Possibly the most in depth review of the current series Yamaha FJR which is basically unchanged into 2015 and minor updates 2016.
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 its strengths and weaknesses. I feel the bikes character has never really been fully 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 words relate to how the motorcycle fits my body and my riding style which is going to be unique based on my experiences and current point in life – what suits you is going to be equally unique. Twisty roads here are nothing like what people consider twisty roads in North America. Here many country roads narrow to one lane with blind corners and moss or fallen stones on the lightly used surface, nothing at all like Pacific Coast highway one. And lastly this is a ongoing conversation about my journey with the motorcycle not a static one day review meant to sit comfortably with everyone. I am going to come to love or dislike things over time and this review is dynamic and changing while I own the bike.
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 moved to Japan with a clean slate I got to thinking what sort of riding I would be doing in the future and decided due to it being difficult to do any day rides living in Tokyo I would be focusing on tours of a few days or more. As much as I could tour on any motorcycle I decided that it might be a perfect time in my life to try something built specifically for this as I am not interested in going very fast or having a overly powerful motorcycle – done all that and moved on long ago.
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 poor at deflecting wind. In my experience riding a Versys, Caponord and Vstrom I’d just as soon have a full naked bike as the buffeting and turbulence I experienced on those adventures bikes was too annoying. Yes you can fit a huge screen but then in the traffic even in Spring or Autumn you bake and often the oversized screens have wind vacuum issues. 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 first 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 rude people with elitist bad attitude. The Yamaha shop on other hand was full of down to earth people who made me feel really at ease and confident to purchase from. That really was a big part of swaying me away from the BMW along with high confidence about the brands reliability and the icing was significant price difference although I had no set budget and a fully optioned RT was and still is within my means should I wish.
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 maneuvering would be. I ride scooters all the time in SE Asia and at car park speed on and off the throttle the automatic clutch take up is easy as a push bike to balance being so light but I simply could not picture this being the same on a large heavy machine. The reviews of the electronic shift are hard to find and then the usual moto journalism lacking any details.
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 with local speed limits and as there is ample torque available from 1000rpm. 2000-4000rpm covers 90 percent of the riding I do on backroads and minor highways. 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 higher rpm engine buzz very low but it is certainly not without buzz. It could be shifted up the rev range further perhaps by adding oversized heavy bar ends if you sit on higher speeds on the freeway in your country. Actually if Yamaha made the bars hard rubber isolated mounting like Honda does then the buzz might disappear? (2016 notepad. Hoping back on the FJR after riding the 3 cylinder MT-09 the engine seems so silky smooth compared to the inline 3 raspy engine but at higher speeds sitting at 5000rpm or more then buzz is noticeable and I presume this is why people in USA with the 80 mph speed limits instead of 60 mph here wanted a higher final drive ratio)
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 when premium fuel is much more expensive. (Note the engine computer is set for regular not premium on this Japan model but overseas might be different) 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 any better economy so this is an excellent result, naturally work the engine harder and that sort of economy will vanish. 2016 notepad, still gets same 5.0l per 100km and will deliver 6.0 per 100km at 130/140kph – which is perhaps the highway speed more common for this bike in other countries.
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 more in touring mode and the initial power is softer. City mode would be a good 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 can become slightly fatiguing with the extended twist of the wrist. 2016 notepad – I have gotten used to the extra twist and much prefer the fueling delivered on tour mode so have not been using sport mode at all. Oddly the throttle has a overly firm return spring, something I see first reported 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 but you will adjust and can turn the cruise on for a ‘wrist rest’.
In Japan everything motoring related is about hybrid or eco driving (you think just Prius is hybrid - here every car is a hybrid and recently many plug in vehicles as now everywhere has charge points) it would have been cool from a local point of view if the electronic shift flagship model had perhaps some eco feature, perhaps a city drive idle stop mode or cylinder deactivation when in cruise control mode on highway – not sure this is possible (although if you can think it then it probably is but I am just thinking out loud). Anyway back to real world and what you 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 has 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. 2016 notepad – the Eco mode only displays up to 4000rpm so riding in countries with highway speeds above 100kph/60mph may not be able to see this on the highway.
