Riding motorcycles may be the only sensible way to get around Los Angeles. It’s either ride or go insane, as I would if I drove a car the 40 miles it takes to get to my office each day. On a motorcycle, it’s about 45 minutes. In a car, two to three hours depending on the wind, angle of the sun, or for some reason, how LL Cool J is feeling that day, because there’s no rhyme or reason to any of it. So, when Yamaha offered to let me test its newest naked superbike, the 2017 FZ-10, for three traffic-free months, I jumped at the chance—but this three-month affair never blossomed into true romance.
(Full disclosure: Yamaha wanted me to ride the FZ-10 so much that they loaned me the bike for three-months, gave me a tank of gas, and sent me on my way. I gladly accepted.)
The FZ-10 is Yamaha’s bare-bones, more upright version of the R1 superbike. It uses the same 998cc cross-plane engine, but detuned to 158 horsepower (down from 167 hp) and given more torque (81 lb-ft vs. 77 lb-ft) with a unique electronics suite.
This, in theory, produces a less aggressive package than the MotoGP-bred R1; more manageable and tuned for everyday rideability. Make no mistake though; this is still a performance machine ready to wheelie on command.
Trends change. Low-slung superbikes like the R1 aren’t as popular as they once were. Those riders who started with GSX-Rs, Ninjas, and R1s want something more comfortable, a riding position more attuned to daily rideability. Yet, because they grew up on those wickedly fast crotch rockets, they still want the horsepower and torque. Naked superbikes offer a solution, which is why this segment is increasingly popular.
While it doesn’t get a fancy-shmancy TFT display like its R1 superbike stablemate, the standard LCD display is massive and bright, making it a breeze to read at night or during inclement weather.
From its central display, the FZ-10 also has three distinct ride modes: A, B and STD. According to Yamaha, STD is the mode for newer riders, dialing back torque and generally making the bike more livable. A bumps up throttle response slightly but still maintains the motorcycle’s composure, while B, the lunatic mode, dials the throttle response to 11 and relaxes traction control. B is my personal favorite.
Additionally, Yamaha gave it four traction-control settings, including a rain mode; 1,2,3 and 4. One and 2 are low levels of traction control intrusion, 3 is rain, and 4 is completely disengaged. It also has cruise control, which works brilliantly: easy to engage and disengage on the fly. Cruise control is absolutely essential for those going on longer trips, and Yamaha’s is one of the best.
Yamaha’s adjustable suspension also allows owners to customize their FZ-10 to their riding style or adjust it for track use.
I picked up the Yamaha on a cool SoCal September day. My ride home from Yamaha’s headquarters—a 100 mile stretch—was the perfect introduction, winding through the 405 traffic, into the twisty roads of the Malibu mountains, and finally along the flat valley floor to home near the high desert.
To start: holy shit, the noise. A deep echoed baritone rises from the engine on start up. As it nears its 14,000 RPM redline, it approaches a piercing tenor. The only thing I can compare the sound to is a McLaren 650S supercar with the optional Sport Exhaust. Rising from the engine, a deep echoed baritone begins the FZ-10’s vocal range, rapidly changing to a piercing tenor as it nears its 14,000 RPM redline. On that ride the sound filled my helmet, begging me to slow down, then immediately throttle up, just to ride the sonic wave again and again.
It never got old.
Yet my initial experience, and throughout my three month stint, was marred by the lack of a telegraphed pickup point on the throttle-by-wire assembly, now a common feature on Yamahas. In other words, the throttle’s never smooth.
The experience is more of a waiting and guessing game than something that inspires confidence. The first eighth of an inch in the assembly is categorically dead. Nothing. Not an ounce of resistance. Then, all of the bike’s torque at once.
It makes the FZ-10 feel snappy, almost dangerous. You just can’t be smooth setting off. Ever. And while splitting lanes in the 405’s heavy traffic that first day, it was terrifying. I kept searching for the pickup point, and at times, looking down at the throttle itself.
