I have now completed a few tours and (24,000km as of Nov 2015) on a 2014 FJR1300 and feel able to give a detailed review of the bike and talk about some good and not so good points I feel the bike has that have not been explored in the other brief magazine reviews online that seem mostly based on short rides or are rehashed press releases.
Please bear in mind my comments relate to how I personally find things on the often narrow and tight corner roads in Japan which have no resemblance to what people consider twisty roads in North America. It is also my journey with the motorcycle not just a static one day or one week ride report but an ongoing interaction. My views on some things may soften while other items may eventually annoy me. I will add any fixes I can discover which then may eliminate an issue altogether or introduce something new.
First a recap how I came to currently be riding a FJR1300. (Feel free to skip down to the beginning of the review titled Drivetrain)
After owning a series of naked/standard bikes I had been thinking maybe I should try a motorcycle designed for the sort of riding I actually do, namely touring. Like many riders I am drawn to certain motorcycles often by a look or style but I decided to buy my next bike based purely on function or equipment I thought I would like to have.
Thinking of touring three things came to mind I would like in a new motorcycle. Electronic cruise control was number one. If you have never experienced it you have no idea how good it is on long tours but wanting this eliminated the majority of motorcycles on sale. Decent protection from cold wind was next on my mind as the best riding seasons here are Spring and Autumn when temps are still cold but days are fine. That really eliminated all the adventure bikes from my shopping list since I find bikini screens and half fairings fitted to these bikes to be useless. In my experience riding a Versys, Caponord and Vstrom I’d just as soon have a full naked bike as the buffeting and turbulence is I experienced on adventures bikes was woeful but perhaps I just have been unlucky. Lastly I need reasonable cornering clearance, not that I carve corners these days but with the couple of cruisers I have test ridden I was all too soon grinding parts so I eliminated the touring cruiser motorcycles. So (at the time of writing) I was left the narrow field of the BMW R1200RT, BMW K1600GT, Triumph Trophy, Yamaha FJR1300 and Honda Goldwing.
These motorcycles are all rather large but there is no smaller bike with the combination desired. I half had my mind made up to get a BMW R1200RT. It is a bike that I had previously ridden in North America and is the lightest of the bunch but the one I rented had some electrical faults that plagued the screen and cruise control and heated grips. That made me examine the brands reliability and it was hard to work out on the net if the brand has poor reliability or simply a lot of haters. Still many people are fans so I took a trip to my local BMW dealer and there lost interest totally after encountering a bunch of people with elitism bad attitude. Yamaha shop was a multi Japanese motorcycle brand dealership and was full of down to earth people who made me feel really at ease and confident to purchase from.
I chose the Japan designated FJR 1300A model without the electronic gear shift or electronic suspension. I played with electronic suspension on the R1200RT I previously rented and after a couple days found where I wanted it then never changed it the rest of the tour. I am not the sort of rider who needs to alter suspension, one middle of the road setting suits me all the time. After riding dirt bikes I simply lost my sensitivity regarding suspension, long as it is compliant for the bumps. I would however consider it in Australia where the roads can be terrible but here they are all beautiful so I thought this to be unnecessary weight on an already heavy bike. Not having a clutch does not save weight, the paddle shift setup adds a bit more but my concern was with a heavy motorcycle how low speed manoeuvring would be. I ride scooters all the time in SE Asia and at car park speed on and off the throttle they are as easy as a push bike to balance being so light but I simply could not picture this on the FJR however now I wonder about it.
Even without those two electronic features there is still a lot of technology. You can read about specs galore elsewhere on the net as most reviews seem full of that but very short on actual ‘bike review’.
The 1300cc engine is powerful and turbine smooth up to 4000rpm where it gets a mild buzz that you feel in the bars. I rarely exceed this rev point such is the amount of torque available from 1000rpm. People react differently to vibrations on different types of engines. Some people dislike inline four buzz, some dislike v-twin thump, others never notice either but if you are someone who is sensitive to buzz then I rate the FJR’s low but it is certainly not without buzz. It could be shifted up the rev range further by adding oversized heavy bar ends but with so much weight up high I am reluctant to add more. (actually if Yamaha made the bars hard rubber isolated like Honda does then the buzz might disappear) Anyway it is by no means bad like say the F4 engine in my MV Agusta which would buzz so much you could not see anything in the mirrors and your hands would literally grow numb like holding a orbital sander all day.
