Welcome

Hi and welcome to a blog mostly about motorcycle touring. Motorcycle Paradise started as a simple web page with a few photos in 1994. Back then I was just another "jackass on a motorcycle" (thanks Fuzzy Galore) so some of the content ported over to here might seem as dated as the fluro graphics on the bike I had then. More recent information for Australian roads can be found in my ride reports and suggestions. Lately I am riding in Japan - hope you enjoy visiting this blog.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

2014 Yamaha FJR1300 detailed review

I have now completed over 7000km 10000km on a 2014 FJR1300 so 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. First a recap how I ended up with a FJR1300. (Feel free to skip down to the beginning of the review titled Drivetrain)

After 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.

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 but wanting this eliminated many motorcycles on sale. Decent protection from cold wind to extend the riding season was on my mind as it gets mighty cold here in Japan. This then unfortunately eliminated the adventure bikes from my list. 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 with the combination I wanted.I half had my mind made up to get a BMW R1200RT that I had previously ridden in North America but that one had some electrical faults that plagued the screen and cruise control and heated grips. Then the recent stop riding order by BMW of the new R1200RT due to rear electronic suspension failure made me question the brands quality control. The FJR1300 at 1/2 the price of the other bikes was too tempting. 

I chose the Japan designated 1300A model without the electronic gear shift or electronic suspension. I played with electronic suspension on the R1200RT previously then 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 I don’t care. I would however option 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. I felt same about the electronic gear shift option.

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’.

IMG_1818

Drive train

The 1300cc engine is very powerful and turbine smooth up to nearly 4000rpm but then it gets a buzz that you feel in the seat, pegs and in the bars that is at times intrusive. Fortunately I rarely exceed this rev point such is the amount of torque available from 1000rpm. Passing anything 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. Once run in the engine consumes an average of 5.0 litre per 100km which is pretty good considering the size and power however work the engine harder and that economy will disappear.

There are two engine modes Touring and Sport however the engine output is exactly same either mode, the only difference is the throttle needs to be turned more in touring mode. This is not my imagination but has been confirmed so the Touring mode perhaps could have been called Rain mode and the Sport mode labelled normal – but then the other sounds better. The Touring mode becomes fatiguing with the extended twist of the wrist needed and since the bike already has traction control I am not sure if it is needed at all. The throttle has a somewhat firm return spring, something else I don’t see any need for since it is purely electronic ride by wire throttle with no mechanical apparatus that needs to be closed/shut off by spring. It would have been nice if the touring mode could have been a Eco engine mode for highway to save fuel and if the throttle could have taken advantage of being ride by wire and made lighter.

Overall I like the engine and the economy is surprising but the vibrations around 4000rpm are little disappointing considering how long Yamaha have had been producing this engine in this bike. Comparing to the Suzuki 1200cc Bandit engine I toured in NZ or the Honda 1100 in my CB those engine were both a bit smoother. The engine does however sound great, Yamaha have done a excellent job with the exhaust which while meeting the required noise limits offers a good (for standard mufflers) sound feedback to the rider.

Some journalists, perhaps burdened with finding something irrelevant to criticise rather than speak about the real faults, 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 one of these things that the inexperienced might nod at but everyone else knows is nothing of importance. All you are getting with another gear is a further ratio split on the way to top which is completely unnecessary and in fact unwanted on an engine with this much torque in a touring bike. Small capacity motorcycles can benefit greatly from extra gears but on the FJR I often shift from 1st to 3rd and then shortly after to 4th all in the space of a 150 metres from the lights and simply leave the bike in 4th the whole time I am not on a highway between speeds of about 30kph to 90kph.

That aside the gearbox itself is unfortunately very clunky, more so than even the Harley Davidson gearbox in my Buell which people love to ridicule but I found acceptable. The FJR gearbox makes the HD one seem smooth by comparison. Click into 1st at the lights results in a very loud ker-thud and slight jerk of the bike. Reminds me of shifting a old V8 car from the 70’s with 3 speed auto from park to reverse. It’s a very agricultural or old school gearbox and so in that context Yes it should be updated however 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 the heaviest hydraulic motorcycle clutch I have ever experienced. I have 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 getting the electronic shift 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. Final drive is via shaft which is excellent. Quiet with little lash and of course no mess from lube.  

