A lot of the Beemer's ritzy standard components are made up for on the FJR1300AE by the novel paddle shifter, which took some getting used to but was a fun option on the Yamaha.
While riding a Super Sport Touring machine, it's a good idea to keep an eye on the traffic approaching from behind. If you're on either FJR, the view to the rear is unobstructed but it's sometimes blurred. Not so with the GT units that offer a clear view behind.
Neither FJR has the array of amenities our loaded BMW test bike does, although the Yamahas have a 12-volt plug in the front storage compartment that's handy for charging a cell phone or powering an electric vest or GPS unit. However, the FJR AE's ability to toggle through gears with your fingers makes up for a lack of a few options. It's simply fun to use. Bang down a gear or two, crack the throttle and then dab the thumb paddle to row back through a few gears. Suddenly you are going way too fast and you barely had to lift a finger to do it. It's just another bit of technology no one knew they wanted or needed that Yamaha offers.
"The paddle shifter takes a while to get used to but it becomes second nature after a little time on the bike," says Chamberlain. "Shifts are smooth and positive every time, despite not having a clutch." Ergonomically, the downshift paddle is located a little too close to the horn, and BC wasn't the only one who occasionally found himself honking rather than shifting.
The FJR's LCD display might not have been able to match wits with the Beemer's On Board Computer, but the Yamaha still boasts an attractive and informative instrument cluster.
After swapping bikes a few times, we were nearing the end of our freeway stint and the beginning of the twisty backroad segment. Already, the familiar feel of the FJR was working in its favor while the top-heavy nature of the GT combined with the quirky seat had us wondering of the Beemer was going to have what it takes.
Both bikes have comprehensive and attractive instrumentation. The Yamahas boast an LCD info screen that reports things such as a gear position, ambient air temp, and computer-derived fuel mileage data, both real-time and average. The standard GT has a similar instrumentation, but our test bike was fitted with BMW's optional ($275) On Board Computer that allows a rider to toggle through an array of data on the LCD screen nestled between the tach and speedometer via a button on the right handlebar.
Our GT was also blessed with two other options not available on the FJR. The cruise control box was ticked for $325, and on-the-fly-adjustable Electronic Suspension Adjustment (ESA) was added for another $800. So equipped, the GT starts to really surpass the FJR in terms of outright implementation of technological fare, and we didn't even have the optional $1400 Navigator III GPS on this test bike. What the FJR has in terms of a bit better riding position the GT has two-fold in terms of technological sophistication, at least when optioned up.
After we put in some serious miles the BMW's extra options, like cruise control and Electronic Suspension Adjustment, began to add to the Beemer's level of sport-touring comfort.
"Hardcore riders might feel that car-like options like heated grips, heated seats, cruise control and electronic suspension adjustment somehow make the K less of a motorcycle but I completely disagree," muses Becklin. "I'm such a touring wuss that I welcome anything that brings a little civility to grinding out highway miles. And while we didn't have passengers for our ride, having the ability to separate my wife's bum warmer from mine would go a long ways toward keeping me off the couch."
Highway 42 would be the first real chance to get in some corner work. This twisty tarmac parallels the South Umpqua River as it heads to the Pacific Ocean at Coos Bay. Describing this road as twisty and fun really doesn't do it justice, but that's what we're going to do since there is more to these bikes than just strafing apexes. As part of the bike test process, we subject bikes to a few unusual situations that might not always come up in a typical tour. It took countless U-turns, synchronized low- and high-speed passes and maneuvering in gravel turnouts for us to find a few more issues to whine about.
One of the big issues is how the FJR's automatic clutch operates in these situations. First of all, the bike needs to be revved to about 1500 rpm before the clutch starts to engage, and it does so smoothly unless you really whack the throttle open. Secondly, the slow-speed maneuvering takes a little getting used to. Since the bike doesn't get rolling until 1500 rpm, and it disengages 1 rpm before that point during deceleration, it's important to find a happy medium between revs that allow the motor to stay engaged while maintaining a speed that is low enough to keep the bike under control - dragging a brake helps. It took me about five U-turns to accomplish this task smoothly; your results may vary. These numerous stop-and-go situations revealed that it's really not a big deal once a rider gets used to it. But if someone is a slow learner or doesn't like things that are different, the AE might be odd enough to scare them off.
A journey down Oregon's Highway 42 gave us plenty of twisty surfaces to cut corners on. The FJR took these on without trouble, the trick to riding the FJRAE was at lower speeds, where the paddle shifter was unfamiliar and awkward.
"The automatic doesn't take to long to get accustomed to," reports our photographer and hardcore sport-touring rider Tom Lavine. "Once underway it's very smooth and fast. I think it takes less effort to ride well because you don't have to be so concerned with the rpm. Changing gears is instantaneous and very smooth. Mild to medium-speed shifting is almost undetectable, but at full throttle it produces a harder shift and thud. Getting underway is another story. You can sit at a red light with the thing in gear and not need to use the brake, and if you don't give it any throttle the bike wont move. Once you start to give it a little twist, it sort of hesitates (the sensation it produces as the clutch starts to engage - Ed.
) a little as it comes to life."