Why, 10 years later, the Yamaha FJR1300 is still relevant

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Introduced in Europe in 2001, the Yamaha FJR1300 is among the oldest production bikes currently being flogged by a major manufacturer. With the introduction of the new BMW K1600GT and Honda VFR1200, the revised Triumph Sprint GT and continued competition from the more powerful Kawasaki Concours 14, it’s suddenly competing in a very crowded segment too. Can 2001 technology still hack it in 2011?

Photo: Sherman Thomas

It isn’t a sportsbike.
The first twisty road we got to last weekend, Box Canyon Road, I pulled over and waited for my friends to pull away, gave the FJR full throttle, then passed them on about the second corner, continuing that pace all the way up to Interstate 10. This is a road I know well and where, on a bike like an R6, I’m comfortable getting my knee down in most of the corners. It’s completely flat and most of the corners are 3rd gear sweepers. The FJR did it and did it well, but couldn’t deliver the kind of feedback and, therefore, confidence that R6 could.

On that road and others, no matter how much preload or compression (the only adjustments) you dial in, there’s always a curious vagueness from the front end. With the rear preload on Hard it’ll hold a line without bobbing and weaving, but I never became confident enough to really throw it into a corner hard enough to achieve real speed.

But it is fast.
So it’s no R6, but it isn’t built for R6 duties. The FJR is built to carry you a long way in all weathers, with luggage, in comfort and to be safe and fun the whole while. Where it excels is at 3/4 pace. Above the speed limit but below ludicrous speed. There, you can waft along on the huge spread of torque — 99lb/ft in all — and it’ll steer, corner, brake and accelerate easily and intuitively, defying its 644lbs wet weight. Ridden like this, you can maintain a fairly impressive pace for hours at a time, the FJR demands very little of its rider.

With 142bhp, you’d expect more top end rush than there is, but I still managed to see 130mph while two-up.

And Comfy.
The friends I rode with this weekend are pretty new and all ride older bikes. CB400s, ‘70s BMWs and whatnot. So they’re slow. With the exception of the occasional hoon session on mountain roads, I needed to keep an eye on them too. One guy in particular seemed to fall over every time I took my eye off him. But even spending hours cruising at 50-70mph, the FJR was infallibly comfortable. No butt ache, no neck ache, no wrist ache, no cramped legs, nothing. Not in four days of 100-degree + temps and all-day riding.

Even for two.
So far, I’ve carried two passengers on the FJ. A 120lbs girl and Sean, who’s about 175. With the girl snuggled up behind, performance was utterly unaffected. Except for the arms around my waist, I couldn’t tell she was there. Perhaps because he sat a little further back, in addition to the extra weight, Sean was more noticeable. But while he took a bit of weight off the front and made the center of gravity higher, performance and handling didn’t seem to mind. I could still easily lane split, accelerate, brake and take very low-speed corners in confidence. Nice big grab handles and a very large, flat seat means the passenger is comfy too.

People think you’re a cop.
Come tearing up behind another biker on the highway wearing a white helmet and black leather jacket on the FJ and you’ll freak them out. Split lanes and dozy car drivers will move out of your way. Other cops will glare at you suspiciously. Seeing the big fairing, big screen and white helmet in their mirrors all weekend never stopped creeping out my friends.

That’s sort of a nice descriptor for the riding experience. You feel like a cop too, making smooth, effortless, responsible progress. I gave up on hanging off halfway through the weekend and started sitting upright like a cop too.

The competition.
This is where it gets interesting. The K1600GT blows the pannier lids off the FJ in terms of straight line performance and handling — in corners, it has the feel, confidence and response of a superbike. But, the big BMW is $5,410 more. Is it worth the difference? To us it is, delivering two bikes in one — a big tourer and a sportsbike — but then we can’t afford a $20k bike anyways.

Closer in price is the $15,999 Honda VFR1200, which performs similarly to the FJR, yet utterly lacks its comfort and sheer competence. The $13,399 Triumph Sprint GT is sportier, but by all accounts was thoroughly spoiled in transformation from ST to GT.

