Throughout the late 1990s and early 2000s, Yamaha’s Fazer range of bikes managed to catch the wave of two-wheeled popularity perfectly. More and more new riders were looking to get onto bikes and they were in the market for a cost effective commuter that delivered frugal motoring with comfort and style included in the package. The Fazer 600 was the ideal solution.
Using a modified Thundercat motor (it is not the same engine as some believe, the castings are different while the internals are similar) the Fazer retailed at just over £4,500 but offered far more than other middleweights. The Suzuki Bandit was cheaper, but also more basic, while Honda’s Hornet was buzzy and lacking in both midrange and tank size. The Fazer came with a 200-mile plus tank range, effective screen, relaxed engine and sturdy if not inspiring looks. It soon won an army of fans across Europe and remained virtually unchanged for five years until tightening emissions laws sadly forced its withdrawal. Which is when the Fazer brand started to suffer.
In 2003 Yamaha unveiled the Fazer 1000, an R1-engined naked bike that promised much but left many disappointed. Rather than the all-singing street fighter that was anticipated, the Fazer 1000 was a relaxed commuter with a gutsy engine and questionable suspension – a brilliant do it all but not what people expected. Unlike the 600 its price didn’t reflect this all-round ability and sales were slow. But worse was to come.
Yamaha released the new Fazer in 2003, however they armed it with a re-tuned R6 engine as well as a sporty chassis. The Thundercat motor was from an era of mid-range boosting long stroke, the R6’s lump was a rev-happy beast that made more power but was less relaxing. Did Fazer owners want this new sporty attitude in their commuter? It seemed not, sales weren’t great (800 less than the old model did in the previous year) and Suzuki’s friendly SV650 became the new riders bike of choice. Then, in 2006, Yamaha updated the Fazer 1000, surely they wouldn’t make the same mistake. They did.
In 2006 Yamaha gave riders what they wanted, a far more powerful and sporty R1-engined naked bike. Like the FZ6 models the FZ1 Fazer came in naked and half-faired guise, but early bikes were blighted with terrible fuelling and poor rear suspension – killing sales. However Yamaha responded.
Subsequent updates have seen both the FZ6 and FZ1 models mature into good, if not outstanding, machines. Compared to the likes of the Triumph Street Triple, Suzuki GSR750 or Kawasaki Z1000 the Yamahas are more workmanlike, however they are both plentiful and cheap in the second hand market. Despite its shortcomings the quality of build on the Fazer models has never been brought into question and a few simple fixes soon iron out the irritations. For anything between £800 and £9,000 you can get a Fazer model that will shrug off a daily commute while returning over 50mpg and costing very little to maintain. Then, when the weekend beckons, you can take a pillion in comfort or simply enjoy a blast on your own. Despite a slightly rocky road the Fazer models remain arguably the best all round machines in their class.
What goes wrong?
Starting at the beginning the FZS600 is the choice of the budget commuter. A fine machine with a totally bullet proof engine, the 600’s main mechanical issue comes from the front sprocket retaining nut, which can work loose, wrecking the output shaft in the process. Yamaha released a deeper nut with more threads as an update but it needs a good thread on the output shaft to screw onto, if this is worn you are talking a huge bill to swap the shaft.
The finish on the FZS600 is a bit of a headache with exhaust headers rusting through, the paint flaking off the engine and the fork legs becoming pitted. To be fair it is an older bike that is generally used as a hack so this is inevitable. The suspension (a Fazer weak point) is also pretty soft and many owners swap the shock for an aftermarket item and upgrade the fork springs and oil. Budget £350 for a decent shock and £200 for springs and fitment. Owners also complain the ‘box’ headlight on the FZS6 is pretty poor but a simple mod (look on www.foc-u.co.uk) converts it to twin lights on dip beam, vastly improving the illumination.
The updated FZ6 engine has no real mechanical issues apart from the clunky gearbox but that can’t be fixed. Some early bikes suffered from paint flaking on the engine cases (silver engine/frame) but overall the finish is very good considering the budget price tag and stainless header pipes have sorted the exhaust rust issue. The two-piston sliding calipers on first generation bikes may look old hat but they perform extremely well and aren’t worth getting upset about, if you really need R1 brakes then get an S2 model.
The main gripe with the FZS1000 comes from the suspension, which is far too soft. Great for touring and relaxed commuting, not for sporty riding. A replacement shock (Hagon, Maxton, K-Tech etc) costs between £300 and £500 however some owners fit an R6 shock, which requires new suspension linkages. If you want to do this get on www.foc-u.co.uk and ask for advice, a number of the forum users have done this mod. There is an American tuning company called Ivan’s who make carb jet kits for the FZS1000 which helps release some power when combined with an aftermarket exhaust, which is worth doing and gains around 10bhp. Ivan’s kits can be bought from SG Motorsport (www.sgmotorsport.co.uk). One owner has reported second gear going, but his bike has done 100,000 miles!!!
