Ride Review: Yamaha FZ-10

08/02/2016 @ 3:02 am, by Jensen Beeler48 COMMENTS

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What makes a good streetfighter? In the past, the formula was simple: you would take a potent superbike, strip it of its fairings, and maybe attach a flat handlebar, shortened exhaust pipe, or some other distinctively “urban” modification. Boom. Dank wheelies.

Now, the formula isn’t quite as clear. Power is still a must, and a certain level of hooligan-cred helps, but the market has begun to ask for more from these “super naked” or “hypernaked” motorcycles.

Commuter and touring duties have entered the space, electronics have become standard, and a certain level of refinement is expected – such are the treacherous waters that the 2017 Yamaha FZ-10 must navigate, all while hitting a budget-friendly price-point.

That is no easy list of criteria for a single motorcycle to juggle, but such is the nature of life, the universe, and everything. The FZ-10 fancies itself up to the task though, and Yamaha has high hopes for this streetfighter…err, super naked…or whatever you want to call it.

A such, Yamaha recently invited Asphalt & Rubber out to the Tennessee / North Carolina border, to ride over 150 miles (including The Tail of the Dragon) to see how the 2017 Yamaha FZ-10 stacks up to the hype, and to the competition.

I came away impressed with this “retuned” Yamaha YZF-R1 for the street, though with some caveats. Keep reading, and I will explain further.

TL;DR – The Yamaha FZ-10 in a Nutshell

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The Yamaha FZ-10 (that’s the Yamaha MT-10, for you non-Americans) slots into Yamaha’s budget-focused FZ line. But, as its neon graphics and origami lines might suggest, the Yamaha FZ-10 is the obscene uncle to the more practical Yamaha FZ-09 and downright affordable Yamaha FZ-07.

Value is the single word that best describes the 2017 Yamaha FZ-10, with its $12,999 price tag commanding a fair but marginal increase over its Japanese compatriots, while offering similar features than its decidedly more pricey European counterparts.

The core of the FZ-10 comes from the Yamaha YZF-R1, with the chassis and basic engine layout the same between the two machines – including the much hyped crossplane inline-four cylinder design.

The electronics on the Yamaha FZ-10 are obviously not as advanced as on the R1, and Yamaha has tuned the FZ-10 to make more midrange torque, rather than peaky outright horsepower. As such, the key performance figures are 160hp at 11,500 rpm, and 82 lbs•ft of peak torque at 9,000 rpm.

While the FZ-10 in some ways feels like a watered-down YZF-R1, Yamaha has thankfully given the street bike fully adjustable KYB suspension, which will allow riders to tailor their machine to a stiffer sport bike, capable of chewing up corners, or soften it into a suitable tourer or commuter.

Out of the box, the 2017 Yamaha FZ-10 seems to sit somewhere between these two choices, though obviously your weight, riding style, and personal preferences will vary, and dictate how you turn the dials.

The important thing here though is you actually have this choice, whereas the other FZ models leave you wanting in this regard.

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The most glaring issue with the Yamaha FZ-10 comes from the brakes package that Iwata has chosen for its “aspirational” FZ model. Brake feel at the lever is incredibly soft and spongy, with ample pressure at the lever needed to bring the 462 lbs machine to a halt in a reasonable stopping distance.

Also, the ABS package has only one setting: on. That’s right, you cannot disable the Yamaha FZ-10’s anti-locking brake system, you can’t even tailor its settings. The only upside is that the FZ-10’s ABS is not a linked system, meaning that applying the front or rear brake only engages that wheel, and not also the other.

When it comes to riding the Yamaha FZ-10, the ride is considerably solid – thanks in large part to the R1 chassis. The throttle can be a touch snatchy, with the three throttle maps offering more diversity in choice than Goldilocks ever got.

For most applications, we found Map “A” to be the right pick for 90% of situations.

The FZ-10 is a comfortable machine to physically ride, with a seat that actually seems to be made from foam, and a rider triangle that keeps the body upright and neutral. But, make no mistake, this is a sport bike.

For touring, you will want a windscreen and bags, all of which can be found in the Yamaha accessories package. For “spirited” riding though, something will have to be done about the brakes (pads and lines, we suspect), along with a larger sprocket on the rear wheel, to get the girl out of the corners and onto some proper third-gear power wheelies.

With this all in mind, the 2017 Yamaha FZ-10 is a strong bike from the Japanese brand, and it has a lot to offer a variety of riders – at least the ones that can find beauty in its chaotic lines.

