2003 Yamaha FJR1300

Road Test Review

Shortly after I started working here at Rider, the first sport tour I went on with the staff was a shootout of the all-new 1984 Kawasaki Ninja 900, Suzuki GS1150 and Yamaha FJ1100. Rider nicknamed them SSTs, or Supersport Tourers. I’ll never forget then-Associate Editor Paul Van Zuyle’s reply when I asked where we would be taking them: “I don’t know yet, but we’re going to get there fast.” That we did, and back, too, and the Yamaha FJ ended up the favorite overall by virtue of its superior power and good handling. A few years later I rode a 1987 Yamaha FJ1200 to our Cody, Wyoming, Rider rally, and on the way back did a 710-mile day on the bike, stopping only for gas and a sandwich. Thanks to its excellent ergonomics and wind protection I have no memory of being uncomfortable at all, yet I can still remember how the electric reserve switch went “plink” each time I flipped it over center.

To its credit, Yamaha tried to rekindle interest in sporty but comfortable bikes like its 1984-1993 FJ1100/1200 series with the high-tech GTS1000 in 1993, but the dip in sport-touring motorcycle sales at the time was too deep for the comparatively heavy, expensive and complex GTS to buoy up, even if we thought the RADD forkless bike was pretty cool. Today the GTS lives in obscurity, the FJ enjoys a cult following as a fast, sharp and comfortable sport-tourer‚Ķand it’s been nearly a decade since Yamaha had a new mainstay in the sport-touring category.

Now with bike sales worldwide at all-time highs and interest in the category revving up again, the manufacturers have turned their attention back to sport tourers, freshening up existing platforms or creating all-new ones. Yamaha’s first new sport tourer since 1993 was launched in Europe in early 2001, and after a hue and cry from U.S. magazines and riders, Yamaha USA has seen fit to bring the 2003 FJR1300 to America, too. The first of a limited number of bikes will arrive in dealerships in August 2002; more will be along in the fall, according to Yamaha.

With the FJR comes everything that was good about the old FJ1200 and more-stump-pulling, asphalt-buckling power, good handling, comfort-and nothing that was bad, namely vibration and leg-searing engine heat. In terms of features, with the exceptions of anti-lock brakes and cruise control the FJR comes with (or has as an available accessory) everything a serious sport-touring rider could want: shaft final drive, electrically adjustable windscreen, large fuel tank, standard saddlebags and luggage rack, cushy seats, a centerstand, etc. The really good news is that despite all of that good stuff it only weighs 635 pounds with a full tank and bags-about the same as the Triumph Trophy 1200 (which has chain final drive), and 45-100 pounds less than the Kawasaki Concours and Honda ST1100. Better yet, the FJR cranks out 25-35 more horsepower and 18-35 more pounds-feet of torque at the rear wheel than any of those bikes. Now that’s progress!

Other than some different badging and small refinements to the fuel injection, the U.S.-spec 2003 FJR is virtually identical to the European model introduced last year. Yamaha began the FJR project with a clean sheet of paper and a brand-new pen-except for the final drive case at the rear wheel (which is from the V-Max), the bike is original from the ground up. At first blush the 1,298cc, liquid-cooled, DOHC in-line four in the FJR seems like pretty standard fare. Its four valves per cylinder are fed by a Mitsubishi electronic fuel-injection system, which has 42mm sidedraft rather than downdraft throttle bodies to leave more space for the 6.6-gallon fuel tank. Exhaust is four-into-one-into-two with a pair of catalyzers ahead of the two stainless-steel mufflers; a heated O2 sensor closes the loop with the EFI. Yamaha says the bike meets 2006 U.S. and California emissions standards. Cams are driven by the crankshaft via a silent-type chain on the right side of the engine to help keep it narrow; shim-under-bucket valve actuation only needs attention every 26,000 miles.

