13 reasons why this 1986 FZ750 should be “Bike of the Year” in 2014

This is what I think…

 1. It’s as fast a bike as you’ll ever need on modern roads.

Really! Or do you think a 194bhp S1000RR is more relevant to modern travel? The FZ750 gifts a perfectly balanced fistful of power for the possibilities and limits offered by motorcycling in 2014.

Taking on speed cameras and running on track can be all part of the same day out, a fast-ish bike that still excites is the ideal tool – and that’s this FZ750.

If you’re not already beyond such playfulness, at the local traffic light GP it will still see off anything but a 6-figure supercar, plus it’s capable of a real 145mph when its legs are stretched. That is 45 more than you’ll require to enjoy an instant ban on even our fastest roads; surely more than enough?

Take it to any UK racetrack (or empty country road if adhering to the limits…) and it’s still got enough go-go to leave you breathless for all the right reasons.

2. It’s comfortable.

Yes, really – my own arse tells me its 99 miles before the often repeated and legendary “FZ seat butt-paralysis” gets a grip. Everybody talks about FZ750 seats being crap. But beware the Internet where every opinion can be shared a million times before it’s challenged by actual experience!

My arse tells me it’s a bike seat; horrible after 90 minutes like most other bikes I ever rode. That makes it comfy for longer than a particular 1200GS BMW which my arse labelled painful in under 30 minutes!

If it’s comfy enough to work with a sensible fuel-stop schedule, that’s all we really need isn’t it? 90 minutes on, 10 minutes off; no problem!

Leaving what it does for my behind behind, the bars are in a sensible place and so are the footrests. The half fairing does a decent job of keeping wind and weather off of you. So, I can keep this FZ until I’m 95 and I’ll still be able to sit on it and ride it for bloody miles in any weather.

3. It’ll do 180 miles to a tank of fuel (without riding like a namby-pamby)

Which means in concert with points 1 and 2 that it’s a very Practical Sportsbike (see what I did there?)

4. It’s robust

The FZ is probably as robust and reliable a design as we’ll ever see – 28 years in to its history and we know that nothing (important) usually breaks.

Factory suggested valve clearance checks were a revolutionary 28,000 miles apart. I’ve never met anyone in person that has found a non raced FZ that actually needed them doing any earlier than that, and it’s documented that total abandonment of any clearance checking schedules, even tens of thousands of miles beyond recommended mileages haven’t caused anything catastrophic.

Having only 90bhp or so to deal with, the bottom ends are way under stressed and for a Yamaha it’s even got a very slick gearbox. Clutches slip from cold sometimes, particularly if you use the wrong oil, but overall nobody could really argue that it isn’t a really strong motor! It’s true of course that things wear out, or may cease to function through years of abuse/neglect, but they don’t really break.

China is the world’s largest bike maker – fact. Have they made anything as reliable as an FZ750 yet? Mmm…

Bikes as robust as the FZ therefore peg back the notion that everything new is inherently “better”.

My bike has had spells living outside, and I’ve left it for 2 weeks or more before now, turned it on, pulled the choke and had it start before it feels like my finger has fully depressed the starter button. I’ve never had to press the starter twice.

Considering all that, this FZ is frankly awesome.

5. Cliché alert! – It’s a Jack-of-all-trades.

Whilst you could argue it can do nothing brilliantly, it does do everything really well; plodding around town, long-distance work, track work and the 2-up breakfast run. I’d take an FZ of mine (and have done) on any of them in a heartbeat.

A recent day out at Cadwell instructing for the lovely people at Classic Bike Trackdays demonstrates the FZ’s flexibility perfectly: Up at 5am, 120 fast miles to Cadwell across empty Fen blacktop under the warming canvas of a perfect summer sunrise, 96 miles instructing and riding on track and another 135 miles home in the pissing wet on gnarly traffic laden roads around Peterborough after I got lost.

All weathers, all kinds of roads, over 130 on the clock numerous times (on the track of course…. ahem) and a head packed full of the kind of memories that make you fall in love with the bike you rode when you made them.

This FZ delivers good times whatever you choose to do!