When it comes to choosing amongst the Japanese brands, the Yamaha FZ-10 is the obvious winner, though it is not as feature-packed as the European models that riders might be considering. In that regard, you pay for what you get (on a diminishing return for price, of course), and the FZ-10 is by far the cheapest option.

There is your 606-word mini-review on the 2017 Yamaha FZ-10, go forth and spread the gospel. However, if you really want to know what you are talking at your next bike night, or if you are in the market for a liter-bike street machine, we suggest that you continue reading for our in-depth thoughts.

Like an R1, But Not an R1

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Like a true streetfighter, the Yamaha FZ-10 is based off the Iwata’s superbike, the Yamaha YZF-R1. To this vein, the two bikes share the exact same chassis and swingarm with each other.

However, Yamaha saw it fit to use a steel rear subframe design on the FZ-10, which its engineers say is better suited for two-up riding, the addition of luggage, and a better overall sitting position for the rider.

The engine design is also largely the same between the two machines, with the 998cc track-tested crossplane inline-four engine design still being used on the Yamaha FZ-10.

The bottom-end of the two engines are very similar, but Yamaha did use a heavier crankshaft on the FZ-10, finding the crankshaft on the YZF-R1 made the FZ-10 too aggressive for street riding.

This is really the only major difference from the R1 to the FZ-10 below the head, however the modifications above the crankshaft abound for the Yamaha FZ-10.

In order to make the FZ-10 more suitable for street riding, Yamaha changed the piston head design, added a larger 12-liter airbox (the R1 airbox is 10.5 liters), employed a new throttle body design (which allows cruise control), moved to a larger single-injector setup (the R1 has a secondary injector that operates at higher RPMs), used smaller intake valves, and of course coded different fuel-injection parameters into the FZ-10 ECU.

And while the gearboxes are the same between the two models, the final gear ratio on the FZ-10 is 5% shorter, to give the street bike better pull out of low-speed corners and stops (still not enough, for my taste).

The compression ratio on the Yamaha FZ-1o is also notably lower, 12.0:1 instead of the R1’s 13.0:1 ratio. This is primarily to manage heat and detonation better on the FZ-10.

The camshafts are also different between the FZ-10 and YZF-R1, with Yamaha using the cams to move the R1’s ample power curve deeper into the FZ-10’s midrange. This means that the 2017 Yamaha FZ-10 makes 160hp at 11,500 rpm, with 82 lbs•ft of peak torque at 9,000 rpm.

It should be noted that the Yamaha FZ-10 makes 18% more torque than the Yamaha YZF-R1, between 6,000 and 8,000 rpm. This goes against the common misconception amongst riders that Yamaha has “detuned” this naked version of the R1 for the street.

The often not-talked-about reality is that street riders spend more time in the low and mid-range or the powerband, thus Yamaha’s aim with the FZ-10 should be to put the power where it will actually be used by enthusiasts. This rightly made decision just doesn’t make for great spec-sheet comparisons from couch racers.

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The same prudence, to an extent, can be said of the electronics package that Yamaha has adapted to the FZ-10, though it truly is a shell of the techno-wonder that accompanies the YZF-R1.

Gone is the Yamaha YZF-R1’s six-axis inertial movement unit (IMU), which allows mere mortals not only to apply full-throttle while banked over with 50° of lean or more, but also allows track riders to control rear-wheel slides, just like their MotoGP heroes.

Instead, Yamaha has made use of a more basic traction control design that features three active TCS levels, along with the ability to disengage the traction control completely – I will let you decide if this is three or four-level traction control.

The culprit here with the electronics is cost, and the fact that an IMU-controlled, high-function traction and stability control system is just not warranted for a street bike, especially one pegged at the $13,000 mark.

Still, Yamaha is quick to point-out that it developed its own ride-by-wire setup, the aptly named Yamaha Chip Controlled Throttle (YCC-T), which helps the traction control system do some high-level things, beyond just cutting spark from the engine, to manage the FZ-10’s adhesion to the byway.

When the FZ-10’s traction control sensors detect the rear wheel slipping, YCC-T allows Yamaha to augment the power delivery via the throttle body openings and ignition timing, before having to resort to measures like cutting spark altogether from the engine, as is done on more crude traction control systems.

This means that Yamaha’s traction control system can intervene in ways that aren’t as perceptible to the rider, and in our riding that was certainly the case.

