ride year-round and have spent the past 50,000 miles of my biking
career astride tourers and sports tourers which work very well
as primary transportation. Of course, as with most riders
I also have more than a passing interest in continually honing
my riding skills, for which reason I had been considering making
the move from sports-tourer to out-and-out sports machine, so
as to be able to explore the "envelope" on a machine
designed for the purpose.
Temporarily bikeless, I was on
tenterhooks counting the days to delivery the following Thursday
of my new sports bike when the opportunity to test-ride Yamaha's
FJR 1300 conveniently came up. This would solve my interim transportation
problem, but once my brand spanking new Aprilia RSV Mille R was
delivered, how would I ever discipline myself into continuing to
ride the Yamaha!? This bike had its work cut out if it was going
to keep my interest!
So it was with mixed emotions
that I arrived by train at Weybridge in blazing sunshine and made
my way by taxi to the Brooklands headquarters of the Yamaha emporium.
A few minutes after having reported to reception, a mechanic in
smart Yamaha overalls rode round the front of the builing, pulled
the big machine onto its centre-stand, handed me the single key
and turned tail. Wot? No briefing, no manual, just the key! Perhaps
Yamaha assume motorcycle journalists know how to ride motorcycles,
or maybe staff are discouraged from chatting with us!
perhaps, I had no preconceptions about the bike. Indeed I couldn't
remember whether the FJR was a full-dress tourer, sports tourer
or the retro-styled un-faired 1300 that Yamaha also build. I stood
for several minutes soaking up impressions. The bike was metallic
candy-apple red, not a lot of chrome, touring handlebars with neat
switchgear. Big sports-touring fairing, with - hey! "Electric
windows" - an electrically adjustable screen. The clocks are
a combination of analogue speedo and rev counter and a digital readout
for the computerised fuel gauge and suchlike. I immediately liked
the styling of the tank. I've never liked the triangular profile,
viewed sideways on, of the tanks on modern sports bikes.
The designers at Yamaha have given
the FJR a much more pleasing treatment of the tank, which is a cross
between retro teardrop styling over the top and straight diagonal
sections along the bottom. Indeed, the whole bike does look "designed".
It did look a bit "chesty" up front, because the bike
is designed to wear factory panniers, but my example didn't have
them fitted. Having said that, all the curves and angles work well
together from almost any vantage point and there are some amusing
geometric touches, where arcs in the design centre on a point somewhere
else. For example, the point formed by the leading-edge of the fairing's
belly-pan seems to be the centre of an arc described by the alloy
frame; nice touch.
cunning feat of design is this is a big bike, but it neither looks
that big nor feels that big. Having established that all the controls,
seemed to operate in the "normal" sense, and having tested
that the key would also open the tank, I set about attaching my
ruck-sack to the baby-luggage-rack. There was nothing wrong with
the rack as such, except that I couldn't find anywhere to attach
the bungees - more specifically nowhere to attach the bungees that
did not threaten to harm the paint-work of the luggage-rack itself.
Eventually I laid out sufficient Wonder-webbing to protect the paint
and attached my bag with no more fuss. I later came to the view
that this is a road test - so test, and if the paint comes off,
it comes off. By the end of the week, the luggage rack was unmarked
by all the bungee abuse I could throw at it.
I'm tall - very tall, six foot
five, and most of that is leg, so my first impression of most bikes
is one of being cramped - seldom the reverse. The upright seating
position on the big Yam was perfect for me. Very comfortable indeed.
No great stretch to reach the bars, plenty of bend in the knee with
both feet flat on the floor, and not too much bend with both feet
on the pegs. Equally, riding with the balls of the feet on the pegs,
there was still plenty of room to tuck my knees in alongside the
Sitting astride the FJR at a stand-still,
it felt light, as did the handlebars, perhaps because of their generous
span - a little wider than my shoulder width. As I had not yet planned
a test-regime for the machine, I decided to take my cue from the
bike itself and ride the bike however IT suggested. So I turned
the key, observed the self-diagnostic sweep of the dials all the
way to maximum and back down to zero, as the LCD numerals of the
glass cockpit materialised on the screen. Pushed the starter button
and the mighty 1300cc burbled satisfyingly to life. Pulled in the
clutch and engaged first gear with a horrifying grinding clunk!
Oops. I later discovered that this bike likes to have the clutch
held in for a while when engaging first from cold. Riding off, gear
changes were smooth and positive and I didn't experience any further
grinding of gears.
Around town, the bike remained
light and manoeuvrable with sufficient power to pootle around at
just above idle RPM. The engine is "business-like smooth"
as opposed to "silky smooth" and it produces a pleasant
growl at low RPM with an even more throaty note when decelerating.
All very pleasant. So much so, that I started to get the idea that
this bike really likes to "pootle". It's so easy to do,
and it does it so well.