Passing anything on the FJR is just a twist of the throttle in any gear, even lumbering along in 4th gear 2000rpm it will surge forward. The engine only needs regular fuel not premium. Using premium Vs regular sees no noticeable power or fuel economy difference in my back to back full tank comparisons which is a strong point here where premium fuel is much more expensive. Once run in the engine consumes an average of 5.0 litre per 100km which is really very good considering the size and power. Smaller engines I have used often such as the 650 parallel twin from Kawasaki do not achieve much better economy so this is an excellent result, naturally work the engine harder and that sort of economy will vanish.
There are two engine modes Touring and Sport however the power output is said by owners forums to be the same either mode. The difference is the throttle needs to be turned much more in touring mode and the initial power is softer. City mode would be a better name as it makes it easier in the lower gears in stop start traffic which can be snatchy in Sport mode. Once out of town on the open road the touring mode becomes fatiguing with the extended twist of the wrist needed. Oddly the throttle has a overly firm return spring, something I see first reported as annoying back in 2006 by the editor of AMCN magazine. Now that it is purely electronic ride by wire throttle with no mechanical apparatus there is no reason for this to still exist yet it does.
Not a issue but as a point of discussion, in Japan everything motoring related is about hybrid or eco driving (you think just Prius is hybrid here every car is hybrid) and it would have been cool from a local point of view if the electronic shift flagship model had perhaps a city drive idle stop mode or perhaps cylinder deactivation when in cruise control. What you do get is Eco displayed in the dash when you are riding it normally which disappears if you use the throttle more generously. I am always surprised at the push back from motorcycle press to safety and economy innovations on motorcycles. They seem solely focused on racetrack performance and very out of touch with real road riders. But then the motorcycle press has for as long as I can recall been made up entirely of ex motorcycle racers. We have them to thank for being fed press releases masquerading as reviews and any comparison being won by the most powerful bike regardless. But I digress.
The FJR engine sound track in my opinion is pretty good. Yamaha have done a nice enough job with the exhaust which while obviously meeting the required noise limits offers a good (for standard mufflers) sound feedback to the rider perhaps helped by having two larger mufflers. The twin mufflers give a nice balanced look but I’d prefer a weight saving of just one if it still worked as well.
Journalists, perhaps burdened with finding something irrelevant to criticise, have been going on and on about the gear box not having a 6th gear. All you are getting with another gear is a further ratio split on the way to top (not a overdrive as people are confused about) More shifting is completely unnecessary and actually a negative on an engine with this much torque. You want to be able to enjoy that, not have to dance on the gear lever like your riding a 600cc machine. On the FJR I often shift from 1st to 3rd immediately leaving the lights (or start in 2nd gear) and out of urban areas simply leave the bike in 4th the whole time I am not on a highway which perfectly covers from 30kmh to 90kmh. So I personally cannot see what the fuss is but throw enough mud and some will stick. (I see Yamaha have changed to a 6 speed for 2016)
That aside the gearbox itself is clunky to shift, maybe it has a very positive engagement is a nicer way to put it. Click into 1st at the lights results in a loud ker-thud and slight jerk of the bike. That is a clutch not the box per se. I was calling the gearbox agricultural initially but it has improved with use and perhaps just old school would be better description. At least it finds neutral easy unlike so many 6 speed boxes, and it needs to as I will now elaborate.
Old school is a term that also applies to the clutch which is (no exaggeration) the heaviest hydraulic motorcycle clutch I have experienced. I need to put the bike in neutral whenever stopped in traffic as after a few hours riding I cannot hold the clutch in for any length of time. I prefer manual control but I regret not trying the electronic shift now as the clutch is so heavy. By the end of the day your hand muscles are sore and you get to a stage where you groan when coming to a red light as it means having to operate the clutch. A larger more modern master cylinder is desperately needed.