Now look a little more closely at the FJR’s engine layout. Sure, a pair of gear-driven counterbalancers to minimize vibration is nothing new, but one is in front of the one-piece cylinder bank/upper crankcase half, and the other behind. Both have eccentric adjusters to snug them up should some noisy backlash creep in. The five-speed, stacked three-axis transmission is similar to the R1 sportbike’s, tall and narrow, and Yamaha saved more space and weight by incorporating some of the plumbing for the electronically controlled air-injection system into the cylinder head and valve-cover castings. A scissors-type primary gear and spring dampers throughout the drivetrain minimize driveline lash and noise, and the swingarm pivot is positioned low to reduce final-drive jacking.
More trickery abounds-there’s a liquid-cooled oil cooler, and the fuel pump is inside the fuel tank, and has a maintenance-free filter and fuel level sending unit built in. Should the bike fall over, a lean-angle shutoff switch will kill the engine (but will not stop it while cornering). Finally, in addition to the usual self-diagnostics, Yamaha has included a function in the FJR’s Electronic Control Unit (ECU) that-when a certain wire is grounded-displays a number representing the fuel/air mixture setting for each cylinder on the LCD readout on the instrument panel. Within certain limits you can adjust the level up and down with the display’s Mode and Reset buttons, too. Used in conjunction with an exhaust gas analyzer, it makes dialing in the mixture a snap.

Solid mounts support the engine as a stressed member in the all-aluminum twin-spar frame for added strength, and the swingarm and seat subframe are aluminum as well. Official load capacity is pretty good at 415 pounds in addition to fuel and saddlebags.
We’ll try to get a hold of a production unit this summer to verify it, but if our preproduction FJR1300 test bike is any indication, the shaft drive sport-touring-forgive me, supersport touring-segment has a new power king. On the Borla Performance Dynojet dyno our FJR cranked out 124.5 horsepower at 7,850 rpm and 90.1 pounds-feet of torque at 6,700, more than anything like it except the Kawasaki ZZ-R1200 (see June 2002), which has chain final drive. Redline in the FJR is a lowish 9,500 rpm, but with more than 60 pounds-feet of torque on tap from 2,000 rpm on up, there’s so much grunt that even during spirited riding you rarely approach it. No choke or fast idle control is required to start the bike, and it fired readily every time and could be ridden off immediately. My first concern in any multi like the FJR is vibration, but there’s only a slight growl to be felt in the grips between about 5,000 and 6,000 rpm. Otherwise the bike is as smooth as a baby’s backside.

And this smooth baby rips, too! Power is delivered seamlessly, without a hiccup or surge, and the FJR’s feel at speed is relaxed enough that unlike some big multis, it won’t have you searching for a non-existent sixth gear on the highway. When it’s time to boogie, though, the bike flat leaves anything short of a high-strung liter-class sportbike in the dust with a turn of the throttle. Even two-up and fully loaded you can overtake at speed without downshifting, and the engine will lug down to an idle in gear yet still pull away cleanly. Yamaha clearly did its homework before building the FJR mill, and the benefits of its proprietary design and gearing really come through.

Shifting is clean, quiet and smooth, even sportbikelike, and clutch feel is excellent. At 37.2 mpg our average fuel economy was only mediocre, but the bike was so fun that we rode it pretty hard most of the time, and that big 6.6-gallon tank would take us more than 245 miles.

The FJR1300 is smaller overall than we expected, and its seat height seems lower than the specified 31.7 inches-I could plant both boots at the ends of my 29-inch inseam flat on the ground and paddle the bike around easily. Hand grips reside on the ends of tall, comfortable handlebars, and the rider footpegs offer plenty of legroom without significantly compromising cornering clearance. The two-piece seat is plenty comfortable for both rider and passenger, who also has lots of legroom, good grab handles and a decent view without towering over the rider. Wind protection from the large fairing is excellent high and low, and little, if any, engine heat sneaks in behind it.

