There are a few motorcycles which will be ascribed, for varying reasons, exalted status in the annals of time. Triumph’s original Bonneville, the Honda CB 750 four and Ducati’s 996 are three that spring to mind as having secured their places in the book. And despite the eye-rolling and muttered comments of angry disbelief that may follow, I submit the first-generation Yamaha FJR 1300 belongs in similar company.
Not for aesthetic reasons. The FJR still looks relevant after only minor cosmetic changes over 13 years, but there wasn’t ever anything earth-shattering about the design from the beginning. Instead, the FJR is a classic because it set the original baseline for sport tourers. The simple genius of the package as a whole is borne out by the fact that it still competes well today, essentially unchanged from the original. Note: I didn’t say Yamaha invented sport-touring. BMW’s K100, the original Kawasaki Concours, and the Honda ST1100 are archetypal ST mounts, with avid followers still today. But when the FJR arrived on the scene, it single-handedly changed what we expected from bikes in the genre: Stupid fast, good protection from the elements, quiet, comfortable, decent fuel range, and reliable as a granite dinner plate.
All of those descriptors still apply to the newest version. The competition, though, has increased the size of the pond. And muddied it, too. Adventure bikes threaten to – some say have – become the new sport-tourer, with bikes like the Ducati Multistrada blurring the lines even further by being entirely street-focused.
That isn’t to say the FJR has been left behind, or remains completely unchanged. With the exception of 2006, when a broad slate of changes were carried out, revisions have been mostly limited to the occasional minor cosmetic update, and a tweak here and there to increase heat dissipation and decrease vibration. 2013 marked only the second, and arguably most significant, list of significant changes to the FJR since it’s inception. Far from a clean-slate rework of the bike, the 2013 iteration was really a large-scale refinement of the platform.
The electronics package now includes rider-selectable throttle control, traction control, electronic cruise control, and a new LCD dash with a clear and intuitive rider interface. Aluminum cylinder bores, new piston rings, and a revamped ignition system conspire to increase output by 3 hp, to a claimed 144 at the crank. The fairings have been bent and twisted a bit to further assist wind management and dispel engine heat. The windshield is taller and wider. The 6.6 gallon tank and very respectable fuel economy in the high 30’s to low-40’s should give the bike a range close to the 250 mile mark. I rode the 2014 model, which aside from a coat of Candy Red paint and optional electronic suspension with upside-down forks (not included on the bike I tested), the FJR is unchanged from last year.
Astride the big Yamaha at a standstill, I’m reminded of one thing that has always stood out to me about these bikes: the FJR’s fit and finish plays second chair to no other motorcycle. There aren’t any creaks from body panels, sloppy fasteners or poorly hidden wires. Compact and solid, it’s as if the bike was carved from a solid piece of metal.
Starting the bike produces the subdued whisper and thrum familiar to pilots of all versions of the FJR. As the new dash comes to life, it’s apparent that Yamaha’s engineers have put real thought into the instrumentation. It is at once both information-rich and clean. Tidy and concise, yet totally legible, even in bright sunlight. Normally loathe to make sweeping judgments, I’ll admit the new FJR dash might be my favorite in all of motorcycling.
Clutch effort is beautifully light, and a satisfying snick into first gear generates the most noise the gearbox ever made during my ride – which is to say, virtually none. It’s precise and quiet, just as you’d expect. The FJR is known for it’s linear power curve, and it’s even flatter still for the new bike. Big torque is available from any RPM, making it feel for all the world like you’re aboard an electric-powered locomotive. It isn’t blindingly fast, but then a test ride on the ZX-14, and many miles aboard BMW’s K1300S and the Honda VFR1200 have skewed my perception a bit. It’s plenty quick, and no sane rider will ever find it lacking in power.
