In just its first year of production, the 2003 Yamaha FJR1300 scooped up a remarkable 17.7% share of the Sport-Touring segment in America. Its blend of big power and long-haul comfort has gained crossover popularity with both the sport and touring markets.
The FJR was the best-selling Japanese sport-tourer last year (thanks in part to the late arrival of Honda’s cushier but more expensive ST1300), and Yamaha has made some revisions to its ’04 model to amplify both the sport and touring parts of its equation.
On the sporting side, slightly stiffer spring rates front and rear result in less pitching when ridden hard, and help keep hard parts from dragging in the corners. The R1-style front brakes receive larger, 320mm discs (up from 298mm) for added stopping power.
Touring riders will appreciate the new, lockable storage bin in the fairing cockpit, and the new finger-screw adjustability of the headlight angle that can be managed with gloves on. The electrically-adjustable windscreen is now 1.6 inches taller for better wind protection.
However, the biggest change for 2004 is the addition of optional anti-lock brakes to the FJR, a $1000 premium over the bike’s $11,599 base price. Sensors on the wheels monitor their speed and a fast ECU backs off the brakes when a skid is detected. Unlike many motorcycles with ABS systems, the FJR’s front and rear brakes are controlled independently instead of the various linked systems from Honda and BMW.
Integrated turn signals are just one of several revisions Yamaha made to its successful FJR1300. Stiffer spring rates, larger brakes and a taller windshield make it even better.
Sliding a leg over the bike and settling into the ergonomically comfortable riding position is the first hint that beauty may be more than skin deep. Hearing the soft rumble of the FJR’s 1298cc makes the mind churn with rapidly propagating notions of what lay ahead, disrupting preconceived notions of what a sport-touring bike is capable of.
I wasn’t disappointed: the FJR is a Cerulean Silver bullet. With a claimed 145 horsepower at the crankshaft and 93 ft/lbs of torque, the bike can be ridden in whatever way suits your particular mood. You can be lazy and leave it in one gear all day, or you can dance through the gearbox and let the motor unwind in each gear. On the freeway the bike hums along lithely and politely, yet it always feels like an eager greyhound tugging at its leash, looking for that opportunity to cut loose.
With the introduction of stiffer springs the FJR hasn’t lost much of its plush ride. The bike ushers highway miles away effortlessly and any boredom brought on by the legal limitations of posted speeds can be sporadically squelched by playing with the electric windscreen. I preferred the mid-range setting for freeway cruising which, like a sportbike fairing, doesn’t eliminate all the windblast but at least keeps it hitting you head-on. Side turbulence is created with the screen in the full upright position. Also, the top edge of windshield in its upright position created an unnerving bifocal sensation with my 6-foot body. For canyon riding, I’d drop the screen to the lowest position and forget about it.
The transition from freeway to canyon is so seamless a rider almost feels as if he switched mounts. The Yamaha loves long, high-speed sweepers better than tight, choppy turns, but its backroad capabilities are greater than most S-Ts. The bike feels light and responds in kind, whether in corners or on the brakes. And I can’t say enough about the motor. Gobs and gobs of engine will keep you entertained all day, and if you’re not careful the passing scenery is virtually removed from focus, which kind of counters the whole idea of touring but is fun nonetheless.
I’m a bit hesitant when it comes to ABS on a motorcycle, but I have to say I was impressed with the new system on the FJR. I was lucky enough not to have been forced into trying out the ABS in a real-life panic situation, so I detoured onto a side road and tested it under controlled conditions. At 70 mph I grabbed an unwisely abrupt handful of front brake, expecting the front end to chatter and clack and hammer me to an ugly halt. Instead, the bike simply decelerated to a quick and relatively smooth stop. The same result happened when just stomping on the rear pedal or when both front and rear were applied in unison and with aggression. In all three cases the system worked evenly and smoothly without the oscillation I’ve experienced with some other ABS-equipped bikes. Considering that with this class of bike you might often be with passenger and saddlebags packed, ABS is a nice piece of insurance for those inevitable nasties that crop up in front of us on the road.
As mentioned in MCUSA’s full test of the 2003 FJR, the handgrips seem a bit too hard, transmitting vibration and causing my hands to go numb on long freeway runs.
The Yamaha FJR1300 is effectively blurring the line between serious sport machines and distance cruisers. By building a sleek, fast, nimble handling motorcycle with a comfortable, stay-in-the-seat-all-day riding position, Yamaha has built a sport-tourer with a definite accent on sport. The FJR is more akin to a sportbike that has decided to take on the attributes of a distance bike rather than the other way around.
So, just when I have my daydream collection of bikes all safely tucked away in the recesses of my imagination, I confuse the whole situation with my time aboard the new FJR. Like some ’70s pop song you can’t get out of your head, I’m now seeing one of these beauties tucked into the garage of my imagination alongside the others.