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- Written by Carole Nash Editor
- Created: 06 May 2008
Sometimes. all you want to do is have some fun. Tool around you fave backroads at the weekend, maybe take a trip to the races a couple of items a year, do a rally in a field resembling a First World War trench...
A bike for all seasons is hard to find and if you’ve piled on a few pounds around the midriff area over the years, then you’ll probably narrow the choice down to a big, beefy retro. Step forward XJR1300; the 32 ounce, medium rare steak of motorbikes.
A grunty, air cooled motor, comfy saddle and tasty styling, all combine to make the XJR1300 a very decent alternative to the Suzuki Bandit 1200.
Remember when bikes were bikes, with proper saddles, humungous sized air cooled engines and nice cowhorn handlebars to grab onto whilst doing `the ton’ down that new fangled invention, the by-pass?
As it goes, I do, in fact I will confess (after several chilled beverages) to owning monsters like the Suzuki GS1000, Honda CBX1000 six or CBX750 four. In their day, they were great bikes, now however, they’re like watching Top of The Pops 2 - a laugh, but you wouldn’t want to live there again...
When dinosaurs ruled the Earth
Twenty one years ago, Yamaha launched a motorcycle so huge, ugly and ill handling, that even the novelty of a Martini Rep Mike Hailwood special edition failed to shift it in significant numbers. It was called the XS1100, weighed in around 600lbs, boasted an 1102cc DOHC four cylinder motor, cast wheels, square clocks and did 130mph...if you could find three empty lanes of motorway where it was safe to do a sort of two-wheeled rhumba.
US magazine Cycle, road tested the XS1100 and posted a standing quarter mile of 11.8 seconds, with a terminal speed of 115mph, making it faster than the Kawasaki Z1R by a gnat’s nadger. Doesn’t sound that special, until you consider that the original XS1100 also had shaft drive and weighed about 60lbs more than the Kwacker.
In a word, that old XS engine had grunt, which made it the basic powerplant for one of the great 80s sports-tourers, the FJ1200. But guess what, the 1990s XJR1300 still has the same grunty motor, slowly evolving from its almost primeval roots. It’s even painted black, just like the old XS1100 `Midnite Special’ was in 1981.
Nowadays, the 2000 spec XJR1300 makes probably ten bhp more than its 80s ancestor, producing a claimed 106bhp. As you’d expect, it’s faster; even with a drag race novice like myself on board. The XJR1300 ran a best quarter mile of 11.73 with a terminal speed of 115mph at York Dragway, which only goes to prove how retro this bike truly is. You have to reckon that a pro drag racer could run a low eleven second time on this bike.
More importantly, the thing actually goes around corners fairly acceptably and has dynamite brakes. Looks funky too. Sure, it’s just your basic retro motorbike, but it does everything surprisingly well, considering its strangely lardy beginnings.
So Yamaha are re-inventing a well tried formula here, but can it cut it against the boss retro 1200 Bandit, Honda X11, or the Triumph T509 and Kawasaki ZRX1100 (now growing into a 1200cc variant)?
Well, the Triumph, the new Bandit and Kawasaki ZRX1100 definitely stuff the XJR1300 into the weeds when it comes to pressing on around corners. There’s a simple reason for this; weight. The XJR1300 is still a heavy machine. The 230kgs (506lbs) dry weight takes some hustling, especially on tight, twisty back roads.
On Cadwell Park’s faster turns, it was actually pretty good, with the weight working to keep things stable, allowing you to merrily grind away footpeg and occasionally hear the clang of stands on the deck. But stuffing the Yamaha into tighter corners, like the woodlands section, revealed its fundamental weakness; a soft front end.
Just sitting on the XJR1300 compresses the forks by about an inch and you can physically bounce them up and down like twin pogo sticks at low speed just by dabbing at the front brakes.
That comes as no big surprise once you check out the calipers and see that they are the very same four piston items first seen on the Thunderace in 1996. Fantastic stoppers, matched to enormous drilled discs which give you enough braking control to scrub up huge gobs of front tyre as you brake hard going into Park corner at the end of Cadwell’s main straight. Great, but it does upset the front end and you risk a front end slide if you brake a fraction too late into the corner, as all the weight is kinda `loaded up’ onto the squishy forks.
