FIghting dragons with Team Blue.
Once upon a time, not too long ago, I settled on small to mid-sized sport bikes. I race a Ninja 250, and traded in a 750cc sportbike for the Yamaha FZ-09, which I don’t have to tell you has less power. I was content with my decision, rationalizing that I don’t need that much power on the streets.
And so far, it’s been fine—I commute on it a lot and it’s enjoyable to ride (it makes for a fun commute). On occasion, I’ve hopped on my fiance’s 1301cc V-twin monstrosity, which helped put things in perspective. It’s fun and at times gives you mini heart attacks, but I thought: “Awesome bike, but I I’m still good with a little less power on the streets.”
Then I rode the 2017 Yamaha FZ-10, and all of a sudden things have changed. Now, I’m thinking I want more power on the streets—not too much, but not too little. The FZ-10 is just right; it’s what Goldilocks would have picked if she were a motorcyclist.
I set off to Fontana Dam, North Carolina, which is located right near the North Carolina and Tennessee border. This area is also close to the Trail of the Dragon, one of the most infamous twisty roads these United States have to offer to motorcyclists.
The Dragon’s pavement is smooth, and is 11 miles long with 318 curves for two-wheeled enthusiasts to tackle. It’s also surrounded by one of the most scenic areas I’ve ever experienced. It’s located by the Great Smoky Mountains and Cherokee National Forest. Therefore, it has lush greenery, which is something I rarely see anymore, due to living in a state that's in constant drought. All I’ve seen lately are a lot of dry shrubs and brown grass.
The Tail of the Dragon is also home to MASSIVE dragon flies. Sheesh...
Of course, I was excited and anxious to take the FZ-10 through the Dragon. Heading to the launch event, I planned to get as good of a night’s rest as possible so I could wake up and be focused, ready to take on the Dragon the following morning.
Unfortunately I didn’t wake up that morning; because I never went to sleep that night. Nerves, excitement, and sleeping in a bed that wasn’t my own all played their part.
I had actually never operated a motorcycle with zero hours of sleep, so naturally I was a bit worried. Still, I went the pre-ride meeting and did my best to get my head right when we ventured out on a 137-mile journey that included a Dragon’s Tail.
I drank coffee, chugged an energy drink and wrote down some notes during the meeting to get my brain functioning. It was going to be a long day.
Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder
It’s no surprise that Yamaha made the FZ-10. It seemed like a natural progression to to the most recent FZ lineup as there are already two FZs that have been on the market for a few years: The FZ-07 and FZ-09. Yamaha puts the FZ in their “Sport” category, which has been contributing to the rise of their motorcycle sales for the past three years.
With the FZ-10, Yamaha wanted what they call their flagship bike to look more aggressive and fierce compared to smaller siblings. They definitely accomplished that. To me, the FZ-10 looks more complex than the FZ-09 — it’s bigger and bulkier, so there’s more to look at.
Photo by Brian J. Nelson
I personally like the aesthetics; however, I know not everyone shares the same sentiment. I’ve read a few comments where people aren’t fond of the FZ-10's robot face, and that’s fine. I like the way the tank is shaped, the colors offered—Matte Raven Black and Armor Gray with neon wheels—and the LED lights that come on the headlights, turn signals and taillight. I don’t really care for the actual shape of the headlights on the FZ-10, but that’s about it.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder when it comes to this bike. But if you’re the type of person who feels looks aren't important, that what matters is what’s on the inside, keep reading…
While trying to get my brain warmed up, I fired up the bike to get that warmed up, too. I revved the engine a bit and thought: “Whoa! The FZ-10 sounds nice!”
Yamaha used the YZF-R1’s engine as the base for the FZ-10. It has same cross-plane crankshaft, 998cc inline four engine. This cross-plane design reduces engine inertia to provide a more direct connection between the throttle and rear wheel. This, in turn, affords great traction as well as a more linear torque feeling. It also comes fuel injected with YCC-T — Yamaha’s chip controlled throttle, which helps provide a smoother and more controlled power delivery — and a six-speed assist and slipper clutch.
Specifically new to the FZ-10 are the combustion chamber, intake ports and valves, forged aluminum pistons, camshafts, and compression ratio — 12:0:1 in contrast to the R1’s 13:0:1. It also has a larger 12-liter airbox and the shorter gearing than the R1. The result? A bike that produces low to mid-range torque and that’s fun to ride on the streets.
The FZ-10 produces 81.8 ft-lb torque with max power at 9,000 rpm and a redlines of 12,900 rpm. If you’ve never ridden a bike that makes power at the lower end of the power band, you really need to. This bike has pep to its step, which will easily make your morning commute not so dreadful.
Either way, Yamaha did a great job with this engine; it sounds nice and provides what I call giggle-in-your-helmet power. Despite zero hours of sleep, riding the FZ-10 made me feel like I got a full eight hours.
In addition to the YCC-T and slipper clutch, the FZ-10 comes with a good amount of goodies that help you ride this thing like a boss.
Let’s go back go back to that slipper clutch, which is a godsend for folks like me. I’ll be honest: I’m not a smooth rider. I occasionally chop or abruptly roll on the throttle, as well as dump the clutch. I feel the abrupt lurches and/or shudders when I ride any of the bikes I own. So, having a slipper clutch helps smooth things out.
