Note

In case you overlook it, the orange highlighted text found throughout articles in this blog are links to expand those articles, view ride maps or see further information. Regards IC.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

2014 Yamaha FJR1300 detailed review

(Now includes long term update and 2015 model is unchanged so this review applicable to it too)

I have now completed a few tours and 15,000km (as of 2015) on a 2014 FJR1300 and feel able to give a detailed review of the bike and talk about some good and bad points the bike has that have not been explored in the other brief reviews online that seem mostly based on short rides. Please bear in mind my comments relate to how the bike works riding in Japan on twisty roads found here which is a different environment to North America or my home country Australia. First a recap how I ended up with a FJR1300. (Feel free to skip down to the beginning of the review titled Drivetrain as this section is about how I came to own a FJR and why I did not buy other similar motorcycles)

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 for one. If you have never experienced it you have no idea how good it is on long tours but wanting this eliminated many motorcycles on sale at the time of purchase May 2014. Decent protection from cold wind to extend the riding season was next in my mind as the best riding here is in the cooler months. That then eliminated the adventure bikes from my list since the bikini screens in my experience do not offer much in way of protection. Lastly reasonable cornering clearance, which eliminated the touring cruiser motorcycles. So now 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 (as of writing) 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. Just about then came the stop riding order by BMW of the new R1200RT due to suspension failure and that made me examine the brands reliability. Forums seem to be full of previous owners with tales of breakdowns or obscenely expensive part replacement just out of warranty. And the brand rates poorly in reliability reports so I was uncertain what to do. A trip to my local dealer dulled my desire for one when I encountered so much bad attitude which is a shame as I still think it might be the better bike in some ways.

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 simply left it on standard for the rest of the tour. After riding dirt bikes I lost my sensitivity regarding suspension, long as it is compliant for the bumps I don’t care. 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 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’.

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Drive train

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. 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 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 go literally be 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 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 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 former motorcycle racers. We have them to thank for being fed press releases masquerading as reviews with a couple of lines by these word smiths on how the latest standard/commuting/touring bike is ok if that’s your thing and that they could not wait to get back to testing the latest 200hp race bike which is so much faster than the 199hp rival one.

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. The twin mufflers give a nice balanced look and I presume allow a more free flowing system than one muffler but at the cost of extra weight.

Journalists, perhaps burdened with finding something irrelevant to criticise, have highlighted the gear box not having a 6th gear. But since top gear ratios rarely change in 6 speed Vs 5 speed boxes it’s food for internet trolls but actually nothing of real importance. 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 and out of urban areas simply leave the bike in 4th the whole time I am not on a highway. On the highway the bike is revving at about 3500rpm and you can roll on and pass anything in a blink. Seriously another gear in between the existing five won’t improve anything.

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. Reminds me of shifting a old car with 3 speed auto into drive. I was calling the gearbox agricultural initially but it has improved with use and perhaps just old school would be better description. So in that context Yes it should be updated however this could just be a revise not a whole new box. At least it finds neutral easy unlike so many other 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. Another old car analogy comes to mind, I once owned a old ford with a 351 V8 and ‘Top loader’ 4 speed which also required excessive effort to disengaged the clutch. 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. Final drive is via shaft which is excellent. Quiet with little lash and of course no lube or chain noise when riding.  

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 am used to. This may simply be due to the extra weight of this bike in motion. Like the clutch I get a sore hand by days end such is the pressure needed to be applied on the lever to stop the bike and I am not talking from high speed, just regular riding. The hydraulics like the clutch are underpowered. New bikes with more weight and bigger engines such as the BMW 6 cylinder have light and smooth hand controls so 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. Really at odds with the superb modern cockpit and multiple electronic rider aids. It is not impossible to adjust to, just at times makes me feel I am back on something like my old Triumph Speed Triple from ‘98. 

Ergonomics

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. 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.     

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 13 year production life. 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 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 excellent in rain providing very good protection when on the move.