(Update, seems the issue may have been clutch springs since the 2016 model has had these replaced with lighter items)
Final drive is via shaft which for me is good as I dislike the noise and mess of a chain. A belt drive for me is nicer still since it has zero lash. When I owned my Buells this was something I loved but there was always a question mark about reliability back then, not sure now. I can just ignore the lash with the shaft drive but some people might find it bothersome. Pretty much all the big tourers have this so not easy to avoid.
Brakes are linked with ABS. I find they need a strong pull on the lever to slow the bike down. They do not deliver the stopping power I would like. This may very well be simply be due to the extra mass of this 296kg kerb weight bike in motion. I would also like the hand brake to require less effort. I am used to two finger New bikes with more weight and bigger engines such as the BMW 6 cylinder have light and smooth hand controls so there are no excuses. I have purchased aftermarket levers that can be adjusted to sit closer to the bars thus provide more leverage than the factory items which sat very far away at their closest adjustment. This has helped reduce effort slightly and I now try shift up not using the clutch to also assist me but the FJR hand controls are one of two areas that I find make the bike fatiguing to ride when not on open roads.
The combination of the above brakes, clutch and gearbox at times makes me feel I am riding a older bike rather than a 2014 model which is true in part since the FJR has only seen updates to a bike that was designed 14 years ago. So the old school heavy hand controls are at odds with the superb modern cockpit and multiple electronic rider aids. It is not impossible to adjust to, but you shouldn’t have to.
Seating is excellent. The seat is height adjustable and this was a feature I was looking forward too. I am 6’ and in the high position I find the distance to the pegs is very comfortable for all day riding. Much like BMW, Yamaha offer a ‘touring’ seat as an optional extra which is annoying considering you are buying their ‘touring’ motorcycle however the standard seat is quite good over bumps and I can easy do a couple hours on the bike before thinking of a rest. The wide tank splays your legs a little but I found I soon adjusted to this and rate the seating as near perfect for me.
The position of the handle bars is very poor. Even for someone like me who is tall with long arms they are too far forward and lower than one would expect. This puts the rider into a odd semi sports bike ride position which is ridiculous on a big heavy tourer. The bars can be adjusted in 3 positions which I assumed would bring them back to a more standard position however the amount of adjustment allowed turned out to be so small it was of little benefit. The bike needs a fair bit of bar input to turn in and hold a line (more on this later) so after a couple of extended rides with a long stretch to the bars and lacking leverage I knew this was really a problem for me as I find leaning forward uncomfortable and unnecessary away from a race track.
I installed a bar riser plate to bring the bars up 25mm and back 40mm which given my arm length has them almost back to a neutral position but they could still come back another 15mm for me, maybe more for others. I have not seen another FJR on the roads here in Japan yet (seriously) and the bars probably are the main reason as very few Japanese guys would have the reach needed. The dealer told me it was first FJR he has ever sold and that has to be due to the ergonomics as there are plenty of big bikes on the road here, the Japanese market only Honda CB1300 is a very popular touring bike here but it has conventional bars set at regular distance to the rider. Besides the bars being so far away the hand controls are also made for extra large people because the levers adjusted to closest position were still too far away for me to operate easy. I could just reach with my finger tips. The lead designer of the FJR must be like a Japanese version of Arnold Schwarzenegger. Actually I suspect the FJR is designed in the USA not Japan.
Wind protection is spot on. The fairing and screen strike the perfect balance between protection from cold air and allowing some breeze to the rider in summer. The FJR design team might have been sitting on their hands as far as some areas but aerodynamics would appear to being something that has benefitted from a long series run. Some reviews have commented that the riders hands are not completely shielded from wind like the other bikes in this range however I think that is one of the FJRs good points. In summer the rider can still get some air to his hands and into his jacket sleeves from the cuffs to keep arms cool which makes a big difference to rider comfort. In winter the heated grips are enough for me but you can always add the optional FJR wind guards to completely shield your gloves and cuff area but you cannot remove those wide fairing extension mirrors on the RT that block the wind and in the high temperatures I experienced in California my arms got heat rash riding the R1200RT because so little air reached them.
