1987 Yamaha FZR1000
When it was introduced in 1987, The FZR
1000 was The sportbike. It was a class
leader in handling, performance, Delta Box
frame technology, and 5 valve per cylinder
Genesis engine design. The FZR 1000 set
the liter class sport motorcycle world on it's
ear. While it's true that the performance
envelope has been substantially expanded
since 1987, including the areas of frame
and suspension technology, braking, and
engine design, the 1987 FZR 1000 still
performs admirably, and now has WERA
With 138 Horsepower and a weight of 450
FIVE YEARS AND 30,000 MILES WITH YAMAHA'S SUPERBIKE
By Mike Franklin, Road Test Editor, www.motorcycle.com
Being named "bike of the decade" by pundits just as it hit the showroom floors, the 1989
Yamaha FZR1000 came with heavenly promises, and carried the weight of some pretty
high expectations. We had spent a lot of time in the saddle of the 1987 model, and
thought we knew what the new bike would be capable of. So we thought.
For 1989, Yamaha redesigned their biggest sportbike from the tires up, and it felt, well,
different. The new bike felt smaller, lighter and lower, though radical improvements only
became apparent out on the road: A softer, wider seat -- coupled with repositioned
ergonomics -- made it more comfortable, while a quick blast through the local twisties
showcased the new bike's technical advancements.
About the only thing on this bike that carried over from the previous year's model is the
name. The Genesis motor was rotated back five degrees from the previous unit's 45
degree tilt -- and this, combined with a more compact cylinder head resulted in a
wheelbase that was almost an inch shorter. More radical cams with higher lift and longer
duration, a higher (12.0:1) compression ratio, and one millimeter bigger (up to 38mm)
flat-slide Mikuni carburetors boosted horsepower output to 138 ponies. The motor served
double-duty as a stressed frame member, eliminating the need for last year's down tubes.
At full squirt in the canyons it was obvious that this was a much-improved bike: Everything
about it felt better. It was more solid thanks to the stiffer frame, more powerful, and
handled impeccably thanks to bigger re-worked forks and a revised shock.
The 1987's skinny 18 inch rear wheel was canned in favor of a GP-spec 5.5x17 inch
hoop, and the 17 inch front wheel grew to three and a half inches wide. Conventional fork
stanchion-tube diameter grew 2mm to a solid 43mm (it wasn't until 1991 that Yamaha
added "upside-down" forks).
Other changes were more subtle, but equally valuable: The front and rear axles and
swingarm pivot bolt were increased in diameter and hollowed out -- within reason,
large-diameter, hollow tubes are stronger than solid ones -- adding to their strength and
the bike's stability under hard cornering loads.
The made-for-this-bike Pirelli MP7S radials were said to be the best original equipment
tires ever fitted to a bike, and we could find no reason to disagree. The 1987 FZR came
with Japanese-made Dunlops that had less traction than pencil erasers, and lasted about
as long. We have tried a variety of tires on the 1989 model, both radial and bias-ply, and
have not found anything to work as well as the Pirellis -- except for the pricey, GP quality,
English-made Dunlop D364's currently in place. A word of caution though: The new bike is
very sensitive to tire wear and the bike will want to stand up and head-shake in the
corners if the back tire is more than half worn.
Yamaha's affiliation with the famous Swedish suspension experts Ohlins (they were smart
enough to actually buy the company) was immediately obvious, as the suspension worked
perfectly right out of the box. The spring preload and rebound damping adjustable
remote-reservoir rear shock, operating through a revised linkage, worked well for 20,000
miles (32,000 km), long after most shocks fade into uselessness.
All this power and adept handling is nicely complemented by a set of awesome binders:
Brake rotors were increased in size to 320mm full-floating units, and the calipers --
although still four-piston -- were now differential-bore units. This means that the leading
piston (the one that a point on a spinning rotor would see first -- actually the rearward
piston if you are looking at it from the side) is smaller than the trailing piston. This
provides greater stopping power because it evenly spreads braking force over the pad by
compensating for the rotor's tendency to pull in the leading edges of the brake pads. Pad
life is also increased. Needless to say, stopping power is awesome, the brakes never
faded, and they've always had a good, solid feel at the lever. With a decent front tire, it is
easily possible to lift the rear wheel off the ground.
Indeed, the engineers gave their flagship open classer such a workout that, save for
adding inverted forks in 1991, the bike remained essentially unchanged for the next five
Of course, the big news on the 1989 model was the addition of the EXUP (EXhaust
Ultimate Powervalve), which is a computer-controlled butterfly valve located in the
exhaust's collector. It was first seen on California-only models of the 1988 FZR400 in an
attempt to make the high-revving little motor pass the tighter emissions restrictions
imposed on all vehicles sold in the state.