The Fazer has Yamaha’s traditional Achilles Heel of a seized EXUP valve, so check this moves freely on the FZS. The valve has moved position on the FZ1 model, making seizure less of an issue but it is still worth checking.
Speaking of the FZ1, the biggest problem with the current Fazer is the fuelling. First generation bikes are the worst (non all-black exhaust) and Ivan’s make a fuel cut eliminator that seems to help remove some of the snatch for £169.99. Some owners fit Power Commanders to sort the issue and also remap the fuelling if they have fitted a race exhaust, something that makes a big difference. Suspension modifications also help take the chop out of the stock forks with Öhlins shocks pricey but popular (around £1,000) and Öhlins fork springs cheap but effective (around £250 fitted). As with the FZS there are cheaper alternatives such as Maxton, K-Tech etc.
Aftermarket belly pans, screens, crash bungs, panniers etc are both plentiful and popular for all models of Fazer and while Yamaha have their own range of accessories, non-branded items are cheaper however Yamaha are better at colour matching when it comes to plastics.
Thanks to World of Bikes Corby (01536 206279 www.worldofbikesuk.com) and Webbs Yamaha (01733 223444 www.webbsyamahacentre.co.uk) for the loan of the bikes.
Four of the best
1998 - 2003 Yamaha FZS600 Fazer
Using a modified Thundercat engine housed in a tubular steel frame, the first Fazer arrived in 1998 and brought low cost two-wheeled fun to the masses. Sharing several components with other Yamaha models, including the R1’s brakes with funky blue anodized parts, the Fazer was built on a budget but proved extremely versatile. A small updated in 2000, which included adjustable forks and a bigger fuel tank, was followed by a more significant change in 2003. The square front lights were replaced with ‘foxeye’ styled units while the half-fairing became a bit sharper and less boxy and the fuel tank increased in capacity to 22 litres. Essentially it’s the same bike with new clothes, which was no bad thing as the original Fazer was selling as many units as Yamaha could produce all over Europe.
2003 – 2010 Yamaha FZ6 Fazer & FZ6
With tightening emissions laws forcing Yamaha to kill off the old Thundercat engine the Fazer received a major overhaul in late 2003. A new cast aluminium frame with better suspension gave the Fazer a far sportier side while a re-tuned R6 motor provided more power but, much to the upset of Fazer fans, the R1’s brakes were replaced by two-piston sliding calipers. Alongside the half-faired Fazer, Yamaha also launched the FZ6, a naked version of the middleweight. After ABS was introduced in 2006, Yamaha tweaked the FZ6 models with the ‘S2’ update. A new black painted frame and aluminium swingarm as well as new instruments and a return to R1-style brakes improved the model’s performance! In 2010 the FZ6 was replaced by the Fazer8 and FZ8.
2001 – 2005 Yamaha FZS1000 Fazer
Following the FZS600’s formula the Fazer 1000 took an existing sportsbike motor and matched it with a cheap to produce steel frame to create a budget do it all naked bike. The re-tuned carbed R1 engine produces a claimed 143bhp, easily enough to overwhelm the basic suspension and flexible chassis, but also making for a relaxed touring bike with loads of grunt. After initially pricing it too high, Yamaha dropped the FZS1000’s price tag by £1,000, boosting sluggish sales but upsetting a few earlier customers in the process. The bike was updated in 2004 with a new ECU, black frame and engine (a few early ‘S’ bikes also had black engines) and a catalytic converter to meet emissions laws but in truth it was just a stopgap measure to prolong its life by a few months.
2006-current Yamaha FZ1 Fazer and FZ1
In a mirroring of the 600’s transformation from FZS600 to FZ6, the FZS1000 became the FZ1 in 2006 thanks to a complete redesign. The latest version of the R1 engine (taken from the underseat pipe R1) was matched to an aluminium frame, inverted forks and a sharp new look. Alongside the naked FZ1, which not only lost the fairing but also the pillion grab handles, gold forks and 5kg in weight, the first year of the FZ1 range was blighted by reports of poor fueling leading to a snatchy throttle response. Updates to the 2007 model’s ECUs helped cure this but reduced the bike’s power slightly in the process. In 2007 ABS became an option on the FZ1 Fazer while 2010 saw another ECU update with the all-black exhaust identifying the new versions.