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 the weight not positioned well and so the bike is very top heavy. For example 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 placed for mass centralization. While on 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 ultra low amp for phone or GPS current draw only.  

This lack of mass centralization shows on the road. If I compare to the BMW R1200RT you can feel the weight of the BMW in the car park or petrol station but once moving it is light to steer. The FJR when carrying it’s designed fuel load never feels light on the road. It requires a lot of input to initiate turn in which is hard to achieve with the bars so far away from the rider. Then once into the corner it can often require further bar input to hold a line. This tendency for the FJR to understeer is not due to brake use or off camber roads or under inflated tyres as the owners forums would try and blame. It just seems to be a few factors combining. Long wheel base, heavy, high COG, narrow bars positioned far forward and lazy steering angle. Now as I clocked up hours on board I started to detect that when the fuel load drops to 70 % you notice a change and then below 50% the bike steers much better. Also when wearing new tyres the problem is 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 a few litres fuel in tank the FJR will feel nothing like it does in its normal operating mode. 

Update 1. I have tried Bridgestone and Metzeler tyres so far and the problem is similar on both. 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 and rates the OEM Bridgestone's as his least favourite tyre on the FJR and the Metzelers also a poor match, so that gives me some optimism that tyres may yet improve things. 

Update 2. I have now raised the fork legs in the triple clamps 20mm, i.e. lowered the front ride height which has sharpened/increased the steering angle. This has made a difference to turn in effort. Less so the tighter the corner radius but still an improvement especially as the fuel load drops. Fill it up and the steering returns to slow and heavy so the amount of weight on the front end and COG are very influential items with the FJR’s steering behaviour.

Update 3. To recap, I got 6000km from the Metzeler Z8’s which never felt right and is far too low a distance. From 5000km they had noticeable scalloping on the front that would make the bike shake under deceleration. I then put Bridgestone BT23’s on which I got about 9000km from and they performed more consistently than the Z8’s but as they wore the steering became heavier to the point of being excessive. I have now fitted Pirelli Angel GT tyres and completed a 4 day tour and my initial impression is a noticeable improvement in the steering from the BT23’s. The FJR feels much better when leaned over not trying to understeer on mild lean then fall into oversteer on full lean which was very noticeable on the Metzelers (that steering behaviour I see was also noted by the editor of MCN back when the 2006 Gen 2 model was tested). The effort required for turn in and change of direction is probably not improved and turn in speed remains glacial compared to the BMW RT. I think it is not something that can change much being limited by the weight, wheelbase and high COG. I do not have enough distance on the tyres to say they perform more consistently as the wear – which is the claim from Pirelli but will update this later.

Update 4. I want to mention that at low speed upright in traffic the FJR is very well balanced. The high COG is noticeable in cornering but when vertical the bike sits nicely on the road. In traffic I have started not shifting back to first gear, just leaving the bike in second gear because with the torque I can easy start in second from the lights and not have to use the clutch again until I stop at next lights since 2nd gear will easy cover urban speeds here of between 0-50kph.

The suspension does a good job soaking up bumps, dampening is not as plush as the BMW but the electronic suspension model could 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 would have to 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.

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. It is not hard to make rest stops and refuels coincide as I have done for years with small fuel tanks but it is nice to not have so many of my rests stops at petrol stations and not to be constantly looking at the fuel gauge and doing the maths on the next refuel all the time. It is like a burden lifted from my shoulders when riding. The down side 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.

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 in one of the few bikes that does have good lighting. 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 and fetched fuel but by the time we were on the road again it was pitch black. However 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. On that ride into Armidale I hit a rabbit at high speed. I had a fraction of a second notice as it jumped into my lights, not enough time to even roll off the the throttle but fortune once again shined on me and I was fine. If it had been a kangaroo I would have been dead.

The heated grips work very well. They have three levels of heat which are all sensible and useable unlike some grips which go from too zero 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.

The electronic cruise control feature I wanted so much that it limited my candidates is wonderful even if 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 both as maximum speed and  it cannot be engaged for that speed until you drop down below if going faster. The speedo at an indicated 108 kph is 8 kph fast so actual speed is exactly 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 on the highway. 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.

