Suffering a narrow defeat in our ’06 comparo, the superb-handling Yamaha FJR1300 was back for top honors in our ’08 shootout.
2007 Yamaha FJR1300
Motoring at a rapid pace up the coast past Cambria and San Simeon, it is easy to fall in love with the Yamaha FJR1300. We already discovered as much in our previous S-T comparos, with the FJR victorious in 2004 and just falling short in 2006. If it was to be victorious this year, it would be a real upset, as our Tuning Fork test bikes, which included the ABS-equipped standard and auto-shifting AE version, were 2007 models – the only ’07s in our testing cadre.
Approaching the darkened mountains of Big Sur, we charged through the dark for our Monterey hotel beds in the refined comfort and immediate confidence radiating from the Yamaha. Whereas most bikes headline with the motor, the highlight of the FJR, by far, is its stellar handling. Every rider in our entourage commented on the natural feedback and feel offered up by the sporty ride.
“Carving the mountains like an oversized sport bike, the Yamaha feels the sportiest when it comes time to ride fast through the twisties,” says Robin. “The chassis and suspension combination gives good feel of the road and keeps a predictable line while cornering.”
Steering on the Yamaha is spot on, with the 26-degree rake and 60.6-inch wheelbase delivering a near perfect blend of maneuverability and stability. Tipping in at 672 and 686 lbs (632 and 646 tank-empty), the regular and automatic FJRs are well-balanced – the extra 14 lbs of the AE almost imperceptible. Turning on the FJR is an afterthought with transitions effortless – the best of our testing group.
Suspension is provided by Yamaha’s Soqi 48mm fork and a single rear shock, each unit delivering a respective 5.4 and 4.8 inches travel. The fork is adjustable for preload, compression and rebound, with small knobs on top of the triple clamp allowing riders to dial in a setting with relative ease. The shock is adjustable for preload and rebound with an accessible lever under the right subframe offering a hard and soft setting. Both components suck up road imperfections without trouble and transmit a solid, familiar feeling when underway.
After stopping in Monterey for the night our PCH journey motored through the agricultural wealth of the Salinas valley, past Santa Cruz and up the western edge of the San Francisco Peninsula. A misty fog spoiled our oceanside view and added a faint taste of salt to the air, but with the road as dry as we’d ever see the remainder of our trip, we didn’t care, content to push on north.
Although not better than the BMW or Honda, the Yamaha windshield delivers effective protection. One slight quibble is it resets to the lowest position every time the egnition is switched on. Our AE test bike came with heated grips, much appreciated in the cold, although the dial controlling the grips was located on a left-side panel of the bodywork, not conveniently on the grip like the BMW.
The 1298cc Inline-Four powering the Yamaha is potent, yet smooth, delivering just enough oomph to keep things interesting from corner to corner.
The Yamaha ergos are comfortable, encouraging long stints in the saddle. A wide seat was one of the best in our test, although some testers preferred the Kawi and BMW perch. Seat height is adjustable, between 31.5 – 32.3 inches. Reach to the bars and pegs feels natural but the FJR riding position is eager as well, egging its master to wick up the throttle.
“What I like most about the FJR is that it might as well be an FZR1000 with saddle bags,” says Ken. “The look is racy and the riding position is a bit too. It is fast, agile in the turns and the integrated bags look proper.”
Complying with a rider’s request for more speed, the FJR1300’s exquisite handling is complemented by a competent motor. While it’s not an overwhelming brute, like the Kawasaki or to a lesser extent the BMW, the Yamaha’s 1298cc Inline-Four delivers plenty of toe-tapping rhythmic bliss – or finger dabbing on the auto-shifting AE.
The regular FJR grinds out 123.6 horsepower and 88.8 lb-ft of torque at the rear wheel. Subtract 2.4 ponies and 3 lb-ft and you get the power numbers from the AE. The practical application of this power translates into a more than enough oomph for the street. Both bikes are spry enough to loft the front wheel, although we were loathe to wring out the clutch-less AE in an effort to pull a wheelie for fear of looping out. Throttle response isn’t the smoothest in our test, but isn’t a problem either. The one caveat being a brief hesitation in engagement at low speeds on the automatic.
