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“Despite its stellar specification and racing reputation, the GSX-R lacks the FZ’s power, agility and overall balance” wrote the editors at Cycle Guide. “Naturally, this goes to show that adding up numbers on a spec doesn’t always tell the whole story.” The FZ 750 would continue on until the early 1990s, morphing into alloy-framed FZR mode and finishing as the iconic FZR 750RR 0W01  

Those looking for more insight on the brand should visit Yamaha’s excellent global website where veteran Japanese pressman and former GP pilot Ken Nemoto gives an inside look at what Yamaha’s engineers accomplished with the previous production four-strokes. According to Nemoto, the FZ 400’s (right top>) razor-focus was far different than the FJ 1100 (right bottom>) which was engineered to give unparalleled straight line stability at Autobahn speeds. Mixing various pros and cons of the 16” wheel, Nemoto reports the FZ met its goal of being a fast, fun and forgiving sports bike capable of new levels of performance. Not for the racer, but instead the street rider. So while the FZ did find success as a works machine (see Eddie Lawson’s 1986 Daytona 200 win) it nevertheless finds itself cast in the shadow of Suzuki’s GSX-R750. “The reason behind the Yamaha Handling reputation was clear” writes Nemoto. “Factory developers stuck to their long-held values and (racing) experience, resisting the sway of popular trends during that time.”

Despite my Euro leanings I’m not without some experience. My older brothers purchased matching ‘burgundy red’ 750E triples in 1978, a period when Yamaha was (unsuccessfully) casting its marketing net into Honda’s waters with inline shafties, dressers, and metric cruisers. Completing a that-was-then this-is-now circle, a decade back my increased study of the Japanese makes started because I’d stopped paying attention just as Yamaha began making serious inroads in the four-pot sweepstakes. All of the Japanese brands landed punches, but Yamaha’s mid-80s burst followed a time the company was floating 350cc two strokes and 900cc fours against much larger opposition. This head-handing didn’t go unnoticed by the US buyer, living in the land where two-strokes don’t. After years studying the four-stroke engine Yamaha made its move.

As the tale is usually told, in less than a year the FZ‘s footing atop the 750cc mountain slipped at the advent of Suzuki’s lightweight GSX-R750. As a big fan of the brand and the Gixxer’s Harris/Moto Martin approach, I assumed urban legend was correct and the FZ was simply another brick in Yamaha’s wall. Winning the Castrol Six-Hour in both 1985 and 1986 gives some pause, as does the head on comparison published by Cycle Guide in its April 1986 issue. Some sixty-pounds heavier, the FZ packed a lot of features left off its more spartan rival, a six-gallon fuel cell dropped behind the vertical airbox that sits on top of the transmission, a fully finished cockpit with integrated controls, and a mainstand. Despite its weight disadvantage the FZ recorded faster sprints, faster roll-on times and faster top-end figures (nearly equal in fact, to the larger FJ1200) all while giving the racy GSX-R all it could handle on the track.

Yamaha FZ 750 Genesis (1985-86)
749cc liquid-cooled, DOHC inline four
Inclined 45=degrees, 5v per cylinder
Bore x stroke: 68mm x 51mm
Compression: 11.2:1
Intake: 4-34mm Mikuni CV
Ignition: Electronic pick-up
Gearbox/drive six-speed, geared primary,
Chain final drive   
Box and round section cradle.
25.5-degree fork angle
Suspensions: 39mm Kayaba air spring
Yamaha monoshock
Brakes: 3-264mm rotors with 2p calipers
Wheels/tires f/r: 120/80/16” - 130/80/18”
Dry weight: 494-lb
Top speed: 145-mph 

Photos: Cycle, Cycle Guide, FZ Owners Club

Up until 1978’s big splash XS-Eleven, Yamaha’s best four-stroke was arguably the XS650 twin; rather ironic from a company that was killing it in top-level motocross and GP racing during the 1970s. That experience would soon pay off. What happened in Yamaha’s immediate future was to watch the big Eleven solidly trail the pack before its debut year ended, resulting in a range of sporting Seca models. None of the 600-through-900 fours were sales busters, yet each provided critical info. Enter the phrase ‘Yamaha handling’ which I take as factory slang for making the four-stroke work. The definition came with the release of the brilliant FZ 400, a machine so balanced and capable it set standards approaching modern scale. Clearly awakened as the 80s unfolded not one, or two, but three straight Yamaha market-stunners were released to world-wide acclaim. 1984’s FJ 1100 was still singing when the V-Max power cruiser entered into play, but the spotlight shifted again when the Pure Sports FZ 750 took center stage in 1985.  