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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 look popular on many small cars in Japan. 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. No issues except the heel plates.

Looks are very subjective. I personally like the classic naked bike look of the 60’s like the CB750. Modern bikes I like 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.

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 cleaning cloth inside. 

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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.

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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 then weight is less of a consideration on the FJR. 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 market lights and I regret not getting this done by the dealer as it would have assisted with being seen perhaps but a set of driving lights mounted lower to form a triangle is said to work better.

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.

Summary

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. Lots of torque in a fuel efficient big engine, cruise control, comfortable seating with good cockpit aerodynamics. With the screen raised you can ride long distance in comfort.

Compared to its main competitor it is noticeably heavier to ride than the BMW R1200RT likely due to the lack of mass reduction or centralisation. The high COG of the FJR with a full fuel load and how it feels and rides when in that operating mode is something I think needs improving and any potential owner needs to experience before making a purchase decision. On the expressways this heavy bike is fine and where there is high cross wind like found often on the elevated highways here it is actually a bonus however on real twisty roads the R1200RT is much easier and more enjoyable.

The other issues I have spoken about are more personal items. I find the heavy clutch and brakes fatiguing but then I come from bikes with more modern hydraulics where two fingers can operate either so you may not find this an issue. The bars even with the raising kit in place sit further away than the BMW RT or even the Kawasaki Concours. How that fits will depend on if you like to lean forward or prefer neutral touring position.

The FJR is known as a super reliable bike and it sells for 1/2 the price of its rivals here in Japan and you are not burdened with expensive servicing like owning a BMW. That is a hell of a lot of money left over for tyres, fuel, hotels and touring fun if it suits.

Afterword

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 my questions ‘might hurt the brand’. So amongst the lies and marketing hype here is a rare honest account of one persons experience which is not controlled by nor can be bullied by anyone.

But wait there’s more – one year ownership wrap up - with a surprise!

Well after 14 months I initially decided I wanted to sell the FJR and look for something else for the reasons listed above. A little fatiguing the heavy hand controls and heavy steering when riding in a place like Japan. However it is still currently in my garage and maybe my views are changing. I rode a tour on a Kawasaki Versys 650 which I thought would be the sort of motorcycle best suited to replace the FJR. The adventure/touring bikes are wildly popular now and I thought one might work for me however riding the Versys was like a smack in the face as to what the FJR does so well. By comparison the Versys is certainly much nicer handling in the corners but also less comfortable in so many ways.

First of all I was surprised how much the wind buffeting annoyed me. I rode naked bikes for years but I have simply gotten used to the superb aero dynamics of the FJR, both the fairing and having a electric screen. Then the other amenities, the excellent seating, leg room and heated grips. The weight is a negative in corners but it sure smooths out the ride everywhere else and being constantly bounced around on the Versys got old pretty fast. Then the fuel load on the FJR affects things but I sure missed it then having to refuel every 200 odd km on the Versys. 

So now I find myself in a position where I feel I have perhaps been too critical on the FJR however there is no denying a few of the items I mentioned need refreshing however I am also no longer able to consider going back to a naked or adventure bike. The luxury of the FJR is winning me over and I find myself now just wishing for a revised FJR not another bike altogether.

11 comments:

  1. Intriguing stuff on the gearbox and Yamaha's 1990's mentality, a sentiment which I can fully subscribe to after having owned a XT660Z Tenere for three years. That bike too had a gearbox that probably has a picture in the dictionary for the term "agricultural". Terribly clunky, esp in first to second. No comparison to other dual sports I have ridden. Reliable bikes, but slick they are not. Now I own a KTM Duke, since I stay mostly on the road, and can say, the attitude in terms of innovation is an eye opener in comparison. Maybe the new MT range is a sign of change for Yamaha.
    Anyways, good review, great stuff in contrast to magazine reviews, which are rubbish most of the time.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I have a 2014 FJR The putting in gear from stop just pull leaver rev engine a little let it go to idle put in gear you want even feel it on up-shifts just slite pull of leaver and quick shift is smooth full pull and slow shift clunky on down shift make shift the instant your pulling leaver work throttle just like a car seems to work well bike corners well have no chicken strips but seems to drive in hard on downhill at low speed may be me laying on bars to heavy