Brakes are linked with ABS. They need a strong pull on the lever to slow the bike down. They have a slightly weak initial bite and do not deliver the stopping power I am used to but this may partly be due to the 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 speed, just regular urban riding. Different pads might help but the hydraulics are like the clutch insufficient. The brakes should be a bit better in my opinion, there are some powerful solutions out there now and a larger master cylinder would have made the effort to stop the bike much less. I have purchased new levers that can be adjusted to sit closer to the bars thus provide better leverage than the factory levers which sit so far away I can barely reach them despite having long fingers. This has helped reduce effort and I now try shift between 3rd to 5th not using the clutch to also help. Really no excuse to make a bike like this in 2014.

The combination of the above described brakes, clutch and gearbox at times makes me feel I am riding a older bike rather than a 2014 model. It is not impossible to adjust to, just not what I was expecting.

Ergonomics

Seating is excellent. The seat is height adjustable and this was another feature I wanted. 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 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 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 is so small to be of little benefit. The bike needs a fair bit of 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 design flaw. I fitted a bar riser plate at considerable expense to bring the bars up 25mm and back 40mm which given my long arms has them almost back to a neutral position but they could still come back another 25mm. 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. (and be comfortable)

Wind protection is spot on. The fairing strikes a good balance between protection from cold air and allowing some breeze to the rider in summer. Some reviews have commented that the riders hands are not 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 get fresh air to his hands and into his jacket sleeves from the cuffs if wearing shorty gloves to keep arms cool which makes a big difference to rider comfort. In winter you can always add hand guards or simply use those large windproof bar end mitts to cover your gloves and cuff area but in the high temperatures in California  my arms got heat rash on the R1200RT as so little air circulated.

The electric screen is excellent. Lowered it allows reasonably 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 perhaps the best feature of the FJR for me 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 mountain air then raised if really up high where the air even in summer can be 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.

In very light rain I have been able to simply ride on not needing to put my rain gear on if I maintained a steady speed which was about 65-75kph. However in recent cold morning temperatures 5 degrees I found the wind deflection welcome but perhaps a little less that optimal for cold weather. There was considerable cold air in strong swirl buffeting that made me question if the bike will actually offer sufficient protection to extend the riding into the cooler months more than a less bulky adventure bike might achieve. 

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 a gauges. Maybe that comes from my time riding motocross where you have no gauges. Except around cities where you must be mindful of speed I never refer to instruments at all preferring to ride by my own sense of speed and engine revs.

Over all the cockpit is a nice place to be but only once the bars are raised.

On the road

The FJR is a heavy motorcycle which any buyer would be well aware of however the issue is the weight is not positioned well and so the bike is too top heavy. For example it’s large 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 a fuse blew. Terrible design.

This lack of mass centralization really shows on the road. It produces a bike that is reluctant to turn in to corners or change direction. 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 never feels as light as the BMW on the road. It requires more input to initiate the turn and once into the corner requires further input because it refuses to hold a line, always wanting to run wide. This is not use of brakes and altering suspension and tyre pressure only slightly improves this. I have never ridden a bike that dislikes holding a line while cornering as much as the FJR.

I joined a FJR owners forum to try get some answers. People suggested the FJR is a heavy bike so this behaviour is to be expected and you need to hang off the bike (on a tourer!?) however other heavy bikes don’t exhibit this trait. Even the massive Goldwing is known to steer light and neutral. People suggested the FJR is tyre sensitive, it could be but to what extent? (I will update on this shortly). I have ridden a Suzuki M109R which weighs exactly the same as a FJR yet turned in easy on its massive 240 rear tyre. Add the slower steering geometry on the M109R and by comparison the FJR should fall into a corner on its 180/55 tyres. Another bike the Suzuki 1200 Bandit I toured on in NZ had a rear tyre worn and squared off when I got it but was still light to turn and none of these heavy bikes run wide just because of their weight. I was then told by what appeared to me a Yamaha employee to ‘not say unflattering things as it hurts the brand, nothing is wrong with the bike, the problem is I cannot ride so I should sell it and leave’. Forums are full of trolls but usually they are not also senior members so my faith in the brand did take a hit at this point regardless if a troll.

Tyre update: Just fitted the Bridgestone BT023’s which are the OEM tyres but somehow mine came with Metzeler Z8’s. It is a noticeable improvement in handling not wanting to always run wide. Turn in is glacial slow but once initiated continues without additional effort needed. Previously I had the initial turn effort then a secondary additional force to be applied to the bars moving the bike from say a modest 10 degree lean. I shall update this as the tyres wear since the problem my return once the radius starts to wear.   

The suspension does a reasonable job soaking up bumps but the weight of the bike can sometimes overwhelm it when hitting dips mid corner. Firm things up and you end up with a touring bike that is not comfortable anymore. I am not able to find a good compromise so far . Update – I have backed the front preload off to soft setting and increased the rear spring preload to the firm setting and in conjunction with a bit of extra front rebound damping this is about the best I can get the FJR as far as making it steer better.

