Yamaha FZ6R – Click above for high-res image gallery

Before even throwing a leg over the new 2009 Yamaha FZ6R, we couldn't help but think that this bike fits neatly into the burgeoning entry-level sportbike category and is just the kind of motorcycle that most Americans would be better off purchasing than a bike from the more popular supersport category. Generally speaking, though today's crop of 600cc race-replica motorcycles are tons of fun to ride in a proper setting, there are few if any circumstances where it's necessary to have a machine capable of topping 160 mph or accelerating to 60 in around three seconds on public roads. With this in mind, we had very high hopes for Yamaha's latest middleweight sportbike. Did it meet our lofty expectations? Read on to find out.

Photos copyright ©2009 Jeremy Korzeniewski / Weblogs, Inc.

In the past, many basic sporty motorcycles were let down by a distinct lack of technology, performance and looks. That's no longer the case today as bikes like the Kawasaki Ninja 650 and ER-6n, Suzuki GSX650F, SV650 and Gladius and Yamaha's FZ6 and FZ6R all offer a reasonable amount of horsepower, attractive designs and a relatively low cost.

Despite sharing similar names and the same basic powerplant, there's quite a bit of distinction between Yamaha's FZ6R and its still-available naked predecessor, the FZ6 -- most obvious among them the full fairing that does a pretty convincing job of replicating the look of a real repli-racer. That's an important part of the puzzle that we think is likely to tilt the purchasing decision balance in its favor here in the States.

While both bikes use a 16-valve 600cc inline-four-cylinder engine with 12.2:1 compression, dual overhead cams and Mikuni electronic fuel injection, the power band of the newer FZ6R has been lowered and total output has been tamed via a less aggressive camshaft profile and smaller throttle valves. Further, the clutch mechanism has been altered to allow for an easier pull and more forgiving actuation.

In order to keep the initial purchase price low, Yamaha employs high-tensile steel in lieu of aluminum for the FZ6R's frame. A 41mm conventional fork supplied by SOQI is held at a mild 26-degree angle, which provides a generous 103.5mm of trail. Out back, a SOQI shock is actuated by a linkage that provides a fork-matching 5.1 inches of travel and is adjustable for preload in seven steps. Braking duties are handled by a 2-piston sliding caliper clamping down on a 298mm disc up front and a single-piston caliper out back.

These modest bits work just fine in real-life riding conditions, though outright stopping power is surely limited when compared to track-ready machinery. Naturally, the twin five-spoke cast aluminum rims are both 17-inches in diameter, with the front holding a 120/70R17 tire and the rear a 160/60/R17. An advertised wet weight of 470 lbs means the FZ6R isn't exactly a light bike, though we never thought it felt unduly heavy out on the road.

Of paramount importance for a bike that's aimed squarely at beginning riders, women and anyone looking to dip just a toe in the sportbike waters, the Yamaha FZ6R has what could best be described as highly rational ergonomics. With a saddle that sits just 30.9-inches above the tarmac (the onboard toolkit can be used to adjust the saddle another 20mm higher for those long of leg), the FZ6R should accomodate most riders, and the adjustable bars were just a very short reach forward for this 6'1" tester. Seatpegs lie almost directly below the rider's posterior and allow some freedom to take pressure off your lower back on long rides or bumpy roads. As we said, it all makes perfect sense for real-world riding scenarios.

A quick flick of the right thumb brings the R6-derived powerplant to life and it quickly settles into an easy idle. First impressions indicate that this will be a serene riding experience, especially due to the distinct lack of noise coming from the bike's engine. Rowing through the six-speed gearbox couldn't be any easier or trouble free as it is on the new Yamaha, though we did wish the bike's digital dash displayed a gear indicator. Clutch action is as light as we've ever experienced on a 600cc machine and was very easy to modulate for either smooth-and-steady or overtly aggressive takeoffs.

The FZ6R proved completely in its element around town, where its reasonable and completely sufficient power delivery allowed us to easily spurt ahead of traffic with zero drama. Braking in this environment was also perfectly adequate and the bike's relaxed geometry lent a feeling of stability when weaving in and out of California's well-known heavy traffic.

Out on the highway we noticed what may be the FZ6R's most obvious shortcoming. Once the tach needle approaches 7,000 RPM or so, the solidly-mounted engine gets noticeably buzzy and begins sending unwanted vibrations through the pegs and bars. In top gear at 75 miles per hour, we grew tired of the the powerplant's vibes after just a few short minutes. Fortunately, a quick downshift to fifth gear raises revs just enough that the problem almost completely disappears, so we wouldn't call the buzzy midrange a deal-breaker unless you plan on riding lots of freeway miles, which isn't what this bike is made for anyway. Once past the tingly zone, the FZ6R's engine pulls rather nicely to its 11,500 redline with enough verve to keep the ride interesting. Riders accustomed to the peaky nature of most 600cc supersport bikes aren't going to be impressed with the top-end rush, but for the bike's intended demographic, it's perfectly suitable.

We got off the freeway just in time for some nasty weather to roll in. Dense fog, low temperatures and constant drizzle conspired to take our fun away for the first few miles on the twisty roads that brought us to our chosen destination, but did allow us time to appreciate the fact that at least we weren't riding a naked sportbike. Thankfully, the gloom lifted and the sun appeared long enough for us to test the bike on some nice canyon roads, as you can see in our high-res image gallery.

Side-to-side transitions were totally stable and ridiculously easy to induce -- possibly due to the narrow footprint of the stock tires -- and there's plenty of cornering clearance to incite the expected grins. The brakes worked just fine at the relatively brisk pace we were going and the wide spread of power meant that we didn't need to jab constantly at the clutch and shift lever. Entry-level riders will find that the FZ6R is plenty of bike under just about any set of circumstances and we bet it would even perform well as a good mount with which to hone a rider's skills on the track.

As we mentioned at the outset, we were expecting this machine to be the kind of motorcycle a rational human beings should purchase. As we finally unmounted our steed after returning to Yamaha's corporate headquarters in California, we couldn't help but think the bike had completely lived up to our expectations. Yamaha's 2009 FZ6R fills its role as an urban commuter and weekend plaything with aplomb and does everything you could ask for in a proper streetbike for just under $7,000 in basic black (Yamaha calls it Raven), which we thought looked pretty darn nice. Those looking for a bit more visual stimulation can opt for Team Yamaha Blue and White, Pearl White or Cadmium Yellow for an extra Benjamin.

We'd have no qualms recommending the 2009 FZ6R as an entry-level sportbike to anyone who doesn't intend to spend hours droning along on the freeway. In some cases, using adjectives such as 'adequate' or 'sufficient' could be construed as damning with faint praise. In reality, Yamaha has hit the nail right on the head with the FZ6R, and in the process has constructed an excellent streetbike that does exactly what it's supposed to do.

Photos copyright ©2009 Jeremy Korzeniewski / Weblogs, Inc.

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