A motor behind the instrument panel powers the FJR’s electric windscreen, which allows you to adjust your envelope of still air over a 4.6-inch vertical range and 20-degree angle. Even in the highest position I could still look over the top quite easily. If it were my bike I’d probably opt for the 4-inch taller and 2-inch wider screen right away, as I spent most of my time on the bike with the shield in the highest position for the quietest ride, though quieter would be better still. A simple thumb control on the left handlebar raises and lowers it on the fly or at rest, though for some reason the shield returns to the lowest position automatically when you turn the ignition off.

The FJR’s highway ride is firm yet sweet. It always feels planted, solid and predictable, and responds quickly to steering inputs. Around town or on winding roads it’s a joy, too, as the steering is neutral and light yet the bike doesn’t feel darty at all. One of two tire types will come on it in this country-ours had Metzeler ME-Z4s, which we’ve raved about for sport touring in the past, as they handle and stick like sport tires yet are quiet, good in the wet and unaffected by rain grooves. They also wear very well, important on a bike that’s putting so much power to the rear wheel. Riding on them, the FJR feels like a big sportbike in the twisty stuff, which in fact it is. Even pushed there’s only the slightest wallow over bumps with a full load at speed in the corners, and elsewhere the bike is quick and confidence-inspiring. Unload it and take the bags off, and a solo rider doesn’t really need anything sportier to go fast and have fun.

Suspension is sophisticated, compliant and well-controlled at both ends of the FJR, with a fully adjustable 48mm fork up front and a linked single shock with a dual-rate spring and adjustable rebound damping in back. Con-venient little knobs atop the fork legs allow quick rebound damping adjustments, and changing the two-position spring preload in the back merely requires flipping a lever with the bike unloaded (though it can be on the sidestand). Doing so to the harder position takes a softer secondary spring out of the action via a cable-actuated mechanism. The concept has been around at least since some of the S&W shocks from the ’70s and the later Works Performance dual-rate shocks, which had a knob or lever that allowed you to lock out their softer, shorter springs. Yamaha used a similar setup on its original 1992 TDM850 twin, too. The system makes up in convenience what it lacks in extreme adjustment range, and on the FJR it works very well. Particularly because the seat is already plenty low, and you don’t need more than the “soft” preload position for aggressive solo riding unless you’re especially well-fed.

Stopping the FJR puts YZF-R1 sportbike parts into play, though they don’t hit quite as hard as we expected. The floating front discs with opposed four-piston calipers have good feel and very linear, easy-to-modulate action, but a little more bite with a little less effort up front would be nice. We didn’t have an opportunity to ride the bike in the wet where their lack of grab might be welcome, however. Both clutch and brake levers are adjustable, and the one-piston single disc brake in back is a little too easy to lock but otherwise works just fine.

Several nice, basic touches make living with the FJR a pleasant experience, and our gripes are relatively few. The centerstand is a breeze to use, and the hard saddlebags will hold a large full-face helmet, mount and dismount easily and actually look good. The bike still has pleasing lines without them, too. Our bags are watertight as well, but the latch mechanisms require the key to operate and seem kind of stiff. Despite its ample 490-watt alternator, the FJR lacks any electrical accessory outlets, and the battery is hidden up under the right side of the fairing, so temporarily hooking up things like electric vests is complicated. There are no helmet locks that we can find, nor any storage pockets in the fairing, though an OK toolkit and space for a pair
of gloves and U-lock reside under the seat. The dual headlight is searingly bright and mirrors are pretty good, but you’ll have to cancel the turn signals yourself. Instrumentation is complete with dual tripmeters, and a clock and fuel gauge, and the list of accessories includes a big top trunk, heated grips and another seat choice in addition to the taller, wider screen.

The no-nonsense, everything-you-need-and-nothing-you-don’t approach Yamaha has taken with its new FJR1300 Supersport Tourer is quite appealing, especially as its primary features-power, light weight, handling, comfort and protection-were carefully thought out. The real kicker is the FJR1300’s price, though-at $11,499, this is the most SST bang-for-the-buck to come along in years. Maybe ever.