The electric screen is excellent. Lowered it allows good air flow in summer and raised it stops cold wind very effectively with almost no turbulence, I can even ride with my visor up at lower speeds. The screen is one of the best feature of the FJR and one I am constantly using. During a ride it can start down in city traffic and then raised on highway returning down when slowly riding in quiet mountain back roads to feel a the cool air then raised if really up high where the air can get cold. I don’t need so much focus on my riding gear as I can control the temperature by the screen and I get no strong buffeting turbulence unlike the short screens on adventure bikes but YMMV. Also handy in rain providing some protection when on the move.
(2015 update – The screen perhaps could go up a touch higher and need not go so low, the base position I rarely use the screen sits fully raised much of the time except in traffic when warm)
The instrumentation or dash is one of the better I have encountered on a motorcycle. Made up of two LCD multi readout screens and one analogue tacho. On power up the LCD on the right displays an animation using the FJR logo and then read outs as per your selection from the multifunction trip computer. You can also see info on the heated grips, electric screen here. The main screen has fuel, speed, drive mode, gear indicator, clock and the usual warning lights. I find no need to look at the tacho with the huge torque on tap. Actually after my first couple of years riding I have never looked much at rpm or speedometer once out of urban zones. Maybe that comes from my time riding motocross where you have no gauges but the FJR instrumentation is well thought out and so easy to see. By comparison I was never sure what speed I was doing on the BMW, the numbers are so small that I would need to have my reading glasses on to make them out but I only wear glasses for close up so could not ride with them on even if I wanted to. I notice the new RT has even smaller numbers, a very poor design for the target 40+ year old market.
Unsure if global models have these features but the Japan domestic one has a hazard lights switch located where the starter button would normally be and this is very handy item that I use when stopping to take a quick photo on side of road. The starter has been incorporated into the large power off button on the right hand side controls. This is a brilliant idea, the switch is a rocker that you flip down to start the bike and it then returns to run mode. These power off switches are really a legacy item from old bikes where you kick started them so it is nice to see Yamaha think how to actually make better use of the limited handle bar space and try drag motorcycles into the current century.
On the road
The FJR is a heavy motorcycle which any buyer would be well aware of however the issue for me has proved to be much of the weight does not disappear once moving as is so often said about other large bikes. The weight is not positioned well and so the bike is very top heavy. For example all 25 litres fuel is sitting up high with none of this positioned lower in the frame. Then it’s large car size battery is placed in the upper fairing on the right hand side next to the dash. (yes really) Possibly the worst place it and FJR’s wiring harness could be located for mass centralization. Just while I am this, Yamaha have made access to the battery and fuses extremely complicated requiring disassembly of the some of the dash panels which took me over 2 hours the first time I used a mini compressor in the power outlet and blew the fuse (which is only low amp for USB devices) But I digress.
The lack of mass centralization really shows on the road. If I compare to the R1200RT the FJR is never as light to steer as the BMW. It requires a lot of input to initiate turn in even on mild corners which is hard to achieve with the bars so far away from the rider. It also does not want to hold a lean and just sit as most bikes do rather it understeers all the time in mild corners making the rider have to keep applying pressure to hold a line. It is not due to brake use or off camber roads or under inflated tyres as the owners forums would try and tell you, I’ve tried all tyre pressure suggestions (and now 3 brands of tyres) and this is not the issue. I’m not entirely sure what it is but I have ridden things like the Suzuki M109 which weighs about the same and has raked out geometry and 240 wide rear tyre yet turns easy as pie so while I will do what I can on those areas the main source of the issue lies elsewhere.
As I clock up more hours on board I start to detect that when the fuel load drops to 70 % you notice a change and then below 50% the bike steers noticeably better. Also when wearing new tyres the problem is far less noticeable but as the tyres wear the bike becomes significantly more difficult to steer - despite proper tyre pressure and with an even spread of wear. So if you test ride a new bike with low km tyres and just a few litres fuel in tank the FJR as most test bikes come with it will feel nothing like it does in its normal operating mode.
The review pauses here to insert my updates on the FJR steering/handling and what I have done to try improve the understeer and slow turn in.