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  3. You sound like you'd love a honda nc750x.. That is if you can do with the lesser horsepower, no traction control. And accessories that dont come as standard (heated grips,bigger screen, etc) lol

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  4. Mine has a slick shifting box, the clutch seems easy; the brakes don't need much of a pull to get abs activation. Bars are just slightly low and narrow, but work fine. I do not understand any issues you had with any of these. They all seem slick and on par with other modern bikes I've owned.
    The FJR is a dream on sweepers. Words can not describe how well it works between 60 and 130mph. No chicken strips and just a little scrape now and then on the pegs. Until the tires get square. Then it sucks like he said. This is how motorcycles act with square tires.
    I can fit an iPhone (with Otter box) and my wallet (fat with $ not spent on a BMW) in the dash box.
    Battery is in a stupid place, especially regarding the lack of access to it. Completely agree here.
    Vibration is minimal, but you can tell there is an engine running, I guess. You can spin up the rear tire coming off turns before the tc kicks in. Engine is so quiet and smooth you gotta look at the tack to keep if off the rev limiter.
    U turns are about normal for a big sport touring bike. Turns sharper than an r6. No big deal. Works fine.
    You can see the LEDs when the engine is running and lights are on.
    The adjustable fairing deflectors do what they are supposed to do.
    This is a tire shredding bike. But very smooth and docile when trying to act nice. I don't understand how the author had all those issues.

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  5. Excellent real-world review. FJR is one of the top picks to be my ride when I move to Japan, but I haven't ridden one yet. Your description on its "flaws" and its "strengths" are more or less what I was expecting, but the clanky gearbox, unwillingness to change position in-turn and being top-heavy all the time were things I had no idea about.

    The strength of the FJR lies in wide sweepers and highways. I am ok with the first, but I avoid highways all the time. So that probably makes it less suited to my needs.

    I have lately owned a Honda Pan-European, a Honda Crosstourer and a Yamaha Fazer 8. I do prefer touring bikes, but I love riding twisties more than anything else. I think I will have to do with a little less wind / weather protection and go with a Super Tenere or another Honda Crosstourer. I would totally like a BMW GS or RT, but I ride close to 40k kms a year on average, and doubt any boxer will live with me for a long time without any issues.

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    1. It is a good bike but could be made better if they just refreshed it a little. It still would be ideal for somewhere like Australia where I wanted one but they were twice the price. Here so many more roads are tight and twisty than I first imagined and now find the FJR is starting to limit my riding so I am looking at what else might still be good as the FJR at getting me to the riding roads as well as then be fun once there. Tough, maybe impossible to be best of both worlds.

      If money was no option perhaps the new Multistrada now that it has cruise control for the highway. Perhaps the RT1200 but evidence that a boxer can be reliable is lacking and service costs are obscene. Even smaller and lighter would work best once in the mountains here. Things like the Versys 650 and that size would be better fit.

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    2. Özgür Taşkın is going to love the FJR when he gets his as most of the things the reviewer criticise don't even exist except for the shift from neutral into 1st and also the placement access and top heaviness of the battery.
      I am now on my 2nd FJR, I did 156,000km's on my first with no trouble except for a recon on the slave cylinder and have now done 65,000km's on the latest one.
      I am a short 168cm high and 70kg and have no trouble throwing it around in the twisties and having fun with all but the best of the sports bike riders.
      Tires are not a problem and I get 8,000 to 10,000 k's from each set but I wouldn't touch the pilots the reviewer suggests are good as they are the only tyres that have ever given my sphincter a work out.
      Three of the guys I ride with regularly have also had FJR's and also swear by the FJR and we have travelled many 1000's of k's together.
      The one thing I now find a little difficult is the weight of the bike when manoeuvring it around in the garage as I am now in my late 60's and alas am not as strong as I once was.
      But once I get going the bike is as nimble as a child's turning pony.
      I really don't know how this guy can give this much underrated bike such a poor review.
      Oh well I guess we are all different but I would hate to see anyone put off this great bike because of such a well written but misguided review.

