If only all decisions were as enjoyable

Published: 01 March 2001

HERE in Britain, our roads are titchy and crammed with traffic, our speed limits are archaic and proliferating speed cameras mean our chance of making the most of our bikes’ performance seem to diminish by the day.

In fact, all things considered, our roads are the worst in Europe, and about the only time we can give our bikes free rein is on track days. Yet we still insist on buying, running and riding the maddest sports bikes Japan and Italy can throw at us. More power and less weight? We’ll take it. Better suspension so we can cut through corners even faster? Yes please.

There’s nothing wrong with that if, like me, you need the ultimate rush of getting the perfect line through a bend and making your rear tyre suffer on the way out whenever you can get it. And let’s not get too depressed about biking in Britain. If sports bikes were unrideable, we wouldn’t buy so many and enjoy ourselves so much doing what we love best.

But there is an alternative in the form of the Fazer 1000. And just to find out whether it’s time to chop in our sports bikes for a subtly more sedate ride, we present to you the R1 for comparison. Two bikes bearing the Yamaha logo which also boast similar engines and the same ultimate aim of getting from A to B with the panache and excitement that only motorcycles can bring, but with different purposes.

The Fazer carries on from the Fazer 600 by nicking top-notch parts from Yamaha’s sports bikes. It has an engine from the R1, detuned for less power and more torque, plus the R1’s four-pot brakes and wheels. Add a steel cradle frame with a new-style half-fairing and some sports tourer-spec tyres and you have some serious metal.

But can the Fazer 1000 really become as dear to our hearts as the R1 has over the past four years? That’s a pretty tall order, but it will nevertheless fill a gap that was almost plugged with the likes of the Suzuki Bandit and Honda’s Super Blackbird-engined X11, though neither quite had their topcoat on.

Like twins separated at birth, both the R1 and Fazer 1000 have similar personalities, but go about doing things in very different ways. Of course, one out-performs the other when it comes down to final specs, but after three days of intensive testing on road, track and disused airfield, we can tell you the Fazer is a fantastic road bike that’s nearly as quick as an R1, but more comfy, and with amazing brakes and softer suspension that hangs in there on the road – though it does suffer a bit on the track.

But most importantly, it has that special something that makes you nip out for one last blast before hosing it down, putting it in the garage and lubing the chain. Of course, the R1’s got plenty of that, too, but what the Fazer gives you is the ability to go fast without feeling you have to because your bum’s pointing skywards and your face is on the tank.

The Fazer’s riding position couldn’t be more different to the R1’s. For a start, your back is straight, you reach forward for the bars without crooking your neck, there’s a proper seat and the footrests are where your feet expect them to be. The low screen seems a long way away and you get a fuel gauge and conventional speedo and rev counter – with the red bit starting at 11,500rpm, just like on the R1.

It’s definitely no sports bike to sit on, but then it’s not meant to be. What it’s meant to be is something to fill that gap between the naked bikes we’ve had so far and the more extreme stuff like the R1, which so kindly donated its motor. If the riding position might be considered a little soft by those prepared to compromise on comfort for all-out performance (like me), the rest of the bike certainly isn’t.

After picking up the bikes, myself and tester Adam Morrissey get kitted up for a cold ride back home and roll out of the MCN office late on Friday night. I’ve bagged the Fazer for the journey and, just like on any bike I’m riding for the first time, I’m keen to explore what kind of power delivery I’m dealing with. On the

Fazer, that process goes something like this. I cut past some traffic and cruise through a few villages, then take a good look around in the mirrors. I engage first gear and gun it from walking pace with the throttle hard back. The revs hook round the dial fast and the motor barks.

One second the headlight is showing me what’s ahead, the next my world’s gone dark as the beam points uselessly into the night sky. Not so soft after all, then. While we’re talking headlights, the R1 has the slight edge with a beam which throws light a bit further and wider, though the Fazer’s is much more impressive than the Fazer 600’s weak item.

As we head out on to the main road, wary of the slimy roads, the Fazer and I really start to gel. The traffic’s heavy, but the bike feels right at home.

There’s something about the way you sit on a sports bike that automatically puts you into an aggressive frame of mind. You feel as though you have to overtake every vehicle you encounter with as many revs as possible. It’s obvious that Morrissey is in this mood, as every time he passes cars he’s gunning it down the box before flying off, and I know the R1’s engine means you don’t have to do that.

