There are many reasons to buy a motorcycle, but one of the best is that indefinable urge to tour, especially to other countries. Somehow, travel is more of an adventure by motorcycle, but it’s also nice to have a few mod cons like a fairing shaft drive, panniers and a saddle that’s genuinely got room for two adults…
The old FJ1200 was one of Yamahas most popular models in the UK way back in the 1980s, with only its chain drive spoiling its appeal as a long distance mile-muncher for many a mature biker.
So is the new FJR1300 the perfect all round motorcycle for 10,000 miles a year across Europe ? Kevin Ash reveals all.
Yamaha is starting to make a habit of producing bikes which, it claims, straddle more than one category. Late in 2000 we were shown the Tmax, a scooter/motorcycle hybrid which it was suggested offered the best of both worlds. Now, if less radically, we’re invited to believe the FJR1300 is not only a full-on tourer to be considered in the same breath as a Pan European, but it’s also far more competent as a sports bike than any previous tourer.
A sports-tourer then? Well, there are plenty of those, but the Yamaha comes at the class from the travelling far side, where machines such as Honda’s seminal VFR800 along with the Triumph Sprint ST and Ducati ST4 each feel more like softened up sports bikes.
Most importantly though, the FJR has to fill a long-forgotten gap in Yamaha’s range previously loosely attended by the FJ1200 (which it should be remembered began life as a full on sports bike, until Kawasaki’s GPZ900R relegated it to sports-tourer status), and in the USA but not Europe, the big and mushy Venture Royale. Which means it has to be able to tour with the best of ’em…
Another Yamaha habit of late has been to turn out some stunningly effective bikes, and the FJR, with some minor reservations, follows this trend too. Weather protection is excellent, despite a styling compromise made by project chief Hiroshi Komatsubara, as he explains:
“We wanted to offer the same level of protection as a touring BMW, but despite many months of intensive wind tunnel testing we could not do this without making the bike as fat and bulky as a BMW. I did not want this, as I tried to keep the FJR more compact and easy to manoeuvre at low speeds. But we have come close enough I think, and in the process given the bike a much more sporting character too.”
So he says, and so it is. Feeling around for the edge of the slipstream I found it neatly outlined my profile by around an inch or so, which compares with maybe the four inches of space a BMW or the ST1100 offers. But the point is, I was still inside the bubble of calm behind the fairing, and an obliging rain shower proved its effectiveness – I needed wet weather gear, but only for the few droplets floating around the cockpit area.
The screen was less convincing, despite its electric adjustability. In the low setting high speed stability was enhanced, even from a position of being the most secure ride at 130mph I’ve ever experienced on a machine with panniers. With it raised, at high speeds taller riders do cop a lot of wind noise, and some uncomfortable buffeting too. Slow down to legal speeds (or keep them in sight at least) or just duck down, and it’s not really a problem, so not many riders will complain about this.
The FJR´s engine vibration might raise an eyebrow. At several points in the rev range, mostly with the engine spinning faster, some high frequency buzzing comes through the bars and footrests. It’s unlikely to spoil the ride for many, but on a bike with pretensions to real sophistication it’s a little out of place. There was enough for the pillion to make a comment about it coming through the pegs (but bear in mind the rider was using the throttle hard to try and impress… well, she was a rather attractive Spanish nurse), otherwise the passenger is well catered for with plenty of space and a broad and comfortable seat.
A final gripe is the lack of an on-board headlight adjuster, surely an important feature on a bike liable to be well loaded up one day then ridden solo and unladen another. A easy-use lever just above the left silencer jacks up the spring pre-load and damping of the rear suspension in a single movement, which corrects the bike’s stance to some extent, but this is hardly the fine control you need to set the lights accurately, while few will bother poking a screwdriver into the depths of the front fairing to re-angle them.
But the bike is so good at so much else, most riders will forgive it these foibles. There are plenty of real-world touring traits, such as the decent 25 litre (5.5 gallon) fuel tank (made of steel so you don’t look an idiot trying to fit a magnetic tankbag) which at the 41mpg I achieved after some quite hard riding is enough for a genuine 200 mile range. And many riders should stretch it a fair bit further.
Then there are those panniers (a £500 option which most will go for), operated by the ignition key and which Yamaha says are completely waterproof. Certainly nothing leaked during my tenure of the bike, and the quality was exceptional, although the unprotected paint is vulnerable to a misplaced boot swinging over the seat. Or other FJR riders drawing alongside and forgetting they have panniers fitted…
You’d quite happily cover several hundred miles in a day on the FJR, in at least as much comfort as an ST1100 or BMW R1100RT rider, but if any of that included a tight and twisty section, you’d arrive with a look of smug satisfaction. “Although I wanted the weather protection of a big touring bike, I didn’t want the bulk or weight,” says Komatsubara. “We don’t want riders to feel intimidated by its size, especially when manoeuvring it at walking pace, and we also wanted a good sporting ability.”
Which is spot on – it won’t keep up with an R1 but the FJR won’t be far off the pace of a VFR down a sinuous back road – it turns surprisingly quickly, has reasonable ground clearance and steers beautifully. The front suspension gets a little out of shape when you use the brakes really hard (they’re R1 type items, so hard means hard…), but winding up the damping makes a useful difference, and the bike feels like it’s on your side rather than fighting you when the adrenaline’s flowing.
The engine’s equally cooperative, churning out huge torque from 3000rpm upwards and pulling reasonably even from tickover, while the 143bhp power peak means there’s near-violent acceleration in reserve. It does this without an EXUP valve in the exhaust and only four valves per cylinder where the R1 and other Yamahas boast five, although the spec does include a gearbox with vertically stacked shafts and a one-piece upper crankcase/cylinder casting – like the R1 – for compactness and strength.
The gearchange was occasionally reluctant to find third gear from second – a second attempt did the trick – but this was blamed by Yamaha staff on ours being pre-production models. If the trait makes showroom bikes it’s a minor irritant, especially as you could spend all day in top anyway.
Oh yes, and the transmission includes shaft drive… It’s easy to forget as you simply don’t notice when riding, just as it should be. There’s no odd back end behaviour, no clunks or shunting, just smooth forward motion when you open the throttle with no worries about closing it mid-bend or any other such outdated demands from the bike. And the back end stays clean!
This is Yamaha’s first European-oriented touring bike, amazingly, but you’d never guess it was the product of a novice. For covering big miles it makes a fine partner, but the performance envelope’s been convincingly stretched over the region that says ’ fun in the twisty bits’. So it’s not just the ST1100s of this world that should feel threatened – look out VFR800, Ducati ST4, Triumph Sprint ST.
Get Yamaha motorcycle insurance for the yamaha fjr1300.
Engine Liquid cooled, transverse, 16 valve, four cylinder, four stroke.
Claimed power (bhp) 145bhp
Compression ratio n/a
Transmission five speed
Frame; Aluminium alloy, twin spar type
Front suspension; 48mm forks, multi adjustable
Rear suspension; Monoshock, multi adjustable
Front brakes; Twin Sumitomo 298mm discs, 4 piston calipers
Rear brakes; Single 282mm disc, 2 piston caliper.
Front tyre; 120/70 17 inch diameter
Rear tyre; 180/55 17 inch diameter
Colours; Silver, Black or Blue
Top speed 145mph
Fuel capacity 25 litres
Current price £9599