Test Drive: The 2014 Yamaha FZ-07 is a Tiny Torque Monster

We test drove the Yamaha FZ-07.

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Complex Original

Image via Complex Original

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You know a bike is good when it makes you grin your face off several times over the course of a day of riding.

Let’s start with its looks. My favorite color scheme, hands down, is the Liquid Graphite with blue frame and wheels (above)—though the others (Rapid Red and Pearl White) are certainly not bad, either. It’s a good-looking naked sport-bike, and the fit and finish are dead on. As an example: If you’ve been following the bike world for a long time (but didn’t yet know anything about the FZ-07), you wouldn’t expect that swingarm to be steel, because most steel swingarms aren’t much to look at. On the FZ-07, you could be forgiven for thinking it’s aluminum, because you can tell some thought went into its design.

Now take that mentality, that careful attention to detail, apply it to the rest of the bike, and you have the FZ-07. Yamaha clearly put a lot of thought into giving you value for money; not an easy task, when some people are content to skimp on a bike that’s meant for beginners.

That's the key to the performance of this bike: It might be meant for beginners, but it’s still an awful lot of fun for experienced riders. Depending on your skill level, it might still have things to teach you. In any case, I’m confident that it will take quite some time before you get bored with this bike if you buy one. That’s something not a lot of beginner bikes can say.

We rode in downtown Seattle and took a ferry to an island for a day of riding that was full of fun roads—both long sweepers and tight twisties were in evidence, as well as some hilly climbs that I definitely don’t see around my hometown of Chicago.

The 689cc parallel twin (and yes, it’s another stressed member engine) features Yamaha’s crossplane concept 270° crank with an uneven firing interval. This crank technology has trickled down from the flagship R1 into a few more of Yamaha’s recent lower-end sportbike offerings. That doesn’t mean that it sounds like a crossplane R1, but it does sound very, very good with its stock exhaust.

Offering a claimed 50.2 lb-ft of torque at 6500 rpm, Yamaha says (although it doesn’t print) that the FZ-07 puts out around 74-75 HP. Yamaha also claims that it gets 58 mpg—just one thing among many that I was keen to test over the day’s ride.

Seattle has some really hilly bits, even within the city itself. In the spirit of full disclosure, I’m not used to riding up and down big hills in crowded metropolitan areas. The genius part of the torquey character and thoughtful gearing of the FZ-07 is that despite that fact, I didn’t need to worry at all. The FZ-07 was supremely easy to control, and the torque band always gave me the power I wanted when I needed it. (Stock rubber on the model I rode were Michelin Pilot Roads, which definitely helped a lot. You can also get Bridgestone Battlax 023s as a stock option if you prefer.)

The FZ-07 weighs just 397 lbs. fully fueled and ready to go, and it’s very well balanced. It’s also very narrow, so the 31.5” seat height is quite easy to manage, even if you’re short. Seating position is fairly upright, but the tank’s relative shape and positioning, as well as the placement of the controls, make it very comfortable to tuck into a sportier riding position. The seat itself is narrow up front, but wide and flat in the back—a bit like a bicycle seat. I was comfortable all day, and the ergonomics suited me perfectly—no uncomfortable vibrations to numb up my hands, and I didn’t end up with the dreaded numb ass at the end of the day, either.

Brakes are also quite good. 282mm dual wave-type rotors and monobloc 4-piston calipers stop you up front, while a 245mm wave-type rear rotor and a single piston caliper stop you in the rear. On an average day of spirited riding, you will stop when you want to stop, not before or after. Isn’t that really what you want from any bike?

Regarding the gearing of the bike, the Yamaha reps interestingly advised that it's pretty happy in fourth from around 25 mph all the way up to around 60. Yamaha purposely geared it that way so beginners can spend more time paying attention to throttle input than constant up- and downshifting—in other words, so they can spend more time having fun, and less time panicking about whether they’re shifting at the right time. I tried riding both ways; cruising around in 4th most of the time, and shifting like mad as necessary.

Either way works quite well. At 25 mph in fourth, the engine burbles along and sounds almost like a bigger twin—but never like it’s angry at being in that gear at such low RPM. If you choose to shift all the time (as you would with most sportbikes), the FZ-07 is more than happy to do that, as well. All shifting was smooth and precise, and I never had problems finding all six gears—or even neutral. Ever. No clunky, chunky noises; there were no unwanted surprises or miscues when shifting. Again, I ask: Isn’t that really what you want from any bike?

The FZ-07 also features a completely new meter—or instrument cluster, to most of us. It’s one big LCD panel, but it offers a wealth of well-laid-out, thoughtfully arranged information. The buttons to cycle through all the information that screen gives you are easy to use, and the menu is very intuitive. Additionally, you can read that LCD screen in any light—including direct sunlight. Style-wise, it almost put me in mind of the futuristic look that Aprilias do so well, and I mean that as a compliment.

Controls are smooth and easy to operate. One interesting feature that’s apparently a new Yamaha thing is the single integrated switch that can slide forward to act as a kill switch, or slide back to start the engine. No separate starter button, unlike most bikes. It’s easy to get used to, but it might throw you for a second if you haven’t experienced another recent Yamaha with this setup.

So what about that claimed 58 mpg? As a bike aimed at urban riders, that’s an important figure to consider. Sure, it’s light, nimble, and a ridiculous amount of fun for a staggeringly low price. ($6,990; are you kidding me?!) But what about gas?

After the day was done, including some congested downtown Seattle traffic and other assorted slow-speed moments, I’d averaged 50.3 mpg. Some of that was open highway at high speeds, and some of that was slow and congested commuter-type riding—in other words, the sort of mixed riding that might happen on any given day, if you take the long way home.

That means you’re effectively getting maxi-scooter gas mileage out of a 689 cc sport bike. This is a bike that’s seriously fun to ride, will absolutely inspire confidence in beginner riders, and is still interesting enough that even the experienced racers (who generally had much more riding experience than I do) in my press group were grinning after having ridden it. All for a bike starting at just less than seven grand. 

If I sound like I’m a bit in love with this bike, it’s because I am. If I were looking for a new bike for myself just now, this would probably be top of my list. Yamaha just managed to make the concept of “practical” ridiculously fun—not an easy feat, by any means. If there’s any justice in the world, this thing should fly out of showrooms and into riders' hearts.

Sure, on paper, you could be upset that it has conventional forks instead of USD. Or that the suspension only features adjustable preload and nothing else. But it’s not a high-end sportbike. It’s pretty well-specced for its price point—and most importantly, it never feels cheap.

It’s hitting showrooms now, and the Yamaha demo truck is starting to make the rounds across the country. Go check this thing out if you’re in the market for a new sportbike, no matter your level of experience. You can find an official demo event near you on their website.

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