I’m more relaxed on the Fazer, though. At 70mph in top gear the bike’s pulling around 5000rpm and the drive it gets past cars from such low revs makes it very enjoyable cutting your way along a busy A-road. Out of roundabouts you get plenty of go in the motor by

short shifting up to 8000rpm and working the mid-range, which is where most people spend their lives on the road.

With most of the traffic behind us, the dual-carriageway comes and we scoot home up the slip-road. Morrissey accelerates hard on the R1 and I nail the Fazer for all its worth. The R1 outruns me, but not by a million miles. And though it’s beaten, the Fazer’s engine isn’t forgotten – in fact, it’s bloody fast.

For this kind of run the Fazer’s a peach, as it makes light work of your brain after a hard week at work. Despite the cold winter wind in my face, I feel comfortable and at ease.

What doesn’t make light work of your brain is the thought of running two bikes flat-out down the

2.2-mile runway at Bruntingthorpe Proving Ground, near Leicester, early on a Saturday morning when the roads there are still covered in snow. So I take the more mellow option and put my wife on the back for the journey. If I’d taken the R1 she wouldn’t have come near, but she felt right at home on the Fazer with its low footrests and two grabhandles, even at speeds up to 120mph.

Luckily, in the time it takes to fit the speed testing equipment to the bikes, the snow has cleared thanks to some ski resort-style sun streaming down on to the concrete runway. The new Tarmac circuit the owners have built for track day use this summer is also beginning to dry out.

With the datalogging equipment strapped on the back and the rpm sensor and front wheel speed sensor all checked and cleared, I get on the Fazer for a top-speed run. The equipment measures speed over distance so the

quarter-mile time can be taken from the same run, which means a good launch is essential. To get some heat into the MEZ4 tyres,I take it for a lap before starting the

speed run.

With the tyres warm,

I wait at the top of the runway, dial in 7000rpm and snap the clutch out as fast as possible. The bike gets a small wheelie which lasts into second gear, then it’s through third and away. On the boil the engine has that distinctive R1 sound, but it’s slightly quieter and less gruff without the titanium silencer, and it begs for a louder can.

As the speedo climbs past 130mph, the rate of acceleration starts to slow a little and I can feel the wind giving me a hard time even though my head’s buried on the tank. A glance at the clock proves 150mph has arrived, but then the side wind starts to impede progress. The bike’s leaning over to the left even though it’s going in a straight line and the bars start to gently waggle as it runs out of steam while doing an indicated 165mph at 10,500rpm in top gear.

On my return we download the numbers and it’s slightly disappointing – 144.7mph with a quarter-mile time of 10.93 seconds at 119.4mph. It’s obvious the side wind is having a big effect on the way the bike cuts through the air.

I take the R1 next and I can’t believe how different it feels. R1s always feel light, small and narrow, but after the Fazer, the contrast is incredible. There are plenty of other bikes with more radical riding positions than this, but after its cousin, the R1 feels like a real race bike.

After a lap reacquainting myself with the MCN machine of the year, I get ready for the quarter-mile and top speed run. Just sitting on the line revving the R1, it’s clear Yamaha has restricted the speed at which the Fazer revs. It’s no slouch in picking up the rpm, but the R1’s needle jumps round the dial in comparison.

I launch the bike off the line, leaving a bit of clutch engaged, and it’s a different ball game. The more powerful engine, lighter weight, better power delivery and shorter wheelbase do their best to land me on the concrete and as I hook second the front wheel is still way up. It’s evil, but oh so exciting.

I pull in and try to get a better launch, but I still have to feather the throttle in first gear to keep the wheel down. As the R1 gets to an indicated 175mph, the side wind is severely restricting top speed – and my bottle. I keep my head down and my bum against the seat stop, but surprisingly, there’s no more to come. On a good day at Bruntingthorpe an R1 will show around 190mph on the speedo and trip the timer at a genuine 172mph. Today the wind has stopped play and after a few more runs the best we can get is 157.2mph, with a quarter-mile of 10.71 seconds at 124.6mph.

The speed-sapping wind means the bikes are only running at 91 per cent of their potential. So it’s fair to say the Fazer 1000 should be able to hit a genuine 150mph-plus on a calmer day. Though the R1 would be some 22mph faster in good weather, the Fazer’s quarter-mile time is still impressive, and it’s easier to get off the line without the risk of the rear tyre spinning or the bike flipping you off the back.