The FJR has a huge 25 litre fuel tank and range is 400km+. It is really great to have that long range and something I enjoy having 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 looking at the fuel gauge and doing the maths on the next refuel all the time.  

I usually never ride at night, just too dangerous with wildlife in Australia but here the issue is less and I found myself stuck an hour from my hotel in the mountains as the last light faded. The headlights while looking big are not very powerful and I struggled to make decent pace as I could not make out the road ahead well. By comparison I had a set of HID bulbs in a previous motorcycle caught out at night and the illumination factor would be easy 3 times as good so on a premium model perhaps should be better but most likely not something many people will ever use.

The heated grips work very well. They have three levels 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.

The electronic cruise control that I wanted so much and probably steered me onto the FJR is wonderful even if I don’t use it as much as I expected I would. End of the day I can jump onto the highway and set the screen up and the cruise control on and effortlessly cover a huge distance to get back home that I would never want to attempt on a standard bike. This is where the FJR is seriously good. Long distance riding on highways or on gentle sweeping country roads. Off those into the mountains with tighter corners with frequent change of direction the bike can become too much work. It probably suits many parts of USA hence why it has a fanatical group of followers there. The tour I did in the North Western states would have mostly suited the FJR but I do recall the BMW being so much lighter in the national park forest roads and canyons.

IMG_2129

Fit and finish

The paint in Dusty Grey finish as it is called here looks much much better in real life than in photos and while not as stylish a grey as Toyota put on their Lexus IF-S it is quite a good finish in real life despite looking dull in photos. Plastics and panel alignment seems tight everywhere however the heel plates have already become badly scuffed after just a few months and the silver finish has worn off. The screen is not showing any signs of scratches, the chrome on the mufflers is not discoloured yet and switch gear seems all sturdy. 

There are two storage areas under the seats, one looks 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 compared to say the BMW. It’s actually too small to be of much use. You cannot fit a drink in there which was handy on the BMW. If there wasn’t a huge battery on the right hand side a nice sized storage area could have been added there perhaps. 

IMG_2304

The glove box is full with just a small cleaning cloth. You can fit a toll card in here or some change and that is all.

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 another feature I really enjoy having. It’s good to have the hard cases to put my picnic lunch and drink cooler bag in when on my rides and I also can carry all my wet gear and two seasons of gloves all the time which is handy in a place where it can rain at any time.

The headlights have a LED daytime running light bar but you cannot see this when the lights are on, which in most countries is all the time hardwired. An oddity is the headlights have twin height adjustment knobs in the dash. Along with the LEDs this all seems more pointless extra weight sitting up high in the bike. 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 is let more air escape the motor in summer and seem to serve no benefit to the rider whatsoever. Again it’s a shame as seems like a good idea not implemented well. With variable screen to control air why not same at the side, I’d like to see the headlight adjustment mechanics applied to the side panels instead. 

Summary

The FJR has some really great points. I think it makes a excellent 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 bars raised you to ride a long way in comfort.

A few things miss the mark such as the glove box, LED running lights and adjustable side panels, but probably these are not make or break it points.

More disappointing is the lack of any mass centralisation making the bike difficult to manage at low speed. It feels big and heavy all the time you are riding it, the weight never disappears like other large bikes and at low speed is borderline impractical as simple u turn becomes a 3 point turn for fear of overbalance. The heavy clutch and clunky gearbox need modernisation. You can learn to live with these however the way the bike fights you in corners is something you might want to consider carefully. If you ride twisty roads often then it gets tiresome to constantly have to drag the FJR around corners. Also the bars have to be raised unless you want to be on a tourer with one hand propped on your leg in that ridiculous hunch that sports bike riders adopt on the highway. 

I guess all this sounds a bit different to online motorcycle magazines. 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 criticism elsewhere. Actually it seems hard to find any real reviews of things these days between the all paid comments on blogs and press releases masquerading as tests or reviews on commercial sites. Honest feedback is lacking and actual riding experience gets diluted down to a few non committal lines.

Given the bike and Yamaha’s in general are said to be very reliable and priced half what the R1200RT costs here in Japan (as well as not being burdened with the super expensive BMW servicing) then despite the flaws it is still worth considering. If you can make it work for you then the $13,000 odd saved pays for a awful lot of fuel, food, drinks, tyres and hotels for your touring.

2 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

    ReplyDelete