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- Written by Carole Nash Editor
- Created: 08 August 2008
There is an alternative to a Honda! In this case the alternative is usually about 500 notes cheaper than an equivalent age CBR600, so as well as standing out from the crowd you can also buy a newer bike for the same amount.
The FZR600 provides sharp sportsbike zest for very little cash, while the YZF600 offers a more cushioned, all-rounder ride. Definitely worth considering if your budget is £3000 or under. Rowena Hoseason looks back at a Yamaha midrange classic.
We first met the FZR600 in 1989 in Genesis format, when it took over from the FZ600 - a half-hearted sportsbike which shared its motor with the XJ. The FZR was a far more serious proposition with its 599cc 16-valve liquid-cooled engine housed in the must-have Deltabox chassis of the day.
Like the Kawasaki 600s, the FZR kept a relatively long wheelbase at 1420mm; combined with the 17-inch front wheel this made it feel more stable and secure than earlier 1980s machines which ran on 16-inchers.
Maximum power was supposedly 91bhp, although it´s best performance was recorded at 77bhp @10,500rpm. Even if 15 horses had gone on holiday, the FZR´s low mass (at 179kg it was 6 kilos lighter than the CBR600 of the day) allowed it to be quick when it counted: a top speed of 141.5mph was clocked on one timed run. Rider comfort was minimal, passenger comfort was missing (well, most folk don´t even bother removing the rear seat cowl), but fuel economy wasn´t too awful at an average 44mpg.
For 1990 the FZR was given an improved brake with a 4-piston caliper, similar to the one on the FZ750, and then in 1991 it switched from twin round headlamps to a single rectangular light. The swinging arm also changed to a Deltabox item, and that´s pretty much how the original FZR ended its days, apart from a couple of paint-scheme changes.
In 1994 the FZR600R came along with that all-important extra R (worth a good 10mph in any road conditions). It aped the style and substance of the YZF750 and returned to twin foxeye headlamps and 3-spoke wheels. The motor was tweaked to produce a claimed 100bhp at higher revs (try 84 in reality), while the wheelbase shrunk to 1415mm. Weight went up to 184kg but even with that handicap the 600R was still clocked at 152.5mph, and fuel consumption remained the same.
The 600R is undoubtedly more race-focused so is harder to live with than the earlier FZR600 (normally model development tends to head in the other direction, softening bikes over the years) but does give sharper performance than it predecessor. Both are harder-edged than the CBR and GSX opposition of the time, only the arrival ZX-6R gave a real race-rep alternative to the FZR.
For 1995 the FRZ600R gained adjustable rebound and compression on both front and rear suspension, plus a useful underseat storage compartment. Then it was gone - to be replaced by a bike with a name, the Thundercat.
Enter the Thundercat
Although the T-Cat was designated the YZF600R, the implication that it was a track-orientated, balls-out super-sportster was confounded by the bike´s subtle, almost understated paintwork and its user-friendly performance. While the FZR had screamed its red-white-and-blue, hard-arsed, peaky ferocity, the T-Cat gleamed silver refinement - a superficial view which turns out to be not too far from the truth.
The YZF´s weight went up by another three kilos and power remained at a claimed 100bhp, yet low-down torque improved dramatically. Another raise in the rev ceiling plus aerodynamic improvements let the T-Cat prowl up to a genuine 155mph, while suspension development gave the bike a more relaxed ride than the harsh FZR-R. At the average 45mpg the Thundercat will carry you 190 miles on its 19 litre tank, and this time a friend can come too without ruining their health on the pillion perch.
The T-Cat´s wiring harness was modified slightly in 1997, and the same bike is still on sale new - and remains a steady seller, despite the chart-topping success of the R6.
By now you will be hard pressed to find a low mileage, original FZR in decent nick, but at least that means that the ones on offer are usually cheap! As with all sportbikes, check carefully for bodged crash damage, racetrack use, cut-and-shut mis-matched engines and frames, and oil weeps - the engines are sound, so if it´s leaking there´s a serious problem.
Where the FZRs can fail is on the clutch (see if it slips or drags when cold), clunky transmission (do all the gears engage cleanly, especially second? If it´s notchy, can you live with it?), corroding brake calipers which seize, scored brake discs which wear out pads quickly, initially harsh and then soggy-when-worn suspension, and cracked and snapped plastic panels (especially if they´ve been replaced and over-tightened).
All FZRs are uncomfortable over distance and all of the power is above 6000rpm - if you don´t like revving your engine then you´ll find it a frantic way of life.
The Thundercat´s steel deltabox chassis will feel quite heavy if you´re swapping from an outright supersportster, and combined with ageing, under-damped suspension it can give a wallowing, weaving ride - especially if you´re the sort of bloke who likes his pies. The OE Dunlop D205 tyres get squirrelly long before they´re worn out, so sod the economics and change them if they´re affecting your confidence.
Services are needed at 4000 miles intervals (but do an oil change every 2000 anyway), while valve clearance adjustment is very tricky and needed at 24,000 mile intervals (take it to a professional who you trust).
The YZF´s riding position is less radical than its predecessor, but it still may feel too cramped for tall boys. And like every bike on the planet, it seems, the silencers rot quickly if you don´t wash salt and slime off them after every ride.
Modifications & Upgrades
Any FZR will benefit from a replacement rear shock, new fork internals, and heavier oil, unless you like riding a motorised pogo-stick. You can also upgrade the rear end to take fatter, more modern rubber - the simplest way is to fit a YZF swinging arm and go up by one size of back tyre.
Brakes need their calipers stripped and cleaned, Goodridge hoses, and EBC or SBS pads - SBS are supposed to give excellent feel, good stopping power and they last up to 5000 miles. Some owners looking to tweak a wee bit more performance from their FZRs without cracking open the engine swap to a 520 chain and sprocket instead of the 530 standard sets. This lightens the chain considerably, gives more clearance if you´re going the fat-tyre route, adds a smidgen to your acceleration but importantly reduces transmission backlash when you are clogging through the gears.
The Thundercat´s handling can be improved at no cost if you can stand a stiff ride (sounds like fun...) by cranking up the suspension to its maximum preload, but this is a truly short-term fix. Otherwise you´ll need to look around at the replacement shocks which suit your budget; Maxton offer a progressive unit for £475 (are you still standing up?) but there are other replacements with less sensitivity and adjustment which will do the job. Maxton can also re-valve your forks for around £175, and that is money worth spending.
Replace the YFZ600´s original tyres with newer Dunlop D207s, or swap to Bridgestone BT56 (which will last around 5000 miles) or Metzeler MEZ3s (grippy but less long-lived at 4500 miles). And protect your delicate parts with fender extenders and undy-guards: you know it makes sense!
FZ600, £300 to £900
FZR600, £850 to £1800
FZR600R, £1500 to £2700
Get Yamaha motorcycle insurance for the yamaha fzr yzf600.
|Engine||DOHC liquid cooled four|
|Claimed power (bhp)||100bhp @10,500rpm|
|Transmission||6-speed to final drive chain|
|Brakes||Twin disc front, single rear|
|Suspension||Adjustable rebound / compression forks, monoshock|
|Fuel capacity||18 litres