The FZ-10 also has other tech that helps you ride like a hot knife through butter. It has three different levels of traction control, a Yamaha rep described them as follows: Level 1 gives you potential for big wheelies; level 2 allows for baby wheelies, and level 3 is for no wheelies.
Put another way, traction control goes from least intervention to most intervention, the latter of which you want in wet conditions. You also have the option to turn traction control off in case you want to continually wheelie to your heart's content. I kept it at level 2; I'm happy with baby wheelies.
Photo by Brian J. Nelson
The bike is also equipped with three different drive modes, or what Yamaha calls D-Modes: A, B, and Standard. You'd probably think that A is sporty and B is less power than Standard. Nope. B mode actually provides the sportiest response, while A is less sporty while Standard is least so.
I tried all three modes. I naturally started off in Standard, and just by rolling off the throttle I was able to kick it into A. I loved the feel of having just a bit more power. I was pretty happy in this mode; it's probably where I'd keep the bike set as an owner. In mode B, the FZ-10 kicked all of it power at me, and while I was totally thrilled with that oomph I wasn’t so thrilled about was how I handled it, which was not well. As I mentioned, I’m not the smoothest rider; so, B mode felt incredibly twitchy. I eventually gave in and switched things back to A.
Another goody worth mentioning is the ABS. Thanks to its being required on bikes in Europe it’s starting to become the standard on bikes over here, which I think is great. I don’t have this luxury on the motos I ride, so it’s always nice to hop on a bike that does. Sometimes you don’t want your wheels locking up when you have to get on the brakes hard.
The FZ-10 also has cruise control, which is really cool! Not a feature I would have expected on a naked sport bike. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get it to work. I later found out the problem was rider error; you can only click the cruise control on in 4th through 6th gears. I had tried to do it in third.
Photo by Brian J. Nelson.
Chassis and Suspension/ The Handling
The chassis combined with this bad ass engine makes the FZ-10 a true corner shark. It has the same lightweight aluminum frame as the R1, and has a short 55.1-inch wheelbase. What also helps this bike induce confidence in the corner are the brakes, which are pretty good. The FZ-10 comes with Advics, dual 320 mm brakes and Brembo master cylinder (the R1 comes with a Nissin master) in the front, and Nissin single 220mm disc brakes in the rear.
Photo by Brian J. Nelson.
When it comes to suspension, again the FZ-10 borrows again from the R1. It has 43mm KYB front forks, as well as an adjustable KYB rear shock. Going through the plentiful curves wasn’t a problem — the bike felt planted and I didn’t have to struggle to get it to turn. However, the suspension was perhaps a bit too stiff for going over bumps. The FZ-10 turned into a bucking bronco when the road became unsettled. If this were my bike, I’d try to loosen the preload and adjust the dampening to help smooth it out.
Photo by Brian J. Nelson.
When I hopped on the FZ-10 I immediately took note of the seat height. It’s not too tall, not too short; it’s just right. At 32.5 inches, the seat is perfect for someone like me who is 5 feet 6 inches tall. As long as I can touch the balls of my feet to the ground, I'm good.
I fits me perfectly! Photo by Jessie Gentry.
Once you get going, the FZ-10 is insanely comfortable, mainly due its upright position. Also, the actual seat was pretty comfortable too, which was surprising. Unlike the FZ-09, which has a pretty stiff seat, the '10 is better by a long shot. I was able to ride close to 200 miles total that day and my butt was fine.
My butt liked the seat! Photo by Brian J. Nelson.
If I owned this bike, I might consider putting frame sliders on this one. The FZ-10’s wet weight is 463 lbs, which on paper doesn’t seem like a lot, but try to back up or pull a U-turn and your opinion may change. We had to do a lot of U turns for photo runs and I came so very close to dropping it on one occasion. I managed to save it, but I think I would have to spend a little more time in the gym to be able to manage this one on a regular basis. Though, I think it would be worth it.
Fuel economy is, of course, dramatically affected by individual riding style. However, Yamaha states that the FZ-10 gets around 30 mpg. This number was pretty accurate in my experience. I was able to get an average of 29-30 mpg riding the FZ-10 through the canyons. With a 4.5-gallon tank that meant a range of about 135 miles. I don’t have to tell you that this bike doesn’t get the best gas mileage for that size tank. For me, it’s not a problem commuting-wise, but if you take the FZ-10 through the canyons, you need to make sure there’s a gas station nearby.
Photo by Brian J. Nelson.
Yamaha says that the FZ-10 comes in at an “amazing value” of $12,999. And with everything you get, I have to admit that it’s a pretty decent price. However, it is $4,000 more than the FZ-09, so if you have a tight budget, this FZ is quite the price hike.
I got off the bike tired, yet happy. Despite getting no sleep, the bike had helped pump energy into me: I felt amazing riding it for a little over nine hours.
Overall, the FZ-10 was an easy and fun bike to ride. If you aren’t the most skilled or smooth rider, this bike will give you those skills! It will spoil you into thinking you are a better rider because it does most of the work for you. Feel free to discuss the merits of such rider aids below.
If I didn’t already own a small fleet of motorcycles (four) and did have some extra cash on hand, I would buy the FZ-10 in a heartbeat. I won’t rule it out—maybe one day I’ll be Goldilocks the moto rider.
Photo by Jessie Gentry.