With the speed tests out of the way, I get back on the Fazer and we prepare for some hard-charging, head-to-head track action. There’s no starting grid, so to make things fair I lead the way and we head down the short straight into the first corner at an agreed 130mph side by side.

When we brake is down to each rider. After all, both bikes have the same set-up, even if the suspension is different – the R1 has fully adjustable forks like the Fazer, but they’re much firmer because of the bike’s more track-focused role.

I have more experience on the new track so Morrissey hits the brakes first and I sail past, leaning the bike over into the first part of the 130mph corner. But as I peel in and hit the bump on the first apex the bike grinds its footrests and skips a bit. That wouldn’t be a problem with the R1 – you’d have to be going some to grind it here.

Into the second part of the bend the Fazer is dragging its footrests again and I’m not quite sure what the front is up to. It’s acceptable, but thanks to the more sports-orientated suspension of the R1 and its stickier Dunlop tyres, I can now sense a wheel up my inside.

Running out to the side of the track and getting on the power, the rear tyre hits some overbanding and the rear suspension squirms around as it tries to find grip. By the time I’m in third with my head down the R1 has passed me and is pulling away fast. My better track knowledge means I make up some time on the brakes into the next two corners, but the Fazer’s just not giving me enough mid-corner. While the R1 is cranked over, the Fazer is laying its mark in the fresh Tarmac with pretty white patterns.

Up the next short straight the R1’s off again, gaining the advantage with quicker steering, better mid-corner speed and more power.

Flip-flopping through the chicane which flicks right, left and right again, the Fazer shows its weight and it’s a bit of a handful, whereas the R1 goes exactly where you point it and is much more direct on the throttle, under braking and through the turn.

By the end of the lap the R1 is well ahead. The Fazer can do it, but if it came down to a choice of which bike to take on a track day, well, it’s no choice, really. But let’s get things clear here. One of these bikes is meant to be an unleashed serial killer, while the other is designed to be a much more placid type. The fact that the Fazer can live with the R1 in this kind of test shows just how good it is. It may be a bit wallowy on the limit, but that’s what you’d expect on a bike meant to do everything.

With the wife taking the more sensible option at the end of the day and getting a lift back in the snapper’s car, I take the R1 home. The ride back is quite memorable, as are most rides on an R1, but the bike takes a lot more out of you then the laid-back Fazer. The acceleration on the road is phenomenal and it’s so quick in top gear I swear it could use another cog.

The next day I wake up early to see snow out of the window again. It’s only a dusting, though, so we head out to the planned destination of Matlock Bath for some riding in the Derbyshire Dales. But just as I’m sitting on the R1 and about to leave, my moby rings. It’s a mate who lives up that way and who we were supposed to meet for a ride, and he recommends we don’t go as the snow on the hills is pretty bad.

Instead, we head out through the snow-covered back lanes out of town towards Melton Mowbray in Leicestershire. On the

dual-carriageway I’m perched on top of the R1 behind its sharp full fairing, and Morrissey is alongside, lording it up on the comfy Fazer. It’s way more comfortable for

long-distance stuff than the R1, but the design of the tank cut-outs means that at around 90mph the wind gets behind your knees and starts to push them out. You only notice when your thigh muscles start to ache as you realise you’re fighting to keep your legs from splaying apart.

As the road opens out and we say goodbye to the dual-carriageway and hello to back roads, the R1’s grunt makes itself really welcome, but it’s easy to scare yourself if you haven’t got much self-control. Look where you want to go and the R1 reacts straight away and if you’re not careful it can catch you out. But once you’ve retuned your brain it’s a joy to scythe through bends with no more than the twitch of a muscle.

The Fazer is no slouch through corners, either. It’s just not quite as precise.

If you’re happy with that,

it’s probably a better road bike for you.

After a couple of hours, I’m starting to wish I was back on the Fazer. The R1 needs a lot of concentration because everything happens so quickly and my wrists are starting to suffer. When the road dries up you’d be glad you’re on it. But for the real world, where you can’t always go mad, the Fazer is a blinder. It depends on the trade-off you’re willing to make – comfort for a bit less power and handling, or power and sharper handling for less comfort.

The Fazer is also easier to run. Its Metzeler rear tyre should last around 5000 miles, while if you ride the R1 the way it was intended you’re looking at more like 3000. Insurance will be easier on your pocket, too. Both are amazing and I’d gladly have either. But it looks like the ultimate R1-engined bike is just that – the R1. Still, that’s until I need to take a pillion or don’t feel like I’m in a track day mood. Oh, decisions...