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. 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 (2016 notepad - or I 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 caving in to the press and the final ratio is slightly taller reducing the rpm by a small amount which I acknowledge in places where the highway speeds are 80mph or 140kph the lower rpms would be welcomed)
That aside the gearbox itself is notchy 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 ker-thud and slight jerk of the bike. That is perhaps the clutch not the box per se. I was calling the gearbox agricultural initially but it is fine and shifts precise and the issue is this clutch… (Update 2016 – I really have come to like the way the gearbox shifts so positively. Not many bikes I have ridden that at the lights will give a solid engagement into gears up or down while engine is idling and clutch is pulled. Usually if I arrive at the light in 3rd on a bike I need to feather the clutch out slightly engaging it to get the gears to shift down to 1st but the FJR’s 5 speed has no such issue)
The clutch is bit old school in the amount of effort needed to operate. It is no exaggeration one of the heaviest hydraulic motorcycle clutches I have experienced. I need to always put the bike in neutral when stopped in traffic as after a few hours riding I cannot comfortably hold the clutch in for any length of time. By the end of a long ride day I sometimes groan when coming to a red light as it means having to operate the clutch when my wrist is already fatigued from doing so all day. A larger more modern master cylinder is desperately needed. (Update 2016, seems the issue may actually have been clutch springs since the 2016 model has had these replaced with lighter items so future bikes will not have this)
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 belt reliability. I can just ignore the lash with the shaft drive but it is certainly there and at times I notice it a lot. Some people might find it bothersome but all these big tourers are shaft drive. (2016 notepad – well there certainly is something to be said about the throttle feeling connected with chain and even more so with belt compared to shaft drives. I actually am leaning away from the shaft drive feel of late)
Brakes are linked with ABS. I find they need a strong pull on the lever to slow the bike down. They do not always deliver as much stopping power as I would like. This may very well be simply due to the mass of this 296kg kerb weight bike in motion but I would like the hand brake to require little less effort. 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. When needed the brakes do haul the bike down but not as good as they should. (2016 notepad – ok the issue is not all the pistons in the front brakes are activated when you use the front brake lever. You have to also apply the foot rear brake which then lets the other front brake pistons activate in the calibers to apply full braking. No I am not making this up and it has to be one of the stupidest things I have come across on a motorcycle. Anyone who has done advanced rider training would have learnt not to use the rear brake but here Yamaha are forcing you to unlearn that and apply the rear brake just to get normal front brake force, this is such a huge negative feature for me)
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. (Update 2015 – I do wish now the seat was heated like the BMW, especially on cold wet days. Perhaps this could be added on with a cover. The standard seat is supremely comfortable)
The position of the handle bars is poor for me. I have long arms and am 6 foot but they are too far forward and lower than one would expect. This puts the rider into a odd semi sports bike ride position. 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 maybe another 10mm. 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 sold in long time 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. Perhaps the lead designer of the FJR is like a huge Sumo. Actually I wonder if the FJR is actually designed in the USA and for the USA much like the Gold Wing.
Wind protection is close to 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. (2016 notepad – because it is often cold riding here I actually have come to want a little more wind protection. That would mean the bike working less well when it warms up so I think the balance is a very difficult one and perhaps the current setup up is right all things considered but here in Japan riding in single digit temps I am wanting the screen and upper fairing to protect me a little more where as if I was back in Australia I think the current screen would be the maximum needed even in winter)
The instrumentation or dash is a generous array and one of the best I have encountered on any 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 does not disappear once moving as is so often said about other large bikes. The weight is not positioned low making the bike top heavy. For example all 25 litres fuel seems to be sitting up high and wide. 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 talking of this, access to the battery and fuses is 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).
The lack of mass centralization shows on the road. If I compare to the R1200RT the FJR is never as light to steer. (the RT is 50kg lighter for a start but also I think positions the weight much lower) The FJR requires significant input to initiate turn in which is hard to achieve with the bars so far away from the rider. It also does not always want to hold a lean angle seeking to understeer requiring the rider 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 4 brands of tyres) and this is not the issue. It is very noticeable at lower speeds where the bike fights hard to stand up and run straight. I have never encountered a bike that hates holding a lean angle as much as the FJR.
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 better. So COG and weight and wheelbase and steering angle are the main attributes I will be looking at. When wearing new tyres the problem is less noticeable but as the tyres wear the bike becomes significantly slower to steer.
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 favorite 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 awhile 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 overseer 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 behavior 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 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! well sort of. The new dog bone rear links that I confirmed with the supplier to be 30mm raise has really made a difference. With the new links fitted the FJR turns 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 the bike really tips in easier (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.
2016 – Michelin Pilot Road 4 GT tyres just fitted. Also I am trying a 190/55 on the rear. Initial impression is the turn in is much slower and not able to say this is the tyre tread design or the 190. The 190/55 if I believe the owners forums should correct the speedo which is 10% under the real speed and the extra height of this tyre should offset the affect of the width. Time will tell…
Righto I can update this now after a 9 day tour on the Michelins. First of all the 190/55 profile does not correct the speedo as reported on the owners forum. Typically the speedo is out about 10%. In testing my speedo used to read 108-109kph when doing 100kph and now at the same 108-109 (the maximum the cruise control can be set to) the real speed is 103kph so only a slight alteration.
Wet and very cold these tyres are sensational. But compared to the Angel GT’s the PR4 are very slow to turn and has taken the FJR steering backwards wiping out some of the gains I had made in steering improvements and needing the bike to be manhandled around every slow corner again. If thinking of fitting these then don’t, get the Angel GT’s which steer far nicer and are almost as nice in wet anyway.
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 and it is fine and on sweepers ground can be covered as quick as I would want to ride any bike on public roads these days however the tight corners the FJR is a bit big and I often I am back to car cornering speed as the bike is simply too heavy in the tight corners. 2016 notepad, the high speed dampening on the forks is actually quite poor.
