Sudden brake lights flash red in front of me. I brake hard too 90-80-70-60-50-40-30… five seconds… the bike is completely stable and composed, my heart is beating at an insane rate, and my mouth is saying unkind words. For the hundredth time I am thankful I chose the Yamaha over the rest of the competition.
I get back home and give the FZ a well deserved pat on its sculpted composite fiber tank. The bike and I have been through a good 28,500 kilometers in one and a half years. My daily commute is about 70 kms and includes small city streets and a very busy highway (thankfully through beautiful green stretches) with its share of amazing twists and corners, the perfect playing ground for the little Yamaha.
My experience with motorbikes prior to the FZ was limited to a Hero Honda CD Dawn. Before that it was a delightful Vespa which still is going strong. The CD Dawn was a great workhorse. No maintenance and just hours of grueling work. And it never complained. The only reason it got replaced was because the allure of the FZ was a bit too much to resist.
A sudden (and much appreciated) perk in my stipend meant I could dare to look at the 150cc segment which I had dreamt of owning one day. And of course, the bike that blotted out everything was the Yamaha FZ 16. It was the choice of the heart and like every sensible individual I thought that the brain had to be given a break.
At this point I knew close to nothing about the 150-200cc bike segment. I had never tried riding one, and all my information was limited to internet reviews and spec sheets. I started off with a comparisYamaha FZ Ownership Review by Ashwintankon of the 150cc bikes available. Automags made my work simple.
I rejected the Suzuki GS 150 as it was a little too bland (what would not be when compared to the glorious FZ) I rejected the Pulsar range because of some of the quality issues and the characteristic clatter they produce after some use. I never was a pulsar fan. The Hero Honda bikes were not exceptional in any way.
Since I wasn’t fond of the faired design, the bikes in that segment were out. That left me with the apache RTR 180, the FZ 16 and the Avenger. I tried the avenger and was not impressed by the weight, turning radius and the riding position. After a test ride I discovered I would never be a fan of the relaxed cruiser design.
The RTR was a strong contender, but its notorious vibrations at mid to high revs and quality issues took it out of the competition. Then it was the turn of the FZ. The demo rider at Yamaha sold the bike with just one maneuver- he took it to 105 on a smooth lonely stretch, told me to hold on tight and hit both the brakes violently.
The bike came to a smooth, straight, amazingly short distance stop. Then I test rode the FZ and that was it. Booked and bought as soon as it was possible. I guess everybody who books a vehicle always feels the showroom takes longer than usual to deliver. So after the customary wait, I got the bike.
The points that finally made me decide in favor of the bike were- the light weight (was high on my list, the bike had to be light), the quality, the mid range grunt, amazingly good brakes, grippy tyres, a design that takes my breath away every time I look at it, especially the monoshock, and a name that sounded like a jet fighter. The price was just right too and that, as the case is often, sealed the deal. The concerns at his point were about the spares, the after sales and the amount of fuel it would consume.
I am getting this done with so that the rest of the ownership experience can proceed with a love story-ish flow. The mileage is well, frankly, pathetic. It averages about 35 only, but I am not complaining at all since the bike also saves my life once in a while. It is my safeguard against the maniacal driving of other road users and sometimes my spirited trysts with the throttle.
A rather tidy compensation for the lack of good mileage I would say. The fuel indicator is useless. Has never worked. ‘Peep in the tank’ procedure is a routine every morning. The tail lamp keeps dying once in a while in an almost ritualistic way and replacing it is a biannual tradition. As a matter of fact, the day the bike was delivered, the tail lamp was not working (you could say it is our little anniversary).
The engine, past 95 kph sounds like its end is near, but It does not transmit the vibrations to the bike at all. All one has to do is turn a deaf ear to it and go faster hoping the wind noise will drown the wail. The top speed is not great and pushing the bike from 80-115kph takes quite some time.
Though grippy as hell in every imaginable situation, gravel thoroughly upsets the bike. Even minute quantities, especially when met in the middle of a fast corner, turn your brain into flashback mode in preparation for an imminent not to mention, violent end.
Another not so important fact is that, in the engine area, the FZ is not as compact and packed as the photographs would indicate. The see through portions around the engine dulls a little bit of the ‘wow’ factor. But… All these shortcomings are wiped out by the chariots of fire theme which plays in my mind every time I approach the bike in the morning.
The Good Things
To start off, I live in Goa. Greenery all around, hills everywhere and narrow winding rural roads which almost always lead to a beach. The FZ is at home in such an environment. The best thing is the sound it makes between 4500 and 5500 RPM. It is guttural and throaty, without being loud.
