Parked on a Latigo Canyon overlook during the Yamaha FZ-09 press ride, looking down at the Malibu mansions high above the Pacific, I couldn’t help but remember the first time I came here. I was a wide-eyed 22-year-old astride my trusty 1979 Yamaha SR500 single, and I vividly recall thinking, “Someday I’m going to live here.” Then I found out how much those places cost. That scenario probably isn’t much different than what millennials think about today’s new motorcycles. They really, really want one… right up until they find out how much they cost. Fortunately, Yamaha has been bucking that trend lately, starting with the affordable 2014 FZ- 09. Three years later the sporty standard receives its first significant updates: ABS, traction control, LED lighting, and revised styling. To show off these improvements, Yamaha invited the press to Southern California’s rain-lashed Santa Monica Mountains. You don’t fully appreciate ABS or TC until you come around a blind corner and encounter a mudslide! The ABS is preset, but the TC has three positions (1, 2, and Off), and there are also three Ride Modes (A, B, and Std.). We found “A1” to offer exhilarating performance and an acceptable safety margin. The new 5mm-taller, flatter seat is much more comfortable, as the rider no longer slides forward into the gas tank. And the revised suspension (with a fully adjustable fork that’s 83 percent firmer) works great until you begin to push the pace; then the rear end moves around a bit. We ramped up shock spring preload and dialed in more rebound damping, and the ride was much more composed.

The original FZ-09 was marred by snatchy throttle response, but now it shares the same mapping as the FJ- 09 sport-tourer and XSR900 retro-standard and it’s nighon perfect. Between that and the new assist-and-slipper clutch, pulling away from a standstill is painless.

All in all, Yamaha has taken one of our favorite motorcycles and made it even better. As impressive as the 2017 FZ-09 is, however, the most impressive thing might be its price: just $809 higher than last year—$8,999. That’s like one month’s mortgage payment on one of those Malibu mansions…