6. It exudes retro coolness in lumps.

The cool thing about retro coolness is that it doesn’t require everything to be utterly perfectly brilliant in every aspect.

Take the “Ford Cortina” headlamp on the FZ. In 1985 the manufacturers were already rallying to the cry of “give us twin headlamps” and the FZ’s never stylistically repeated dull oblong unit was already behind the fashion curve. But that kind of oddness is what makes retro cool, cool!

Leveraging the in in-built quirkiness of the skinny and strangely sized original wheels on this FZ for retro-cool points means they’re staying put. The 16” front and 18” rear combination sport almost the same width tyres at each end (120/130).

Adding wider wheels is one of the easiest things to do to an FZ, as there are 2 later models with wheel upgrades which can bolt up easily, but these wheels are sooo 1985, they simply have to stay!

It’s also the last “range-leading” sportsbike from any of the big 4 to have an engine that you could see. Quarter depth side fairings came and went by the 1987 update, but on the standard model, in 1985 and 1986 it was a cutting edge sportsbike with a visible engine.

The headlamp, the wheels, the exposed engine; wouldn’t happen today. Weird stuff that we don’t do any more feeds genuine retro coolness! You can’t buy that new….

7. It’s a time machine!

This one isn’t over-modified; it’s been left largely how Yamaha intended.

That means when you ride it, you’re not simply sharing an experience with a collection of superior (and often later) retrofitted parts, you’re sharing the feeling of rolling away from a Yamaha showroom in 1985. Ok, I admit, it now has a slightly better, but still period, WP shock fitted, cartridge emulators in the original forks and 2014’s MUCH better tyres, but still, you’re really not a million miles off.

I was happy being unburdened with a grown up life in 1985, so to be able to pop back there and feel the relief on this bike once in a while is an absolute joy. Simple stuff. Lovely.

8. [Anorak mode ON] – It’s a blue and white one not a red and silver one.

This means it’s amongst the rarest of the rare. I love early FZ’s and thought I was still up on everything to do with them, but this colour option was long forgotten until I saw this one advertised.

I always had the early FZ’s down as red and silver with only the later ones offering blue and white. This one sits neatly in the middle – in 1986 this was a lightly modified version of 1985’s launch model. It’s still the 1FN model number but it wears different indicators, has a grabrail and caters to 1986’s burgeoning desire for more plastic with an additional bellypan.

This particular blue and white with fetching yellow trim paint scheme is actually a very different one to that used when they went mental with mods to the FZ in 1987, but it does look similar to the casual observer.

So, this is a 1-year only paint scheme on a 1-year only model. Actually, that is even more of Point 6’s “retro coolness” banked!

9. It’s a good home mechanics machine.

That doesn’t mean it’s easy to work on, far from it. It means everything is possible to work on. But, and importantly, it remains challenging enough to make it feel rewarding.

There’s a Japanese proverb that relates well to this: “a smooth sea never made a skilful sailor” – Bloody clever the Japanese.

Whilst working on the insides of the FZ motor might need skill and understanding beyond the novice mechanic, the bike is otherwise a simple, understandable and enjoyable companion in the garage.

I had never really wielded spanners for myself before I bought my first FZ back in 2006, and it proved to be an interesting and engaging education.

I’ve spent hours and hours working on my 2 FZ’s and 95% of the time I needed nothing more than a basic toolkit, a Clymer manual and patience.

On the subject of workshop patience, I learnt everything I know from working on FZ fuel systems, and it eventually taught me it’s possible to enjoy jobs that take longer than an hour. Oh, and to enjoy jobs that need doing again and again until you get them right as well.

10. That engine, oh lord, THAT engine.

If you haven’t ridden a sweet running FZ750, then find a mate with a good one, take them some cake, a cup of fuel, and ask to take it around the block.

At the time of writing mine is not even truly 100% sweet running yet, I have the smallest of glitches on part throttle when first pulling away at 3-4,000 rpm (they all do that unless you have a dynojet or factory pro kit installed), but that’s as relevant to the overall experience as finding out the first digestive biscuit in an otherwise perfect pack has split in half.