It turns heads and commands respect. It is extremely addictive and one can never get enough of it. The aural effect just permeates through the helmet and makes every ride a delight. The FZ picks up speed like none other and excels in the low to mid range speeds.
Overtaking is effortless and a joy because there is always some extra torque to get me out of hairy situations. The FZ is meant to be a street bike and it makes sure it is the best in business. Highway riding is relaxed and peppy as long as you are within 85 kph. Higher speeds take a while to arrive. Handling is stellar as expected.
The monoshock, combined with the wide tyres and handlebars make sure the FZ remains planted through corners. The bike will iron out and compensate for the mistakes of a regular ‘ride to work’ commuter in almost any situation, making it an easy, non threatening bike to ride.
The confidence in cornering keeps going up with every passing day and scrapping a shoe clad toe on corners becomes quite commonplace. This agility with the light weight thrown in makes for amazingly nimble direction changes. Abrupt changes in direction (especially to avoid vehicles coming to a sudden halt) even at speeds over 90 kph are smooth and the bike remains composed as ever.
The front end of the bike feels like you have your nerves going through it. That’s how good the feedback is. Every undulation, every small bump, and every little change in direction is communicated effectively by the front wheels. The back wheel does the same but with a little bit of naughtiness.
Overenthusiastic cornering is responded to by a gentle slip at the rear, as if to say- relax buddy there is no hurry. The overall ride is a little stiff and jarring over large potholes. But that’s a compromise you have to make if handling has to be good. The front brakes are awesome and as I have said before- life saving.
The rear drums are not the most efficient though and need some stick to work well. But as a team they do a brilliant job of slowing the bike down. Stability of the bike is rocklike and solid. Crosswinds are no problem. But what amazed me most is the way the FZ dealt with the monsoons.
Slick roads were dealt with in style. Braking on rain soaked roads was as precise as ever and drenched corners were navigated with aplomb. It is eerie how much the FZ enjoys the rains, as if it is a reincarnated amphibian. Finally, the de. The sheer beauty and detailing is beyond competition.
No other bike in the class comes even close. The flair and dedication with which the bike has been designed is commendable. It stands out in every parking lot with its taut, ready to pounce stance. From the behind, its beautifully shaped tail is as attractive as the rest of the body.
Don’t Know Where This Fits
Well, now this point is a tricky one. Its about the pillion comfort. I have very rarely sat as pillion on my bike. Most people who have ridden pillion with me have done so over distances ranging between 30-80 kms. Till date nobody has complained about the comfort or the ride (after thoroughly cursing me for the not warning them about the scary cornering and crazy acceleration).
But everybody has praised the grab rails immensely (almost as if that was what kept them on the seat). So I am guessing it is bearable. But that brings me to the most important point. I enjoy my bike most when I ride alone. Its just the FZ and me. It’s a very personal experience and in my belief every rider feels so.
When pillions are a regular feature, every bike rider worth his or her salt would crave for that one late night ride alone with the two wheeled machine that makes every journey a special one. Having said that, I do enjoy good company when riding. And if they are appreciative of my darling little FZ, I make it show them a few tricks.
Though it sounds like I ride in a manner that may not be entirely acceptable, there is some exaggeration in that department and 90% of the times I ride responsibly and never without a helmet. When trying something crazy, I make sure the road is empty… just like the pillion seat.
I made a few cosmetic modifications by changing all the grey plasticky bits to black. A modification that Yamaha itself has later made available in its later variants. In my opinion it makes the FZ look much better and weapon like when clad completely in black. I also tried stripping away all the plastic panels on the bike. Lets just say, that was a bad idea. I took the panels off, stood away and watched my handiwork, then hastily put everything back in place.
In a place like Goa, there are a lot of places to go. Here the straight stretches of road do not last long enough to hit top speeds. The twists and turns rule here. The fun bit is always going round corners, fast. Knowing that you are protected by great technology and panic situations can be dealt with efficiently, gives a kind of confidence and peace of mind that let one enjoy the bike and the road.
Is that not the ultimate intention of a good bike? To make the rider sit at a beautiful, picturesque location at sunset, and scratch his head wondering what he loved more- the ride the destination or the destination itself? My bike has made me realize this- the destination is almost as good as the ride, to sit listening to the slow, cooling tick of the engine in a still landscape is beautiful.
To sum up- My bike takes me places. But wherever I go, I cannot walk away from my parked steed without a long, admiring glance over my shoulder. That one line is actually a very very condensed ownership review in itself.