It's rush hour in Seattle and all is right in my world. A damp Pacific chill pours down my open collar. My hands clamp the bars a little too tightly. The motorcycle under me is light and lively and communicating perfectly despite its newness. All around are commuters, packed to the rafters in city buses and cocooned Priuses tuned to the siren song of NPR. Me? I've got the bark of a 689cc crossplane parallel twin keeping me focused on one thing: riding as hard as traffic will allow. We're just recently acquainted, and the Yamaha FZ-07 already knows me.
You already know Yamaha pretty well, too. This is the company that brought you the engine of the Toyota 2000GT, the Taurus SHO, the heads of the ZR1, and the wild thing inside the LF-A. They've built F1 engines for Zakspeed, Tyrell, Jordan, and Brabham. They make raucous, soulful engines and characters out of cars. Oh yeah, and they make motorcycles.
A column of us, journalists and Yamaha people, filter through traffic and onto a massive ferry bound for the wilder roads of Bainbridge Island. Good as it was in the city, the FZ-07 is better just outside it. A little open road, and that crossplane twin comes alive. You short-shift it, not to exploit the powerband (there's more than enough power to go around), but for the sake of boiling up more induction noise.
At just under $7000, the FZ-07 is meant to be inexpensive. It touches on incredible. Very few new things, bikes or cars, are better than they are cheap, but Yamaha nailed the formula. The suspension is basic: a non-adjustable right-side-up fork, a single shock in the rear that's adjustable for preload. The chassis? It's steel, a simple backbone that ties the whole thing together. Throttle-by-wire? Traction control? ABS? Nope. Brakes are perfectly sufficient dual-pistons for the front, with a single piston at the rear. There's no new or surprising technology to write about here, just really great engineering.
Out in the country, the bike feels small, thin, and dense. It's a lithe and lively little thing. The low 31.7-inch seat height and sub-400-lb wet weight only confirm what you already knew. The seat is tapered to heighten the impression of smallness, and it's just right. You stay where you sat, knees bent comfortably, no scootching around to find comfort over a long haul. At 5'11, I look a touch big in the photos from the ride. That makes me like it even more.
There's leverage in those big bars. It encourages extra wrasslin' in the corners. On tightening right-handers, you press close to the white line just to whip through the long grass overhanging the road. You find road detritus, unreal obstacles, to scythe through with your tires, knowing exactly where your patches are and that they've always got a little more to give. Commuters, pay no heed to the joyful assing around—my new friend and I are just having a moment.
If they only knew the FZ-07 could be for them, too. It's as efficient as you're willing to be unenthusiastic. Achieving the promised EPA fuel economy of 58 mpg was therefore out of the question for me, but an acceptable end-of-the-day average in the high forties was reached with a combination of coddling and flogging.
I'll credit that parallel twin for my heavy-handedness. Yamaha says the 270-degree crank of the FZ-07 does wonders for its torque curve—and they're right—but the uneven firing intervals and resulting throaty howl are better than any dyno chart can reflect. The big exhaust collector hanging underneath the engine begs for a Sawzall and then a stubby silencer. There are delightful sounds muffled up behind the quickly-coloring exhaust tip, begging to escape and take your dignity with them. The FZ-07 already lifts its head at a handful of throttle—it wants to roar.
Our column winds out of the trees and onto the highway, through the old, industrial side of Seattle. It's a chance to admire the little Yamaha in motion. I take note of little things: There's not a loser among the three available colors. The brake light is visible from almost 90 degrees to the side. That swingarm looks good. I don't like the profile, but the front ¾ is killer. As we enter the city, the dash, a handsome digital affair, happily informs me that I've almost burned through the 3.7-gallon tank. Every drop was good.
And the FZ-07 was expected to be good. For a year, and for a grand more, we knew the FZ-09 offered another cylinder, another 158cc of displacement, throttle-by-wire, and exactly the same intense character. It was a challenge to make a smaller, less-featured motorcycle live up to the family legacy, but the FZ-07 does just that—and is better for its simplicity.
We don't just want these twin bargains, we need them. We need great, cheap bikes to thrill a generation that doesn't seem to give much of a damn about taking that first huge step over the saddle. We need the character that'll keep the rest of us pining for something new. We need bikes that aren't fussy or overly-focused. And now we've got one. The FZ-07 is not concerned with horsepower, huge RPM, imagined track prowess, or the purity of sportbike-ness. It's not a niche product, just a really, really great motorcycle. Spread the word.
2015 Yamaha FZ-07
- Price: TBD
- Powertrain: 689cc liquid-cooled DOHC 4-stroke: 8 valves; 75 hp (est)
- Drivetrain: Constant mesh, 6-speed
- Fuel Economy: 58 mpg
- Wet Weight: 397 lb