the FZ’s size and weight. For a performance motorcycle the FZ is big and, compared to today’s featherweight sportbikes, pretty heavy. The handlebars are high and wide for a performance motorcycle. These two characteristics came to dominate my impression of the bike.

“All it needs is a Delta box frame, some clip-ons and seventy less pounds.”

The engine has only been mildly retuned with a focus on fleshing out the bottom end at the expense of a little peak horsepower. However, the extra weight of the FZ dulls the ferocity of the original motor to a fair degree. The bike wheelies willingly but due more to the high bars than excessive power. The extra weight taxes the brakes and suspension when trying to hustle the bike down a Spanish back road at a brisk pace.

The handlebars place the rider far above the tasteful fairing and resolutely in the windstream creating more comfort problems than they solve. At speed (anywhere between 75 and 140mph) the wind drag on the rider is significant and any hope of seeking refuge behind the screen is thwarted. In turns the bars deny weight transfer to the front wheel and censor front tire signals. About the only time I liked the bars was ambling through small towns while lost. Even then I was not able to say I felt more comfortable than with a more traditional street/sport arrangement. Since Yamaha offers accessory handle bars and handle bar risers which can significantly lower the riding position I will try to avoid mentioning how much I disliked the handlebars again for the rest of this piece.

“Some of the few actual R1 pieces.”

The suspension did a reasonable job of handling the increased weight but was hampered by soft springs. Riding quickly down the undulating back roads of Spain the bike would start to move gently in all three axes, partly due to the soft springs, partly due to the soft damping. The frame seemed sufficiently stiff and the chassis was noticeably better than the FJR1300 (FJ 1200 derived naked bike) which was weaving and wobbling through high speed turns ahead of me while the FZ 1 remained calm.

Initially the handling of the bike was exceptionally light but seemed to lack grip on the dirty mountain roads of Spain. It would turn in quickly and be almost too willing to change lines mid turn but also discouraged serious lean angles. A little sleuthing with a tire gauge revealed that Metzelers had 40psi front and rear. About halfway through the ride I reduced the pressure to 30psi front and rear (like we run around on the street in DC). This increased grip substantially but also slowed the steering of the bike. The slower steering was annoying at the turn in but improved feel mid-turn. It was less responsive to initiate a line but held that chosen line with less input. The ideal pressure would be determined by what you are looking for out of your bike. Probably somewhere in the 32-33psi range would be about right.

The transmission was one of the better ones from Yamaha and the redesigned clutch stood up well to multiple drag starts and wheelies without displaying any of the historic FZ clutch woes.

The underlying problem behind all of the above complaints is that the bike was billed by Yamaha as being a naked R1 sportbike. That builds up some pretty high expectations for chassis and motor performance. However, Yamaha’s criteria for designing the bike included the following: fuel capacity, center stand, wind protection, 2-up comfort, clock, exciting to ride and aggressive styling.

If the bike is evaluated on the terms of Yamaha’s design, as opposed to comparing it to a real R1, the FZ succeeds admirably. The fuel tank has more capacity than most bikes. The center stand works fine. There actually isn’t much wind protection offered by the fairing but a larger windshield could be fitted for those that want it. I took one of the ambulance drivers for a ten mile loop. She didn’t have much experience with motorcycles but the passenger accommodations were comfortable and non-threatening and she was soon at ease. The slightly tiered seat allowed for room enough for the both of us without any of the usual knees-in-the-ears antics of ordinary sport bikes. The high torque motor handled the additional weight of the passenger with aplomb. Slow speed, around town and traffic riding were all pleasures. The clock told time.

The styling is fresh and modern without being too affected. I thought it was a good idea to build the bike with a clean new look rather than use an early eighties retro motif like many of the other hulking naked bikes.

It all really gets back to your inner baby. If your soul cries out for front wheel feedback, snappy handling, and second gear power lifts, search for something with clip-ons and sub 400lb dry weight. If your inner baby wants to be swaddled with creature comforts, easy chain maintenance and refined traffic manners coupled with a seriously powerful motor, look no further.

The Build.

Far from being an R1 with higher bars and a smaller fairing, the FZ 1 is a completely different motorcycle. The engine is R1 derived but shows many signs of a firm commitment from Yamaha to the FZ 1 project. Manufacturers do not commit themselves to new crankcase castings and head designs lightly. The FZ’s cases include a boss for a rubber mount to match the new frame. The head is redesigned to work with the 37mm sidedraft carburetors (instead of the R1 40mm downdrafts) although it retains the cams and valve springs from the R1. The compression ratio has been reduced from 11.8 to 11.4. The airbox volume has been decreased 1 liter (from 8 l to 7 l) to provide additional room for fuel. The drop in compression, the curved ports, the smaller carburetors and the smaller air box conspire to reduce peak power from 148 on the R1 to 141 on the FZ1. Torque is reduced from 82 ft. lbs on the R1 to 78 on the FZ.

Engine covers on the R1 that were magnesium appear here at aluminum to pare cost. That $2,000 price difference has to come from somewhere. This includes the generator cover, the valve cover and the clutch cover. Additional cost savings were found in the exhaust system which features a stainless steel muffler (instead of the R1 titainium) although the FZ retains the EXUP system.

The crank has been additionally weighted 650 grams to smooth out the power delivery of the engine while the clutch size and weight has been reduced (by 410 grams) to improve shifting. The FZ clutch gains an additional drive and driven plate to offset the reduced diameter, and therefore reduced swept area, of the plates as a whole.

The cooling system incorporates two changes, a 60mm shorter radiator and additional coolant plumbing which warms the idle circuit on the carburetors.

The gear ratios remain consistent with the R1 but both shafts have been lengthened slightly to accommodate the new clutch and the new engine position.

The biggest departure (besides the styling and ergonomics) from the R1 is the frame. The frame is reminiscent of a late eighties GSXR frame but crafted of large diameter steel tubing instead of Aluminum. It is not an unattractive frame but it is not light and the bolt on lower engine section has to reduce rigidity.

Strangely the 43mm forks on the FZ1 are actually bigger than the 41mm units fitted to the R1. The springs have been stiffened up and made progressive compared to the R1, presumably to handle the increase in the overall weight of the bike (up from 385 lbs to a portly 459.

The swingarm is internally braced aluminum attached to a fully adjustable but perhaps overworked rear shock.

Although the front wheel and brakes are lifted directly from the R1, the rear wheel has been narrowed from 6.0 inches to 5.5 to lighten the handling. The rear tire has been narrowed accordingly from 190 to 180.

A new gas tank has been created which carries 5.5 gallons of fuel, an increase of .7 gallons over the R1.

The creature comforts for two up riding include a new seat, lower passenger pegs and a resin composite grab rail for the passenger. My test passenger instinctively utilized the more traditional “rider’s waist” over the new grab rail.

There is an impressive line of accessories that can be added to the FZ all available from Yamaha. This includes such things as a carbon muffler ($414) which cuts weight by seven pounds and increases peak bhp by 2 and bolsters the midrange by 5. The lower handle bar mounts ($85) coupled with the titanium flat handlebar ($70) should shut up my whining about riding position while saving 2.25 lbs. There are also a selection of carbon dress-up pieces and a few alternate seats available.

 
 
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