First Ride Review
“14 years of refinement” doesn’t exactly sound like an earth-shattering tagline, but that’s what Yamaha led with at its press briefing for the new 2016 FJR1300A and ES models in Phoenix, Arizona. To be fair, that’s a fitting description: the FJR1300A (read about the ES in the accompanying sidebar below) doesn’t boast any major redesigns, but instead receives a barrage of smaller upgrades and refinements, the sum of which adds up to a substantially improved motorcycle.
And they’re on the right track. Especially notable for 2016 is a new sixth speed to help smooth out top gear cruising, while a new assist-and-slipper clutch uses engine torque to reduce clutch engagement force, making for easier cog swaps.
While the conventional 48mm fork remains on the FJR1300A, the fork and shock manufacturer is now KYB, and the fork itself is fully adjustable (manually), with revised settings for more damping character and feel, says Yamaha. The rear monoshock also receives revised settings, with rebound and preload adjustability.
Also returning is Yamaha’s exclusive Chip Controlled Throttle YCC-T, a ride-by-wire system that evens out throttle response and even boosts rpm when it senses the clutch is releasing. The YCC-T also paves the way for traction control, cruise control and D-Mode adjustable engine mapping. All of that info can be displayed on the new three-gauge LCD instrument cluster, which can be customized by the rider to suit his or her preferences.
“The biggest recent change for us in the last couple of years was the addition of the ride-by-wire,” says R&D and Product Planning Manager Derek Brooks. “Because we already have this great engine [and] this solid chassis, a great foundation, that’s all out of the way. We are really confident in the FJR’s motor; it’s not going to win any dyno shootouts, but it’s more than up to the task. So once you’ve designed that and the platform has proven its worth, you can add other stuff incrementally. The ride-by-wire throttle has opened the door and allowed us to do so many other things.”
But enough with the talk. It was time to put the FJR through its paces and to Yamaha’s credit, it had thoughtfully devised an excellent route. My first day was on the FJR1300A, navigating a squiggly 250-mile blast up to Sedona the “long way.” With the two-piece stepped saddle positioned a very reasonable 31.7 inches off the pavement (the low setting), the bars canted me into a semi-aggressive riding position—a big help in the canyons. As a side note, those bars can be positioned in three ways, and moved 5mm forward or back.
Even with the new-to-me cruise control (which the FJR received in 2013) and sixth gear upgrade, it was good to feel that the FJR hadn’t lost its comfort or all-around competence. It just felt right from the start, and as we hit the superslab out of town, the stout in-line-4 pulled me along with no sign of stress, ready to boost forward when my right hand asked, while the flat-ish seat offered a well-positioned perch from which to survey the surrounding asphalt. That new assist-and-slipper clutch gave a noticeably lighter lever pull (Yamaha says 20 percent), which was a real boon in the insufferable traffic of downtown Phoenix. The new helical gears mesh more smoothly, and the FJR’s shifting loses much of the clunk of previous models. That’s a good thing, because with some of the short new ratios, you’ll find yourself stirring the cogs more often. And even though there are now six speeds, the compact gears mean the transmission case hasn’t been widened, preserving cornering clearance.
Highway 87 out of Phoenix eventually tops out at 7,000 feet in the Tonto National Forest, which meant snow on the roadside and a noticeable dip in the mercury. Fortunately for us, the FJR’s standard, three-level heated grips (level two worked best for my midweight gloves) and adjustable windshield (I used the tallest position) made short work of any residual chill as we blasted on through the high desert, ending our long day in Sedona.
On the second day I switched to the FJR1300ES, and as I clicked into sixth gear on pin-straight Route 17 back down to Phoenix, it became obvious there are no big changes in the engine room for 2016. The FJR’s in-line unit is the same 1,298cc mill from days gone by, stuffed into an aluminum Deltabox frame. That familiar in-line-4 whine remains instantly recognizable, but thanks to the revised gear ratios it feels a bit more accessible. The downside is that there’s more commotion as the revs build, and by around 4,000 rpm subtle vibes have crept into the bars and pegs in the lower gears. The power is otherwise delivered smoothly over a wide rpm range—no surprises there—and the advanced fuel injection system was right on the money, even at altitude. Both FJRs come with ABS and traction control standard, as well as two “D-Mode” ride modes. Yamaha says Sport brings a sharper response, while Touring has a mellower, less torquey characteristic. I found the throttle response to be overly soft in Touring mode, so I just kept it in Sport mode the whole time (riding both bikes), with no complaints. With the suspension set (after numerous combinations I ended up going with Standard, as opposed to Soft or Hard) the ES model feels supremely planted, even when dragging a peg around rollercoaster-y Highway 89A outside the ghost town of Jerome.
The one system I found less than ideal was the Unified Braking System. The dual front discs with 4-piston Monobloc Nissin calipers have plenty of power to give, but modulation can be somewhat difficult, especially at higher speeds. I found that dragging the rear brake occasionally helped stabilize the chassis since the rear brake also activates two pistons in the front brake.
On paper, all of these changes might seem like minute concessions thrown to the faithful. But taken as a whole the alterations hit home, particularly where it counts: on the road. It’s not like the FJR didn’t already have solid supersport touring chops. With cruise control, adjustable handlebars, saddle and windshield, and roomy hard luggage (30 liters per bag), the FJR1300’s amenities strike a nice balance between useful and intrusive. Others in our group even suggested that this might be The One Bike To Do It All for them. I wouldn’t go that far, but it’s hard to find fault with the FJR as a whole, especially with the changes for 2016. The inevitable comparison test will have to wait (California bikes aren’t expected to arrive until end of April), but I’m sure it’ll be pretty close.
To the higher-spec and higher-priced FJR1300ES, Yamaha brings front and rear fully adjustable electronic suspension and new LED cornering lights, in addition to the standard features found on the 1300A. The electronic suspension arrangement first showed up on the 2014-2015 ES model (the ES referring to Electronic Suspension) and for 2016, it offers a mind-blowing menu of three damping, seven fine-tuned damping and four preload settings, for a total of 84 possible adjustments. ADHD types and hardcore road warriors should be stoked, but for the more casual rider it’s easy to simply set it and forget it.
Yamaha also endowed the ES with LED cornering lights. It’s a very cool system that senses lean angle and sequentially turns on additional lights above the main beam; as your lean deepens the additional lights come on one by one to add forward illumination in the direction of the turn so you see more of the surrounding environment when riding in the dark. All the other features of the A model can be found here too, such as the sixth speed upgrade, D-Mode ride modes, Unified Braking with ABS and traction control.