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2004 Yamaha FZ6

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  • 2004 Yamaha FZ6

    In the world of sport bikes, it seems like the idea of a “good starter bike” keeps getting pushed farther and farther out as the performance of the cutting edge superbikes keeps improving. A bike like the FZ6 with a slightly toned down R6 engine and comfortable ergonomics is downright friendly compared to a liter-sized race-ready “street” bike. It is loads of fun and does a lot of things well, but a brand new rider should look elsewhere for a first ride. More on that later. Let’s get to the bike! I’ll skip a bunch of the technical details, because you can find that information in other reviews.

    The FZ6 was introduced to the US in 2004 by Yamaha as a replacement for the European Fazer 600. The FZ6 motor is based on the R6, with the usual “tuned for midrange” treatment that naked sport bikes seem to get. You don’t get the grunt of a v-twin off the line, or the screaming top end of the R6, but a decent mixture of the two. Peak power is around 90hp at the rear wheel at 12,000rpm. Redline is somewhere just below 14k. Gas mileage on my bike ranges from 35-50mpg, depending on how hard I’m riding. Periodic maintenance is about like any other chain-driven bike, with the exception of the approximately 25,000-mile valve adjustment interval. That’s about as long an interval as you’ll get without having hydraulic lifters or something similar. The centerstand makes chain maintenance a snap.

    The riding position is pretty much straight-up standard, with a little forward lean. The pegs are low and forward compared to a pure sportbike. No clip-on bars here. The wide handlebar clamps to the triple tree with a few inches of rise. For me, it fits perfectly. The mirrors are pretty useful compared to other sportbikes, but you still need to move your elbow for a clear view. The pegs have feelers to let you know when you’re approaching the limits of clearance. They’re also rubber mounted, which helps cut some of the vibration. Most FZ6 owners say that the bike vibrates slightly around 7000rpm, but is otherwise very smooth. My own bike vibrates more, but that’s probably an isolated case. The fairing provides good wind protection to the hands, and this 5’11” rider gets the airstream off the windshield square in the shoulders. Flow around the helmet is smooth, though earplugs are a must on longer rides. Yamaha offers a taller screen, though some taller riders say that it just increases turbulence.

    The brakes are old-tech 2-piston double-disks on the front. Rear is a single-piston disk. The clutch is cable actuated and the friction zone is extremely small. Gearing is the same as the R6, which means tall. First gear tops out at around 60mph. Headlights provide decent light, but only one of the two bulbs is lit with the low-beams on. Many FZ6 owners modify the headlights to have both bulbs lit at all times.

    So, what’s it like to ride? Well, I bought it as a relatively new rider, and that’s the kind of rider this review is aimed at. My first year (6000 miles) was spent on a Suzuki Savage, and the difference between the two bikes was dramatic. Because I’d already figured out the basics on the Savage, it only took about a week to get comfortable on the FZ6. Once I started to get comfortable, I really started to understand the differences.

    The clutch on the FZ6 engages pretty far out in the lever travel. That means that pulling the lever in just a little bit gets you into the very narrow friction zone. Low speed maneuvers require good clutch control. I stalled the bike several times in the first couple of weeks before I got used to the clutch. Now, shifting is accomplished with just a short pull of the lever. The transmission was a bit clunky at first, but smoothes out some as the bike gets broken in. The 2nd to 1st shift is still very audible, though.

    Throttle response is typical for a sport bike, but it was different than I was used to. Minor changes in speed (5-10mph) are accomplished by pressure on the throttle, with very little actual visible movement. I had to give the Savage a good twist to accelerate smartly, but the FZ6 only needs a minor roll-on to get the same response. Good control is a must, especially on bumpy roads. Accidentally whacking open the throttle because of a bump will produce a significant jump in speed. If you’re off balance and get tossed backward by the acceleration, rolling back off the throttle can be difficult.

    The “old tech” nature of the front brakes may actually be a benefit to the relatively new rider. They haul the bike down from speed just fine, but aren’t grabby enough to be intimidating. The rear brake locks easily under hard braking, though, so quick stop practice is a must. Also, the relatively soft front suspension dives very quickly if you’re hamfisted with brake application. Stay smooth and progressive, and all will be well. I’ve heard tales of brakes fading during track sessions, but haven’t experienced that on the street. Some owners have upgraded to braided stainless steel lines for better feel.

