Road Test: Yamaha FZ1 v. Ducati Monster

Psst... Don't tell anyone, but there's a revolution underway: proper sports bike motors wrapped in stripped-down, sharp-steering chassis. Run for the hills! The naked generation is upon us!

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By Jon Urry on Tue, 20 May 2008 - 10:05

Visordown Motorcycle News


Traditionally, here in the UK sports bikes rule the roost. As a biking nation we're obsessed by the fastest, lightest piece of Japanese exotica that will make us 0.1 of a second faster than last year's must-have model.

But the tide is changing. Not all that quickly, but there's a definite swing away from the plastic fantastic. Riders are now looking at other types of two-wheeled transport to get their kicks. Sales of adventure, retro and muscle bikes are on the increase, pitching manufacturers into a new battle with different rules as they try to tempt riders towards their brand.

Which raises a question: when it comes to full-on nakeds, what particular temptation works best? Does power sell, even on something without a fairing? Or is it styling that shifts bikes from dealers' floors?

It's a question that splits the two camps. The Italians reckon on a no-holds-barred approach. Aprilia has simply ripped the fairing off the RSV-R to make the Tuono and now, new on the scene, is Ducati's Monster S4Rs. A Monster with a virtual full-power 999 motor? A double espresso, if you please.

But the Japanese, as is traditional, have a far more conservative view on things. While they have let the sake go to their collective head when it comes to styling (think Z1000 and GSR600), down in the engine department the head always seems to rule the heart. Every time a new and funky naked bike is launched, the phrase, 'retuned engine for more midrange' will be heard - over and over again. Which is basically a code for, 'rip the heart out of a good motor and make it as flat as a witch's tit.' One cafŽ latte, extra cream.

But who's got it right? Should naked bikes offer sports bike performance rather than capped power? Or in an age of speeding paranoia - which is one of the main reasons for riders turning their backs on sports bikes - is muted performance mated to good looks the way to go?

In an effort to find some answers, James Whitham and I descended on south Wales with Yamaha's new FZ1 and Ducati's S4Rs. Two idiots, open roads, powerful naked bikes and about as much combined self control as George Best at a Miss World pageant.

These two bikes really do highlight the difference between the Japanese and Italian approach to nakedness, not only in engine character but also styling. Take the Monster. Like every other Monster since it was first introduced way back in 1992, Miguel Galluzzi's original design is virtually unchanged. While the S4Rs gets …hlins forks, radial brakes and twin stacked pipes, look beyond these cosmetic tweaks and the basic Monster shape is still apparent, albeit with a few extra pipes, tubes and radiators to accommodate the liquid-cooled 999 motor rather than the traditional - for a Monster - air-cooled unit. Iconic? A modern classic? Quite possibly, but next to the Yamaha the Monster shows its age.

You can't help but notice the analogue clocks, slightly cheap looking nose fairing and lack of any effort to make the liquid-cooled lump blend in. Rather than try and hide the pipework Ducati has simply stuck the engine in a frame, popped on some carbon bits and bobs to spice things up and... that's it. But dig further and you spot the real quality components. The wheels are beautiful, suspension and brakes top notch and the red frame complements the red-striped pearl white paint perfectly.

No such frills with the FZ1. No fancy suspension, no big name brake calipers and no carbon. Instead, you get a bike styled in the 21st century. The FZ1 is bang up to date with current styling trends of sharp angles and aggressive looks, and its engine, although also liquid- cooled, has none of the Ducati's half finished look; instead exposed pipes are black to match the lump's dark finish. It may have started life under the fairing of an R1, but Yamaha has put it on show and made it look good.

Unfortunately the boffins haven't been quite so studious when it comes to the FZ1's power. When we tested the faired FZ1 Fazer in the July issue the Yamaha's chronic on/off throttle fuel injection glitch was a major bugbear on the bike, and unfortunately the FZ1 also has this trait.