After a few miles, I pulled over and went through the bike’s different modes to try to find a way of eliminating or calming its ill-tempered persona. While I was able to go through the programs fairly easily, I felt rushed as cars blasted their horns as they passed me while I sat on the shoulder. I quickly made my peace with the Standard riding program, but over the three months, I found that Mode B, the most aggressive setting, with traction at its lowest, was the most adaptable to my riding habits and provided a more linear response. It too, though, was still nervous.
I could never get fully comfortable with the throttle-by-wire, which tainted much of the experience.
Through the tight, often dangerous, and always contentious LA traffic though, the FZ-10’s steering feels telepathic. Dart left, dart right, lean. Anything you think, you do immediately. It was perfect for my particular, aggressive, riding style. During the multiple trips to the canyons that surround Los Angeles, the FZ-10’s steering inspired. While the nervous throttle kept me from leaning as far as I normally would, dragging my knee around the claustrophobic roads was a breeze. You instantly feel its connection to the R1’s MotoGP heritage.
The suspension setup, however, becomes a handful when you throttle up the FZ-10 in first or second gear. Delivered with a soft setup from the factory, as the engine loads the rear tire, it squats like a powerlifter getting ready to dead lift 1,000lbs. The immediacy of the torque has the tendency to pop the front end up into the air, a lot. I’m not sure how much time I spent on one wheel, but running it back through my head, it wasn’t an insignificant amount. The twitchy throttle aids wheelies as well (aids is the wrong word, actively trying to kill you might work better), as all you really need to do is grab a fistful of throttle and lean a bit back. It’s great fun, but it’s something that shouldn’t be tested on short streets or by novice riders.
Further into my time spent with the FZ-10, California finally started getting the rain we so desperately needed. But this meant more rainy riding, and let me tell you, without rain gear, it sucks to ride. I was thankful though that the FZ-10 was less of a handful than the KTM Super Duke R, one of its naked superbike rivals. The FZ-10’s power delivery, once past the dead zone, is far smoother than the KTM, which made riding on the slippery pavement feel safer. I was able to click up into higher gears and just cruise and concentrate on sobbing into my helmet as the cold rains soaked through my lucky shark underpants. Maybe they’re not so lucky?
What made the three months much more livable was that, unlike its superbike brother, the FZ-10’s riding position isn’t hunched over. I racked up almost 5,000 miles—heading through twisty canyons, up to the summit of Mount Wilson, to the beaches of Malibu, and to and from work every single day—and not once did I feel tired or cramped after a ride.
I had planned on a longer road trip to Las Vegas for SEMA, the same ill-fated, blisteringly cold trip I attempted the year before on a Honda NM4, but when the opportunity to drive Mercedes’ new C63 AMG S came about, and I saw the weather turn, I stashed the bike. However, given the chance, I think the FZ-10 would’ve made the trip easy and comfortable. But that isn’t the case for the person on the back seat.
I took my wife on a few small outings as she’s become a welcome passenger and claims she genuinely loves riding with me. However, after a slightly longer trip on the FZ-10, of maybe two hours, she and I both came back sore due to her restrictive riding position that had her knees up near her shoulders and digging into my rib cage. It wasn’t a great ride. To make it worse, the plastic rear diffuser connected to the seat broke after she barely put her tiny frame onto the seat. It apparently flew off somewhere on California’s 101.
I also got my little brother on the back when he came in. At 6’4”, he suffered through his first-ever motorcycle ride, splitting lanes from Los Angeles International Airport to our home 40 miles away. He looked like a gorilla on a toddler’s bicycle. It was hilarious, at least for both my wife and me. But both backseat riders help to illustrate that the FZ-10 is really for a single rider.
Yet, because of the rider-centric seating position, with high bars and a low seat, maneuverability is astounding.
Aiding that daily riding persona, the suspension’s soft factory setup, is beyond compliant. Bumps are soaked up as if you were in a mid-1990s Lexus LS 400—soft, squishy, comfortable. Near my house there’s a short pockmarked stretch of pavement which usually delivers a teeth-chattering and head banging experience, especially with sportier motorcycles and cars. But while I could still feel the bumps and broken pieces of pavement through the seat, I wasn’t thrown off, nor did I need an emergency dental visit.