It is worth mentioning that the Yamaha FZ-10 traction control settings can be changed on the fly, while riding the bike, a handy feature that we wish more OEMs would pick-up on.

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When it comes to the different throttle maps on the Yamaha FZ-10, you have three choices: Standard, A, and B.

Standard mode is the FZ-10’s touring and highway map, with its much softer, almost muted throttle response.

Conversely, the “B” map is extremely aggressive, and harkens back to FZ-10’s lineage in the R1. I found this map way too aggressive for street riding that was anything less than ten-tenths pace.

The “B” map really is better suited for the track, and even then might turn off some riders, especially when using maintenance-level amounts of throttle through a corner, or similar minimal throttle inputs.

Subtle throttle movements on the less aggressive “A” map were still a bit to abrupt at times as well, but overall this map served our purposes of “spirited” riding better, and behaved well-enough when cruising.

Still, it doesn’t take much throttle input from the rider to get a lurch from the Yamaha FZ-10. These small throttle applications are one of the weakness of the street bike, and makes us think that maybe Yamaha didn’t go far enough in adding mass to the FZ-10’s crankshaft.

The issue isn’t a terminal one for the 2017 Yamaha FZ-10, though it betrays the otherwise perfect chassis balance that the street bike benefits from when riding at high speeds.

Streetfighter, Super Naked, Sport-Tourer, or All of the Above?

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Riding the Yamaha FZ-10 at speed really is a joy, thanks to its track-grown roots. The FZ-10 can thank the YZF-R1 for its stable chassis, which begs to be leaned over through fast sweeping turns, of which our ride had in abundance.

The steering is very neutral, which touring riders will benefit from, but sport bikers may wish for a little bit more turn-in from the chassis. This was a surprising revelation during my ride, especially on the tight and undulating corners on The Tail of the Dragon, considering that the FZ-10 and YZF-R1 share the same rake and trail.

I would postulate that the differences in turn-in comes in-part from the suspension pieces, which means there is some tuning that can be done to make the FZ-10 feel a little bit quicker in its transitions. Obviously, there are differences in the two bikes’ wheels as well (the Yamaha YZF-R1 has 10-spoke cast magnesium wheels), which is likely an even bigger factor.

Getting on the binders, the Yamaha FZ-10’s weight blasts through its disappointing brakes, and makes the 462 lbs (wet) machine – one of the lighter bikes in this class – feel heavier than it should.

Coupled with the soft suspension and a touchy throttle, and the Yamaha FZ-10 is a bigger handful in tight corners than it should be, which really is disappointing.

Sport-oriented riders will need to tinker with settings, and look for some aftermarket solutions to be 100% happy here, but it seems certainly attainable, even on a budget.

In fast sweepers though, you quickly forget these setbacks, as the Yamaha FZ-10 rails hard under the right circumstances, as again the chassis and motor shine through, and the softer transitions and throttle inputs hide the bike’s weaknesses.

I cannot emphasize enough what a joy this bike was to ride through the freshly paved corners that play through the Tennessee and North Carolina border. Sport riders will not be disappointed in this regard, and overall the Yamaha FZ-10 feels like a competent speed machine.

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For hooligans though, the story might be a little different.

The tall gearing on the Yamaha FZ-10 means wheelies are limited to first and second gear, unless you get some assistance from the terrain. Even in the lower gears, it takes a seemingly forceful amount of throttle to get the front wheel in the air.

That’s not to say the FZ-10 is hard to loft…just harder than you think it should be for a bike with its pedigree and performance figures. I chalk this result up to the final gear ratio, and would suggest a larger rear sprocket for those who are so inclined.

Similarly, the full-time ABS means locking up the rear wheel with the rear brake, along with stoppies, are a no-go. The slipper clutch will still let you bang down the gears, and dump the clutch for a nice rear wheel slide though.

Disappointingly though, the Yamaha FZ-10 as a whole isn’t a machine that begs for you to add some more points to your license, despite what its robot-looking face may suggest.

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That’s ok though, because what the Yamaha FZ-10 lack is hooligan rawness, it makes up for with refined table manners. As such, sport-touring riders will find a friend in the Yamaha FZ-10, with the bike’s comfortable ergonomics making a day’s worth of riding feel like a fairly comfortable affair.

This is still a capital “S” Sport-touring bike, mind you, with a sitting position that still has your legs tucked up in a crouch. Stretching every hundred miles will still be a requisite event when riding the 2017 Yamaha FZ-10, but the bike begs to be ridden far, and at speed.