Rolling the throttle on from a closed position is rewarded with a sudden jerk as the power chimes in. Oddly it wasn't as pronounced as on the half-faired bike (according to Yamaha dealers some bikes are worse than others), but that doesn't stop it being very annoying. On a short test ride, or low speed commute, the glitch isn't that pronounced, which is perhaps why few people complain about it during test rides, but use the bike every day and it's a real bitch. Given a twisty road where you'll be closing the throttle, turning into corners then powering out, the glitch makes smooth riding impossible. You just can't make the throttle respond smoothly at small openings, which is such a shame as it ruins the enjoyment of the bike. It's almost a really good machine but this spoils it. You can't knock the looks, and the chassis is very sporty, if harshly sprung and lacking a bit in ground clearance, but the motor lets the whole package down. As well as the fuel injection both James and myself couldn't understand its lack of bottom end, which was even more pronounced compared to the torque of the Ducati.

To get any real drive out of the FZ1 the revs need to be over 6000rpm which, when combined with the ridiculously high 86mph first gear, means that before any real drive kicks in the bike has to be doing over 30mph. Great for first gear hairpins, not so good for pulling away from traffic lights. So in this case it's a big thumbs down for modified sports bike engines. But what about unchanged ones?

Well, almost unchanged. Ducati claims the S4Rs has the engine from a 999S, but it isn't as clear cut as that. Although the engine has the same bore and stroke the gearbox is different and the S4Rs has smaller fuel injectors, which cuts the power by a claimed 13bhp. Not a huge deal, especially when the Ducati has a genuine 119.6bhp at the rear wheel.

But it's not the Monster's power that impresses, more the way it's delivered. The Testastretta motor has drive right through the range, and as near-perfect fuel injection as you can get. Compared to the jerky FZ1 the Duke is a joy to ride. Any gear, any revs, the S4Rs pulls strongly in a totally linear fashion. Yes, some may find this less inspiring than the top end rush of the Yamaha, but for day-to-day use it's far more easy going. As long as you're on the move, that is. As with all Monsters this Monster is a, er, Monster in town.

The problem with the Ducati is that to follow the Monster style every one has the same riding position, which offers an uncomfortable stretch to the wide bars and very high and cramped footpegs. Through town this is a complete nightmare, and if it doesn't break you after half an hour of filtering the heavy clutch will.

Not so with the Yamaha. Learn to deal with the fuel injection and the rest of the bike is well suited to slow speed riding. The FZ1 comes with a huge steering lock (again putting the Ducati to shame with its typical lack of lock) and a comfortable, upright, riding position. If you're looking at a weekend plaything the Monster's chassis is far more suited to open road riding than cramped town filtering.

On the Welsh roads the Monster was by far the easiest bike to simply get on and enjoy. As well as battling the jerky fuel injection Yamaha has given the FZ1 very harsh and unforgiving suspension. Much like with the Fazer 600 when it was updated, Yamaha seems to have abandoned the smooth ride in an effort to sport-up the FZ1. Rather than absorb any bumps and ripples in the road the FZ1's suspension seems to simply transfer the kick directly to the rider, resulting in a harsh and often bum-leaving-seat ride. Whitham reckoned it was probably down to a too hard rear spring, but it shows what a difference decent suspension makes to a bike because the Ducati with its …hlins has none of these problems. With the Monster you get a smooth, if a little slow turning, ride on a bike with a fantastically balanced chassis and beautiful engine.

But, and here's the catch, which of the two would get our money? Will power or beauty win over? The problem with the Ducati is it just looks so old hat. Okay, some will argue that it's classically styled, but park it next to the Yamaha and it looks like a bike from another age. Great if you like the that sort of thing, but I'd love to have seen a radical looking Monster housing such a fantastic engine. For me the S4Rs just doesn't look cutting edge enough to justify a £9495 price tag. The engine and chassis cut it, the look doesn't.

