Road Test Review
Feeling snubbed for missing out on the all-new Yamaha FJR1300 sport tourer, which debuted in Europe for 2001, Americans complained so loudly that Yamaha finally relented, bringing the bike to the U.S. for 2003. With its liquid-cooled, fuel-injected, 1,298cc DOHC in-line four with 16 valves and a shaft drive cranking out 125 horsepower and 90 lb-ft of torque at the rear wheel, the FJR crushed the competition. It handled like a big sportbike and included an electric windscreen, hard saddlebags, a luggage rack and 6.6 gallons of fuel capacity, taking sport touring to a whole new level and earning Rider’s Motorcycle of the Year award in the process.
During its first decade, the FJR1300 was improved incrementally, with minor updates every year or two—a taller windscreen here, better heat management there, standard ABS, adjustable handlebars, better throttle response and more. It inspired deep loyalty among its passionate, vocal, mile-burning owners, and was even the mount of choice for five of the top six finishers at the 2013 Iron Butt Rally.
Although the FJR got its most extensive overhaul yet for 2013, Yamaha took a conservative approach, modernizing the bike while keeping its basic platform intact and its price reasonable. New styling, refinements to the engine, transmission and suspension, as well as a better windscreen, seat, instrumentation and tires were among the many improvements. New technology included traction control, Drive modes (Sport and Touring) and electronic cruise control. Revised switchgear included a new menu button and toggle switch on the left grip to control the trip computer, heated grips and windscreen height via the new dot-matrix display. The end result was a much better FJR, with more power, better handling, improved comfort and a higher level of sophistication (Rider, February 2013).
For 2014, the FJR1300A returns as the same bike at the same price ($15,890), though in Candy Red instead of Stone Gray. An extra $1,000 gets you the new FJR1300ES, which adds electronically adjustable suspension but is identical otherwise, down to the sparkly red paint. In our last sport-touring comparison (May 2013), the three European bikes—BMW K 1600 GT, BMW R 1200 RT and Triumph Trophy SE—were available with electronic suspension, but the two Japanese bikes—the FJR and the Kawasaki Concours 14—were not. The FJR1300ES helps close the gap.
To accommodate the new electronic suspension system, Yamaha swapped the new-for-2013, fully adjustable 48mm conventional fork for a 43mm male-slider fork that, along with the shock, is made by KYB. Attached to both fork caps and the rear shock are wires that lead to the suspension control unit. Stepper motors vary the flow rate of the oil, and thus damping behavior, in the fork and shock, while a duty cycle motor adjusts the shock’s spring preload (unlike the standard model, fork preload cannot be changed on the ES). Extra taps on the menu button access new screens on the dot-matrix display—one for damping and another for load. Damping can be changed on the fly, but load can be changed only while the bike is stopped with the engine running. Furthermore, front and rear damping cannot be adjusted independently, and any changes that are made affect both compression and rebound.
Whereas the standard FJR has just two rear preload settings, the ES has four (solo, solo with luggage, two-up and two-up with luggage), as well as 21 different damping levels. First you select the load, then Soft, Standard or Hard damping. For each of these damping levels there are seven finer degrees of adjustment (-3 to +3) that must be preset when the bike is stopped. “Soft -3” is the softest, “Hard +3” is the firmest and “Standard 0” is right in the middle. Although load and damping are adjusted separately, each load setting remembers the damping level last set with it. This allows you to set and maintain different damping levels for each load, such as “Hard +1” for firmer suspension when riding solo and “Soft -1” for cushier suspension when two-up.
Since the beginning, Yamaha has labeled the FJR1300 as a “Supersport Touring” motorcycle, and the new ES model stays true to that mission. We’ve ridden it hundreds of miles on all sorts of paved roads, from smooth to rough, slow to fast, urban to rural, and the suspension on the FJR1300ES has proven itself to be taut but compliant. But even with 21 damping levels, the total range of adjustment is fairly narrow. It never felt too hard or too soft, and the differences between one-step increments are subtle. Riders who keep their peg feelers beveled and their chicken strips minimized may wish for firmer damping than what the hardest settings provide, while riders who place a premium on comfort may wish for more suppleness on the soft end.
If I were walking into a Yamaha dealership tomorrow to buy a new FJR, would I pay the extra grand for the ES model? Absolutely. The convenience of being able to adjust the suspension from the saddle by simply pushing a couple of buttons is worth the extra money alone. Furthermore, the KYB-made suspension on the FJR1300ES seems to provide better overall ride quality than the suspension that’s made in-house by Yamaha on the standard FJR1300A, though its hard to say definitively without riding them back to back. The electronic suspension adds only 6 pounds to the wet weight, so convenience doesn’t add much of a weight penalty. Of course, Yamaha knows there are purists out there, folks who don’t want any suspension adjustments made for them or unnecessary complexity; for them, there’s still the standard model.
With or without electronic suspension, the FJR1300 remains one of the best deals in sport—excuse me, supersport—touring. Fast, smooth, nimble and comfortable with good wind protection, hard luggage and a big gas tank, it’s ready for any journey, be it a Sunday morning ride or consecutive 1,000-mile days.