The upper torso of the rider is upright, and there is good wind protection on the FZ-10 – that is to say, there is good wind protection on the FZ-10…for a naked bike.

Yamaha has a bevy of add-ons to help make the FZ-10 better suited for touring duty, including a windshield, panniers, and top-box mount (the same that is on the Yamaha FZ-09).

Yamaha also hopes that the FZ-10 will replace the FZ1 in its lineup as a venerable canyon-carving tourer (the Yamaha FZ1 was officially phased out for the 2015 model year, though we imagine you could still find one at dealership, if you looked hard enough). Yamaha succeeded in this regard, mechanically.

I could easily pound down some miles on a stock Yamaha FZ-10 all day, and with some modifications you could fulfill the sport-tourer’s mantra of go far, and go fast.

The disconnect in the sport-touring market though could be something more subjective: the Yamaha FZ-10’s avant-garde appearance.

Michael Bay Called, He Wants His Transformer Back

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Look, there is no getting around the fact that Yamaha’s designers made a very polarizing machine when they inked the lines of the FZ-10. The motorcycle looks more likely to feature in a Michael Bay movie about robot aliens than it does in a 50-something’s garage.

To that vein, I will say that the Yamaha FZ-10 looks better in person than it does in some press photos. I will also say that its “Johnny 5” face grows on you over time. I will finish with the thought that when you are on the FZ-10, you forget all about whether you are fighting for the Autobots or Decepticons.

Caveats aside, it will be interesting to see what demographics respond to the Yamaha FZ-10, as it sits at a very interesting intersection of riders.

I’m reluctant to continue calling the Yamaha FZ-10 a streetfighter, as it lacks the hooligan factor that comes part and parcel with that genre of motorcycle. I have the same thoughts about the Aprilia Tuono V4 1100 RR, by the way.

However, you cannot deny that the Yamaha FZ-10 is a bit more “punk rock” in its design than your typical “hypernaked” or whatever you want to call it. Some of this comes from the FZ/MT line as whole, which is made to appeal to a younger demographic of rider.

Where things get tricky though is the Venn diagram of 20 and 30-somethings, and long-mile sport-tourers who may be looking to upgrade to the Yamaha FZ1’s true successor. I suspect, this is a narrow region of overlap.

That the appearance of the Yamaha FZ-10 might turn away would-be sport-tourers is a shame though, because if you strip away the radical fairings, fake intakes, and bulging headlight cluster, the Yamaha FZ-10 has the makings of an excellent touring machine – the perfect bike for that FZ1 owner who is looking for something a little more updated, but still not over-the-top with rider aids and electronics.

Closing Thoughts

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While the Yamaha FZ-10 seems like a rolling contradiction of motorcycle demographics, what keeps bringing me back to the machine is its bang-for-the-buck value.

I stand behind the notion that the FZ-10 brings tremendous value to the table for riders who are looking for something a little more naked in their garage. As such, it should be on your short-list of considerations.

One can quickly see that for a modest price premium over its Japanese counterparts, the Yamaha FZ-10 brings the most potent package to the table in the streetfighter/hypernaked category. It also benefits from being the most advanced Japanese bike in this class.

It is also the only Japanese offering to base itself off the current generation of superbikes from the Japanese OEMs, a worthy mention, considering how long in the tooth the other OEMs have let their liter-bikes get.

While not as feature-rich as the European models, the Yamaha FZ-10 compares very well on price and performance to the likes of the BMW S1000R, Aprilia Tuono V4 1100, and KTM 1290 Super Duke R. All of these machines have more to offer than the FZ-10, but do so for thousands of dollars more.

There is a diminishing return to be had on price, and in the end, the Yamaha FZ-10 makes a strong argument for itself with a solid chassis and engine foundation.

The FZ-10 is not without its flaws, but for where it sits in Yamaha’s model lineup, the Yamaha FZ-10 is a solid offering.

It is a machine that could be just as at home on the race track, as it would be on the highway – and there aren’t a lot of motorcycles that can thread that needle so well. That in itself speaks volumes about the Yamaha FZ-10.

Riders from both sides of that coin will want to adapt the Yamaha FZ-10 more to their desired purpose, once it is in their garage, but for the rider that is looking to do a little bit of everything, the 2017 Yamaha FZ-10 makes a strong case to just shut up and ride. That my friends, is what motorcycles are all about.

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Photos: © 2016 Brian J. Nelson / Yamaha North America – All Rights Reserved