The 2015 Yamaha FZ-07 might well be a stunter’s dream. Not that I’m a stunter of course; I barely even know how to wheelie. But I’m pretty sure this bike wants to teach me. With a tiny 1,400 mm wheelbase and a compact centre of gravity the FZ-07 thinks little of hiking the front wheel off the deck – the rear wheel, too if you squeeze those wave-rotor brakes in just the right way.
Bikes like this, labelled “roadsters” by manufacturers and “naked sportbikes” by people like me, have been around for a while now. Simplistically, they’re a response to the modern streetfighter movement – a customization craze that saw riders transform race-replica sportbikes into aggressive, naked brutes.
Often the factory headlights would be removed with the front fairings and replaced with a low-mounted light and shroud bolted to just in front of the forks. They’d also get higher flat bars in place of the clip-ons. Whether the conversion was triggered by fashion or by the prohibitive cost of replacing fairings after a minor crash the result was the same; an ultra-capable, tough-looking rig with the handling characteristics of a sport bike and the appearance of a bulldog.
Unsurprisingly manufacturers soon cottoned on to the craze and thus began the naked roadster revolution; all of a sudden unfaired bikes could be sporty and capable. The Yamaha FZ-07 is the newest entrant into this sub-genre of motorcycling. According to Yamaha, it is aimed at novice and experienced riders alike. They hope a novice will find it forgiving and less intimidating than larger or sportier bikes, while an experienced rider will appreciate the ease of riding without becoming bored.
Yamaha says the focus is on “fun, affordability and riding enjoyment” in normal street-riding conditions and I’d have to say they are walking the walk.
The wide, flat handlebars give excellent control at both low and high speeds and the rear sets are positioned well. The FZ-07 responds well to steering force through the pegs and the narrow chassis provides plenty of room for a rider to move around the bike. The combination of the upright riding position and tractable, 689cc, inline two-cylinder engine with an early and wide torque band make it extremely easy to ride. The gears are well spaced and short so that the engine stays almost permanently in the 3,500 – 6,500 rpm rev range – this is where all 50 lb-ft of torque is on tap to propel you effortlessly into gaps in traffic.
Hit an on-ramp and the FZ-07 tips in effortlessly and maintains its track with complete composure – feedback is good through the bars and when countersteering the front feels firm and stable. So much so I had to double-check the front fork; yep that’s a conventional fork there but it feels more like an upside-down set.
It also looks a lot tougher than a small(ish) naked bike really has any right to look. Yamaha’s designers have done an excellent job channeling the soul of the larger FZ-09 into this all-new, smaller edition.
The 180/55ZR17 rear tire helps the visual impact and stance of the bike even if 180 is a little bit overkill for a bike of this size and purpose. It wasn’t that long ago 180 was considered excessively wide even for 1000cc race replicas!
Like all naked bikes though the FZ-07 faces some tribulations in the market. Roadsters are sometimes overlooked by those whose primary exposure to motorcycles is entry-level sports bikes with full fairings and clip-on handlebars. For those people a naked bike is a step down from a full-on race replica bike; but it’s actually more of a step sideways.
Of course this isn’t as razor-sharp as a full race replica, but with a curb weight of 180 kg it’s still extremely nimble and flickable. And because the riding position offers up so much confidence and control even a newer rider can throw this thing around with gleeful abandon.
The engine is set up for the mid-range too, sacrificing top-end performance for real-world usability but in a way that opens up an entirely new set of fun. It also means that the FZ-07 is frugal at the pumps, where its 14 L fuel tank will get between 250 and 300 km of range. I saw an average of 4.7 L/100 km over my week of riding.
There are some nuances to the switch blocks that I found irritating though. For example the horn button is a long reach from the bar and is tiny. It’s also right where your thumb ends up when you signal right, so once or twice I hit the horn by accident. The start button is integrated with the kill switch – middle is run, down/back is start and forward/up is shut-off. It’s not really problematic on a modern bike with electronic fuel injection but the system makes it difficult to thumb the start button with your hand on the throttle. It’s a bit of a case of “too clever for its own good.”
Those are small complaints on an otherwise engaging yet livable bike. Even the pillion seat is comfortable for passengers and both seats provide plenty of grip. This is a remarkably simple bike when all is told, the single digital dash houses all the information you need in one sleek, easy to read screen that was never glary or dim from the rider’s seat. There are no electric nannies to switch off and control – it’s just lights, indicators, a hand clutch and foot lever for the six-speed sequential gearbox and a handbrake for the front brakes and a foot brake for the rear. What could be simpler?
Downshifting is best performed with a flick of the light clutch and a small throttle blip, upshifts can be done without the clutch at all if you like – just pre-load the lever, button off the throttle a bit and kick it up to the next one. Like I said; what could be simpler?
If you’re looking for a usable, mid-sized, sportbike that just happens to have the potential for hooliganism without overkill of the litre-bike, the Yamaha FZ-07 is a good bet, and at just $7,299 it’s not bad value either.
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