By comparison, the 1200 Bandit is a lithe, agile top class sportsbike in similar conditions and as far as I can recall, it also has a bit more ground clearance to exploit its more controlled handling. The ZRX Kawa isn’t quite so good, feeling a little twitchy at high speed, and the Honda X11 needs wrestler’s biceps to be stuffed successfully into a hairpin from anywhere above 60mph. The ace in the retro pack is the Triumph T509/955i, which has real panache in the swervy bits, plus loads of ground clearance in comparison to its rivals.
Three piece suite sale now on
But cornering isn’t everything in biking and the whole point of retro biking is surely that you’re going slower than sportsbike riders because you like a saner speed on the road?
Here the big Yamaha really comes into its own. The brakes are obviously more than enough at sub 100mph speeds, the engine just churns along all day at 4,000 revs as the speedo needle nudges 80mph and the saddle is total bum cheek luxury. Let’s face it, if you’re sitting upright into the wind blast, it’s nice to have some rear end comfort and the XJR1300 has a much better perch than either the Triumph or the Kwacker, but matched by the Honda or 2000 spec Bandit. The pillion portion is nice and wide too, with a proper grabrail, which is a welcome detail on any retro machine.
The XJR1300 does drink fuel pretty rapidly however and when the needle touches the red zone, the bike generally hits reserve a couple of miles later and you have to start looking for a station sharpish, or it is right down on empty 15 miles later. Total fuel range is only around 130 miles, unless you want to risk trying to push the bike, but a break every 100 miles on an unfaired bike is probably a good idea anyway.
Average mpg was down to about 35-38, which is a bit severe. Shouldn’t a 90s version of a twenty year old bike do significantly better mileage than that? Maybe it’s just me enjoying it too much...
Your shoulders and neck do inevitably get aches and pains on motorways, but that’s the price you pay on any retro machine. If you’re planning on covering serious distance then buy a faired Bandit, or Fazer. As a summertime toy for 50 mile jaunts around the countryside, the Yamaha XJR1300 is perfect.
The reason for this general feeling of well being you get on board the bike is simple - torque. The very same lowdown shove that the original XS1100 had is still there, lurking inside those hot crankcases. (This bike generates the most engine heat I’ve ever experienced, you could hold a barbecue on your inner thighs in town)
That torque makes riding the Yam so easy, because you can pull smoothly from 30mph in 5th gear all the way past the ton. Grunt y’see, marvellous stuff and highly addictive.
Many people choose big retro bikes for the wrong reasons - like they want to go fast for example - but if you’re older, wiser and like a bit of comfort, then the XJR1300 is a great choice. There’s even an SP version, with stiffer suspension, finished in Kenny Roberts yellow and black paint if you like the whole late 70s look. Costs a little more, but worth it for the Ohlins suspension alone.
The bottom line is that the unfaired 1200 Bandit is marginally less comfortable, less punchy in the midrange, but basically has the same pokey power characteristics, handles better and costs less than the XJR 1300. Shop around, because the XJR1300 can be had well below its list price and may well be the bike that has just the right blend of style and substance to remind you of the good old days, without the bad old handling and braking problems...
Now, where’s the nearest OK Diner?
Get Yamaha motorcycle insurance for the yamaha xjr1300.
Engine Liquid-cooled, 4-stroke, in-line four
Valve arrangement 4 valves per cylinder
Gearbox 5 speed
Final drive Chain
Power output 106.2bhp @ 8,000 rpm
Torque 100Nm @ 6,000rpm
Seat height 775mm
Tyres,front..............Twin 298mm discs with four piston calipers
Rear...............2676mm disc with opposed piston caliper
Brakes, front......320mm (12.6in) disc
Rear...............240mm (9.5in) disc
Suspension, front..Conventional telescopic forks
Rear............... Conventional swingarm with twin shocks adjustable for spring preload.
Dry weight.........230 kg
Fuel capacity......14.5 litres (3.2gal)
Top speed 135mph
Fuel capacity 21 litres
Colours Black - dark cyan metallic, Yellow/Black or Red/Black
Warranty 2 years unlimited mileage.
£5,999 + otr costs (1999)