First Ride: 2004 Yamaha FZ6 Fazer

Having resisted the urge to tear down the hotel curtains and make them into a set of lederhosen, Jon Urry braves rain and ice-rink-like Austrian roads to put Yamaha's new emissions-friendly Fazer to the test

Austria. famous all I can come up with is Arnie and that annoying Von Trapp family and their goody goody nanny who dragged the kids up mountains singing crap songs when they should have been avoiding the Nazis. But having spent a few days there I now know Austria is famous for one other thing - roads that turn into an ice rink at the first sign of water.

Unfortunately for the launch of the Fazer the Brits brought with them the British weather, so these first impressions are really of what the bike is like to ride at relatively low speed and on wet and very slippy roads. But in some ways this was a double edged sword. Alright, I can't tell you quite what the new Fazer is like flat out, but in the wet the user friendliness of a bike is brought forward and as the Fazer is aimed at being an all-road, all-weather bike a wet test isn't such a bad thing. Well, that was what I kept telling myself as the cold mountain rain was soaking through my jeans to my pants.

But at least I wasn't alone in my misery with the weather as the Yamaha staff looked decidedly upset as the heavens opened. Which isn't surprising when you consider how important the Fazer is to Yamaha.

In Europe 20 per cent of bikes sold are middle-weight 600s, Fazers, SV650s, Hornets, Bandits etc and 30 per cent of this market is currently occupied by the Fazer. Since its launch six years ago Yamaha has shifted over 100,000 of the little buggers, which makes it quite an earner.

And for 2004 Yamaha is attempting to gain an even bigger stake in the market by following Suzuki's lead with the SV and making the Fazer in both a naked and half-faired version. Why? Well, according to the Yamaha people the half-faired version is more touring biased - hence the fairing and extras which include taller screen, luggage, top-box and bellypan - while the naked version is more performance orientated and comes with a single seat, carbon hugger and small screen as extras.

For this launch only the half-faired version was available to ride, which was a blessing considering the weather. Production of it has already started with bikes in the shops now, while the naked Fazer won't be here until early next year to coincide with the better weather.

Unlike two years ago when the Fazer got a very slight facelift, the 2004 bike is a totally new machine and really it's only a Fazer by name as virtually no component remains unchanged from the old bike.

For a start there is a brand new motor. Gone is the old carbed Thundercat motor, killed off by EU emissions laws, and in its place sits a fuel-injected R6 motor with slight modifications to the cams to give it more mid-range. The old steel-tubular frame is replaced by a state of the art die-cast aluminium unit that instead of being constructed by welding parts together as normal is actually cast as two sides then bolted together which, according to Yamaha, makes it stiffer.