The closest rival is the Kawasaki Concours 14, which is nearly a grand cheaper, makes 15bhp and 3lb-ft more. It shows its younger age too. Where the FJ only has five speeds and very little in the way of toys, the Concours has six and neat gadgets like a keyless ignition. It’s been a while since I’ve ridden the Kawasaki, but if memory serves, it has the handing edge too.

A motorcycle for the real world.
But even without toys and at a slight performance and handling deficit, the FJR excels away from the spec sheets and back in the the world of real riding. It doesn’t have the BMW’s fancy electronically adjustable suspension, but a lever under the seat swaps shock preload from soft to hard in less than a second. Try navigating the BMW’s array of buttons in less than a minute. The headlights don’t auto adjust or swivel around corners, but big manual knobs mean you can adjust the beam height on the move. There’s finger adjusters for the fork preload too, so throwing a passenger on should only require a couple seconds of tweaks.

But that’s all stuff you’re going to play with once or twice, then forget exists. Instead, it’s the fundamental basics of the FJ that make it such an impressive motorcycle. Where rivals like the Honda struggle to fuel cleanly, Yamaha’s 1298cc inline-four is buttery all the way from idle to the 9,000rpm redline. Despite the weight, it’s easy to ride at very low speeds. Despite the width of the panniers, it’s confidence inspiring while splitting. Everything you need it to do when you’re actually riding it, it does competently and immediately and without fuss. Stuff like screen height doesn’t look sexy in print, but those expensive BMWs have screens that interfere with vision and, despite electronic adjustment, don’t really change how the wind hits you. The FJ’s always stays below your line of sight and radically alters the pressure on your helmet.

If you’re commuting, if you’re doing distance, if you just want an all-round competent motorcycle, then the FJR’s still got it.

  • NitroPye

    I think I get the “is that a cop in my rear view?” on my white GS sometimes as well.

    • Paul

      You should ride a white roadking with a headlight modulator. I’ve had cars pull off into ditches to let me bye. LOL

  • RocketSled

    This is what I have in my sights as my next (second) bike. Dunno when that’ll be as I keep having a ton of fun with my first bike (a 1300 vtx).

  • Glenngineer

    A former coworker of mine has an FJR. He has a first gen 1300, sold it, then bought a used 2nd gen a year later because he couldn’t live without one.

    I’ve ridden it a bunch…it’s a great bike for sure.

  • http://www.amarokconsultants.com michael uhlarik

    I was “forced” to ride one for work in Amsterdam in 2001, when I was a snotty, 25 year old. I felt like a fat old man picking it up at Yamaha’s HQ but by the time my first weekend with it was over, I was a convert.

    Wickedly quick, it magically shrinks in size once you are over walking pace. I thrashed it in the daily Amsterdam “Grand Prix” (my rush hour commute) on narrow canal streets and in between bicycles and cars, then thrashed it taking my girlfriend and loaded luggage to Paris.

    It is a real over achiever.

    I liked the big Kawasaki too, but then I utterly destroyed it on a German forest road when I threw it and me into some trees. I lived, the Kawa didn’t. SO I can’t say which is better.

    • Glenngineer

      …is that you in that famous video from around the time the C14 was released?

      • http://www.amarokconsultants.com michael uhlarik

        Fortunately, there is no video of me riding anything. My incident was self-inflicted, and Yamaha Motors Deutschland paid the price. I was lucky to escape with severe bruising and a cracked rib.

        I do remember it being a pretty awesome motorcycle while the tire side was down, though.

        • Glenngineer

          Going down sucks…50/50 if it sucks more going down on some else’s bike.

          Cue laugh track on ‘going down’.

  • Kevin

    Maybe this bike is like the VFR800: with so many good used copies on the road for a model that hasn’t meaningfully changed in years, why buy a new one?

  • Archer

    Yes indeed, like the VFR800 in that way.

  • Ducky

    Sean? You know the motorcycling rule about number of balls vs. wheels…

    • Sean Smith

      Wes says that since he’s european-ish, that it’s not gay.

  • Kevin

    Wes, was this a 2011 FJR that you rode?

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      Yep.

