Yamaha’s Triple Threat

Story by Costa Mouzouris// Photos by Matt Filion
January 1 2014

After thirty-six years, Yamaha re-introduces an inline-triple into their line-up. Could it be the beginning of things to come?

Triples are making a comeback. Not the smoky, buzzy two-strokes of the mid-1970s, but smooth, efficient and powerful four-stroke triples, offering a V-twin’s torque characteristics and an inline-four’s power. Triumph has been producing triples successfully for several years, and more recently, MV Agusta has added inline three-cylinder engines to its line-up.

The most recent manufacturer to join the triples market is Yamaha, with the 2014 FZ-09, and Yamaha Canada held a launch for the bike in Ontario’s picturesque Muskoka region. It is the first Japanese machine to use a four-stroke inline-triple in more than three decades, though it’s not the first one Yamaha has produced. That accolade belongs to the XS750, introduced in 1977 and growing to an 850 by its last year of production in 1981.

Yamaha’s newest naked bike replaces the FZ8, which has been discontinued for 2014 (the Fazer 8 remains in the line-up). The FZ-09 is an entirely new machine from the ground up, built around a 12-valve, 847 cc, liquid-cooled inline-triple that uses a 120-degree crankshaft. The cylinder bores are offset 5 mm forward from the crankshaft centre line 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 valve maintenance is scheduled at 42,000 km intervals.

2014 Yamaha FZ-09 (Front)Mikuni provides the closed-loop EFI system, which uses 41 mm throttle bodies. As on other Yamaha models, the FZ-09 uses ride-by-wire throttle control. Called YCC-T, it allows Yamaha to include three ride modes (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 offering progressively softer throttle mapping without curbing the bike’s 115 hp peak output. Torque peaks at 64.5 ft-lb. The FZ-09’s most obvious competitor is the Triumph Street Triple, and its 675 cc triple produces 105 hp and 50 ft-lb of torque.

The Yamaha takes full advantage of its additional power by maintaining a light weight, and at a claimed 188 kg wet, it is only five kilos heavier than the Triumph. Where the FZ-09 really has an advantage over the British bike is in its price. At $8,999, it is exactly $1,000 cheaper than the Street Triple.

Despite the low price, Yamaha didn’t skimp on build quality. The naked bike looks good, and fit and finish are better than its bargain price would suggest. It has some premium features, like a tapered aluminum handlebar, adjustable hand levers, the aforementioned ride modes, radial-mount front brake calipers and adjustable suspension. There are a few cost-cutting measures, the most obvious being 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.

Yamaha FZ-09 Test DriveThe company actually has alternative bodywork available for the bike, at least in Europe, where it revealed the MT-09 Street Rally motard-inspired motorcycle at the EICMA motorcycle show (across the Atlantic, the FZ-09 is known as the MT-09). The bike was originally built by a dealership in Europe, and Yamaha will make the body parts available as dealer-installed accessories.

Beneath the minimal bodywork, 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 sportbike aggressive, with rake at 25 degrees, trail at 103 mm and wheelbase at 1440 mm. Suspension consists of a 41 mm inverted fork and a single, horizontally mounted shock, 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).

The riding position is typical for a naked bike, with a slight forward lean toward the handlebar, and footpegs located a bit lower than they’d be on a supersport machine. There’s not much ahead of you when seated, and the bike’s narrow midsection (achieved partially by a narrow frame that uses outboard mounting points for the swingarm) and 815 mm seat height makes it relatively easy to reach the ground; shorter riders might only be able to get one foot flat on the ground.

Atop the handlebar is a cell phone–sized LCD instrument panel, offset to the right. I initially found the offset gauge odd looking, but then realized that the open space to its left would be an ideal location for a GPS unit. Despite the gauge’s small size, it displays plenty of information, including engine speed, road speed, time of day, both engine and ambient temperatures, odometer and two trip meters, D-mode selection, gear position, time, fuel-consumption numbers and a gear-position indicator. 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 engine emits a typical (and rather pleasing) inline-triple exhaust burble, and it spins up quickly when blipping the throttle. The power band is flat and very wide, and any gear will work at almost any speed; the gear you select depends on just how responsive you want the engine to be. It’s smooth and very torquey from low speed, yet it has tons of pulling power throughout the rev range. Clutch pull is light, and the gearbox has short, solid lever throws.

I sampled each ride mode, and settled upon the most aggressive – A mode, which provided surprisingly smooth throttle response. There was little difference between A and Standard modes, the latter providing slightly more progressive throttle response. B mode provided the softest throttle response, and would be my choice in wet or cold conditions.

The bike feels light on its feet and has a low centre of gravity, so it’s very nimble at low speeds. Pick up the pace, and it gets better. The machine is stable in a straight line and very quick to turn in, though the wide handlebar combines with the aggressive steering geometry to transmit even small steering inputs to the asphalt. Handling is a bit twitchy if you’re not careful. 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 with 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, and at least the relatively wide range of adjustability offers many possibilities.

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. To keep the price point low, the brakes are not linked, and Yamaha does not offer an ABS option in Canada.

According to Yamaha, the 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 the timeframe for their release. 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 easily and inexpensively be expanded into other segments, something Honda has done 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, almost as light, and handles well enough to compete confidently with the Triumph, or with any other middleweight naked bike, for that matter. One thing is certain: its combination of low price and admirable performance will give its competitors some grief in the showroom.

The Basics
WARRANTY 12 months, unlimited mileage
COMPANY URL www.yamaha-motor.ca
The drivetrain  
ENGINE TYPE Liquid-cooled inline triple
POWER 115 hp  (85.7kW) at 10,000 rpm
TORQUE 64.5 ft-lb (87.2 Nm) at 8500 rpm
BORE AND STROKE 78 x 59.1 mm
FUEL DELIVERY Mikuni EFI with 41 mm throttle bodies
the essentials  
FRONT SUSPENSION 41 mm inverted fork adjustable for rebound damping and preload
REAR SUSPENSION Single shock adjustable for rebound damping and preload
WHEEL TRAVEL Front: 137 mm (5.4 in.); Rear: 129 mm (5.1 in.)
BRAKES Front: twin 298 mm discs with 4-piston radial calipers; Rear: 245 mm disc with single-piston caliper
WHEELBASE 1440 mm (56.7 in.)
RAKE AND TRAIL 25 degrees/103 mm
TIRES Front: 120/70ZR17; Rear: 180/55ZR17
WEIGHT (WET) 188 kg (414 lb)
SEAT HEIGHT 815 mm (32.1 in.)

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