First Ride: 2006 Yamaha FZ1 Fazer

Why build one bike when you can have two at twice the price? Yamaha's new FZ1 naked and half-faired FZ1 Fazer emerge into the cold light of day

Every now and then a new model appears that gets me quite excited. The new FZ1 Fazer was one of those, and in this case because it appeared to tick all the boxes for the sort of bike I'd be looking to buy right now with my own money if I had any.

As with the original Fazer 1000, which shoe-horned an early, carb'd R1 motor into a pretty basic steel tube frame, the recipe for the new model is a simple one: stick a re/detuned R1 motor in a modern but less sport-focused chassis, dumb down the suspension a touch, bolt some sensible bars on and add a practical yet sporty half fairing. Bingo, a new FZ1 Fazer. Except Yamaha has decided to spread its bets and offer a naked version too, the FZ1.

That'll come later. For now, and for no other reason than because I want to, we'll concentrate on the half-faired Fazer. The bike is a logical progression from the increasingly outdated Fazer 1000 (we're on our third incarnation of R1 motor since that came out). Stylistically and ergonomically it's sharper and on paper, given the fuel injected motor, USD forks and chunky aluminium frame, the new Fazer is a leap up the evolutionary ladder from the old model. It feels lighter, more compact -bordering on the small, in fact, compared to the gangly old Fazer 1000 - and, with a fat, stubby exhaust, looks bang up to date.

The new bike's engine comes from the 2004/'05 R1, not the breathed-on, slightly stronger 2006 version. The motor is re-tuned for a claimed 150bhp at 11,000rpm and 78lb.ft at 8000rpm, with a 12,000rpm redline, 1750rpm lower than the R1's. Primary and final drive ratios are the same, as are first to fourth gear ratios, while fifth and sixth are a touch taller for longer-legged cruising. Fans of the R1's 104mph (indicated) in first gear will be disappointed to know the Fazer only hits 85mph or so, thanks to the lower upper rev limit.

The prospect of a nearly up-to-date R1 lump promises much, except the reality is that it delivers something far less. Precisely where you'd want and expect a litre motor in a style of bike like this to be strongest - in the low and midrange - it feels flat and uninspiring. It would be easy to counter criticism by arguing that a bhp-crazed bike journalist spoiled rotten on a diet of cutting edge 1000cc sports bikes is going to turn his nose up at anything that doesn't mark a new milestone in unnecessary straight line performance. But low down the Fazer is emasculated to an unexpected degree. Okay, anyone experiencing a 1000cc motor for the first time will be impressed enough, but owners of the old Fazer 1000, and certainly those acquainted with the current R1's twistgrip, may wonder what's going on in the lower reaches of the rev range.

Perhaps noise and emission regulations, along with a desire to rein in power delivery as built-in foolproof-ness for those moving up to their first big bike, led Yamaha to temper the performance. But to remove so much from the low and midrange seems odd. The motor feels castrated in exactly the place the everyday rider, commuter or two-up sports tourer wants an excess of instant, usable grunt, not a dearth of it. Pulling away with any urgency requires a handful of revs and lots of clutch slip, and the Fazer has to be spun up above 6000rpm to actually feel fast - which it eventually does, thanks, and with no complaints. But that seems out of kilter for a machine aimed at riders other than those of a flat-out sporting nature. Fueling doesn't help either, with a snatchiness to the delivery when trying to feed in small amounts of throttle at low rpm, say around hairpins or out of junctions in town.

Chassis wise, things were closer to expectations. At low speed the Fazer feels manageable and is easily manoeuvrable in tight spots and slow-moving traffic, with good steering lock and a decent, usable rear brake. On faster, twistier stuff, steering is light and responsive if not rapier fast. Suspension feels nicely firm at first and will probably be more welcoming initially to those of a sporting, not touring, disposition, but throw in some bumps and ripples and there's a harshness to the damping. Both front and rear lose feedback and control on bumpy roads and skip about rather than absorbing bumps, but I'll wager the rear at least will behave better with a pillion on board. Ground clearance was the limiting factor though.I'm not a big footrest scraper but the Fazer's pegs were dragging all over the place. It's kind of fun but could be a real issue for some, especially those planning regular two-up trips. Further suspension fiddling may help resolve the issue.

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