Which gets us down to the marquee feature on the AE model – the intriguing toggle-shifter located on the left handlebar. Hitting the big city traffic of San Francisco, the AE auto-shifter was put to the test. During our last evaluation, test riders felt the automatic version was a liability in traffic, as the engagement wasn’t immediate, causing a lag at low speed. While it still exhibits some quirks at low speed, perhaps two years of pulling in stiff clutch levers has softened us, because we were more favorable toward the design this time around.
The Yamaha FJR1300AE toggle-shifter takes some getting used to, but we grew more fond of it this time around.
“When we first tested the Automatic FJR it was a novelty that we couldn’t quite get our heads around,” says Hutch. “While that hasn’t changed entirely, it definitely has grown on me over the years. I enjoy riding it because it’s a bit more simple in the grand scheme of things. I like the paddle shifters a lot now and it still is an FJR.”
The ease of the AE – after a rider reaches for the non-existent clutch lever for the umpteenth time – is contrasted with its manual sibling, which has the stiffest lever pull of the bunch. Rowing through the Yamaha gears is smooth and precise, but isn’t as effortless as the slick-shifting Kawasaki and Honda.
“The clutch requires a good squeeze and is tight in comparison to the lighter lever action of the other bikes,” agrees MCUSA’s long-haired, long-distance expert, Bryan Harley, further critiquing the 5-speed FJR transmission. “My initial reaction was that it could have benefited from a sixth-gear, but fifth is extremely tall, so it would primarily be a gas-saving overdrive if there was a sixth-gear.”
The FJR swept the scoresheet in braking, with our riders preferring the traditional feeling of the Yamaha. Nothing provided the fantastic initial bite and steady feel of the FJR’s dual four-piston calipers up front and two-piston caliper out back.
“They’re killer front brakes,” sums up Bryan. “One-finger pull is all you need.”
The Nissin components are incorporated into an effective linked ABS, with the front lever commanding six of the eight front pistons to bite down on a pair of 320mm rotors while both rear pistons clamp onto a 282mm disc. Tapping the rear brake pedal activates the rear pistons, as well as the two idle front pistons. Confidence that we could squeeze “Whoa Nellie!” without locking things up came in handy during the rain-soaked days to come. The linked units require caution in the gravel, however, as crunching on the rear pedal can make the front wheel slip.
Another high point for the Yamaha is its attractive instrument cluster. An easy to read analog speedo is front and center, with a smaller analog tach to the left and a squared LED display to the right. The LED screen is inlayed with temperature and fuel gauges, as well as the useful gear position indicator.
From the front, the Yamaha has the most visible headlight in the group, with a decent view from behind as well which can be adjusted by a pair of knobs. The straightforward and uncomplicated hard bags included interior bags, which made it unnecessary to remove the hard luggage at hotels. The Yamaha’s touring convenience was also enhanced by the inclusion of a 12V plug, tucked away in a side compartment, allowing for easy cell phone, head gear or GPS recharge. One complaint, however, was the counfounded glovebox was impossible to open without knowing the system.
The FJR’s brakes were deemed best in our test, with only one finger needed to slow things down thanks to a terrific initial bite.
On our scoresheet the Yamaha was dead even with the Kawi for tops in appearance. Although unchanged for years, the FJR doesn’t look dated and projects a sporty persona. At $13,799 it is a grand more than the budget C14 but a much better value dollar-for-dollar than the pricey BMW. But does the FJR’s many highs give it the leg up on its ’08 competition?
The question weighed on our minds as we arrived at the iconic Golden Gate Bridge. While the fog made it impossible to see more than 50 yards ahead, much less the notorious Alcatraz prison to our right, spanning the bridge northbound was unforgettable. Seeing the noble red pillars emerge out of the fog and ascend into the clouds only to disappear midway up was breathtaking. Motoring by, in a glimpse we were on the other side, ready for the next leg in our journey.