Low-speed steering is just slightly on the stiff side, but for a bike this size, it’s very stable and predictable. The electrically-controlled windshield is reshaped with a vent at the base, reducing the vacuum effect in the cockpit. I found the air at the lowest setting to be clean, with no buffeting. In the highest position, things got much noisier, but I still didn’t experience any turbulence.
The suspension felt very planted in the turns, but if I were getting ready to buy, I’d want to try the ES version before making the final decision. This is a big, heavy bike, and mid corner bumps let you feel the weight a bit, producing a slight springy wallow in the chassis. For covering distance, the FJR is extremely comfortable. Expansion joints and rough pavement are all subdued by the suspension and mass, producing a supremely smooth ride. Taller riders may wish for a bit more legroom, but the ergonomics were just about perfect for my (nearly) 6’2” frame.
Toggling between the touring (T) and sport (S) settings on the throttle control menu gives the impression of two very different bikes. Touring mode clips throttle response considerably, resulting in almost sluggish acceleration. The throttle on the FJR at full power is already very manageable and easy to modulate, so it’s unlikely most riders will often choose ’T’, unless they find themselves in very slick or unpredictable conditions.
The brakes are excellent, and the ABS was totally transparent, though feel was somewhat wooden on hard stops. That can probably be attributed to the bike being brand spanking new. Once the pads bed in a bit, I would expect feel to improve.
Luggage is the same size and shape of former years. Decently-sized, but too small for full-face helmets. The bags detach and reattach in seconds, but the red finish is so smooth and reflective I’d most likely not risk the inevitable scratches and dings, and leave them on the bike at the hotel, choosing instead to pack everything in liner bags. The luggage is mounted low, so no worries of hitting boots on the bags during mounts and dismounts: a common complaint on the Kawasaki Concours 14.
The seat itself felt great for about 10 miles. After that, I could already feel myself sinking through the padding. For a larger rider, it’s doubtful that one of my favorite stopgap fixes – the Airhawk pad – would be sufficient. I’d be saddle shopping right after I signed the purchase contract.
A lot has changed in 13 years. From a comfort, technology, power and handling standpoint, there is now a dizzying number of choices. The Concours 14 is probably the FJR’s most direct competition. But though it’s of similar intent, it’s also of a completely different feel. BMW’s R1200RT provides better wind protection, a bit more legroom, and quicker turn-in. The K1600GT is more powerful, more comfortable to some, and bristles with more technology than the student dorms at MIT. But it costs 6-8 grand more. Bikes like the Multistrada, the BMW GS, and Yamaha’s own Super Tenere are all much more spacious and have bolt-upright seating, while providing nearly the same – and in the case of the Multistrada, even more – performance.
But if smoothness is at all a virtue you prize, if a decade-and-a-third track record dotted with virtually no major engine issues sets your mind at ease, the FJR is worth a long, hard look. Let’s face it. We can talk about the latest technology and read stat sheets until the numbers blur, but choosing a bike, at the end of the day, is about how it makes you feel. And at 16 grand or so for a bike with enough technology, speed, comfort and handling to get licenses revoked and break the bank in fuel and tire expenses, one needs to ask: How much do we really need?
I live a long way from any real curves, so long-distance riding is almost a necessity for me. I’m a fan of adventure bikes. Heck I’m a fan of just about anything on two wheels. But everything is a compromise. If dirt roads aren’t something that calls you off the pavement, I’ve found that a little better wind protection and a quiet, smooth engine offset the gains in legroom from the taller ADV rigs for the highway droning that punctuates my riding. For that, the FJR is hard to fault. And at 16 grand, with a dealer network sprawling to just about every corner of the world, the Yamaha FJR can still stand proud, even against an international coalition of some pretty salty bikes.
The 2014 FJR1300 was provided for this review courtesy of Thompson’s Motorsports in Terre Haute, IN. I have no affiliation with the dealer, nor do they pay for advertising or suggest reviews. They’re just an exceptionally helpful local dealer with a sales manager who lives and breathes motorcycles. My thanks…