I’ve struggled to figure that out. It’s such a mix of good, bad, amazing, and other feelings that it feels muddled in my mind. At the end, I think it’s for someone that wants a race-spec exhaust, likes the look of Michael Bay’s Transformers, but doesn’t want to be cramped on a full-fairing sport bike.
It’s for a person that wants the performance, the torque, and easy-to-ride nature of a standard upright motorcycle, but on the weekends, wants to pretend they’re Valentino Rossi and carve canyons or racetracks.
One small issue I found particularly annoying is the FZ-10’s fuel gauge. The entirety of the gauge cluster is easy to read and clear in its data. RPM, MPH, temperature, mode, traction management, turn signals; everything is really well laid out on the digital display. However, the fuel gauge is the one piece of information that isn’t straightforward. Rather than tell you exactly how much fuel is left in numerical digits, it displays only that you’ve used up the first half of the tank, and from there, eighth of a tank markers until empty. So full, half, three-eighths, a quarter, then an eighth.
Why couldn’t there just be a digital display with how many miles left in the tank?
It’s a frustrating, almost daily occurrence as the FZ-10 devours gasoline. And I mean devours it. Like a Tyrannosaurs Rex eating an Apatosaurus. Massive bites. The four-gallon tank, which is substantial compared to the two to three gallon tanks most other motorcycles have, only allows for about a total of 120 or so miles riding normally. It isn’t anywhere near enough when you consider the overall drivability and performance of the motorcycle and the trips riders will likely want to embark on with the FZ-10 due to its comfort.
When riding conservatively, the FZ-10 slips into Eco mode, yet, it doesn’t stay on long enough. I’d even be ok with having less horsepower and less torque if it meant not filling up every other day. For riders who like road trips, this might be a deal breaker.
One aspect that potential customers should understand is that the Bridgestone Battlax Hypersport S12 W tires are sticky, and helps the FZ-10’s clairvoyant steering and cornering abilities. However, the sticky compound also means they go bad quickly. I covered about 5,000 miles during my test and when I handed the keys back to Yamaha, the steel lining in the rear tire was practically shooting sparks. I’d budget a new set of tires—these Bridgestones cost $259 per tire—every 6,000-7,000 miles depending on your riding patterns.
Those expenses are all on top of the FZ-10’s $14,000 price tag, which isn’t that expensive for its class—the KTM mentioned above costs nearly $18,000—but after you compare its competitors in terms of rideability and maintenance, the FZ-10 loses some of its luster.
As December approached, and my three months behind the FZ-10’s handlebars came to a close, I didn’t really feel sad to return it to Yamaha; although I felt a bit guilty returning it sans one rear tire. The FZ-10 is a great performance motorcycle with a hell of a soundtrack. Nothing can compete with its noise; it’s the best on the market. Period. Its handling is phenomenal and is quite comfortable for everyday riding, albeit only for a single rider. Everything adds up to what should be an easy recommendation.
Still, I never bonded with the FZ-10. Unlike the KTM Super Duke R I had a couple months prior—which I didn’t want to give back—I had no problem letting the FZ-10 go. The FZ-10 is a great bike in a scholarly sense as it makes sense in a lab. But, in the real world, the FZ-10 doesn’t unite the rider and machine.
If Yamaha can fix a couple loose ends—the throttle-by-wire, poor second seat, and crap gas mileage—the company could have one of the best motorcycles available.
2017 Yamaha FZ-10 Specifications
ENGINE: 998cc liquid-cooled DOHC 16-valve Inline-four/158 hp, 81 lb-ft
TRANSMISSION: 6-speed sequential manual
0-60 MPH: 3.36 seconds
LAYOUT: 2-passenger motorcycle
EPA MILEAGE: 30 mpg
WHEELBASE: 55.1 in
WEIGHT: 463 lb
PRICE: $12,999 (MSRP)
Jonathon Klein started as a commenter OppositeLock. He’s now the associate editor of Automobile Magazine. But since he likes bikes, even after a couple-night stay in the hospital after one regrettable incident, he asked Patrick George if he could return from whence he came and talk about how two wheels are good. You can find Jonathon on Twitter and Instagram, where he’s either drunkenly reviewing red carpet fashion or taking pretty pictures.