2011 Yamaha FZ8

The Yamaha FZ8 claims the most direct lineage to the old UJM (Universal Japanese Motorcycle) banner. The tuning fork brand touted the versatility of its four-cylinder standard as one of its main selling points at the press introduction earlier this year. Another banner feature of the Yamaha is its MSRP, notable as the lowest in this group, and by a tidy sum of $1100. But does the budget bike hold its own on the road?

The FZ8 and its larger-displacement sibling, the FZ1, are based off the same engine architecture of a pre-crossplane R1. Yamaha never intended the FZ8 to deliver rip-snorting literbike power, however, so it features a narrower 68mm bore. Mellower cams actuate the four-valve heads, with the engine tuned for street-friendly low- and mid-range performance. While it can’t compete with the character and personality of the Twin and Triple in this review, the liquid-cooled 779cc Four provides ample road-worthy performance.

The Yamaha engine exceeded the expectations of our Road Test Editor, who noted: “As soon as I dialed in some throttle I was pleased with the performance of the Yamaha engine. It is very smooth and easy to use but it lacks the soul of the Euro bikes. It would have been nice if Yamaha would have used a crossplane-equipped engine as used in the current generation Yamaha R1 but that would have jacked up the price too much.”

That smooth compliment cuts both ways: it makes the FZ8 engine quite user-friendly, but at the expense of the character that makes the Triumph so endearing. It’s a tricky formula, refinement without being too bland. That said the Yamaha Four isn’t some mute wallflower at the dance, it spools up high and emits a wail that will get the blood pumping in any sportbike enthusiast.

The Yamaha did register test-leading peak horsepower, with 95.7 ponies at 10,000 rpm. The Yamaha torque curve looks a bit manic on the dyno sheet, peppy down low with a power dip around 5K before bouncing back up again with a screaming mid-range kick at 6K and climbing steady from there until signing off at the 11,5oo redline.

On road the jumpy powerband doesn’t prove a hindrance. Riders can waltz along at a more subdued pace, the engine happy to motor down low a couple gears high. Wick it up past high noon on the tach and the FZ8 is more than happy to play along, where the high-speed performance approaches but doesn’t quite match the Triumph. The Yamaha Four does suffer from some expected buzz, particularly at higher revs, but the sensation is restrained at sensible speeds.

Silky, buttery, smooth… we’ve long since exhausted the thesaurus looking for new ways to describe Japanese-OEM transmissions. The FZ8 is typical spec with its snick-snick-snick six-speed gearbox and seamless clutch engagement.

Riding position on the Yamaha is pure standard, upright and the most natural for our dimensions. The 32.1-inch seat height is unimposing, the seat itself fairly narrow and providing a reasonable reach to the ground, with smaller-statured riders at the press introduction claiming it an easy bike to get along with. We’ll also second our first ride impression that the seat comfort works well enough for sub-100-mile runs but isn’t optimal for touring. While the seat is narrow, the engine in front of it is wide, giving the FZ8 a bulky feel compared to its slimmer competitors.

The scales confirm the bulky impressions, as the FZ8 registers 466 pounds (credit Yamaha for not fudging with the claimed weight, as it cites 467 curb weight). Heaviest of the test by 17 pounds, the Yamaha carries it well, however.

“Handling on this motorcycle is excellent, the center of gravity feels low (like the rest of the bikes) and it steers very easily,” claims Adam. “The suspension has outstanding compliance on rough roads but still has a decent level of damping during more spirited riding on curvy roads. This made it feel a bit more planted and secure than the BMW on faster roads.”

Naysayers will cite the lack of adjustment on the FZ8 suspension components, but we figure it a fair compromise of cost and performance. The inverted 43mm KYB fork is more taut and amenable to high-speed shenanigans than the soft BMW sticks. As for the rear YHSJ shock (Yamaha-owned company formerly known as SOQI), it’s on the soft side and offers only preload adjustment. Rebound adjustment, like that offered on the BMW shock, would be welcomed, as would a remote dial for easy preload changes. Bottom line the suspension doesn’t hamper performance to unacceptable levels, and the rationale for Yamaha’s componentry is sound, with rider’s craving higher performance likely already set on the fully-adjustable FZ1. As for rumors of an uprated FZ8R, which was spied in middleweight-crazed France, for now it remains an unconfirmed Euro-only spec.

One comparative detraction in road performance was in the tires, with the Yamaha’s sport-touring spec Bridgestone BT-021 deemed less grippy than the Michelin and Pirelli-shod BMW and Triumph by Adam, who penned our 2010 Street Motorcycle Tire Comparsion.

The Yamaha’s brakes are effective, if unspectacular in this comparison lineup. They would pass muster without serious complaint had they not been in direct comparison with the impressive binders on the Triumph. Adam does note the less aggressive bite of the Yamaha may have its advantages, saying: “The Yamaha brakes have decent power but aren’t super grabby like the Triumph which is better for less experienced riders.”

The braking package rates on par with the Beemer, though it lacks the optional ABS safety enhancement, much to the delight of Mr. Waheed – who adamantly, vociferously and categorically opposes the conceptual entanglement of ABS, much less the reality of it (excepting its new application as a performance enhancement on track bikes…). This reviewer is more receptive of ABS and would like to see it offered on future models.

Styling is bare bones on the Yamaha and the simple lines won’t sate the lusts of those with a taste for the exotic or sleek. The instrumentation is also simple, but we enjoyed its utilitarian usefulness. Easy to read digital speedo and analog tach get the job done, our only gripe being the lack of a gear position indicator – but we shall overcome that set back.

Motorcycling’s proletariat will appreciate the $8490 MSRP. It’s a reasonable sum and by far the least expensive bike in this comparison. The affordability factor makes the FZ8’s road performance a little brighter and helps to dull the sting of any complaints. It’s a budget bike with real world appeal.