On the face of it the Yamaha offers more than its £7199 price tag would suggest, but the fuel injection glitch and harsh suspension ruins it. As it is sold in the shops the FZ1 simply isn't good enough and feels half-finished. The suspension I could live with, the injection I couldn't - it would drive me up the wall. As Tim has found it is fixable (see his longterm pieces in previous and future issues), but why should you pay an extra £400-odd to sort a problem on a brand new bike?

So what makes the ideal naked? In this case a combination of the two: the looks of the Yamaha and the motor of the Ducati. It's time the Japanese gave us what we want - naked bikes with enough oomph to back up their aggressive looks. If Yamaha sort the FZ1's fuelling and lower first gear a touch then they may just have it.

WHITHAM'S SECOND OPINION - DUCATI S4Rs

I've always liked the look of the Monster, and this for me is about the best looking example. White wheels, retro style paintwork, and purposeful looking Ohlins forks and shock.

It's when you ride it that things start to get a little clouded and less clear cut, and without sounding too much like a Third Division football manager here, this is a bike of two halves. Some things are nearly perfect, while other aspects are below average.

The motor is a gem, and although detuned from the 999 it feels like it has more than the 120-odd bhp it puts out. Power delivery is smooth and throttle response instant.

The brakes were simply the best I've ever come across outside of racing. Come to that they were better than some I've had within racing... Loads of stopping power with loads of feel too.

But the seating position was all wrong for this kind of bike, with your arms and body stretched forward and legs bent nearly double.

I wasn't impressed with the handling and steering either; it felt quite lazy and un-precise somehow, with the front soft and the rear firm. I expected more from a bike with …hlins.

Overall it's like a mega engine and brakes bolted onto a steady old chassis that should feel better given the suspension it has.

WHITHAM'S SECOND OPINION - YAMAHA FZ1

The Yamaha FZ1 for me looks as good as the Monster. More modern, compact and aggressive, but just as appealing.

After that, it's strange, but the Yamaha seemed to be the exact opposite of the Duke. Where the Ducati was good the Yam was average and vice-versa.

The riding position is spot-on for this kind of naked bike. Where the Duke felt stretched out and awkward, on the Yamaha you feel more upright and in control.

The handling and steering are sharp and precise. I felt at home on it straight away and by the second corner we came to I was scraping the pegs like a good 'un.

That's where the good stuff ends. The brakes are adequate but jumping straight off the Brembo-equipped super Monster they felt very average.

The main issue with this bike though is the motor's power delivery and throttle response, which lets what is, in most respects, a good bike down.

If you want to go along on a constant throttle the engine seems to surge, and if you shut off and then open the gas again nothing happens for a fraction of a second then the motor chimes in and the bike takes off. It just feels really difficult to be smooth with this engine, and it's a shame, because apart from that the Yamaha has a lot going for it.

SPECS - DUCATI

TYPE - STREETBIKE

PRODUCTION DATE - 2006

PRICE NEW - £9495

ENGINE CAPACITY - 998cc

POWER - 119.6bhp@9900rpm

TORQUE - 67.9lb.ft@7600rpm

WEIGHT - 177kg

SEAT HEIGHT - 800mm

FUEL CAPACITY - 13.5L

TOP SPEED - 153.1mph

0-60 - n/a

TANK RANGE - 122MILES

SPECS - YAMAHA

TYPE - STREETBIKE

PRODUCTION DATE - 2006

PRICE NEW - £7199

ENGINE CAPACITY - 988cc

POWER - 137.7bhp@11,900rpm

TORQUE - 67.2lb.ft@9600rpm

WEIGHT - 198kg

SEAT HEIGHT - 815mm

FUEL CAPACITY - 18L

TOP SPEED - 149.2mph

0-60 - n/a

TANK RANGE - 129MILES

Psst... Don't tell anyone, but there's a revolution underway: proper sports bike motors wrapped
in stripped-down, sharp-steering chassis. Run for the hills! The naked generation is upon us!

