2015 Yamaha FJ-09 First Ride

Bart Madson | December 29, 2014
Yamaha hit pay dirt with its 2014 FZ-09. Powered by an all-new 847cc Inline Triple, the FZ won over riders with its naked styling, hooligan performance capabilities and, perhaps most important, its surprisingly low $7990 MSRP. The FZ became Yamaha’s top-selling street bike for 2014 and it aims to capitalize on that success with a derivative sport-touring version dubbed the FJ-09.

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Yamaha foresees great potential for its FJ-09. The Tuning Fork brand’s market research claims sport-touring sales have increased 34% from 2009 to 2013. There’s also a presumption that some riders are not being served by the current offerings in the touring segment. While most ST bikes feature impressive engines and sporty handling, they also typically weigh between 600-700 pounds and carry price tags starting at $15,000 and cresting well above $20K. Yamaha’s own FJR1300 is a prime example – a fantastic bike (and a personal favorite of this tester), but also a 640-pound bike that costs $15,890 ($16,890 for ES version). With its FJ-09, Yamaha delivers a legitimate sport-tourer, but one that weighs 462 pounds and retails for $10,490.

The case for Yamaha’s FJ-09 is only strengthened after my first ride experience. This new FJ improves upon the FZ-09 platform, remedying the biggest flaws of Yamaha’s best-seller. Foremost among these gaffes was the FZ’s choppy fueling, which stifled but couldn’t silence our praise for the 847cc Inline Triple during our first ride evaluation last year. The FJ-09’s revised ECU and engine mapping improves the fueling. The system isn’t perfect, with full-power A mode still offering a herky-jerky response, but the Standard setting and low-power B mode are far smoother than the 2014 FZ.

Less distracted by abrupt power surges, riders can now fully revel in the intoxicating Triple. This is one of the liveliest engine platforms in production, with a rich sound that all but the crankiest will find soul-stirring. The engine also produces a playful, yet practical, powerband. The potent bottom end and smooth midrange culminate in a shrill top-end hit, with ample torque across the board. While not as wheelie happy as the impish FZ-09, the new FJ doesn’t need any coaxing to play hooligan alongside its naked sibling (perhaps hooligan-touring is a new sub-segment…).

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Performance junkies may whine about the Yamaha’s horsepower deficit to those bigger ST mounts (FJ-09 will likely share the 105 hp measured on the FZ during our 2014 Triple Streetfighter Shootout), but there is more than enough real-world power on demand to overjoy sensible riders. The three D-Mode settings are well-suited to variable conditions. A-mode’s throttle is touchy, but those leaning heavier on the sport-side of the sport-touring continuum will appreciate the unrestricted wallop it packs. The smoother Standard setting proves ideal for touring, with the B-mode backing down power and featuring a gentler throttle engagement. I was happy to leave things in Standard most of the time, opting for B-mode when sporadic rains created spotty road conditions during our day-long test ride. My only gripe with the D-mode system is the button to change settings, which is located on the right-side switchgear and difficult to operate while holding the throttle.

Intermittent rain and the previous day’s precipitation created some standing water and occasional dirty sections on the curvy roads surrounding scenic Ojai, California. The varied conditions made me grateful for the standard-issue traction control system. I didn’t notice TC interference, except during maneuvers in gravel turnouts. The standard-issue ABS also provided an electronic safety net. I didn’t find the ABS cut-in too obtrusive either.

What I did notice, however, was the FJ’s revised suspension. This was the most disappointing aspect of the 2014 FZ-09, as its softly sprung suspension, particularly the spongy fork, couldn’t match the performance capabilities of the engine. The 2015 components remain KYB units, but Yamaha increased rebound and compression damping front and rear. The 41mm fork now sources progressive-rate springs, and also offers more rebound adjustment, with 11-position settings up from three. The rear shock’s revised damping settings complement changes to the fork, though rebound adjustment remains set at three-positions (neither the fork nor shock offer compression adjustment).

The updated suspension units provide a more confident riding experience. I think Yamaha did a fine job striking the sport-touring compromise on base set-up, as the FJ is supple enough to soak up freeway chatter but retains enough stiffness to immediately shift into canyon carving mode. Teamed with the smoother throttle delivery the bike feels more settled than the sometimes skittish FZ, particularly during mid-corner and exit. Even with the less than optimal riding conditions during our press ride, the FJ transmitted a more stable ride than my recollections of the mercurial FZ. While the FJ-09 did feel a little off kilter during quick transitions, it wasn’t unnerving and I’d expect could be remedied somewhat by fiddling with the clickers. I look forward to pressing harder on future rides aboard the FJ to fully test its handling capabilities.

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Braking components on the FJ ape the FZ stoppers, with dual 298mm discs and radial-mount four-piston Advics calipers up front. They don’t provide the strong bite and fine modulation of higher-spec components, but they aren’t grabby either and thanks to the stiffer fork the front end doesn’t dive as much with hard applications. Overall, the FJ’s brakes aren’t show-stopping, but get the job done.

The same can be said of the six-speed transmission. In an era of slipper/blipper/quickshifter clutch-less shifting doodads, the FJ-09 transmission can seem basic, I guess, but it’s beyond any real fault. Gear shifts are precise with smooth clutch engagement. No complaints from me.

