First Ride

First Ride: 2006 Yamaha FZ-1

Rob Hoyles rides the all-new FZ-1 in South Africa

If there's one thing that's sure to put paid to any chances of admiring of the breathtaking scenery along South Africa's spectacular coastline, it's a seriously fast motorcycle and a road that never seems to point in one direction for a moment longer than it takes to change gear.

Not that I'm complaining. Swapping the dour, sub-zero, overcast Midlands for azure blue skies, perfectly surfaced roads, a strong possibility of sunstroke and the chance to be among the first in the world to test a new bike, is hardly an invitation that takes too much consideration.

The fast motorcycle in question is Yamaha's latest addition to its extensive range of two-wheelers; the naked 150bhp FZ-1 and its fully-faired brother, the FZ-1 Fazer.

What does a 150bhp bike go like?

The replacement for the popular FZS1000 Fazer, the new machine boasts specifications that were once the sole preserve of out-and-out sports bikes.

The chassis has been brought bang up to date, using the same CF die-casting techniques employed in the production of the YZF-R1 and R6, with a re-tuned version of the latest R1 engine acting as a stressed member to improve rigidity. Upside-down forks also grace the new machine along with R1-style, five-spoke wheels to reduce unsprung weight and, ultimately, improve handling.

So, it would appear that Yamaha have finally realised the existence of a new breed of rider that hankers after a sports bike but doesn't want the radical riding position and expense that goes with it. Essentially, they've realised the need for well-engineered, large capacity naked bikes that handle, rather than just sticking a proven motor into a budget chassis and have finally done something about it.

But what does it go like? Unsurprisingly, the combination of more power and less weight equals faster motorcycle. The new FZ-1 and FZ-1 Fazer both boast 150bhp and weigh in at 198kg and 204kg respectively, which adds up to a power increase of 7bhp and a considerable weight loss from the outgoing model's 208kg.

Put into layman's terms, the naked bike is over one-and-half stones lighter, the faired version just over half-a-stone lighter. Right, that's the techy part out of the way, onto the riding.

But what does it go like? Unsurprisingly, the combination of more power and less weight equals faster motorcycle. The new FZ-1 and FZ-1 Fazer both boast 150bhp and weigh in at 198kg and 204kg respectively, which adds up to a power increase of 7bhp and a considerable weight loss from the outgoing model's 208kg.

Put into layman's terms, the naked bike is over one-and-half stones lighter, the faired version just over half-a-stone lighter. Right, that's the techy part out of the way, onto the riding.

Smmothly does it ... pegs down on the FZ-1

Out on the roads, the bike can be ridden leisurely, relying on the torquey motor which pulls strongly from around 3,000rpm upwards, or if you prefer, thrashed to a redline slightly north of 11,000rpm with arm-wrenching results. But in between those figures, it's not all roses for the new Yamaha. Where the previous model was noted for its super-smooth, carburettor-fed delivery, the new injected machine tends to stutter feathering the power in from a closed throttle - often noticeable either adjusting a line mid-corner or trying to keep things smooth in town without resorting to slipping the clutch. Of course, it must be borne that these bikes were pre-production models and the Japanese took our criticism very seriously, but even so, I was surprised that this fault had slipped through the net.

Much of it will be due to the ever-stifling laws regarding emissions, and I daresay an easier-breathing pipe and a Power Commander would make all the difference, but I'm still not impressed. Let's just hope it's a teething problem and that Yamaha sort it out in time for mass production. After a few hours in the saddle, you kind of get used to the niggling injection; though you never quite forget it's there.

Up she comes (niggling fuel injection not pictured)

A few miles in and our route takes us along a road where corner meets corner, and threatening sheer drops fall to the sea and rock faces beckon should you put a wheel wrong. Happily the bike's handling errs towards neutrality rather than being flighty and it responds well to the riders inputs. Ground clearance has definitely been improved too, and while there's not as much lean angle available as let's say an R1, you still need to be pressing on a fair bit to deck anything out - including the chunky exhaust silencer.The suspension itself does feel a little basic though. Again, Yamaha are known for listening to what European testers tell them (we're not all seven stone flyweights like the Japanese riders) and hopefully are comments will be heeded.

It's not terrible per se, and the stiffer set-up definitely makes it feel sportier than the old Fazer, it's just that the damping doesn�?�¢??t feel too controlled, particularly on the rebound stroke where spirited one-up riding could have the back wheel kicking off the floor over bumps quite easily.

Bashing around the tight mountain hairpins in jeans and paddock jacket (yes, I know I should have worn leather) I probably became super-sensitive to the slightest twitch of the bike. In a nutshell, the outright limit on the new bike is way higher than on the old bike, it just doesn't cosset the rider quite as well - it's not as plush.

Ideally suited ... we think FZ-1 looks best in black

As the fun of these tight turns fades into the distance, the roads open out into sweeping bends and flat-out straights. This is where the benefit of the faired version comes in. The wind protection is good allowing a full exploration of the bike's performance in the higher gears, which on the FZ-1 and Fazer are higher than those on the R1 to improve fuel economy - though you'll struggle to get the bike to rev out in top - perhaps with a 60mph tail wind and steep descent you might get close!

The naked version isn't terrible at speed but, understandably anything in excess of 100mph for any length of time really isn't that comfortable. Incidentally, both seem to have catered well for pillion riders with well-placed footpegs and grab rails on the faired bike.

Back into the mountains for the run back on the naked FZ-1 and the lack of a fairing doesn't count for anything at these lower speeds, merrily grazing the pegs through sinuous hairpin passes. If anything, the un-faired machine feels slightly more involving when the going gets twisty, despite the fact that there is no difference in chassis layout other than the obvious extra weight and visual aspect of the Fazer's half fairing - funny how the mind works.

Stunt monkey ... he just couldn't resist, could he?

Both bikes offer slightly different riding experiences. The naked bike feels more aggressive and more involving, while the faired bike offers similar handling and performance characteristics in a slightly more refined package. Which one you go for depends on what you want from a bike. If long distance tours are your bag then the choice is obvious, if it's street kudos (and awesome stunt potential) you're after then the same applies.

Overall, the new Yamaha FZ-1 and FZ-1 Fazer offer yet more choice in a time when there are more options than ever before in the motorcycle market. The choice between this bike; Kawasaki's Z1000, Triumph's Speed triple or even Benelli's TnT isn't going to be an easy one though - best you book yourself a test ride and see for yourself!

The new models will be available from Yamaha dealers in March '06, priced at £7,199 and £7,599 respectively.

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