A day on the hill


Motorcyclist - - Contents - BY ARI HEN­NING PHO­TOG­RA­PHY BY DREW RUIZ

For blow­ing off steam on Palo­mar Moun­tain, we opted for a dou­ble triple: Triumph’s Street Triple RS and Yamaha’s FZ-09.

Although it lasted just three years, Ja­pan Inc.’s 1980s turbo parox­ysm pro­duced a hand­ful of truly amaz­ing models.

Some­thing about the rhythm, fo­cus, and feel­ing of rid­ing re­laxes the body and soothes the soul. We all know that twist­ing the throt­tle has a cathar­tic ef­fect, and some days you just need to be swept up in the kind of phys­i­cal and psy­chic jour­ney that only two wheels and an en­gine can of­fer. And as Zack and I wound our way through the cam­bered cor­ners that swirl up the south face of Palo­mar Moun­tain like a tan­gled piece of yarn, the thoughts and con­cerns crowd­ing the pe­riph­ery of our minds were blown away like leaves on the roadside. With each pass­ing apex, stress gave way to seren­ity. There’s re­ally noth­ing like a day on the hill and a strong dose of throt­tle ther­apy to re­fresh your mind and put a smile on your face.

Our ablu­tion­ary ride was made all the more en­joy­able and ther­a­peu­tic be­cause we were rid­ing beau­ti­ful roads on two very com­pelling mo­tor­cy­cles. Triumph’s Street Triple RS and Yamaha’s FZ-09 both re­side in a seg­ment of the mar­ket ded­i­cated to ex­cite­ment, per­for­mance, and fun, mak­ing them the ideal bikes for a day of blow­ing off re­spon­si­bil­i­ties.

If Yamaha’s FZ-09 has some­how es­caped your at­ten­tion, a brief re­cap: The FZ-09 is the perfect bike to bring you into the here and now right now. It’s been a staff fa­vorite since Zack at­tended the press launch in late 2013. Rowdy, amaz­ingly light, and an un­real value at just eight grand, the orig­i­nal FZ-09 was the thun­der­clap that sig­naled the be­gin­ning of Yamaha’s re­cent resur­gence.

It’s a bike that seems de­signed to tickle your adrenal gland and raise the cor­ners of your mouth, and this year the Fuzz-9 got a num­ber of up­dates to make it even more en­joy­able to ride. An up­graded and fully ad­justable fork


and im­proved throt­tle re­sponse look to rem­edy two of the pre­vi­ous FZ’S short­com­ings, but there’s also a sli­pand-grip clutch, three-level trac­tion con­trol, ABS, LED head­lights, and of course a styling makeover to make it look more like the FZ-10. All those new fea­tures push the bike’s wet weight from a svelte 414 to 427 pounds, and the price has risen to $8,999. Both fig­ures are higher, true, but the FZ still feels light­weight and you’re still get­ting a lot of bike for nine grand.

The Fuzz-9 em­bod­ies the spirit of a su­per­moto, and it al­most feels like one too. The han­dle­bar is wider than on the Triumph, plus it sits sev­eral inches higher and closer to the rider. The seat was tweaked for 2017 so it doesn’t slant for­ward, but you still find your­self sit­ting close to the tank, mo­tocross style. With de­cent legroom and a firmer, larger seat, the FZ’S com­fort­able cock­pit pro­motes a pos­ture that’s prime for at­tack­ing sub­ur­ban streets and ur­ban traf­fic.

Yamaha’s use of an in­line triple may have seemed like an af­front to Triumph, since the English man­u­fac­turer has stood as the torch­bearer of the charis­matic three-across de­sign for decades now. Com­pact­ness and per­for­mance have long been hall­marks of the Street Triple lineup, and to fur­ther those goals Triumph boosted the Street’s dis­place­ment to 765cc and la­dled on loads of new tech­nol­ogy and fea­tures like ride-by-wire throt­tle with switch­able ride modes, trac­tion con­trol, and tun­able ABS.

The bike Triumph had available for us to test, the up-spec, sport-fo­cused RS, also comes with ad­di­tional ride modes, a beau­ti­ful and highly func­tional TFT dash, a quick­shifter, top-shelf sus­pen­sion and brakes, and even a spe­cial en­gine tune to boost top-end power. The RS is the fan­ci­est of the three va­ri­etals that make up the 2017 Street Triple lineup, and as such it car­ries a $12,500 price tag. (The base Street Triple R, which has lower-level sus­pen­sion and

brakes, sim­pli­fied elec­tron­ics, a standard dash, and less power, costs $9,900.) Part of that ex­pense went to­ward low­er­ing the curb weight, which is now just 419 pounds with a full tank. Triumph must have also hired a team of jewelers to scru­ti­nize the details be­cause the fit, fin­ish, and func­tion of this ma­chine are im­pres­sive, from the trans­mis­sion ac­tion to the way the levers look and feel. It’s pol­ished to a glo­ri­ous shine.

A nar­rower han­dle­bar and smaller over­all di­men­sions leave the RS feel­ing prop­erly petite. Com­pared to the Yamaha, the rid­ing po­si­tion is a few ticks sportier, mainly be­cause of the bar po­si­tion and about an inch less legroom. Zack and I both thought the Triumph’s seat was hard, but as it turns out the foam is just so com­press­ible that you end up feel­ing the seat pan, and since the sus­pen­sion is on the hard side you feel ev­ery bump in the road too.

