Friday, May 15, 2009

Initially, one might think that the all-new 2009 Yamaha FZ6R sport bike is simply an enhanced FZ6. Not so. The only thing on the bike from the FZ6 is the basic engine design.

The FZ6R ranks as a sport bike for the budget-minded in Yamaha’s stable, but in spite of its value positioning, it possesses several high-tech features and more than a few innovative touches that ultimately make for a pleasurable riding experience.

The FZ6R may well redefine what is expected from an entry-level sport bike in today’s marketplace. It comes with features that are normally not found on bikes in its price range, such as a 600cc motor; relatively upright riding position with a low seat height; streamlined, aerodynamic full fairing; comfortable handlebars; and controls positioned only slightly aft of the bike’s center.

The 600cc liquid-cooled 4-stroke, 16-valve inline four-cylinder fuel-injected engine features a larger air box than the FZ6 with reduced intake noise and is a rigid mount, stressed member of the new steel framed chassis. The motor hits 78 horsepower at 10,000 rpm and delivers 44 lb.-ft. of torque at 8,500 rpm - both figures were measured at the crankshaft and give up roughly 8 percent at the rear wheel. The engine has been tuned to deliver a smooth and predictable power across a low to mid range.

There is a 3-way catalytic converter that meets strict emission requirements. The transmission is a six-speed manual with a multi-plate wet clutch that meters power to the final chain drive. Combined mileage estimates are 43 mpg (an 8 percent increase over the FZ6).

Suspension consists of SOQI non-adjustable 41-mm telescopic forks with 5.1 inches of travel upfront, and a SOQI Mono-shock with the same amount of travel in the rear, with a seven-step, ramp-style preload adjustment. Tires are specifically designed and formulated by both Bridgestone and Dunlop for the FZ6R.

The brake setup consists of dual hydraulic discs in the front with a Brembo master cylinder and dual-piston pin-slide Akebono calipers and an adjustable-reach brake lever. The rear brake also features a Brembo master cylinder, a single disc with a single piston pin-slide Nissin caliper.

The bike features aggressive track-styling with a traditional sport-bike image that’s suited to a broad and varied range of riding applications, and it comes in four paint schemes: Team Yamaha Blue with white graphics; Raven black; Cadmium Yellow with black and white starburst graphics; and Pearl White with pink and black tribal graphics. The Raven version is base-priced at $6,990 while the graphic-schemed bikes start at $7,090.

In addition to its high degree of technological benefits, adjustability is the key to the FZ6R’s appeal. The stock height of the narrow and easy-to-straddle seat is 30.9 inches, with the ability to raise it three-quarters of an inch in a matter of minutes by repositioning four fasteners with tools provided in the bike’s standard tool kit. The handlebars may be positioned forward by a similar measure with tools provided.

I rode a Cadmium Yellow version of the FZ6R, with a price as-tested estimated at $7,290.

My test ride covered a variety of riding scenarios, all of which the FZ6R was well-suited to. Every road type was encountered from urban streets to freeway riding with exhilarating long sweepers, radical twisties, one-lane stretches, tight switchbacks with rapid elevation changes and severely rutted surfaces thrown in for good measure.

My route went from Santa Rosa, Calif., past Calistoga over highway 128, crossing Highway 101, past the Lake Sonoma Recreation Area to the Pacific Coast Highway, through Salt Point State Park and past historic Russian Fort Ross to Jenner, then inland through Monte Rio and Guerneville on the Russian River, and finally back to Santa Rosa. The total distance amounted to just over 140 miles through sun, clouds and modest rain.

The FZ6R took it all in stride, delivering compliant suspension, positive handling, pleasing acceleration and smooth, positive gear changes. Braking is positive as well, and I enjoyed the ride despite the exceptionally cold temperatures and occasional shower, as the bike is surprisingly comfortable.

The 2009 Yamaha FZ6R is well-suited to a variety of rider levels from entry to intermediate, and even expert riders can enjoy its versatility and performance. The 600cc inline-four is incredibly smooth. The instrument panel consists of a high-quality FZ1-style meter that includes a digital speedometer and analog tach, along with other pertinent information. The tank is sculpted stylishly and suitably, allowing even long-limbed riders to tuck their knees in.

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