Brothers by Design, Competitors by Nature

Story by Marcus Martellacci, Jenn Martin, and Glenn Roberts// Photos by Marcus Martellacci
March 1 2015

We pit these brothers against each other to see which one wins in the all-around fun bike department

Pitted against one another in a battle for supremacy, two brothers struggle to gain the upper hand. The advantage repeatedly changes hands until imminent exhaustion appears to hand down its own verdict, crushing the hopes of one unlucky soul. To the victor go the spoils and bragging rights for all eternity.
With no clear winner, and dire consequences swiftly approaching, the tiebreaker is expedited by a game of rock-paper-scissors.

I don’t think our parents had intended for us to be so competitive; then again, what else is to be expected from a couple of brothers only a year apart? Standing next to the 2014 FZ-09 and its little brother, the 2015 FZ-07, I wondered what Yamaha had intended for this fraternal pair, in regard to whom they are best suited for and how they stack up. Having them together for a couple of weeks would provide the opportunity for a few Mojo contributors to weigh in on the matter.

Big Brother

The 2014 Yamaha FZ-09 has been grabbing headlines worldwide thanks to its price point and an absolutely stomping 847 cc engine, making 115 hp and 63 ft-lb of torque. Its three-cylinder power plant delivers great low-down thrust that turns into an impressive top-end rush. The engine’s versatile nature could be the reason we’re seeing more triples on the market, as they make torque in a similar fashion to a twin and pull hard on top like an inline-four. However, Yamaha is not responsible for reviving the popularity of triples: that honour goes to Triumph, and given Triumph’s recent history of making fabulous three-cylinder engines, the boys from Hinckley should consider a new logo that includes the phrase “Told you so.”

Yamaha FZ-09 reviewWeighing in at a scant 188 kg, there’s little effort needed to pick the FZ-09 up off the side stand. The wide motocross-style handlebar provides lots of leverage, but similar to grabbing a bull by the horns, you know you’re holding onto something that could get out of hand in a hurry. The bench-shaped seat is a fairly low 815 mm, with lots of room to move around on.

While scrolling through the three engine modes it became apparent that the sporty “A” mode is very abrupt in its initial throttle response. Feathering the clutch when transitioning from a closed to open throttle eliminated the jerkiness, though it’s not an ideal solution. Software updates from Yamaha are said to solve the issue, but we haven’t had a chance to test those claims. The default “Standard” mode at start-up alleviated some of the throttle’s on-off touchiness; again, feathering the clutch helped smooth the switch.

The “B” setting is the tamest and was noticeably smoother, offering less power and urging me to put it back into A mode and open the throttle, as if to apologize to the FZ-09 for the insult. This is one of the most flexible power plants on the market, and oh what a lovely noise it emits. Making the engine howl on this bike was pure audio-erotica, and somewhere between my ear and my brain, the sound scratched an itch I didn’t know I had.

Hang on Tight

bikes riding side by sideWorth mentioning is the bike’s willingness to wheelie on the throttle in any of the first three gears, and it’s this trait more than any other that takes the FZ-09 out of the “beginner-friendly” zone and puts it in the “hooligan” category. An inexperienced or overzealous rider could be caught out by the instantaneous throttle response, light weight and short wheelbase of the FZ-09. On the other hand, an experienced rider will find those same traits make it one of the most entertaining bikes on the road.

The suspension on the FZ-09 was underwhelming at times, given the rest of the package. Despite both the front fork and rear shock being adjustable for preload and rebound damping, I struggled to find a confidence-inspiring set-up.

Little Brother

Yamaha’s announcement of the FZ-07 was overshadowed slightly by the hype surrounding the FZ-09. However, after we had a chance to sample it ourselves, some superior qualities immediately emerged. First, the throttle has a crisp, almost telekinetic response. The 689 cc parallel twin practically puts its pistons in your hands and asks, “What would you like the back wheel to do now?” A new rider couldn’t ask for a better line of communication to those 75 hp and 50 ft-lb of torque, while experienced riders will find a willing participant that wants to sing from the bottom of the tach to the top. Power comes in right off idle with an aggressive baritone note from the 270-degree crank that crescendos at a 10,000 rpm redline, where the FZ-07 feels surprisingly lively for a twin. It too will hoist the front wheel with ease in the first three gears, but doing so predictably, without fear of the handlebar smacking you in the face, as on the FZ-09.

review of the Yamaha FZ-07At 180 kg, the FZ-07 is a confidence builder, and the low seat height of 805 mm combined with a narrow waistline makes flat-footed stops possible for even a 30-inch inseam. Get the bike rolling and this featherweight’s agile nature will have you tossing it into corners and getting on the gas early. Forget about touching a knee down – power slides are way more fun, and this bike practically begs for it.

Perhaps I’m getting a bit carried away. After all, this is supposed to be the more beginner-friendly of the two new nakeds from Yamaha, but the little FZ has traits that advanced riders will be able to exploit, and they’re the same ones that new riders may never outgrow.

Suspension components are basic at best for a bike of this calibre. The rear shock is adjustable for preload, but that’s it: what you see is what you get. The front fork is a 41 mm, non-adjustable unit that felt more like a pogo stick at first, blowing through most of its travel with just a whisper from the front brake. Harsh criticism yes, but after a week commuting 110 km per day on bumpy, sometimes loose surfaces, the suspension acquitted itself admirably, soaking up everything it encountered.