Now for the glass half-empty or half-full aspect of the FJ-09, its touring amenities. Riders looking for a Barcalounger-grade heated seat, with integrated navigation system and complementary satellite radio, as well as cavernous storage space to stow a couple hundred pounds of luggage and a gargantuan fairing with electronically-adjustable windscreen to create an impenetrable cocoon of rider comfort… you will be better served by the $25K touring rigs from H-D, Honda and BMW. The FJ-09 is less than half that price, but still offers up a surprising amount of touring features. I’d say the glass is half-full.

The FJ-09’s half-fairing and three-position, manually-adjustable windscreen (30mm [1.2 inch] range) channel airflow around the rider with minimal buffeting. Better yet are the angular handguards, which do an excellent job keeping the rider’s mitts out of the cold and rain. Yes, riders will feel the elements aboard the FJ more so than other touring rigs, but I found it a pleasing real-world compromise and enough protection to make high-mileage jaunts less fatiguing.

I’m less enthusiastic about the seat for long-distance touring. Overall I’d rate seat comfort as adequate, but it grew more tedious toward the end of the day. (I employ a thoroughly unsophisticated too-hard/too-soft Goldilocks algorithm when it comes to evaluating seat comfort, and reckon the FJ perch falls a little on the too-soft side.) The new two-piece seat is longer and wider, with more surface area for both the rider and pillion than the single-piece design on the FZ. It’s also 30mm (1.2 inches) taller, sitting 33.3 inches in the standard position with a taller setting raising seat height to 33.9 inches.

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The towering seat might be off-putting to some, but I appreciated how it transforms the riding position. That extra inch offers way more legroom for my 32-inch inseam. When teamed with a new handlebar placement (20mm [0.8 inch] higher and 17mm [0.7 inch] closer), the FJ-09 riding position is more upright and comfortable. Like the seat and windscreen, the handlebar position can be altered, via adjustable bar clamps by 10mm (0.4 inch). The ergonomics can be tweaked further by official Yamaha accessory options including a tall Touring Windscreen ($187.99), Lowered Seat ($284.99) and softer Comfort Saddle ($364.99).


Accessory Grip Heaters ($283.99) installed on the test bikes kept my hands toasty, even while wearing vented warm-weather gloves in the rainy, chilly weather (it’s California, I thought it would be warm…). I actually rode most of the day with the grips turned off or on the lowest heat setting, which I credit to the effectiveness of the handguards, but rest assured the grips will be lifesavers in colder climes encountered by hardy touring riders. Unlike some factory accessory heated grips, the FJ’s incorporate seamlessly into the FJ-09 instrumentation, manipulated through the left-side switchgear exactly like the grips on the FJR1300.

Speaking of which, the LCD control screen and menu options will be quite familiar with FJR riders. The left-side screen’s bar-style tach and digital speedo is easy to read, with smaller right-side screen displaying all the relevant info – including gear-position indicator. The FJ-09 also sources a 12-Volt plug, conveniently housed left of the instrument console. The outlet comes as standard kit, which we utilized to power our Aerostich Electric Warmbib. It’s one more value-added feature, like the centerstand and bright LED headlights, which bump up the turn-key touring credibility.

Oddly enough, for an avowed sport-touring mount, saddlebags aren’t included on the stock FJ-09. Instead they’re $399.99 apiece with mounts ($93.99) and lock set ($79.99) adding just under a grand to the price. I wasn’t able to cram my full-face helmet into the hardbags’ slender contours, which may be a deal breaker to some riders, but they will fit a reasonable amount of gear. I’ve always enjoyed the simple functionality of Yamaha’s saddlebags. Yes, riders do have to carry a separate key for the bags… but there’s no remote key fobs or confusing latching procedures, just insert key, turn and open. Easy and practical.

At 4.8 gallons, the FJ-09 carries a 1.1-gallon larger fuel load than the FZ-09, and this extra gas was sorely needed to be taken seriously as a touring mount. Yamaha’s claims of 44 mpg efficiency equates to a theoretical 211-mile range. And this might be true in a bizarro world of emotionless automaton riders. But in the real world we inhabit, where riders have souls and are capable of experiencing joy and happiness, the mpg figure will be much closer to the 37 we observed during our comparison testing of the FZ-09. That equates to a 177-mile range, which means riders will need to get serious about looking for gas every 150 miles or so… Admittedly, not the best for a sport-touring mount, but livable.

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Style-wise the FJ’s bodywork distances itself from the naked FZ, and riders have to look close for the three header pipes and underslung exhaust to draw an immediate connection between the two bikes. I’m not so sure this is a good thing, as personally I think the stripped down FZ-09 is one of the better looking Japanese bikes in production. However, I do find the FJ’s styling appealing, particularly in the red colorway. It really looks the part of a sleek sport-tourer once the bags are attached.

When you add it up, the FJ-09 makes for an appealing intermediate sport-touring option. Granted, it sheds horsepower and some of the creature comforts found on larger-displacement ST options, but it also drops a couple hundred pounds and the as-tested $11,748 MSRP ($10,490 base model) is literally less than half the price of most top-shelf touring bikes. The FJ-09 fixes, or at least improves, the shortcomings of its successful FZ-09 sibling. It delivers an authentic sport-touring experience at an affordable price point, a combination which I’m sure many riders will take keen notice in the upcoming year.

2015 Yamaha FJ-09 First Ride Photos 

  
  

 

Bart Madson

MotoUSA Editor | Articles | Bashing away at the MotoUSA keyboard for 10 years now, Madson lends his scribbling and editorial input on everything from bike reviews to motorcycle racing reports and industry news features.