  • Ganesh

    PERFECTLY CAPTURED!.. I own a FJR and especially after my commute from the San Mateo to San Francisco I was thinking how awesome my bike is. Mine is 2004 model and I am now using it more than my bmw v10 m5. I also have a 996 and a tricked out monster but commuting on the FJR is sheer pleasure. After several schools and lots of practice I am quite comfortable riding the FJR as fast I want in the twisties.. I have been dreaming of the ultimate sport tourer for a long time ( no one makes what I want in the market).. but WHEN I RIDE MY FJR I FORGET ABOUT DREAMING OF A BETTER SPORT TOURER – lighter, better electronic suspended, superbike quality radial brakes, traction control, better aero, so many areas to improve on.. but my FJR just works. I think will finally break down and upgrade the suspension this year. yes this bike is modern day VFR.. I know because I have owned two VFRs and I loved them.

    here is dream sport tourer list:
    * 1300CC V4 – 170bhp, 115lbft – okay i will take a inline 4 as well
    * less than 550 lbs wet with bags
    * Superbike quality suspension and radial brakes (yes at least like 1198)
    * electronic suspension, traction control, abs, cruise control
    * ergo and sizing exactly like my FJR – may be even a tad bit more sporty lean
    * dual side exhaust like my FJR
    * better aero than FJR
    * yes I just want a modernized sportier lighter FJR

    WHY sport tourers weigh so much, the K16000GT reports are awesome.. but why would anyone want something that heavy?

    • HammSammich

      Your dream Sport Tourer sounds a little reminiscent of the Motus. It’s a bit larger displacement, but it’d meet your weight and power wishes pretty well. I’m not sure what their plans are for electronic suspension and TC, though. Also, not sure on the ergos, but it looks pretty similar to the FJR, if a bit more sporty…

    • Barry

      Sounds like a modified Ducati ST4s to me.

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      Sounds like the K1600GT. Honestly, you don’t feel the weight unless you’re below 5mph. Try one, you’ll love it.

      • Ganesh

        The Motus sounds great but at 30 grand and botched up fairings may be out for ever – I would love for those guys to be successful.. will try v2.0

        Yes a modern ST4S would be a good alternative. but the multi is out for just simple reason that I am vertically challenged and enduro style road-biased bikes are just as stupid as superfast sporty SUVs for me.

        The K1600GT I am sure is brilliant – may convince me if I ride but I rather take less weight for flickability.. i am not I wil feel comfortable riding anything heavier splitting lanes in bay area routinely.. still waiting! BMW should have just don a lighter k1300gt with all the tech of k1600gt

  • Gene

    Well said! I have an ’07 Dr. Pepper colored one. One thing people don’t mention is that it’s been updated significantly, even since the ’06 Gen II appeared. The latest ones have much better ABS & FI.

    I unwound the throttle spring a turn and put on a much taller windscreen, but other than that, it’s stock, even the seat. For me, that’s *rare*.

    I hope this lasts as a model as long as the 1st gen Concours did.

  • IBKING

    What about the Honda ST1300 a very good bike??

  • Bill

    I could not agree more about what a fun, practical motorcycle the FJR is. I’ve got a 2008 that I upgraded with Traxxion Dynamics AK20 fork cartridges and a Penske shock. Until the suspension upgrades, I did not realize how limited the stock suspension was (way too softly sprung and lacking adjustability in th rear). I have other bikes to ride (CBR1000RR and KTM690SMC), but the FJR is my go to workhorse. It is a great all around motorcycle.

  • Roman

    Still doing a Moto Guzzi Norge GT review? I have a strange attraction to that bike.

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      Yeah, just writing that as sort of a larger thing. It does fundamental two wheeled experience better than the fjr, but is slower.

  • http://www.postpixel.com.au mugget

    Haha cool stuff. Maybe to help with the big fairing and white helmet effect you can add some mirrored vinyl cut text on the front – “POLITE”. It’s just to help other road users be polite, you see. :)

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      You realize I can’t make HFL from jail, right?

  • TMQ

    Yes to the Honda ST1300, old school that works.