Road Test: 2011 Yamaha Fazer 8

Written by Uwe Wachtendorf on .

Eight is Enough

2011_Fazer8_1I had an opportunity last year to test Yamaha’s new FZ8, an all new mid-displacement motorcycle that filled the gap between the company’s 600 cc FZ6 and 1000 cc FZ1 machines. In theory, an 800 cc model combines the best attributes of the two sizes: the agility of a smaller displacement machine and the robust power of the larger one. The middleman formula has been around for decades and is a proven quantity that has resulted in some of the best motorcycles ever built; for example, Suzuki’s GSX-R750 is, arguably, one of the best all-around sport bikes currently being manufactured.

The Fazer 8 was launched alongside the FZ8 as an alternative for riders who require some measure of protection from the elements. According to Yamaha Canada, the Fazer is the model that more Canadians will end up buying – or more accurately – it’s the model most frequently ordered by dealers that are trying to anticipate what their customers will want. The Fazer’s half-fairing is the only feature differentiating it from its stablemate, the completely naked FZ-8. The visual effect of fitting a fairing on an FZ8 is dramatic. Although it’s a brutally handsome machine, the added girth of a fairing creates an effect similar to putting a supermodel on a steady diet of chocolate dipped donuts. From the back the Yamaha presents a svelte image that accentuates the rear tire and makes its 180 mm radial look more like a 200.

Yamaha bills the bike’s riding position as being on the sporty side of upright. I found that there was enough of a forward cant to weight my arms and wrists on the bar – a welcome posture if you plan on doing a lot of highway riding – but in slow moving, big city traffic I found myself wishing that the handlebar was slightly higher. The pegs were high enough to provide plenty of ground clearance, but not high enough to cramp my legs or cause discomfort to my worn-out knees. Where I did have an issue was when I lowered my feet to the ground. The pegs were in the exact location where my feet wanted to naturally fall; it took an hour of having my calves stabbed at every stop before I adapted to their location and forced myself to plant my feet elsewhere.

2011_Fazer8_2A side benefit of the mostly upright riding position and a respectably tall 815mm (32.1”) seat height was that it gave me a commanding view of the road – providing I was riding behind a car. Too often that wasn’t the case and I had to hug the extremes of the lane to see around the predominant vehicles of the road, meandering leviathans known as SUVs and minivans that at least were easy prey for a motivated rider on a Fazer.

The fairing’s effect was only appreciable at higher speeds when it was directing a turbulence-free blast of air toward my upper chest, which relieved the weight on my arms and added comfort to the ride. In light of this attribute, potential buyers will need to know what the majority of their riding will consist of as the naked FZ8 is already a good commuter and is very competent within the confines of congested streets. Buyers will want to consider if the burden and extra weight of the Fazer’s fairing with dual headlights (it adds 9 lb - up high - to the FZ8’s 466 lb wet weight) is something they really need.

It was unfortunate that I didn’t manage to test the pillion position because it appeared suspect, at least to our photographer Hugh McLean, who is an authority on the practical aspects of motorcycling. After studying the lines of the Fazer through the lens of his camera for some time, he quietly commented to no one in particular, “they really don’t make bikes for passengers anymore.” I suggested that perhaps manufacturers just weren’t envisioning passengers with the physique of middle-aged men with a middle-age spread. Either way, potential passengers will need to contend with an unusually contoured saddle and a high set of pegs. As a consolation there are two generously sized grab handles that are undoubtedly more useful to strap down a load.

Instrumentation, although basic, was legible and relayed enough information on the machine’s status as was required. A white dialled analogue tach is contrasted by an LCD screen that contains the speedometer and ancillary data.

Overall the Fazer represents a satisfying blend of form and function. Its various components and finishes are of high quality, as you would expect from a Japanese-made motorcycle. If I had to volley a minor complaint toward Yamaha’s stylists – one that I’ve made before and by now must sound like nails on a chalkboard for Yamaha Canada – is their use of what I call SYTS (standard Yamaha turn signals). The large orange turn signals appear on half the motorcycles that Yamaha builds and when compared to the contemporary use of clear lenses, they look disappointingly out of date.

2011_Fazer8_3At the heart of the Fazer is a 779 cc, liquid-cooled, in-line four-cylinder. Even though it shares many of its components with the larger displacement mill used in Yamaha’s FZ1, it’s considered to be a completely new engine. Exclusive to the Fazer (and FZ8) are its pistons, cylinders, cylinder heads, cams, valves and crankshaft. The engine itself has been tilted 40 degrees forward, in part to achieve the bike’s 51/49 forward biased weight distribution.

