I was confused. The FZ750 I I'd just stepped off - as I near to an
all-rounder as I Yamaha's 'R' chapter I produces - had a front-end like a racer,
or like a seized Marzocchi if you're looking for a cushy time. Yet here was the
same firm's supposedly bollocks-akimbo 600 wallowing around on its sliders like
a tot on a baby-bouncer; and the rear-end didn't feel a whole lot more
convincing. So far we hadn't even moved and all this talk of meteoric handling
was beginning to look fantastic.
Then I hit the starter button, half-expecting the same sort of EXUP-sanitised
whirr as the F/K1000: no dice. It tingled, and spat out just enough throaty
tickover burble to suggest that things might get interesting pretty soon. If
only the disgraced clutch (recently demolished by the combined abuse of PB
and our Tim, and rebuilt in short, efficient order by Peterborough's Richard
Marson Motorcycles), would cooperate.
First went in with a clunk. Ease on the revs, let out the clutch: it grabbed,
almost stalled the four-pot mill, then finally condescended to put twistgrip and
rear boot on the same party line.
And I haven't stopped smiling since.
Ok, I'll own up: I think middleweights are the business 'cos they're simply
wonderful to chuck about. Unfortunately I also think that 80-odd bhp and
140-plus mph are two of my very favourite numbers, because some prat went and
invented the motorway. The 'unfortunately' is because, until very recently, you
either went for a middleweight or you went for a 90/140 multigrade, but you
couldn't have both. Now you can and it's bloody marvellous.
But back to that first ride: the road I live at one end of - a winding
fantasy between Oundle, Polebrook and Norman Cross - was actually built, despite
what the local farmers say, to tie knots in bikes with suspect handling and
steering. Every bump asks serious questions, and each has at least one large
tree to provide a swift and sudden answer if the bike can't come up with
anything better. First impressions of the 600's 'spenders - its languid front
end and desultory rear shock -suggested that the verdict on the 600 might be
measured in leaves and bark, and I'm not talking that kind of dog. Then I paused
to consider that cutthroat 94mm trail figure, an almost opted to mow the lawn instead. Fortunately I don't have a lawnmower.
'Cos if I did I wouldn't have discovered just how damn good a combination a
pokey, revvy engine, super-stiff chassis and boy-racer ergonomics can be. The
FZR just ate that damn road, shrugged down through the box at the end of it,
turned right round and did it all again by way of dessert. And the pudding on
board didn't get scared more than a couple of times, either.
In some ways this is how it ought to be: of the leading four 'sports' 60()s
now on the market, the Yamaha is the one most closely focussed on the track, the
one burdened with the fewest road-bound compromises. Cop that pillion seat, for
instance: it's a joke, until you have to sit on it for a couple of hours. A year
or so ago I wrote that the old air-cooled FZ600 was the nearest thing Japan had
made to a four-cylinder Ducati; the FZR takes over - and how! - where the FZ
As well as race orientation, Yamaha are also pretty big on cost-accounting
these days. So some of the FZR's lack of frills are down to the pursuit of
leanness and purpose; but others - like the downmarket suspenders - are down to
penny-pinching. The Big 'Y' no doubt figures there's no need for them to win
racing accolades by bolting on decent kit when every racer in the universe is
more than happy to do it themselves.
The accountant's knife also hit the engine, which is why the FZR doesn't wear
the much-vaunted and patently effective EXUP exhaust gizmo, although on the face
of it if ever a class of bike needed extra mid-range punch it's the 600
division. Thankfully the basic engine hardware handles the omission pretty well:
the mill has stomp enough right through the rev-range, although serious
ear'olers will keep things buzzing above 7500.
Another thing the engine has is just enough rawness to keep things
interesting. There's a certain amount of whining and muted exhaust crackle, but
most of all the inlet howls away underneath you in an altogether un-1989-like
fashion. Coupled with that pared down sense of purpose and get-tucked-in riding
position, this makes the Yam feel more like a GSX-R600 might if Suzuki ever got
round to making such a thing. A scaled-down FZRIOOOit definitely isn't.
This shows up not only in the general level of comfort and refinement, but in
the 'spenders. On high-speed-over lOOmph - bumps and kinks, the 600 can be a bit
of a head-shaking handful. The major culprit in this is undoubtedly the rear
end, which feels harsh and over-sprung. However, the word from the tracks - Mike
Edwards won the Mallory British championship round on a stock rear shock, and
nowhere asks more suspension questions than Gerrards - is that the shock is fine
but the stock rear Japlop tyre lacks compliance. I have to say that none of the
Japlop-equipped Yams we've recently tested -FZR1000, FZ750 and FZR600 - have, in
one way or another, worn particularly reassuring rubber.
The forks, despite their softness, are already prone to patter when pushed
hard into a corner. This syndrome is usually associated with too-hard damping or
springing, but in the FZR's case the problem is probably caused by their
compressing too much and having next-to-no travel left to cope with whatever the
road throws at them: they need more stiffness, rather than less. The feeble fork
springs already have a spacer the best part of half a foot long. It still isn't
enough, and a change from standard 10-ish weight to 15-weight oil wouldn't go
So the excellence of the Yam's handling and steering is a tribute to the
chassis rather than the suspension. And whilst it would have been nice if Yamaha
had got it right from the off, the (potential) combination of leanness, superb
steering, handling and surprisingly strong through-the-range power feels, on
first sampling, a full yard ahead of the opposition.
Which isn't to say it's necessarily a better bike. The FZR simply can't cut
it for refinement, comfort (especially for the pillion), or practicality. It
simply isn't an all-rounder in the way the other three 600s are. Which is
alright by me: if you want a bike for all reasons, get a CBR, or GPX, or GSX; if
you want something more frantically focussed, the FZR's the one for you. Just
don't blame us when your pillion gives you a hard time.