Possibly the most in depth review of the current series three Yamaha FJR1300 which covers 2013 up to 2016 with only minor changes.
I have now completed a few tours and (40,000km as of October 2016) 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 and 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 in Japan are nothing like what people consider twisty roads in North America. Switchback narrow one lane mountain passes are common. Most twisty roads here are 2nd gear, many 1st gear, if I shift up to 3rd I am on what in Japan would be deemed a wide sweeping road. If I am not using the nationwide tollroad highway network then I am unlikely to use 4th or 5th gear in a entire days riding – no joke. So nothing at all like any of the roads I have ridden in my touring of the Northwest states or Canada. Lastly this is a ongoing dynamic article about my journey with the motorcycle not a static one day review. I am going to love and hate some aspects then over time I hope I adjust to things and moderate my comments however some small item may slowly annoy me and be added to the review in lieu at later date. There is no perfect motorcycle in my mindset so FJR fanboys no need for further death threats just because I did not find it to be the holy grail of motorcycling that y’all insist on it being.
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) and a note that this review is posted to Motorcycle Paradise Blog if you are reading this elsewhere then follow the link for the original.
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 (edit - this is before I explored the countryside and realised how small and narrow many roads are) and decided 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 purpose.
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 and days are sometimes 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 annoying. Yes you can fit a huge screen but then in the heavy Japan traffic even in Spring or Autumn you will likely start to 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 sporty 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 Yamaha 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 in USA 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 much better condition 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 big 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 articles lack any details. It is a shame I was not able to test ride one in this spec as the idea of electronic shift appeals to me very much.
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. (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 however for me really not an issue)
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 impressive 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 says in the trip computer it is getting 5.0l per 100km and 6.0 per 100km at 130/140kph – which is perhaps the highway speed more common for this bike in other countries. I see myself on reserve sooner, it is using at least 25% more fuel than the computer is predicting when I encounter traffic but on a recent all open road ride in Hokkaido the economy improved to near 4l per 100km which is astounding)
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 much 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’. (I have gotten totally used to this now and do not notice it at all)
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 it had perhaps some eco feature, 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 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 see this.
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. (2016 notepad – really love the sound of the bike as it winds up even at the low rpm range.)
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 whole new overdrive as 5th gear already was that. 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 always be shifting up or down, why have a big lazy torquey engine then have close ratios of a six speed that forces constant shifting. On the FJR I often shift from 1st to 3rd immediately leaving the lights (2016 notepad - or I start in 2nd gear) and I simply leave the bike in 3rd whole time and rarely use 4th, then 5th is highway only. 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. The final drive is slightly higher, could not be much or the bike would never see 6th gear on 100kph highways as rpm would be too low)
That aside the gearbox itself was initially 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 but that is perhaps the clutch not the box per se. I was calling the gearbox agricultural initially but it is fine once it has some miles on it and shifts precise. The issue is this clutch… (Update 2016 – I like the way the gearbox shifts now that it has worn in but some people may find the action less smooth than they are used to)
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. A larger more modern master cylinder is desperately needed. (Update 2016, seems the issue was actually clutch springs since the 2016 model has had these replaced with lighter items so future bikes will not have this. I now shift as much as possible not using the clutch, just matching the revs and putting pressure on the gear lever at the appropriate time and I have aftermarket levers and I lane split constantly so to not need to be so frequently stop starting)
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. Some people might find it bothersome but all these big tourers are shaft drive. (2016 notepad – the on off lag and the sound of the drive taking up the slack can be noticeable at times but no mess, no lubing, no new chain and sprockets…)
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. (for clutch lever too) When needed the brakes do haul the bike down but not as good as I would like. (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 piston activate in the front calibers to apply full braking. Yes seems crazy I know but I am not making this up and it is a negative feature for me not getting full braking when I pull the front brake since I have been taught to not use the rear brake by advanced riding schools and race track day instruction. Have a read of famous ride instruction books like Twist of the wrist and see what is said about using the rear brake if you do not understand why I never used it except for hill hold at lights)
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. The standard seat is very 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 15mm. I have not seen another FJR on the roads here in Japan yet (Update 2016- I have seen two now in two years) and the bars probably are the main reason as not many Japanese guys would be comfortable with such long reach forward when wanting a touring position. The dealer told me it was first FJR he has sold in long time and that has to be due to the ergonomics.
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 you can always add wind guards or those clip on bar end muffs to completely shield your gloves and cuff area but you cannot remove those wide fairing extension mirrors on the RT that block the wind. 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 most 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. Below screen raised (ignore the silver washer taped to dash – used to hold something at the time)
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. (2016 Update – note the info the trip computer displays is custom set by you over three separate screens, I have on my main screen km range to empty, ambient temperature <that temp is unfortunately not accurate> and trip time which I like to review to make sure I stop often when touring) 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 (also cruise control 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. (2016 notepad – even though I do not spend much time looking at the dash when I ride other bikes lately with small limited readouts I really miss the FJR’s large and comprehensive display, it it a nice place to be.