The way this motor goes about its business is incredible. It feels like it’s pulling it’s own heart out for you from 3,000 rpm to the redline.

That’s a redline that is actually at 11,000 but feels like it’s nearer 20,000. Although the power is perfectly labelled as “seamless”, as you get up the range it kicks harder and harder – calling it a power band alludes to it having no rush down below; better to think of it as having extra “rush” up top. In fact, top-end wise, I’d call it frantic. It doesn’t feel like 1986 motor, it feels like a bang on 2013 motor!

Thanks in part to emissions laws, plus the failure of fly by wire throttle and fuel injection to consistently deliver smooth fuelling, opening a throttle on a modern bike often still isn’t as nice a thing to do as it is on a classic with carbs. On this bike it’s a particularly good experience. It’s very near the top of the “good fuelling food-chain” with lovely buttery response to any kind of twist at any kind of revs.

Prior to commentating on MotoGP, in 1985 Julian Ryder was already a respected journalist. In a road test for Motorcycle International that year, he reported smooth and seamless drive from just 1,500 rpm in top gear. When I tried that on my other ‘85 FZ in 2008, much to my amazement on a 23-year old bike I managed to replicate the experience. It’s amazing! (Once I’ve got rid of my glitch on this one, it should be the same)

Honestly – it’s such a good motor; this engine should still be powering bikes today.

11. This bike cost £750.

At the time of writing there were 199 listings on eBay for Table lamps that cost more than that. Work out for yourself how you’d spend your £750…

I doubt that as long as we have petrol left in the world, that it’ll sell for anything less than I paid. That makes it packed full of recession/austerity/prudent times win.

Adding to the frugality of the package is legibility for Classic insurance; it’s so cheap to insure they almost pay me!

Still not convinced this FZ is 2014’s best bike?

12. The FZ750 is truly iconic.

Few bikes can claim that, it’s special.

Special because the FZ is a bridge between old and new, a marker that starts a generation of bikes where frames and engines were designed to work together, where alternators got lifted from the end of the crank and dropped behind the cylinder block, where storing fuel in the middle of the bike began and where stewarding the air to the engine more purposefully by using more thoughtfully designed and better placed airboxes first happened (And I didn’t even mention the 5 valve head, which is what it’s probably most famous for)

It’s a thing that doesn’t truly come with any new bike; it takes time and appreciation to earn a status such as “iconic”. Plenty of manufacturers may claim it on new models, but really? Can “iconic” really be built into a new bike?

Owning it should really be considered “custodianship” – passing it on seems important. It’s exclusive; a trip down the café on a Sunday morning is all the more enjoyable for knowing that you’ll likely be the only FZ there.

As rows of identikit Gixxers, R6’s, CBR’s and ZX’s all assimilate into a congealed mass, akin to the melted plastic aftermath of a toy shop fire, the FZ and it’s quirky, retro coolness quietly draws knowing attention and stands out in a beautifully understated way.

Desmosedici levels of rarity, for less than the price of a Table Lamp? Full of win!

The FZ started but did not finish the “technical revolution” of the mid 80’s; although it took several major leaps forward it left just enough room (in Yamaha’s case at least) for stuff like the OW01 and FZR1000 EXUP to finish the transition between non-superbike orientated models and the race-replica obsessed stuff we bought in boat-loads at the end of the decade.

But it’s undeniable – the FZ is a VERY important step in motorcycle evolution.

13. It’s utterly brilliant to ride.

I’ve talked about the engine and that’s at the heart of the experience, but as a package, riding even a few miles on this bike gets us to the crux of the matter; it will make your heart beat faster, it will make you smile, it will make you realise maybe things haven’t actually got that much better since 1986 (if at all) and it will make you forget about the dirge of 2014 credit-crunched life with every twist of the wrist.

For £750 1986 really can still give us a reason to smile in 2014

So, in summary, if points 1 to 12 weren’t even true, reason number 13 could (maybe) be enough to qualify it for (probably) the best bike of 2014 on it’s own.

Want the balancing view on this romantic notion of FZ supremacy?


Try the next blog post…


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