Con­sid­er­ing how pop­u­lar Palo­mar is and what a perfect spring day it was, the roads were sur­pris­ingly empty. And what roads they are, coil­ing up the moun­tain’s flanks from all sides, each route of­fer­ing its own unique fla­vor of relief and sat­is­fac­tion. On torque-rich rides like our triples, it’s sec­ond gear and third gear all the way up. Our ears popped from the pres­sure and our bikes’ front wheels clawed at the cloud­less sky as we as­cended to­ward the sum­mit.

For mo­tor­cy­cles with the same en­gine lay­out and sim­i­lar dis­place­ment, the FZ and RS have re­mark­ably dif­fer­ent char­ac­ters. They both purr like well-fed tigers at idle—the Triumph’s ex­haust note ac­com­pa­nied by that char­ac­ter­is­tic whir from some blessed set of straight­cut gears in the bot­tom end—but the FZ fo­cuses its thrust in the midrange, while the RS is tuned for top-end power. The Triumph’s 116 hp eclipses the Yamaha’s 105-hp peak out­put, but the FZ’S hits its max about 2,000 rpm ear­lier . And while torque is im­pres­sive for both en­gines— about 56 pound-feet for the Triumph and 60 for the Yamaha—the FZ-09 spits

out about 10 more pound-feet of torque from idle up to about 9,000 rpm. For street use, it’s hard to beat the Yamaha’s thrust-on-com­mand char­ac­ter.

A brawnier midrange plus shorter gear­ing and a faster-revving en­gine give the FZ a leg up in the sprint from one cor­ner to the next. On the other hand, when it comes to slow­ing down, cor­ner­ing, and any­thing else to do with han­dling or re­fine­ment, the RS has the FZ beat. The Triumph is faster in the quar­ter-mile—not sim­ply be­cause it’s more powerful and lighter but be­cause its clutch, throt­tle, trans­mis­sion, and chas­sis are so re­fined as to make con­sis­tent launches easy. The FZ-09, on the other hand, re­quired a far more del­i­cate touch and a lot of for­ward lean to help keep the front wheel on the ground. Most of the time it wheel­ied too much off the line and the run was blown, but it’s an FZ-09, so I just leaned back, car­ried the wheel, laughed in my hel­met, and en­joyed the ride.

The Yamaha’s throt­tle re­sponse and fork are markedly bet­ter than in years past, but the shock is still soft, which is one of the rea­sons the Fuzz is so quick to sit up on its back wheel. There’s no ques­tion that as a sport­bike, the RS clob­bers the FZ. It’s so pre­cise that it feels like it’s an ex­ten­sion of your mind and body. And what did we ex­pect? With one of Showa’s best forks, a race-ready Öh­lins shock, and su­per­bike brakes, this top-tier Street Triple was de­signed to ex­cel in the twisties and at the track.

The Street’s sus­pen­sion is im­pres­sively con­trolled and the bike loves to at­tack cor­ners, but with that req­ui­site firm­ness comes some level of dis­com­fort. It feels harsh over rough pave­ment, but then again so does the much-softer FZ since it tends to blow through its sus­pen­sion stroke and buck the bike over big hits or choppy pave­ment. On smaller bumps, the FZ’S softer setup is more com­pli­ant and com­fort­able. The good news is that there’s am­ple ad­just­ment for im­prov­ing pli­a­bil­ity in the

Triumph’s sus­pen­sion, while the FZ’S shock can’t be firmed up enough to keep the back end un­der con­trol. Even with spring preload and re­bound damp­ing maxed out, it was still loose. Zack and I (at 190 and 170 pounds, re­spec­tively) are sim­ply too heavy for the FZ-09. Rid­ers who weigh in at 150 pounds or less will likely find it suit­able—any­one heav­ier will want to bud­get for an up­grade.

Think it’s un­fair to pit the bud­get FZ against Triumph’s top-shelf road­ster? Then you’re un­der­es­ti­mat­ing the vis­ceral ap­peal of the Yamaha, or per­haps I just haven’t done a good job of ex­plain­ing what a dy­namic and ex­cit­ing mo­tor­cy­cle it is. We know that the RS is a demon­stra­bly bet­ter ma­chine, but there’s more to a mo­tor­cy­cle than fin­ish and func­tion, es­pe­cially if the goal is to stir your soul.

It’s the Fuzz-9’s rowdy per­son­al­ity and coarse­ness that make it so ap­peal­ing. Even with the driv­e­line lash, medi­ocre sus­pen­sion, and still-twitchy fu­el­ing, the en­gine ac­quits Yamaha of all sins, just as it ab­solves its rider of all emo­tions ex­cept ex­hil­a­ra­tion. As Zack so aptly put it, “That en­gine is one of the modern trea­sures of mo­tor­cy­cling.” And as we all know, one of the key values of mo­tor­cy­cling is its abil­ity to fil­ter out the BS and bring you back to cen­ter.

Stand­ing with the bikes as the sun

be­hind the blos­som­ing orange and av­o­cado or­chards be­low Palo­mar Moun­tain, we felt re­laxed and re­stored. A day spent rip­ping around with a good friend on great bikes had once again done the trick. In the end, we had dis­cov­ered that Triumph’s ef­forts to im­prove its mid­dleweight naked were thor­oughly fruit­ful. This new RS is the most ca­pa­ble and im­pres­sive Street Triple to date, a bike the boys in Hinck­ley have ev­ery right to be proud of in ev­ery way. And Yamaha should re­main proud of its FZ-09 be­cause it’s bet­ter than ever, still an in­cred­i­ble value, and one of the most ef­fec­tive up­pers we’ve ever ex­pe­ri­enced.

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