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 enough once moving as is so often said about other large bikes. This could be due to a higher COG. For example all 25 litres fuel seems to be sitting up high and wide. Then it’s large size battery and wire harness is placed in the upper fairing on the right hand side next to the dash. (Just while I am talking of this, access to the battery and fuses is very difficult requiring disassembly of the some of the dash panels which took me over an hour – one of the dumbest things I have come across on a vehicle)
The lack of mass centralization shows on the road especially with full fuel load. 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 at all.
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 all attributes I will be looking at. When fitted with new tyres the problem is less noticeable but as the tyres wear the bike becomes significantly slower to steer. Different tyres are an obvious place to look for improvements to the way it steers as well.
There is a separate chapter at the bottom of this review on my progress in making the FJR1300 steer better. I have altered the steering angle at the front and rear and discovered the way 4 different tyre choices affect this motorcycle to achieve some gains.
The suspension does a fair job soaking up bumps, dampening is not as plush as the BMW but the electronic suspension model FJR might well 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. 2016 notepad, the high speed dampening on the forks is actually harsh, I would get the valves improved if I was back home with access to place that can do this)
The FJR has a huge 25 litre fuel tank and range is 400km or more on highway. It is terrific to have long range and something I enjoy when touring, I can go the 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 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 reverse the bike.
(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. 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 and you really need to be careful when parking if at all on a slope must stop and back in or you may struggle to get the bike back out as no reverse gear unlike the Gold Wing)
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 special 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 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 full 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 you 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 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. You have a bike that on the expressway offers comfort levels of a maxi tourer (once the bars are raised) 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 stage in life of riding. 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. 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 often feels too big.
Fit and finish
The paint in Dusty Grey finish as it is called here looks a bit better in real life than in photos and while not as nice as the similar tone ‘Atomic Silver’ Toyota put on their Lexus cars it is a reasonably good finish but can appear dull for reasons I do not understand. Update – see the difference I was talking about, so close in tone yet look at how one is dull. Oh well minor detail really. I would buy one in primer grey if Yamaha could reduce the weight in future.
The other option here was chocolate brown metallic paint, a colour popular on many small cars in Japan. (2016 now White) Plastics and panel alignment seems tight everywhere however the heel plates became lightly marked after a few months but that is not uncommon riding any bike in boots they rub together and this could be mostly buffed out I think. The screen had some slight marks but a few applications of plexus plastic cleaner returned it to very clear. Update 2015/2016 – everything still fine with fit and finish. The heel plates have not scuffed anymore and no other signs of wear. I am impressed with the build quality of this bike, all the plastics still look like new and I only wash it a couple times a year and it lives under a plastic cover not inside a dry garage so top marks to Yamaha in this department.
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 so as stated in the beginning I chose the FJR for function not form. But I think it is much better looking than the BMW R1200RT.
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. 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 now for toll road tickets, very handy to drop them in there rather than fiddle about to put into a pocket at the toll gate.Wish the other side had one instead of the battery)
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. With the large dash and a lot of plastics in the way it would be difficult to adjust the headlights manually so this is a nice touch. 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 might 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 I thought may offer the rider the option to deflect additional wind in winter however these according to the manual let you undo them if riding in very hot conditions for the sake of engine cooling. If they had some ratchet hinge then perhaps might be able alter the wind for further protection in winter which would be a unique feature. Perhaps designed for California where it can reach 46 degrees as I experienced when there.
I like the FRJ, it 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. Reliable engine has good torque and is fuel efficient as well as not requiring premium gas. With cruise control, comfortable seating with good cockpit aerodynamics it is a nice place to be on the open road.
It is however heavy feeling to ride. It is slower steering than the BMW R1200RT I rode. Most likely due to the higher COG, especially with a full fuel load but there are other factors at work. I have made some changes that bridge some of the gap (read on below) Apart from that I like the FJR in every way better than the RT. I can’t help wonder why Yamaha have done so little to lighten this bike which in many parts is unchanged since 2001.
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 for about 5 years or more which is pretty impressive. 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 post is about my ownership journey.
Making the FJR1300 steer quicker, my progress so far…
Update 1. I first switched to Bridgestone BT023 from Metzeler Z8 tyres. The Z8’s the bike came with felt ok in the dry 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 BT023 feel terrific when new but after awhile they start to wear then 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 but with a still some tread left so could manage 10,000+km easy 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 (abruptly) to oversteer where it wants to fall into the curve. (this FJR steering behavior I see was also noted by the editor of AMCN back when the 2006 Gen 2 model was tested, it’s a long wheelbase thing). 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 slower to turn in 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.
A success of sorts. 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 just completed a two week tour and really enjoyed the way the bike rode while the tyres were good. The Pirelli Angel GT tyres unfortunately wore out quite fast, about 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 the tyres are completely bald on the sides.
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.
Update six - 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 annoyingly 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% on all digital dash FJRs. Why Yamaha deliberately does this is a mystery, but it is deliberate as they then set the cruise control to maximum 100kph as per the true speed. So i.e. they knowingly sell the FJR with the software that displays the speed altered to display 10% over the true speed. In testing my speedo used to read 108-109kph when doing 100kph and now at the same 108-109kph reading the true speed is 102-103kph so only a slight alteration from the 55 profile.
