Way back in 1989 I was a fresh faced 16 year old whizzing around on a Simson S51 Comfort Sport, creating havoc in and around the village of Chipping Ongar, Essex. The motorbike was ready on my 16th birthday and in those pre CBT days it was a case of ‘L’ plates, crash helmet and off we go, except my mum insisted on a days training and a luminous Sam Brown belt before I was allowed out onto the roads for the first time. After a truly terrifying ride into Enfield, North London, a days training involving more stalls than the Eastender’s market place and a newfound invincibility (in my head at least,) the bug of motorcycling had well and truly arrived. And as with all new riders, 50cc was never quite enough. As a new convert to this magical world motorcycle magazines were voraciously read each month with the dream garage planned and changed each and every day but then a revelation occurred. Something that was only going to be completed a mere 25 years later, a fact I didn’t yet know.
The July 1989 issue of Performance Bikes magazine was the first that this young motorcyclist ever purchased, seduced as I was by the Honda NX650 Dominator on the front cover and the still outrageous BMW K1, a motorcycle that Ongar Motorcycles used to have in their front window way back when. And it was whilst scouring every inch of the text and images present in that particular magazine that an indelible impression was left upon this s51 riding enthusiast.
A year with approximately 8bhp and a top speed of anything between 30 and 40mph (depending on the length and steepness of the hill involved) means that any motorcycle with a capacity larger than 50cc appeared incredibly exotic, especially when a top speed of over 100mph is mentioned. All of which brings me to the subject of this piece, the stunning, original Yamaha FZR 600 that lived, breathed and terrorised the hedgerows and back lanes of this green and pleasant land of ours between 1989-1994 and which was reviewed in that July 1989 Performance Bikes Magazine.
Some history then I think. The Yamaha FZR 600 was an absolute revelation upon launch with various professional testers and racers proclaiming this 600 to be a true racer for the road with an emphasis placed squarely upon track success, leaving Honda and their CBR 600 to cater for the road. With it’s combination of (relatively) light weight and excellent power (for the time) the FZR was everything that I, as well as plenty of others, desperately wanted. Yamaha themselves state that with their 600 they had created the first real supersport machine in this historically ultra competitive class of motorcycle. As previously mentioned, the FZR had a remarkably low weight of 179kg (dry) and 90hp at 10500rpm, all of which combined to make the Yamaha an instant success, selling very well in both Europe and US.
Perhaps the biggest contribution to the cult of the FZR was it’s innovative steel Deltabox chassis, aping its bigger brother the FZR 1000 EXUP and a clear step up from the more regular frames of the recent past. The frame itself was designed to evenly distribute the weight of the bike so that an end result of incredible handling could be achieved, a target it was more than successful at achieving. With 41mm telescopic forks up front and a rising rate monoshock at the rear, the FZR 600 was able to run rings around the previous generation’s twin shock sports bikes, braking later, leaning further and accelerating quicker.
Helping with the handling advantages that the thoroughly modern frame and ancillaries enabled in the Yamaha was a newly developed four valve, inclined 4 cylinder with its now typical genesis layout. Producing around 90bhp when fresh out of the crate, which translated into a claimed top speed of 140mph, impressive figures for 1989 and not too shabby in 2017 either.
Remaining unchanged until the second generation 600 released in 1991, the FZR was still largely based on the first model, yet the changes that were engineered into the Yamaha were all designed for one thing, and one thing only. Winning. There was a new upper cowling with single headlight and projector beam giving the FZR a stunning new look, a Deltabox type rear swing arm allowing for the fitment of a wider 4 inch rear wheel and wider tyre, a strengthened gearbox (1st and 2nd gear) and vastly better four pot brake callipers in the front, all of which turned a great SuperSport bike into a superb one.
But what statistics and specifications don’t give you is that seat of the pants experience that only riding can provide and it’s here that this tale comes full circle, as that hunger for an early FZR 600 just never left, which is kind of where we came in. A chance encounter with Gumtree and a £625, L-reg Yamaha was sitting on the driveway looking rather forlorn, down at heel and in need of care and attention if it’s greatness was to be once again revealed. Out on the road, you can really feel the direction that Yamaha’s engineers took with their all new 600 and one can only imagine what a revelation this must have been at the time of release.
The riding position is certainly on the sporting side (at least a 1990s sporting position with a stretch over the high tank and knees bent) but allows you to have full control of the motorcycle. Even today, the FZR displays sublime handling, a nudge of the bars is all it takes to lay the Yamaha down on it’s side whilst a good one will have the power and revs to slingshot you out of the (private of course) bends and past 100mph in the blink of an eye. Clearly not as fast as a more modern SuperSport variant, the FZR 600 is not completely outclassed and ridden in isolation, provides the rider with an excellent, retro sports bike, that will certainly not disappoint.
It’s probably somewhat of a cliché to suggest that a 25 year wait before owning my own example of Yamaha’s middleweight SuperSport superstar is a dream come true but that’s honestly what it feels like. It’s a legend and always will be.
Where will you go?