Update 1. I have switched to Bridgestone BT23 from Metzeler Z8 tyres. The Z8’s the bike came with felt ok when new but the lifespan was very poor. Speaking to a long term owner who has over 200,000km on his FJR he suggested I try Pilot Road 2 or Pirelli Angel GT tyres. He actually rates the Bridgestone's as his least favourite tyre on the FJR (I already had them fitted before we spoke) He does not like the Metzelers Z8’s either but did not elaborate on them. The BT23 feel terrific when new but after they start to wear they become slower to steer but otherwise I have no issues with them.
Update 2. I set the rear preload lever to firm all the time and this made a noticeable improvement to turn in effort but at the cost of making the ride a little firm on some surfaces. I set the front preload softer then further to as soft as possible, winding the adjuster to the stop to try get the front down and improve turn in and reduce understeer. Next I raised the fork legs in the triple clamps 20mm, i.e. lowered the front ride height which has further sharpened/increased the steering angle. This has made a ‘slight’ difference to turn in effort at lower speed but understeer persists.
Update 3. Angel GT tyres now fitted. To recap, I got 6000km from the original Metzeler Z8’s. From 5000km they had noticeable scalloping on the front that would make the bike shake under deceleration and I did not like them in the wet either. Next I put Bridgestone BT23’s on which I got 9000km from with a bit of life left so possibly could manage 10,000km from a set. They performed more consistently than the Z8’s. I have now fitted Pirelli Angel GT tyres and completed a 4 day tour. The initial understeer remains but a secondary minor steering issue that I have not really spoken about has now gone away. This is a higher lean angle oversteer i.e. initial turn in on the FJR is very slow and the bike wants to not hold a line on mild curves but as you lean the bike over much more the bike attitude with the Z8 and BT23 tyres was to shift (suddenly) to oversteer where it wants to fall into the curve. (this FJR steering behaviour I see was also noted by the editor of MCN back when the 2006 Gen 2 model was tested). The Angel GT tyres with their slightly different tyre contact area radius have removed the sudden oversteer and they also are quite good in the wet but they are slow to turn in, slower than the BT23’s.
Update 4. I have further raised the fork legs in the triple clamps to 27mm, I was aiming for 30mm but this is as much as I could get the right hand leg to come up working by myself at home on uneven ground so I set the left side the same. The additional change to the steering angle has achieved nothing much that I can tell and I am not prepared to go further for fear of running out of cornering clearance. Altering the front ride height/steering angle would seem to make little difference to the FJR turn in speed. I was foolishly confident this would help after reading owners forums where slight changes were reported to make the bike ‘too unstable’ which of course turned out to be total nonsense, the turn in speed remains glacial slow. The rear ride height is my next place to try and I have ordered new components to raise the rear. This is my dropped front now.
Update 5. I have installed new rear ‘dog bones’ links to raise the rear ride height thus further increase the steering angle to thus quicken the turn in. I ordered what was advertised as the 30mm raise links but not sure if I received that or the more popular size of USA imperial 5/8ths which equals 15.875mm. A small difference in length equates to a lot of height or drop vertical so not able to gauge by the part and I did not successfully measure the difference before and after but anyway it should go some way to making a difference and check back here in a few weeks for the results.
Success! the new dog bone rear links that I confirmed with the supplier to be 30mm raise has really made a huge difference. With the new links fitted the FJR turns much easier than before and feels so much better in the corners. Even with a full tank the steering is improved but once the fuel load drops even just one bar on the dash the bike really tips in easy (for the size bike it is) and feels a very different machine to before. The weight up high is still there and I don’t think it will ever feel as light as a RT on the road but the change from these links is quite dramatic.I cannot really understand why Yamaha would not sell it like this.
I just completed a two week tour and really enjoyed the way the bike road while the tyres were good. The Pirelli Angel GT tyres unfortunately wore out quite fast, about 5000km good km and maybe 6000km the max before they were quite scalloped and made steering heavy. I have 7500km on them now only because I had to get back home and while middle still has little life the mid section either side that sees most of the cornering is bald.
The best way to install the dog bone links is to put the bike on centre stand and loosen the dog bone links then use a jack to lighten the rear wheel from the link pins (not supporting the bike which is on stand just the wheel weight) take the top pin out then remove the shock lower mount pin and rotate the lower link pin forward past stand then remove. On install use the jack to position the wheel at correct height to get top pin back in with new length links.