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    3. I tend to agree with Ross, and I'm confused by some of the errors in the otherwise honest and we'll written review. The battery cover panel is a pain to remove (until easily modified) on the older models, but on the 2014 model it takes less than two minutes to remove or replace.

      I'm coming from a much larger and heavier Honda GL1800 Gold Wing, and the FJR's weight and handling seem relatively agile to me, so I suspect a lot of what a new rider feels will depend on his previous ride. I've installed the very reasonably priced and easily changed Touring windshield from Yamaha (4" taller, 2" wider, 25% thicker than the original). The wind protection is better, but not as much as I'd hoped. Likewise for the 1" tall handlebar risers, better, but I stll wish the hand grips were a little higher and maybe 2" further back.
      I'm confused by the seat. It feels too firm, yet it always feels comfortable! I get a little butt burn after a few hours, but it goes away quickly once off the bike.
      I can't rate the sporty handling because of my back problem. There's a wide yellow streak running top to bottom. But I will say that I'm more than satisfied, and that describes my feeling about the brakes as well.
      Yeah, the clutch pull is noticeably hard at standstill, but I don't notice it while riding.
      By the way, I'm 68 years old, 6' tall, and weigh 260 lbs. (I quit smoking and quickly gained 55 lbs.!) I like riding fast, but I don't corner fast. To me the engine is nothing short of amazing, so smooth and so strong!
      This 2014 FJR1300. Is my first non-Honda street bike is a very long time, but I was sold by the FJR's standard features (to include it's amazing digital display capabilities!), its reputation for great reliability with minimal maintenance (26,000 mile valve adjustments!), it's overall good looks (very objective, I know), and its huge and loyal fan base.
      While I admire some of the finer characteristics of the BMW's and Ducatis, I am not prepared to spend thousands of dollars and many hours each year to maintain a $25-30,000 motorcycle. Not many bikes are as reliable and trouble free as most Hondas, but the FJR 100 has just such a reputation.
      I don't consider my 2014 FJR1300 the perfect bike, but it has so far proven far more than just satisfactory for my needs and wants. I like it!

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  6. I totally agree with the RT reliability issue, or the lack of evidence at least, and I can't put much faith in Ducati either. I think bikes with cruise controls are usually the biggest bikes available, thus not the most noteworthy when it comes to tight roads. Hence the dilemma.

    I think I will get a SuperTenere or MT-09 Tracer. The first might be marginally better than the FJR in twisties, if any at all, but it is a newer bike with excellent wind protection and cruise control. The latter is everything you (and I) ask for, minus the cruise control.

    If you consider mid-size bikes like Versys, check out the new Tracer. I know what it costs in Japan, and it's simply a steal to be honest.

    PS: I am amazed how much information you have available on your blog. Inspirational, thank you so much.

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    1. You might be right about the Tracer. Never really noticed it before but same price as a new Versys around 1 million Yen it seems a lot more bike for the money.

      I have not given up on the FJR completely yet. Being based in Nagoya there was countless good roads within reach same day. But now based near Tokyo there is limited same day riding options and long haul to get to the better riding areas. I also love the full electric screen and wind protection which extends the ride season into otherwise too cold weather.

      Lots for me to consider yet.

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  7. I bought a 2006 FJR about two weeks ago, looking for a bit more sporty than the 2004 Kawi Vulcan Nomad 1500 I was riding. The first thing I noticed was the very heavy clutch pull, much more than the Nomad, which also has a hydro clutch. Haven't had any long sweepers yet, but the Yami felt pretty good on the tame hill roads around here. The first thing I want to get is a set of HeliBars. I'll ride it for a while, and then re-evaluate.

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