At idle and part-throttle, the EXUP closes down, increasing exhaust back-pressure, which
effectively re-tunes the pipe for low RPM running and makes the engine more efficient by
smoothing out the power pulses. When you're really honking along, the EXUP opens and
the engine sees a huge, large-diameter free-flowing exhaust. Power is up throughout the
rev range, and emissions are kept to a minimum. Thus, Yamaha technicians were able to
develop an engine capable of satisfying two seemingly dichotomous objectives with a
single device. While riding, the valve goes unnoticed. That is to say there are no
noticeable steps or surges in the powerband -- the rider feels a seamless, constant surge
of power that seems to increase exponentially with the engine's revs.
Living with the big Yamaha for the last five years has been a real pleasure. It feels just as
at home going to Laguna Seca as it does going through the ultra-fast top-gear Turn Eight
at Willow Springs. The riding position works well on fast, sweeping mountain roads, but will
soon become a strain on the neck and wrists while droning on the freeway. Fortunately,
the big five gallon gas tank provides a comfortable fore-arm perch to ease the pain when
the road turns into a yawn.
There is a thorn in the rose bush, however. The biggest problem on our bike has been
the fork seals. They needed to be replaced four times in one year. The final straw came
when, after installing new seals just days before a trip to Laguna Seca, they were leaking
again half way home, four days and less than 1000 miles (1600km) later. A local dealer
could find no apparent reason for the problem (no dings in the stanchion tubes, or too
much oil in the forks, for example), and Yamaha replaced the front end under warranty.
This was a pleasant surprise since, at the time, the bike was two years old. The fix lasted
a couple of years, but the seals are back to their old ways again, just 10,000 miles
In the "set-'em-and-forget-'em" department, Yamaha claims valve inspection intervals of
26,000 (41,600km) miles, but we dug in for a peek after only 18,000 miles (28,800km).
Two years of high-speed touring and a couple visits to Willow Springs International
Raceway contributed to a big handful of very tight intake valves. The process of adjusting
the valve clearances is as involved as it would be on any modern liquid-cooled fully-faired
sport bike, and with 20 shim-under-bucket valves, it takes most of an afternoon to
complete (you have to remove the cams to slide the buckets off and change shims). Once
the radiator is moved out of the way, access to the valves is wide open. Another check at
25,000 miles (40,000km) showed they were still within specification.
Aside from pulling off some of the ugly fairing stickers, we left our bike as it came from the
factory for more than three years. It was so good, we didn't need to -- nor did we think we
could -- improve it. Eventually, some after-market parts proved worthy of being added to
A smoked windscreen, for about 50 US dollars, improved the looks of the bike and offered
better optical quality as well. A K&N air filter replaced the stock paper element for about
the same price, eliminating the need to ever think about an air filter again (K&N air filters
are warrantied for a million miles. That's right, a million). Dropped into the stock airbox,
and with the stock exhaust pipe, no jetting changes were necessary. Intake noise
increased slightly, though not annoyingly so.
A Yoshimura carbon-fiber, race-only slip-on canister with their "Quiet-Tech" baffle was
installed to replace the huge stock muffler (and keeping noise levels acceptable) thus
retaining the EXUP valve, for about 350 dollars. This required removal of the right
passenger footpeg/pipe hanger as the race pipe is swept higher than stock. A
replacement hanger was included for mounting the canister but it was a huge, unwieldy
steel thing, looking more at home on a Peterbilt 18-wheeler than a motorcycle. A local
machinist fabricated one from aluminum that looks more like the one on a Kawasaki
ZX-7R, for about 25 dollars. Much more sano. The pipe addition did require some jetting
changes, as it made the midrange too rich. Dropping the stock needles 0.025 inch
increased throttle response dramatically, and it now revs cleanly from idle to redline. The
improvement in looks and sound are well worth the time and money, and does nothing to
compromise the bike's do-it-all character.
In 1989, at 7599 dollars, it was priced a full 1200 dollars higher than the next-highest
priced Japanese sportbike, the Suzuki GSXR1100. Without going into a review of the big
Suzuki, let's just say it was worth every penny. The five-year-old Yamaha FZR1000 is the
rare, lasting breed in a world where today's model is tomorrow's obsolete pile of crap:
Even in 1995, our Yamaha FZR1000 gives nothing up to today's competition.