Yamaha says that one of the design goals for the new powerplant was to provide lots of torque in the lower rev range and claims that the engine has a maximum torque of 60.8 ft-lb at 8,000 rpm. It did prove to pull rather decently from lower in the rev range and had more than enough acceleration for street use, but characteristic of inline fours, it performed much better when the engine was allowed to spin more quickly – especially around 6,500 rpm where its mild-mannered tone developed a pleasing rasp.

The engine’s fuel injection system consists of 35 mm Mikuni throttle bodies that incorporate sub-throttle valves. Controlled by the bike’s ECU, the sub-valves fine tuned the incoming air flow and the system worked well to provide an immediate throttle response and a linear power delivery. Sensitive to minor throttle changes, the bike also responded to mad twists of the throttle by delivering a smooth and predictable rush to its soft rev limiter that was set to 11,500 rpm. With all that frantic activity between my legs I expected some vibration, but the rubber mounted peg brackets, which seemed a little odd at first because of the way they flexed under a little weight, were effective at keeping my feet buzz-free. My hands and the seat of my pants were similarly coddled and engine vibration never became an intrusive element during my ride.

The Fazer exhausts through four 35 mm stainless steel header pipes that converge into two before reaching a single collector. The stubby muffler that contains a three-way catalyser with an oxygen sensor is wrapped in a matte black casing that looks good but also appears to be easily marred. Similar to the exhaust canister on the FZ8 that I rode last year, the one on the Fazer had a noticeable scratch in its finish. Suspended above the exhaust header – just visible below the half-fairing – is a massive radiator that has been curved to improve airflow and help keep the engine running at a more consistent temperature. It looks as imposing as the Hoover Dam, but the radical rad does contribute an industrial grade look that is very popular on naked machines.

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2011_Fazer8_6 2011_Fazer8_8

Despite the use of a heavy-duty clutch to cope with the rigours of riding in heavy traffic, gear shifting and clutch performance was fluid. My left wrist did become a little sore, not due to the resistance of heavy clutch springs, but because the clutch lever was positioned a little too high. The Fazer’s gearbox is a stacked three-axis unit that was modelled on the one used in Yamaha’s flagship sport bike, the R1. The design layers the input and output shafts to create a smaller profile and reduce the length of the engine. While the wide-ratio gearbox worked flawlessly, it is in desperate need of a taller sixth gear. Many manufacturers have an overly tall final gear ratio as a way of dealing with emission testing, but on the Fazer it’s the opposite problem. Already useable at 60 km/h, sixth gear when cruising at a sedate 100 km/h had the engine spinning at what felt like an overly busy rate.

Used as a stressed member, the engine is wrapped by an attractive looking aluminum twin spar frame. The geometry of the bike’s chassis is biased toward providing agile handling with its 25 degree rake and 109 mm of trail; Yamaha claims the bike’s hard parts will allow a 47 degree lean angle though there wasn’t any need to call on that number during the street-only test. The steel rear sub frame is visually interesting, but on a more practical note it is detachable to allow easier access to the rear suspension. Yamaha adds that it also makes the bike less expensive to repair if it’s been wheelied past the point of no return – an odd claim to make for a standard motorcycle with a rudimentary suspension.

2011_Fazer8_7At the front of the bike a 43 mm Kayaba inverted fork is clamped in aluminum upper and lower triple clamps while a linked mono-shock supports things at the rear. Aside from the nine-position preload adjustment on the shock, the Fazer’s suspension is non-adjustable, but at least it erred on the side of being soft under the strain of my 95 kg weight. While the suspension wouldn’t be well suited to track use, its supple demeanour on public roads and 130 mm of wheel travel was a real-world benefit as the Fazer did a good job of smoothing out everything that passed under its wheels.

Slowing those wheels are two 310 mm floating discs with four-piston, monoblock calipers at the front and a 267 mm disc with a single piston caliper at the rear. The front brakes provided ample stopping power with good response through its adjustable lever, which worked with the master cylinder’s 16 mm piston to reduce lever effort. Although the rear brake felt vague in comparison, as a secondary system it worked well enough for trail braking or dragging the rear wheel in tight turns. Missing in action was an available ABS; the reluctance of Yamaha to pre-install ABS because of the effect it would have on the bike’s $10,999 list price is understandable, but it should at least be made available as an option.

Yamaha claims that at the heart of the Fazer is a sport bike with great all-around performance. The description is misleading. The Fazer is really the evolutionary representation of the standard motorcycle, which can trace its roots to a time when there was only one genre of machine and it was capable of performing any task it was given. With nimble road manners and plenty of power sitting high on its list of attributes, the Fazer continues what Honda’s CB750 started over 40 years ago: the ability to provide demanding riders with a smooth and reliable Japanese motorcycle at an affordable price that is equally adept at crossing the province as it is at crossing town.

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