Back to Back

Exploring back roads in cottage country with editor Roberts, on a perfect summer’s day, gave us the opportunity to swap bikes back and forth. The FZ-09’s engine was without a doubt the star of the show. Neither of us could resist rolling on the throttle, and for no good reason other than it was just plain fun. We must have looked as though we were attached by an invisible rubber band, as the orange FZ-09 would howl for a moment, stretching out in front of its little brother, only to rebound back into formation. Not that the twin was forgotten: it too rumbled and roared, responding to its sibling’s prodding.

Taking a few minutes to inspect the bikes, parked next to each other in the afternoon sun, highlighted several similar and very attractive components, like the multi-spoke wheels, asymmetrical swingarms and stubby exhausts. But in the case of the FZ-09, it looks as if there was some liberal use of the ugly stick in the final moments of the design phase – that radiator and headlight must reside in the cost-savings column. The FZ-07, however, wasn’t spared the rod either, as its headlight appears to be ripped from the same cloth. Thankfully, the FZ-07’s trellis frame takes your eyes off its radiator, which at the very least has some shrouds to disguise it, unlike the FZ-09, whose radiator dominates any frontal view.

Riding back to civilization on the super slab ended up being quite a bit more comfortable on the smaller bike. The upright seating position of the triple would be perfect if the seat wasn’t so painful. At one point, Glenn mercifully pulled over on the side of the road so we could switch one last time, and I almost felt badly about handing over the FZ-09 – almost.

The consensus among the motorcycling pundits is that the FZ-09 suits more-advanced riders, while the FZ-07 is a better intermediate and beginner choice. There’s no arguing with that conclusion, but I will suggest the FZ-07 performs well above expectations, creating significant overlap in the appeal of these two bikes for all levels of rider. Similarities in appearance, performance, value, and the fact that they fall under the same category of motorcycle equates to a one-two knockout combo for Yamaha in the naked segment.

By virtue of price alone, both bikes – the FZ-09 at $8,999 and the FZ-07 at $7,299 – represent incredible value for what you’re getting, although there was one that I always had my eye on. There’s no doubt that my money would be spent on the FZ-07. Sure, I’d miss the sweet triple’s howl and the way it tried to wrench my arms from their sockets, but the FZ-07 is every bit as fun, more comfortable, better looking (in my eyes) and an amazing value at $1,700 less than its bigger brother – and was a more than willing participant in whatever challenge I threw at it. This sibling rivalry is even more competitive than expected, and I wouldn’t be surprised if riders of all abilities needed a tiebreaker to decide which one they’d take home. Rock-paper-scissors, anyone?

Second Opinions

“I was wondering if you might be interested in testing a couple of bikes and giving a woman’s point of view?” editor Roberts asked. Seriously, is that even a question? I think I was walking in the office before he even put the phone down.

My mission when riding these incredibly exciting bikes was with the mindset of what skill level of rider should consider them.

Honestly, both felt so easy to ride with their standard upright riding position. With tapered seats, the reach to the ground was no issue for me (5 foot 11). I also allowed some vertically challenged friends (around 5 foot 4) to sit on them and, as experienced riders, they were fine with the seat height as well.

The FZ-07 is an incredibly nimble, fun bike to ride and proof you do not need big power. It was ideal for riding around town and even on longer trips. For a new rider, the wide handlebar and light weight would feel natural and inspire confidence. As an experienced rider, I had a massive smile on my face the whole time.
In comparison, the FZ-09 has three throttle mapping modes: Standard (default), B for city driving (soft) and A for being most aggressive. For this to be considered a beginner’s bike, I would suggest as part of the start-up procedure putting the engine map into B mode until becoming fully accustomed to the bike and its response. Even with all my years and experience on a motorcycle, I am fairly certain I would get into far too much trouble with the 09.

Putting aside all the technical ins and outs, and bringing it down to the bare bones, these naked bikes are quite simply a total blast to ride. The thumbs-up I received when riding either from motorists immediately after pickup each time were an added bonus.

To say we were looking forward to having both the FZ-09 and the FZ-07 here at the same time would be an understatement. Both of these bikes exude a no-holds-barred level of excitement.

I found the fuelling on the FZ-09 a little irritating, especially in A mode; the throttle was too touchy for most riding scenarios. Luckily, it also had the Standard and B modes to revert to. The extra-wide turning radius on the FZ-09 made it difficult to manoeuvre in tight spaces, so it would take a bit of planning if you were in a congested parking lot or attempting U-turns.

The FZ-07, on the other hand, was much more friendly in almost all aspects. The engine was just as much fun, particularly if the rpm was kept in the higher reaches of the tach. Acceleration was more civil in the city as well.

The seat was also more comfortable after a few hours on the road, and this was helpful because this is a bike you just don’t want to get off of.
While both are outstanding motorcycles, I think the FZ-09 is too much of a handful for the beginner, even with the engine modes. The FZ-07 is my choice for the new or intermediate rider, and it’s entertaining and powerful enough to keep the experienced rider amused for a long time.
There is no question you get an awful lot of motorcycle for the price of these bikes, but to get that price, some of the components are not from the top shelf in the parts room. The good thing is, the money you save enables you to upgrade some of the parts to the higher-spec aftermarket components that will make these bikes all that much better.

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