Saturday, 21 May 2016
Imagine the scene. Banked over in a long 80mph bend, halfway through your brain is suddenly left incredulous by a moronic cager deciding it’s the ideal place to do a U-turn. The shiny Renault 5 reversing into the bit of road needed to complete the corner. The moment of collision would see the front wheel crunching into the middle of the car... even if you used all the power of the brakes there's no way the machine will pull up in time.
I wrenched the bike up, doing an instant change of direction and somehow hurled the machine through the gap between the front of the car and what space was left on the wrong side of the road. I was both amazed that l was still aboard the FZ600 uninjured and that the Yamaha had performed the crazed directional change with nary a twitch. Any bike that can save your bacon in such very desperate situations can be forgiven much.
And there is much to forgive on the FZ600. Not that its faults were immediately apparent when I bought a new machine in 1988. The FZ was a tuned up version of the XJ600 which as well as cafe racer styling had 70 horses to propel a mere 400Ibs of mass. It was a stop gap model, a rival to the CBR600 until Yamaha could come up with the FZR.
The head in the clocks riding position was alright by me, I knew that the pain in my wrists would disappear as soon as the machine was run in and I could obtain some decent speed out of the DOHC four. I had previously owned an XJ550. which I sold with 68000 miles on the clock, so I had no qualms about the basic toughness of the engine After a 1000 miles of relatively restrained riding I let rip, getting 140mph on the clock and rock solid stability on the motorway.
At that kind of speed the riding position made sense but above 85mph the secondary vibes came in with remarkable ferocity, the fairing screen thrumming away, the vibration ﬁnding its way through the tank. pegs and bars. Below 80mph the engine felt really smooth, although at less than 2000rpm the motor rumbled and clattered like there was something seriously wrong.
The vibes really limited the bike’s high speed cruising potential, brief bursts of speed were no problem but sustained ton plus speeding eventually led to blurred vision and dead fingers. At 80mph the riding position is bearable for a 100 miles but after that the seat becomes positively painful whilst wrists and knees suffer from the strained riding position. One aspect of this limited cruising ability was that the relatively low speeds returned around 60mpg.
Of course, the whole machine is set up for back road scratching. Here, it really does excel. It spins around corners like a 300lb lightweight, the angles of lean induce feelings of dizziness, the vibes and discomfort fade into the background as you test the limits of personal bravery. Its nimbleness is such that you always feel as if you were going much too slow; several times I turned the bike around and rode my favourite stretches of twisty roads again just for the sheer fun of it.
The only weak spot in the chassis was braking when banked over, which induced fork judder, the wheel skipping off line However, this only occurred under extreme abuse and on a bike less good in chassis leaving the braking so late would not have been entertained — it was the kind of bike that felt so secure it encouraged increasing acts of highway insanity until the limits of physics were encountered rather than the machine’s. However, of late, with the front forks losing some of their precision, that judder has become rather frightening, although I've yet to be thrown off. Under such abuse fuel economy dropped to around 50mpg: considering the grin factor involved this was more than acceptable.
To go with its cafe racer looks it has a raw feel that would have, say, a CBR600 owner rushing to the dealer to demand a full service And, indeed, the FZ needed a full service every 1000 miles if its raw edge was not to become dog rough. After the dealer did the first service, I found a lot of popping in the exhaust on the overrun. The grease monkey had tightened down the exhaust valve clearances to zero... I never let the bike near a dealer after that and did the services myself. I must have been doing something right for in three years I managed 32000 miles with no engine problems.
The same could not be said for the rest of the bike. After two year and 18000 miles the inside of the petrol tank was full of rust, clogging up the filter and making the engine run terribly. A new tank was bought as the bike was then rare in breakers. Two months later the silencer was a heap of rust and the downpipes were not much better. I had been told that aftermarket systems wrecked the carburation, so like a fool I coughed up for a brand new system.
By then the suspension had gone soft and some of the bike's stability had disappeared. Not that it was bad, it was just that it had lost the feeling of Incredible security it had when new. The FZ was also susceptible to tyre wear, when they were down to 2 to 3mm the machine became very twitchy. As Arrowmaxes, which otherwise suit the bike well, don't last for more than 6000 miles, this is a seriously expensive business. I did try Roadunners once but found wet weather behaviour was lacking in predictability ~ a kind way of saying that on occasions the buggers let loose with no warning. especially at the rear.
Brake calipers were another disaster area. At 19500 miles one of the front calipers seized on solid, making it almost Impossible to ride the bike. It was not possible to ﬁx so a new one was fitted. Some time later the rear caliper did the same trick, but I never bothered replacing it after freeing it off — the rear was used so infrequently that I never had to change the pads.
I knew the bike wasn't comfortable as a long distance tourer but that did not stop me using the machine for an around Britain charity run of some 3000 miles. I went in the company of a nearly new XJ600, by the end of the first day I was full of lust for its normal riding position and comfortable seat - after 300 miles of FZ the XJ felt like an armchair. Unfortunately, the XJ owner refused to ride the FZ for more than 10 miles, so it was back to purgatory.
I felt like a real hero after that trip. It must have toughened up my muscles, or something, because afterwards the bike was a lot less painful to ride. 200 miles in a day seemed nothing — well, not quite, it took an hour or two for my backside to recover. I eventually cut up a piece of heavyweight foam and stuck that on top of the seat, which improved matters no end, it was just the inside of my thighs that suffered, rubbing on the sharp edges of the seat... yet more foam! Admittedly, the bike looked a bit weird, spoiling the racy lines of the GRP no end.
Passengers were even worse off. Sat on a tiny pad, if they were over about six their knees were all crunched up and they were often thrown clean off the back of the machine under acceleration... local kids found it hard to restrain themselves from throwing bricks when l wobbled past with a six foot mate on the back, he was perched high above my 5'6”. The bike does have a nice low seat height for those short of leg.
Up to the ton, the FZ can stay with GPZ600s and CBR600s. Racing them through the curves is great fun, it really ruins their poise when you go inside them, although on longer straights the CBR blasts off at an incredible pace. I prefer racing with LCs, as nimbleness is well matched and I can take them on the straights.
With 31000 miles up. vibes increased and top speed was down to 125mph, so I thought it was time to look for something newer. When, 800 miles later, a dealer offered me two grand part exchange on a new FZR1000 EXUP, I was smitten. I miss the sheer flickability of the smaller bike, but the fantastic grunt of the muscle bike kind of makes up for it.