Back to my original post now:
The suspension does a fair job soaking up bumps, dampening is not as plush as the BMW but the electronic suspension model FJR might be a match. For the majority of roads here it is fine but the forks high speed compression damping is little harsh so depending on your road conditions this could be annoying. In Australia you should option the electronic suspension no doubt about it. The weight of the bike can sometimes overwhelm the front end but it is a heavy tourer so ride with that in mind.
(Update 2015 – yes the high speed compression damping on the forks is harsh and not much I can do about it for now. If I was back in Australia I know a great suspension shop and would get them to update the internals)
The FJR has a huge 25 litre fuel tank and range is 400km+. It is terrific to have that long range and something I enjoy when touring, I can go the whole day not needing to refuel. It is not hard to make rest stops and refuels coincide as I have done for years with small fuel tanks but it is real nice to not have to and to not be constantly looking at the fuel gauge/odometer and doing the maths on the next refuel all the time. It is a burden lifted from my shoulders when riding and lets me enjoy the ride all the more. The down side however is the fuel tank does not extend down low or under the seat to lower the COG so it is a lot of fuel sitting up high and when you have a full tank it affects steering as already mentioned. The tank shape is very wide which splays your legs wide. You get used to this but need long legs to be able to hold the bike up at standstill.
(Update 2015 - Note reversing the bike can be difficult. The tank splays the legs a lot when your legs are angled forward to get leverage needed to push the bike backwards. At this point you also have less traction on the ground. I have already lost grip and balance once and then the weight of the FJR and high COG was more than I could hold so it ended up on it’s side in a car park. No damage except few scratches which I guess shows how tough it is but shorter legs would find it a little challenging at times to reverse due to tank design)
I usually never ride at night, just too dangerous with wildlife in Australia but here there is less risk and I found myself stuck an hour from my hotel in the mountains as the last light faded. The FJR headlights are large but like most bikes do not light up the road ahead well. This is not a complaint, I mention it simply because it’s main rival BMW R1200RT is one of the few bikes sold that does have good lights. I recall the last time I was caught out at night on the road between Ebor and Armidale in NSW. My mates MT-01 (with tiny fuel tank) had one of those stupid spring clip on fuel lines that have the habit of popping off when the o-ring gets worn and he lost fuel and ran out. I went ahead to fetch fuel but by the time we were on the road again it was pitch black in the ‘Aussie bush’. In comparison to the FJR the HID lights I had installed to my bike back then were amazing, both the view distance on high and the clarity of vision so you could fit similar to the FJR if needed.
(Update 2015. There are 1000’s of tunnels in Japan and I must admit the weak lights are starting to annoy me. I see Yamaha have updated to LED lighting for 2016)
The heated grips work very well. They have three levels of heat which are all sensible and useable unlike some grips which go from nothing to red hot in one setting. They are controlled within the multi function menus available to rider via the mode button on the left handle bar and this system makes it very easy to see what things are set to and move between the functions while riding.
(Update 2015 – I never knew your can set the heat for each of the 3 settings custom to how you want – this is really great)
The electronic cruise control feature I wanted so much that it limited my candidates is wonderful even if so far I don’t use it as often as I expected. It would be so much better if it was laser controlled to vary the speed like cars now have but given the push back on motorcycle tech that may take another 20 years to migrate. An oddity for Japan models is the cruise control speed is capped at 108 kph. The speedo at an indicated 108 kph is 8 kph fast so actual speed cap is 100 kph. Now this isn’t really a issue for me as the national expressway highest speed is 100kph (but very often reduced to just 80kph) and being in a foreign land I don’t want any interaction with police so I just set it for 108 (actual 100) and kick back. If I wanted to cover ground quicker there is always some new big Lexus screaming along who can act as a ‘blocker’ for those tailing safely behind but I really don’t have any desire to ride fast anymore and part of the reason to go to this sort of bike was to ease things down. It’s a beautiful country and I tour to enjoy it not race. That said I did one time get taken off course by the ever crazy navigation of my Garmin GPS and found myself a long way from my hotel as light faded. The FJR will cruise effortlessly on the expressway at 160k like some supersonic armchair - not that I would know that of course <wink>.