Wet and very cold these tyres are sensational. But compared to the Angel GT’s the PR4 are slower to turn and has taken the FJR steering backwards wiping out some of the gains I had made in steering improvements. The other issue I have had is the PR4 tyres developed a mild shake of the bars, first just off throttle then also on throttle and then spreading to all speeds even on the highway. I was able to negate the shaking by simply holding the bars but it is a worry. The wheel has not lost it’s balance weights so I will take it to the shop to see what is up with it.
Update seven - the problem is uneven tyre wear and premature failure of the front Pilot Road 4. Nothing can be done except replace the tyre. Seeing how slow they steer I decided to get rid of both of them. The rear had plenty of life left the front after 3000km was already half tread depth on sides like the Pirelli Angel GT’s so very short life span on a FJR and even shorter when one has manufacture problems so never again Michelin tyres for me.
Below how a 190 looks fitted – don’t do it.
I now have Bridgestone BT023 R GT tyres fitted. At last the tyres I wanted right from the start as Yamaha reference these for the FJR in the Japanese literature. Naps Yokohama who fitted the 2nd set of tyres, the standard BT023’s tried to tell me this model was not available. Admittedly this could have been lost in translation rather then a lie on their part (although they made a balls up of the service I had them do early this year (2016) not correctly installing the spark plugs or cleaning the air filter so I have zero trust in them now) First ride and the new tyres are a huge improvement over the Michelin Pilot Road 4. Not the shake issue but the turn in and steering is vastly better which makes sense as the steering went slower with the Angel GT’s and slower again with the PR4’s so I have regained two notches of steering improvement with this tyre change and looking forward to updating further on this.
August 2016 steering update.
The Bridgestone BT-023GT spec are the best tyre so far on the FJR. I have completed a 2 week tour to Hokkaido and was very happy with the way these tyres felt in all conditions. First of all in the dry they steer much quicker than the Pirelli or Michelin tyres. Bit hard for me to accurately compare them back to the Metzeler tyres when I had not made the alterations to the ride height then but since those tyres wore out prematurely on the front I shall not be revisiting them. I can only presume the last set of non GT Bridgestones fitted by Naps Yokohama were very old stock or something odd as they were 1/2 price and I did not like them in the wet at all where as three days of rain on these and they felt very secure all the time. The combo as it now stands, lowered front, raised rear, raised bars and BT-023GT works rather well. Once the fuel load drops a little say from 3/4 on it steers nearly as good as the R1200RT. So much it now has me unable to decide if I will change bikes as planned after this year.
So I got 10,000km out of the Bridestone BT-023GT tyres. Just. The rear was gone by 9,000km however these remain the best wearing tyre so far and more importantly they did not get dramatically harder to steer as they wore. Yes certainly the effort to turn increased but nothing like the Angel GT’s that were incredibly heavy turn in when worn.
Current ownership thoughts December 2016.
The new 2016 Yamaha FJR has been released with some good updates to lights and clutch but alas is reported to be even more heavy. This is a motorcycle that so very much needed to lose weight. Everything now is about Adventure bikes so I presume sales of touring bikes like the FJR is probably low and there is little interest to properly update it which is a shame.
I’ll probably be riding this for another couple of years at this rate. I want the full fairing and adjustable screen and long range going forward – just in something lighter. At the moment nobody is making the motorcycle I want for riding Japan. A mid size full featured tourer. I would buy a R1200RT but seems a huge outlay for minor gain. It is a little lighter and further more positions it’s weight lower so steers much better. But I greatly prefer a inline four to a boxer twin and service cost of the FJR is next to nothing. My local shop says we’ll look at your valve clearance at 50,000km, maybe. It’s like servicing a car, change the oil, blow out the air filter and good to go. Very very hard to move away from that sort of reliability when living in a place where I cannot communicate well.
Update April 2017
Well despite being ready to change to a lighter bike I have elected to keep the FJR for another year. I now have in mind a couple of replacement candidates but the timing doesn’t suit me to switch at the moment. This year I will likely do just two rides (in Japan). These will be tours. I have ceased doing any day rides here as living in Tokyo means roads are too busy and it takes a day just to get away from the madness to be somewhere I can enjoy riding. So while I surely would enjoy to do my two planned tours on a lighter motorcycle I am not sure where or what I will be doing beyond 2017 so to sell and buy with the chance I might then need to turn around and sell again with vehicles makes no financial sense at all. The models I am interested in are just new release so if I wait (and stay here) then I can get a low mileage pre owned example next ride season and save many thousands. I used to want to buy new but no longer see the value in it when they end up being subjected to scratches and chips and sit under a bit of plastic for 5 months of winter.
I have put new tyres on, BT-023GT’s again, purchased online cheap from Yahoo store go-go-five here in Japan. These are the best for improving/lightening the steering. I got the dealer to renew my safety certificate and he changed the brake fluids and looked at rear drive oil but said it was fine and then blew out the air filter and looked the spark plugs but they were also fine so all up nothing much needed. This is such a low maintenance cheap to own motorcycle. I changed the oil myself as aftermarket oil and filter are fraction of cost of Yamaha branded items and as it was such an easy task. That’s all up to now.