Oct 23, 2008

Where have I been?

As I said earlier, it's become harder and harder to find the time to blog. I must apologise to all the regular readers who have inspired me to continue to write here.

Since August 1, 2008, the last real post until these, I've changed jobs, moved to another place and it's even busier than before. However, I'm expecting to end up with an even more pronounced online presence, as you shall see shortly. As an extension of that process, I'm considering integrating the blog, archives and all, into that 'online presence.' I'd deeply appreciate it if you could write back and tell me what you think of that kind of a move. My idea is that once the blog becomes part of my official duties, my freedom to post frequently will become less of an issue. Which means I can write more, and whenever I like. And no one can object, since it is, after all, official work.

I will, of course, endeavour to not let the 'rules' that come with an official blog to alter or curtail the freedoms this blog has enjoyed, or for that matter, the sort of content that I've posted here.

What say you?

Yamaha FZ16: First Ride

So you want to know how the FZ16 is , is it?


As you can see for yourself, the styling of the FZ16 was central to the project. At least that is the official line. They first created the look and the 'fitted' the engineering into the design. No, really. That is why the FZ16 runs those fat tyres, has the faux pivot plate in aluminium colour, the faux aluminiun subframe look sidepanel and all. Like they scaled the R1 down for the R15, they scaled the FZ1N down for the FZ16. Personally, I'm just happy to be looking at an Indian bike that would hold its own anywhere in the world. As is usual with Yamaha, build quality, fit and finish levels are all great and I don't get the feeling that something will rattle loose, soon or later.

This is where the actual engineering began. The FZ16's aircooled engine is significantly different from the R15. Despite much prodding, for instance, Mizuno San, the project leader refused to accept that the R15 and the FZ16 motors shared more than a bare minimum of aggregates.

Creating two significantly different engines for what is effectively the same displacement band is a significant thing. It means that Yamaha is willing to look past economies of scale and parts sharing to create motorcycles that clearly adhere to a pre-defined role. Which is why the FZ16 feels quick of the line. Not quick enough to blow your socks off, mind you, but quick enough for you to notice the performance. I've read that the top-end isn't all that great and that FZ16 is reading from the same chapter on top-end as the Unicorn, but I don't subscribe to the same school. I think the FZ16 is clearly defined as an urban tool with styling and effortless low-rev performance being the two central themes, and this the engine does. That said, it is lighter than the competition, which should fill most performance gaps that the FZ16's peers might expose. The gearbox is a regular Yamaha job - slick and I don't think too many people will complain of the FZ16 being a laggard. In fact, I'd be very surprised if despite the low-rev focus, the FZ16 didn't equal or outperform its immediate competition.

Ride Quality, Handling and Braking
Personally, going into the test drive, I was expecting the storming tyre sizes to cause much trouble. Needless to say, my confidence in Yamaha's engineers was redoubled. Not only does the FZ16 handle well, it seems not to notice the extra rubber at all. I later found one of the reasons while helping some Yamaha staffers transfer a set of spare MRF tubeless radials from one car to another. The weigh nothing. Really, with tyres that light, it's no surprise that the not only does the FZ16 feel grippy, stable and responsive, it feels happy rather than that 'anchored' feeling that overtyred bikes seem to develop.

Ride quality is stiff and sporty, though. Again, personally, I've had the privilege of riding enough bikes to know that while plush ride feels great, stiffer setups encourage you to push harder and explore the envelope more... sometimes at the expense of your back. This is a compromise I have no problem with. You, on the other hand, might. Some riders who had the foresight to lower the preload to the softest settings reported instant, and noticeable ride quality improvements. I found the setup bouncy only over the worst of the roads, where the tyres do seem to bounce up off the surface entirely. In any other situation, the ride quality never comes to the point where you will leap off the motorcycle hurling abuse. I like it, but I think this is a personal choice so you should, ideally, ride an FZ and form your own opinion. Your experience will vary.

The braking is superb. No surprise there. Fat forks offer flex-free feedback-rich braking which the fat tyres respond to really well by mashing the larger contact patch firmly into the ground. I do wish that Yamaha'd put in a set of radially mounted brakes for brag value alone... but the whole wishes-horses thing applies to that line of thought, right?

Features and other stuff
Full LCD instruments, baby! But all is not well in that department. Internationally, Kawasaki came in for all-round notoriety for the all-LCD revcounter on their Ninjas from two generations ago because of readability issues. On the other hand, Ducati are currently running a slick, large race-spec all-LCD instrument cluster on the 1098, 848 etc. So it can be done. Yamaha haven't cracked it, I must admit. The tacho readout is cluttered by lots of design elements and the effect is that gathering info off the LCD meters takes some getting used to. Only the speedo is easy to read and the surfeit of carbon fibre, orange and white stickers makes the otherwise sleek instrument cluster a bit, how shall I put it, overdone. I do also have to point out that there's a few random stickers (like 'Monocross' on the side panel that add no value whatsoever to the motorcycle's style and could easily have been skipped.

As you can probably tell, I'm as impressed with the FZ16 as I was with the R15. But, there's a catch. The FZ16 is expensive compared to the 150s it wants to beat and the question is, is that extra money worth paying. This is something you must decide for yourself. I would have no hesitation paying the Rs 6000-odd extra for the solid feel, international looks and the general competence of the motorcycle. But would you? Tell me, leave a comment.

Image from Yamaha India