And that is where the FJR works best. End of a long day the FJR is enormously comfortable crunching miles. With the screen up and cruise set it almost rides itself home. This is where the FJR perhaps has gained its following. You have a bike that on the expressway offers comfort levels of a maxi tourer (except perhaps the long reach to the bars) then off the expressway you return to a bike that is more sporting. How sporting you find it off the expressway depends on the roads and your point of view. Make no mistake it is still a heavy big bike despite what some FJR owners may try tell you. Sweeping corner type roads that North Americans call twisty roads the bike works very well. Sharp corners and tight switchbacks like Europe and Japan call twisty roads and it is not as good. But there is perhaps no motorcycle that does everything perfectly so it is more what is most important to you in your environment and stage of motorcycle riding life. What balance of freeway Vs corners do you have. Is it a long ride to and from the canyons/mountains - the FJR will cover that with ease and might be good choice. Here some of the tighter mountain roads it really is too big.
Fit and finish
The paint in Dusty Grey finish as it is called here looks a bit better in real life than in photos and while not half as stylish as the ‘Atomic Silver’ Toyota put on their Lexus IF-S it is a reasonably good finish but can appear dull. The other option here is a chocolate brown metallic paint, a colour popular on many small cars in Japan. The silver would be great if given a touch of green or a champagne look. Plastics and panel alignment seems tight everywhere however the heel plates became scuffed after a few months. The screen had some slight marks but a few applications of plexus plastic cleaner returned it to very clear. I’m getting some of that white mould that forms on metal on some of the bolts perhaps due to Japan having so much rain and the bike sitting under a water proof cover but not inside a closed garage (which are rare in Japan since they are taxed).
Update 2015 – everything still fine with fit and finish. The heel plates have not scuffed anymore and no other signs of wear. I see the 2016 model comes in a white and silver which looks excellent.
Looks are very subjective. I personally like the classic naked bike look of the 60’s like the CB750. New bikes I like looks wise are models such as the new Ducati Scrambler or the Moto Guzzi V7 but these are not so suitable for touring so as stated in the beginning I chose the FJR purely on function not form. But if I have to give an opinion then I think it is better looking than the 2014 R1200RT which has a terribly ugly front on it but I personally do not find modern full fairing motorcycles attractive at all.
There are two storage areas under the seats, one looks suspiciously like the original battery compartment. There is also a glove box in the left hand side that central locks with the ignition off and contains a power outlet but the glove box is very small. It’s actually too small to be of much use. You cannot fit a pair of gloves in it so I should not call it a glove box, I cannot get my hand in it so it is no use for coins. You cannot fit a drink in it which was handy on the BMW, as you can see below using the 12 volt lighter power outlet to gauge the size, it is small, and if you plug a item into that socket then the box is full. I would love to put my camera in there but it won’t fit so it ends up unused, I just keep a small visor cleaning cloth inside.
(Update 2015 – I can’t remember last time I opened this as it is too small to be of any use but doesn’t matter when you have the panniers)
I have the factory Yamaha panniers which size wise I find strike a good balance and hold plenty without making the bike too wide. They operate by the same key and look quite stylish as far as luggage goes. The panniers are a feature I thought I needed for long tours but I managed to learn to travel light when going overseas for rides so they end up slightly underutilized. I put my picnic lunches in one side, I have a cooler bag and folding stool and drink holder as I often stop in a road side rest area or view point for lunch. I can carry wet gear, tyre repair and 12 volt compressor and two seasons of gloves in other pannier and both still have ample space left. I think where security is more of an issue the panniers would easy hold helmet and jacket when off the bike. Here in Japan you can leave anything on the bike anywhere and it will be there when you return as there is no petty crime.