Traditionally, here in the UK sports bikes rule the roost. As a biking nation we're obsessed by the
fastest, lightest piece of Japanese exotica that will make us 0.1 of a second faster than last year's must-have model.

But the tide is changing. Not all that quickly, but there's a definite swing away from the plastic fantastic. Riders are now looking at other types of two-wheeled transport to get their kicks. Sales of adventure, retro and muscle bikes are on the increase, pitching manufacturers into a new battle with different rules as they try to tempt riders towards their brand.

Which raises a question: when it comes to full-on nakeds, what particular temptation works best? Does power sell, even on something without a fairing? Or is it styling that shifts bikes from dealers' floors?
It's a question that splits the two camps. The Italians reckon on a no-holds-barred approach. Aprilia has simply ripped the fairing off the RSV-R to make the Tuono and now, new on the scene, is Ducati's Monster S4Rs. A Monster with a virtual full-power 999 motor? A double espresso, if you please.

But the Japanese, as is traditional, have a far more conservative view on things. While they have let the sake go to their collective head when it comes to styling (think Z1000 and GSR600), down in the engine department the head always seems to rule the heart. Every time a new and funky naked bike is launched, the phrase, 'retuned engine for more midrange' will be heard - over and over again. Which is basically a code for, 'rip the heart out of a good motor and make it as flat as a witch's tit.' One café latte, extra cream.

But who's got it right? Should naked bikes offer sports bike performance rather than capped power? Or in an age of speeding paranoia - which is one of the main reasons for riders turning their backs on sports bikes - is muted performance mated to good looks the way to go?

In an effort to find some answers, James Whitham and I descended on south Wales with Yamaha's new FZ1 and Ducati's S4Rs. Two idiots, open roads, powerful naked bikes and about as much combined self control as George Best at a Miss World pageant.

These two bikes really do highlight the difference between the Japanese and Italian approach to nakedness, not only in engine character but also styling. Take the Monster. Like every other Monster since it was first introduced way back in 1992, Miguel Galluzzi's original design is virtually unchanged. While the S4Rs gets Öhlins forks, radial brakes and twin stacked pipes, look beyond these cosmetic tweaks and the basic Monster shape is still apparent, albeit with a few extra pipes, tubes and radiators to accommodate the liquid-cooled 999 motor rather than the traditional - for a Monster - air-cooled unit. Iconic? A modern classic? Quite possibly, but next to the Yamaha the Monster shows its age.

You can't help but notice the analogue clocks, slightly cheap looking nose fairing and lack of any effort to make the liquid-cooled lump blend in. Rather than try and hide the pipework Ducati has simply stuck the engine in a frame, popped on some carbon bits and bobs to spice things up and... that's it. But dig further and you spot the real quality components. The wheels are beautiful, suspension and brakes top notch and the red frame complements the red-striped pearl white paint perfectly.

No such frills with the FZ1. No fancy suspension, no big name brake calipers and no carbon. Instead, you get a bike styled in the 21st century. The FZ1 is bang up to date with current styling trends of sharp angles and aggressive looks, and its engine, although also liquid- cooled, has none of the Ducati's half finished look; instead exposed pipes are black to match the lump's dark finish. It may have started life under the fairing of an R1, but Yamaha has put it on show and made it look good.

Continue reading Road Test: Yamaha FZ1 v. Ducati Monster 2/3

SPECS - DUCATI

TYPE - STREETBIKE
PRODUCTION DATE - 2006
PRICE NEW - £9495
ENGINE CAPACITY - 998cc
POWER - 119.6bhp@9900rpm
TORQUE - 67.9lb.ft@7600rpm    
WEIGHT - 177kg
SEAT HEIGHT - 800mm    
FUEL CAPACITY - 13.5L    
TOP SPEED - 153.1mph
0-60     - n/a
TANK RANGE - 122MILES

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