Departing Brooklands I managed
to lose myself in the leafy A and B roads of Surrey in my quest
for the M25. Here, at sub-50 MPH speeds riding well-surfaced roads
and numerous roundabouts came another pleasant surprise. The steering
was sharper, and more accurate than any sports-tourer I've ridden
previously. With a tiny amount of pressure to the handlebar, the
bike would dive for the required lean angle, release the pressure,
and it just stayed in the lean as I accelerated through the turn.
The bike was starting to earn my vote.
finally located the M25, cossetted behind the big electric windscreen,
it was just so comfortable to sit with traffic at 70MPH, that I
didn't feel the impetus to ride any faster. The layout of the mirrors
was nice, and the view through them crystal clear which attested
to a total lack of any high frequency vibration at motorway speeds.
As it happens I didn't encounter any annoying vibrations at any
speed. Brakes were powerful, and the bike gave an overall sense
of being "planted" on the road at all times. So on the
sixty-odd miles of the motorway trip back to the office I discovered
a wholly new and less frantic type of riding, giving pause for thoughts
like "If this bike isn't about going fast, what's all that
power for? Towing a caravan, perhaps?" Wrong. This motorcycle
goes, if that's what you want it to do.
The FJR attracts a surprising
amount of attention for a machine whose colour-schemes and decals
of its sporting stablemates. On a number of occasions I returned
to the parked bike to find that it had attracted a group of admiring
on-lookers. Even the other-half pronounced that "It looks like
an angry insect or something!"; referring perhaps to the slightly
menacing bug-eyed expression created by the twin headlights. High
praise indeed - most bikes go entirely unnoticed!
On Wednesday with the summer drawing
to an end, the chaps voted we go for an early-evening ride-out to
Sarratt. This has become something of a ritual involving pleasant
B roads a barbeque and the opportunity to hang-out with a thousand
like-minded lunatics. I was a bit apprehensive as to my ability
to retain my credibility with the group given that I had not yet
ridden the FJR hard. Any apprehension was misplaced. The FJR proved
as flickable as the other guys' sports machines - no pootling here.
Gauging the point at which a foot-peg might touch down with the
toe of my boot, I was pleased to discover that in addition to its
sharp, planted steering characteristics the FJR boasted a fair amount
of ground-clearance and I was not running out of lean as soon as
I might have done on my K1200RS, for example. Indeed, I never did
run out of ground clearance during the test, although I think I
probably would have done given the chance to put the bike through
its paces on a more prolonged test, or on the racetrack. A further
note of interest is that the riding position lends itself well to
any body angle from bolt upright to about 40 degrees leaned forward,
at which point, my arms are roughly parallel with the road and I'm
positioned to best attack the corner on this machine.
and my new Mille R arrives, casting a shadow over the Yamaha, but
not for long! After the first hundred miles or so on the 'prilla,
my body was so wracked with pain from the pretzel-like contortions,
wrist strain and testicular damage resulting from being slammed
into the tank every time I braked that it was a relief to get back
on the Yamaha for a late-night trip into the office. The relief
was heightened when it started to rain on my return home - the protection
afforded by the FJR's fairing meant I arrived back home bone dry
So, what is all that power about
then? I thought it only proper to find out. My scientific approach
to this question was to ride along at idle, open the throttle all
the way, and see what happens. Be warned this is a hair-raising
enterprise in first, second and third! What happens is roughly this.
The engine does not bog down, but pulls strongly from about 1500
RPM. At about 2500 RPM it becomes necessary to start tightening
your knee-grip on the tank, at 4000 - "Oooerr!", and at
5500 it's time to put in a call to Air Traffic Control, as the front-wheel
of the Jumbo motorcycle gracefully rises into the air! The bike
red-lines at around 9,000 RPM and I have to admit to not having
ridden it much in that sector of the marketplace. I don't know how
fast it'll go either, because I only managed about twice the UK
motorway limit during the test. I can however report that the 1300
hadn't so much as broken a sweat at that speed! Indeed, I think
that's probably what the Yamaha FJR 1300 IS all about - I suspect
it will eat continents for breakfast and never break a sweat.
Bags of power. Sounds nice. Looks
nice. The seating and riding position is great, the bike is amazingly
tractable, handles easily, accurately and confidently. Works equally
well around town, as on the windies, and indubitably the long haul.
The pillion is comfortable, grab rails work well, and in addition
to the footpeg a neat aluminium plate is provided to protect the
exhaust pipes from your pillion passenger's feet and vice-versa.
Would have liked to have had
panniers, I think the bike would have looked even better with them
and attaching bungees to the colour-coordinated baby luggage-rack
made me nervous. Couldn't take the key out of the tank cap while
refuelling. Its a minor point, but it would mean taking precautions
to avoid scratching the tank with the key. Curiously, whereas the
pillion passenger's feet are protected from fouling the exhaust,
a size-13 wearing rider can manage to singe his boots against the
hot bits (I did).
I was sorry to have to return
the Yamaha to Brooklands, and If I were entering into the sports-touring
market this bike would have to be on my shortlist.