A benchmark in engineering and application, the approach Yamaha took designing and building the FZ 750 was copied nearly as much the layout itself, but imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Not currently on the hot list that includes early Z900s, CBXs, or even first editions of the GSX-R, the FZ represents good value for the vintage superbiker. I’ve kept track of online sales and found a surprising lack of available early (1985-6) FZs, many of which were surely used up or broken down. The reliability record is strong due to the engine’s forgiving service schedule and its low stress components. Parts aren’t easy but used bits remain in circulation.

Responsible for the other half of the FZ’s magic, nearly 59” of wheelbase offered the Yamaha rider inherent high speed stability, yet responsive to input due to a steepish 25.5-degress of rake. Remembered now as a fashion trend, the 16” front wheel allowed precious inches for the forward-canted engine, and this overall geometry lowered the FZ’s center of gravity and gave a definite front-weighted bias most riders found reassuring. Suspension bits are straightforward, save for the chain adjuster on the gas-charged monoshock. The FZ’s 39mm Kayaba airfork didn’t need the gimmicky anti-dive hardware of the era, attaching triple disc brakes in a uniform 264mm to six-spoke cast wheels. The rotors are pinched by Brembo-esque 2p calipers and while an aluminum swingarm was de régulier in 1985, rising rate linkages and needle bearings were not. “The FZ represents a synergy of chassis geometry” wrote Cycle. “Like all elegant solutions viewed after the fact, the decision to angle the liquid-cooled cylinders 45-degrees forward is an engineering inspiration so sound, you to wonder why it wasn’t done before.” In a technical essay written by Kevin Cameron we learn it was; by Giulio Cesare Carcano, Guzzi’s lead engineer during the factory’s GP heyday. Carcano’s racers had downdraft carbs too.                         

A brief survey of current and former owners found a consensus regarding carb synchronization and the importance of using the correct fasteners (to limit plastic cracking) but opinion was all over the place regarding tires. With no real warts, the most common complaint was aimed at the 750’s thinly padded saddle. A pioneer in terms of its proddy perimeter frame and weight bias, the Yamaha’s squared, solid good looks still pass the test. The FZ’s performance remains more than good enough for the spirited weekender, freeway chores or the occasional trackday, and its knife-edge aerodynamics play a big part in that. An unforgettable experience mixing high revving horsepower with a truly well-controlled chassis, the FZ 750 marks the spot where Yamaha moved ahead and took the rest of Japan with it. Nolan Woodbury   

It isn’t possible to discuss the FZ 750’s perimeter frame without including the orientation of its engine, both of which contribute equally to create the FZ’s character. Canted forward 45-degrees with four 34mm Mikuni downdraft carbs, the entire engine/chassis concept was developed together. Dyno tested to an astounding 85-hp @11.500 rpm in a test published by Cycle in June of 1985, the DOHC 749cc liquid-cooled Genesis offered the same flexibility as other multi-valvers, but with added scream due to the extra top end volume.     

Yamaha FZ 750
A leap into greatness

The FZ’s new combustion chambers were so efficient (three 21mm intakes and two 23mm exhaust valves) Yamaha could bump the CR to a lofty 11.2:1 without detonation. The starter lives inside the case next to the FZ’s five-main forged crank, fit with a straight primary gear. Trendy in 1985, black plating covers a 4-into-2 (with collector) exhaust, matching the gloss black covering the frame, engine and wheels. A lightweight magnesium cover fits over the valve gear. More big news included a six-speed transmission and a digitized ignition with pickups mounted in the crank’s flywheels. The engine is no wider than a Honda V4, thanks to a fan-cooled 12v generator mounted behind the cylinder block. Yamaha listed valve adjustments at 25K.