(Now with long term updates in 2015)
I have now completed about 15000km 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. 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 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 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 on my mind as it gets cold here in Japan compared to my previous country of residence and some of the best riding here is in the cool months. This then unfortunately eliminated the adventure bikes from my list since the bikini screens 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 with the combination wanted. I half had my mind made up to get a BMW R1200RT that I had previously ridden in North America being the lighter of these but the bike I rented 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 examine the brands reliability. Forums seem to be full of previous owners with tales of breakdowns or obscenely expensive servicing Vs new owners defending their big purchase and a few douche bags thrown in saying you only question buying one if money is an issue. Well price does not guarantee reliability as I have already discovered. They are a very old design mechanically so one would imagine to be sorted by now however BMW rate last in reliability reports while Yamaha rates 6 times more reliable. I wish I could find some honest straight talk about bikes from BMW and Ducati but unfortunately it’s either fanatical one eyed devotion or the haters that every brand seems to have. Both these groups are illogical and their opinions are of no value.
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 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’.
The 1300cc engine is powerful and turbine smooth up to 4000rpm where it gets a mild buzz that you feel in the bars that is at times intrusive. Fortunately 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 feels buzz then I rate the FJR’s low and 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 would disappear) Anyway it is by no means bad like say the F4 engine from MV Agusta which would at times blur my vision.
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 however 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. 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 exist, it just has not been updated which seems a theme with the FJR, one no doubt that many fanatical fans choose to not see but new owners like I find frustrating.
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 model had some sort of idle stop feature or perhaps cylinder deactivation when in cruise control mode on either gearbox models. 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.
The engine in my opinion sounds pretty good. Yamaha have done a nice enough 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, 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 unfortunately a bit clunky, maybe it has a very positive engagement is a nicer way to put it. 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 car with 3 speed auto into drive. I was calling the gearbox agricultural initially but perhaps just old school would be better. (Update it is smoothing out a bit with use). So in that context Yes it should be updated however this may be just the clutch assembly not the gearbox as a whole. 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 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 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 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. They need a strong pull on the lever to slow the bike down. They had a slightly weak initial bite but I think have bedded down to be acceptable however 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 speed, just regular riding. The hydraulics like the clutch are from another era. 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 help but the FJR hand controls are one of two areas that I find make the bike fatiguing to ride.
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 makes me feel I am back on something like my old Triumph Speed Triple from ‘98. (which now I have researched the FJR more of course is true since it is a bike largely unchanged since release in 2001)
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 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 is so small to be of little benefit (only a few mm). 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 major design issue for anyone not wanting to lean forward like riding a sports bike.
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 at least 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 not be lying on the tank). If you come from a sport bike like I presume most of the fanatics have then you may think the bars are fine but if you come from a standard/naked bike or another tourer then they are going to feel a long way from you.
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 as 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 if wearing shorty gloves 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 hand guards or simply use those large windproof bar end mitts to cover your gloves and cuff area but you cannot remove those wide mirrors on the RT that block the wind and in the +40’s temperatures I experienced in California my arms got heat rash on the R1200RT because so little air reached them.
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 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 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 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+ years 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 a fuse blew. Terrible design.
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 rarely feels as light as the BMW on the road, I presume the high centre of gravity to be some of the difference however 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 often requires further bar input to hold a line which again is hard because of the reach to the bars. This tendency for the FJR to run slightly wide is not due to brake use or off camber roads or poor riding 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. I must point out that when tyres are new the problem is greatly reduced so this was probably never experienced by the journalists on new bikes with a morning or afternoon small ride to evaluate the FJR. Similar you will not notice this on a test ride if the motorcycle is new but as the tyres wear the bike becomes significantly more difficult to steer despite proper tyre pressure and an even spread of tyre wear.
Update 1. I have tried Bridgestone and Metzeler tyres so far and the problem is same 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 and with fuel full but get down to under 1/2 full and it starts to feel quite good now even on worn tyres. 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.
The suspension does a reasonable job soaking up bumps, dampening is not as plush as the BMW. The weight of the bike can sometimes overwhelm the front end but if you firm things up and you very quickly end up with a touring bike that is not comfortable anymore. It is what it is, a heavy tourer with standard suspension.
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 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. The down side of this is the fuel tank does not extend down low or under the seat or in anyway to lower the COG so it is a lot of fuel sitting up high and when you have a full tank the bike steers poorly.
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 did not light up the road ahead well, even on high beam. While this is not a complaint since few motorcycles have good headlights I mention it because one that does is the rival BMW R1200RT. 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.
The heated grips work very well. They have three levels of heat which are all sensible and useable unlike some grips which go from mild 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 I would. 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 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 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 at 1/2 km or so 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.
End of a long day I find the FJR comfortable on the highway. With the screen up and cruise set it almost rides itself home. This is where the bike really works well. On the flip side if still on small back roads by end of day I find having to operate the heavy hand controls and drag the weight of the bike around tighter corners makes me very weary.
Fit and finish
The paint in Dusty Grey finish as it is called here looks 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 a good finish in real life. Middle of day or cloudy it can appear dull. Plastics and panel alignment seems tight everywhere however the heel plates became badly scuffed after just a few months and the silver finish has started to wear off. The screen had some slight marks but a few applications of plexus plastic cleaner returned it to very clear. No real issues except the heel plates.
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 compared to say the BMW. 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.
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 which is handy in a place where it can rain at any time.
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 at least but it didn’t work out so well. The headlights have twin height adjustment knobs in the dash. Kind of elaborate and no doubt heavy mechanism but then weight is not a consideration anywhere on the FJR.
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? 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 of the lights, that would have have been a unique feature I think riders in colder areas would have appreciated.
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.
The heavy clutch and brakes however become fatiguing by days end. The bars are too far away for most riders. Even with the raising kit in place comparing to the BMW RT and Kawasaki Concours the bars are still further away. These are in my opinion items that you can get used to but should not be that way to begin with.
Some things likely to further disappoint is the lack of any attempt at mass reduction or centralisation. The weight in the FJR never disappears as is often the case on other large bikes once rolling or after an adjustment period. On the expressway this heavy feel is fine and where there is high wind actually a bonus however most times it is not a good feature.
None of the previous items are insurmountable however if there is one major issue it is the way the FJR steers when the tyres wear and when carrying its designed fuel load. I am working still to try find a solution and I may change my opinion on this but at the moment I find it tiresome and difficult to enjoy on twisty roads. If you ride canyons and national parks with good surveyed roads like in North America or Australia then this is something less noticeable. I define twisty roads as mountain passes, switchbacks and ones like the road in the header photo on this page, i.e. tight corners that are so common here. On roads like these the R1200RT is without any doubt superior.
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 but if the FJR ultimately is a good deal is going to be personal decision depending on how much the steering and old school design work for you.
I guess all this sounds a bit different to 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 truth there. Owners forums are ruled by ‘fan boys’ on their third FJR who have not experienced newer design motorcycles. Online zines have ‘reviews’ which read like Yamaha press releases and blogs are increasingly showing paid articles. Honest feedback has been diluted down to a few non committal lines. So here is an honest account of one persons experience which is not controlled by nor can be bullied by anyone.
I will update this review as time passes so check back from time to time.