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 weight of the bike backwards. At this point you also have less traction on the ground. I have already lost grip and balance
once twice 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 and mass)
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 when cornering. 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 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 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 I see Yamaha have updated FJR 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 this from cars. 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 mostly and limit my time on expressways. 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. The FJR actually works fantastic on the expressway at 130-140kph, I suspect that is the speed it would be used at on USA interstates.
And that is where the FJR works best. 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 in the USA. 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 in Japan on some of the really tighter mountain roads it is too big – but on some roads here a 250cc road trail is all that you need.
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 lightly scuffed after a few months but that is not uncommon riding any bike in boots they rub together. The screen had some slight marks but a few applications of plexus plastic cleaner returned it to very clear. 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 better.
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 Moto Guzzi V7 or CB11100EX but these are not as good for touring in often cool or cold air so as stated in the beginning I chose the FJR for function not form. But I think it is far better looking than the 2014 R1200RT which has a terribly ugly front on it.
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 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. (2016 notepad – I use this compartment for toll road tickets, very handy to drop them in there rather than fiddle about to put into a pocket at the toll gate)
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 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 (yes tested this and they do). 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. I might start using these more instead of my bag on the rear seat since it leaked water twice on recent tours.)
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 lost the daytime running light bar but gained turn lights)
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 but perhaps being maybe USA designed these are for California where it can reach 46 degrees as I experienced when there.
The FJR has many great points. I think it is a superb long distance 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 heavier and much slower steering than the BMW R1200RT. Most likely due to the higher COG, especially with a full fuel load but there are other factors at work too. It would seem to be designed to be very stable which matches the feel most USA riders want judging by what is written on the owners forums. On sweeping roads that works fine but on tight corner roads it is both too top heavy and too hard to turn. Ultimately the sort of roads you ride or country you live in will decide if the FJR works well for you. It would be perfect in North America and much of Australia but here it limits the roads I can enjoy riding and is not a good match for the tighter corners.
My other issues are just my own personal preference. The clutch and brake controls and the handlebar positions may not bother anyone else.
The FJR is known as a super reliable bike, something that was a strong attraction for me and this reliability does not come burdened with expensive frequent servicing. If you can forego the electric shifting gearbox and set up your suspension manually the price of the A spec model is almost 1/2 it’s European rivals here which is a lot of icing on the reliability cake. That was not the decisive factor for me however the money saved will pay for all my touring and ownership costs if I can come to live with it. It is certainly a motorcycle worth considering if you are a touring rider.
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 detail 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. Even forums are not independent these days, most are controlled by people with a financial interest. I was asked to leave the FJR owners forum because I started asking things they did not want published. But as I stated at the top, this is about my ownership journey.
2015 ownership update.
Well at first I was thinking should I be on something else before I got the bars raised and started to modify things to reduce the understeer. I rode a tour on a Kawasaki Versys 650 in Ireland which had me wondering perhaps I should be on that that sort of machine instead. The adventure/touring bikes are wildly popular now and threaten to kill off the touring models as many touring riders have gone for the ‘Long Way Round’ look, actually many riders that never do more than short day rides are now on GS’s fitted out with gear to ride around the world. However whilst my 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 at low pace 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 to deflect the cold but which can be instantly lowered to get air when in traffic. Then the other amenities, I am using the cruise control to relieve boring or slower traffic roads. With the FJR I do like the comfort of the whole package but on the tighter roads here I want a lighter bike.
2016 ownership update.
It is now February 2016, I have been away riding a Yamaha MT-09 (FZ-09) in New Zealand for a couple of weeks over winter and upon returning decided to get the FJR1300 out and take it for new tyres. Riding my bike to the shop the immediate impression after riding the MT-09 for 9 days was how slow and heavy the steering is, despite all the alterations I have already made it feels huge and clumbersome after the MT-09.
March 2016 I have completed a 9 day tour on the FJR. I updated about the PR4 tyres in the steering section above. Basically they are slow steering and the 55 profile does not correct the speedo. This tour was in the cold and I could not have done it on a naked bike like the MT-09 but I had a number of times when I cursed how heavy and slow steering the FJR is. And I have focused my touring on wider and less twisty roads the last year to match the FJR and that means leaving out many more interesting backroads that are one lane where the FJR is too big. So as I explore Japan more I am going to reach a point where I may want something more versatile.
The new 2016 Yamaha FJR has been released with some good changes to lights and clutch but alas become even more heavy, some reports are 296kg is the new dry weight so with oil and water and 25 litres of fuel it might now be around 320kg ready to ride. I would never consider buying a new one with that weight. This is a motorcycle that desperately needed to lose weight not gain it. If this is true I guess it has slipped from being a sport tourer to just another fat tourer made for the US market like the K1600GT and Goldwing. I have a front end vibration now with my FJR (not wheel balance as far as I can tell) and the engine stalls from hot start until running a few minutes so I have to decide if I spend money to get these items fixed or run it as is with existing tyres and then get rid of it end of the season.