    Since the FZ6 only costs about $6500US, Yamaha had to cut corners somewhere. The suspension on this bike is pretty basic, and only rear preload is adjustable. The factory settings work very well for riding around town, and are moderately comfortable for longer highway stretches. Aggressive riders may find the suspension too soft, especially the front forks. Heavier fork oil will help keep the front end from diving so quickly, and aftermarket springs and cartridge emulators are available if you have the money. A couple of adventurous and thrifty owners have also swapped the forks and axle from a 2003 R6 into the FZ6 triple tree. For a few hundred bucks, and some spacer fabrication, you can get adjustable compression and rebound damping, plus better brakes. Other R6 models may fit as well, but at this time I haven’t seen it done.

    The motor itself works very well, with just a few quirks. Whacking the throttle wide open at about 20mph will accelerate the bike pretty quickly until about 35mph and 7000rpm. There’s a bit of a flat spot between 5k and 7k, but that’s not unusual for an inline-4 sport bike. Once it hits 7000rpm, the bike takes off like it got spanked. It pulls strongly almost up to the redline, and it is easy to bounce off the rev limiter if you’re not careful. Wide open, the front wheel will come off the ground (or at least get really light) as you accelerate towards 60mph. If you drop the clutch too quickly when shifting to 2nd gear at high rpm, the front wheel will definitely go skyward.

    The motor’s quirks are fairly minor. First, the fuel injection and drivetrain lash combine to make smooth throttle roll-ons a challenge. Going from a closed throttle to barely open (like after braking into a corner) usually results in a sudden application of power. That can be minimized with practice, but I haven’t been able to totally eliminate it. Also, some 2004 FZ6 owners have experienced problems with the Throttle Position Sensor after several thousand miles. Symptoms include poor gas mileage, rough idle, and stalling at idle. It’s an intermittent problem, and turning the ignition off and back on will fix it for a little while. At the time of this writing, nobody has had a 2005 model long enough to experience this, so I don’t know if it has been fixed by Yamaha. Even with these quirks, though, the FZ6 is a hoot to ride.

    Behavior around town is very civilized. The bike has plenty of torque for putting around the surface streets. Stop and go traffic can get tiring with the narrow clutch friction zone, though. The mellow nature of the engine below 7000rpm really helps when the going gets wet. I only had handling problems when the stock Bridgestones started to square off (too many freeway miles!). As I would roll on the throttle around wet turns, the tire would start to spin as it made the transition from the flat center of the tire to the rounded edge. It took about 8000 miles to get to that point, though, and replacing the tires fixed it right up.

    If aftermarket goodies are your thing, there is fairly good aftermarket support for this bike. A couple of companies make lower fairings for a more sporty look. There are lots of options for aftermarket exhaust, though the twin underseat exhaust is pricy to upgrade ($500-800US for slip-ons). There are a few replacement windshields for those who don’t like the airstream hitting them squarely in the shoulders. The biggest glaring hole in the aftermarket is the lack of a custom seat for this bike. Last I heard, Corbin was looking for an owner to loan them an FZ6 (in return, they get a free seat). I’m sure I speak for all FZ6 owners when I say that I hope someone helps them out soon. The stock FZ6 seat isn’t very comfortable for long highway miles. Finally, Dynojet offers a PowerCommander module for the FZ6. This will allow you to remap the fuel injection system for smoother throttle response and better performance with aftermarket exhaust. I tried one with the stock exhaust and found the throttle response to be smoother, and a bit more top end power. I eventually decided that the 5mpg drop in fuel economy wasn’t worth it, though.

    So, why can’t a new rider start on this bike? Well, I won’t say that this bike is out of reach for all new riders. The brakes are friendly. The seating position is nice and upright, which gives good visibility. The motor is friendly below 7000rpm or so. The dry weight is somewhere around 450lbs, which isn’t terribly heavy. All of those are good things. However, the tiny clutch friction zone and touchy throttle response are not beginner friendly. The fairing will break if you drop the bike, and the gas tank dents pretty easily. (A couple of owners have dented the tank with their knees during get-offs). There also aren’t many used examples of this bike at the time of this writing, though that is slowly changing.

    After watching maybe 40 new street riders go through the MSF Basic RiderCourse, I can comfortably say that the vast majority of those riders would be better off on something smaller. Most would be hesitant or intimidated by this bike, and some would be downright dangerous. A few of the riders I’ve watched would probably be okay with this bike, but most of them had ridden on the dirt before. Many people CAN start on this bike (and have), but very few SHOULD in my opinion. Regardless of the performance gap between the FZ6 and the supersports, it isn’t a “good beginner bike.”

    If you’ve got some experience already, though, the FZ6 makes a great second (or more) bike. It performs well around town, and also screams down the twisty roads. I haven’t found it to be comfortable enough in stock trim for long highway trips, but a seat pad or custom seat would solve that. If you’re looking for a daily driver with a bit of a wild side, try out the FZ6.

    Cheers,
    Anthony
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