(Update 2015 – been in plenty of rain and nothing has gotten wet so would seem the panniers are waterproof which is great as many are not)
The front has a LED daytime running light bar but during daytime you simply can hardly notice it when the lights are also on, which in most countries is all the time hardwired. (see above) It looks very stylish on by itself in low light. Good on Yamaha for trying that at least. The headlights have twin height adjustment knobs in the dash. Kind of elaborate and no doubt heavy mechanism but with the dash and a lot of plastics in the way it would be difficult to adjust the headlights manually. I like that the FJR has hazard lights, I use them all the time when taking photos, first time to find this feature on a motorcycle and makes me wonder why it is not standard on all. In Japan seems you can have the front indicators wired on always to act as marker lights and I regret not getting this done by the dealer as it would have assisted with being seen but a set of LED driving lights mounted lower on fork legs would be easy to fit and I see bikes with this seem to really be much more noticeable on the roads. (Update – I see the 2016 model has update LED main headlights but appears to have lost the daytime running light bar which is a shame)
There are adjustable side panels in the fairing which you are lead to think offers the rider the option to deflect additional wind in winter however all these do according to the manual is let you undo them if riding in very hot conditions for the sake of engine cooling. If they had some cable control like the headlights to alter the wind for further protection in winter then would be a unique feature for the FJR but as of writing I am not able to find any meaningful purpose to them and possibly could be a legacy item just left unchanged from the original design in 2000/2001.
The FJR has some really great points. I think it is a superb long distance highway bike and also good for moderately curvy road riding. I can see why it is very popular in North America and would suit the roads I toured on there very well. Engine has good torque and is fuel efficient as well as not requiring premium gas adds to the economy. With cruise control, comfortable seating with good cockpit aerodynamics it is a nice place to be on the open road.
It is undeniably heavier to ride than the BMW R1200RT, most likely due to the higher kerb weight and mass set high especially with full fuel load. On the expressways this heavy bike is fine and in high cross wind it is more stable than the BMW however on twisty* roads the R1200RT is much easier and more enjoyable to ride. (*twisty = properly tight corners – not sweepers)
The other issues I have spoken about are more personal items. The heavy clutch I see is fixed in the 2016 model which uses lighter clutch springs. I think I could easy improve the brakes with better pads. The handlebar height now I have the raising kit fitted is ok.
The FJR is known as a super reliable bike, something that attracted me enough to try one and see how it works out for me. The fact that it sells for almost 1/2 the price of its rivals here in Japan and does not come burdened with expensive servicing was really just icing on the reliability cake and not a decisive item. Still that is a hell of a lot of money left over for tyres, fuel, hotels and the good stuff – touring being the point of having this kind of motorcycle. Please give one some consideration.
I guess all this reads a bit different to motorcycle magazines and forums. Journalists and publishers need to tread carefully with reviews if they want to keep working with that manufacturer so you won’t find too much truth there. Online zines have ‘reviews’ which read like press releases and blogs are increasingly showing paid articles. Honest feedback has been diluted down to a few non committal lines. Forums are not independent these days, most are controlled by people with a financial interest. I was asked to leave an FJR owners forum because I started asking things they did not want to hear. So amongst the lies and marketing hype here is a rare honest account of one persons experience. It’s not all glowing praise but given the bike is 14+ years old design it can still be viewed as a pretty good score card given most just minor things I dislike.
One year ownership thoughts.
Well in the first 12 months I was thinking should I be on something else. However it is still currently in my garage. (see my updates above to fixing the understeer which has gone a long way to helping me keep the bike). I rode a tour on a Kawasaki Versys 650 in Ireland which prior to riding I had wondered should I perhaps be on that sort of machine. The adventure/touring bikes are wildly popular now and threaten to kill off the touring models as so many touring riders have gone for the ADV look even for pure road riding as it is very much the in style. However whilst the Versys was lovely in the corners it was far less comfortable elsewhere.
First of all I was surprised how much the wind buffeting annoyed me (having so easy forgotten the VStrom in New Zealand which drove me mad with turbulence). I rode naked bikes for years but that was local rides and my small Australian tours were always in summer. Here the best riding can be in cooler seasons and in these conditions I have gotten used to the superb aero dynamics of the FJR, both the fairing and having an electric screen which can be instantly lowered to get air when in traffic. Then the other amenities, I am using the cruise control much more now living in Tokyo. There is not much good local riding so being able to cover 300-400km highway to get somewhere to start a ride is now an important factor. With the FJR I do like the comfort of the whole package but on the tight narrow roads here which are all low speed blind corners the big bike is considerable work.