Yamaha has built one stout sport-tourer in the FJR. It can keep up with a ZZR on a twisty road while providing nearly the comfort of the ST1300.
Midway up the coast, our group pulled into Nepenthe, a spectacular hillside restaurant/souvenir shop overlooking the rugged coastline. A combination of fresh sea air, sweet pastry and warm café lattes invigorated us for our northward journey. After riding the brutally efficient Kawasaki, Caz and I plopped ourselves onto the Honda La-Z-Boy for a little tender soothing.
Getting quickly up to speed, it becomes apparent that the ST doesn't lack in power. The others may put up bigger numbers on the dyno, but the others can't match the silky smooth power production from the stout V-4 Honda. It makes within 90% of its peak torque right off idle, and the 1261cc motor simply makes more power the more it's revved during its linear pull.
All is not perfect with the Honda driveline, though. We experienced several missed shifts, especially at high rpm on the 1-2 change, and the tranny of our test bike jumped out of third gear a couple of times. We also didn't appreciate the ST's fuel injection when it delivered a sudden jolt of power when coming back on the throttle at elevated engine speeds.
However, the Honda will only lag behind the most serious of riders down a twisty road. There is decent ground clearance here for a big bike, and even when the pegs touch down there is ample stability to keep on grinding. Though saddled with a heavy-but-clean shaft-drive system, as is the FJR, there is negligible jacking effect on its chassis, and the ST resolutely refuses to stand up under braking. Honda's linked-braking system, in which the center pistons in each 3-pot caliper are applied to all three discs when the brake pedal is applied and the outer pistons in each caliper are actuated by the brake lever, works almost transparently and are a nice addition for most riders. Brake force is applied to the rear slightly ahead of the fronts to deliver a certain amount of anti-dive properties.
Our ST was equipped with the optional antilock brake package, as was our FJR, and both systems impressed us with their ability to not interfere with normal hard braking. But, like an automotive ABS system, it was nice to know it was there to bail us out had we come across some gravel or oil. Perhaps the crashed Suzuki RGV250 rider we passed just south of Monterey might've been saved from his embarrassing (and hopefully not too painful) crash had he been ABS-equipped.
The FJR is an attractive machine with its matching hardbags while maintaining its good looks for those solo tours when they aren't needed.
Our trio of bikes made Monterey well before dinner, but we had a rendezvous with Putter to shoot some more pics before our day was done. We enjoyed exploring a few of Monterey County's G roads before we found a suitable location for our static beauty shots. The Honda's swing-out handle helped make getting the 678-pound brute onto its centerstand a bit easier.
Later on we pulled in to the backyard of the house MCUSA had rented as the epicenter of our weekend activities, and that's where we were first shocked by the horrid looking bolt-on steel mounts that were revealed when we removed the ZZR's Givi saddlebags. The Kawi's streamlined appearance is completely ruined by the exposed bridgework, so its owner would be loath to ride without the bags. And, when mounted, the luggage sticks out further than the integrated sets on the other two bikes, making the Kawi the last choice for lane-splitting behavior.
Our time during the race weekend was mostly spent either shuttling back and forth to the track or tooling around town, with a couple of sojourns through the bucolic G roads between Monterey and Salinas. The ST1300, large as it is, comported itself well in the slow going, such as during a cruise down Monterey's historic Cannery Row. The mini-Wing's large footpegs are terrifically comfortable on the highway, but we found they impede a leg's direct shot at the ground, forcing feet either in front of the pegs or behind, and neither is ideal.
Mornings are often quite cool in this area, but that was less of a problem on the 1300s. The fuel-injection systems of both electronically compensate the fuel mixture and idle speed for varying conditions, while the Kawasaki requires some input from the rider. The ZZR carburets quite well when warm, but the bar-mounted choke lever for the carburetors seems a bit crude in this club.
The FJR was not the most powerful nor was it the weakest of the bunch, pumping out a meaty 122.5 hp @ 7000 rpm and a stompin' 80 lb-ft. @ 5,900 rpm. Engine counterbalancers keep vibration mostly at bay.
Those old-fashioned fuel/air mixers also exact a bit of a penalty at the gas pump. Despite having the smallest engine, the ZZR consistently got worse fuel mileage than the injected 1300s at each fill during our trip, if only slightly. Meanwhile, the ST and FJR traded off high-mileage awards, averaging 40.8 and 39.0 mpg, respectively, over the duration of our trip. The Kawasaki's overall average of 40.0 mpg was slightly higher than the Yamaha, due mostly to one heavy-handed segment on the FJR. The Yamaha exploits a further advantage by a fuel tank that is 0.5-gallon larger than the ZZR's, but all must bow down to the oil tanker on wheels that is the ST1300, as its massive 7.7-gallon fuel capacity enables a cruising range of more than 300 miles.
All too soon, Chris Vermuelen had taken the double victory at Laguna Seca and we had to pack up for a long day's ride home on Monday. Sure, we could've gone the quick way, but there were a few unexplored G roads to enjoy.
Surprisingly, perhaps, at this point in our trip it didn't seem to bother our testers much which bike they were on. Each offers a personality distinct from each other, and so there's something to enjoy with each.
In terms of speed, the ZZ's top. With respect to comfort, the ST can't be beat. The FJR sits in a middle ground that lacks barely anything.
The FJR doesn't have wind protection as comprehensive as the full-coverage Honda, especially for a rider's feet and legs, but it's noticeably better than the Kawasaki. Extra upper-body coverage was offered by a Laminar Lip
we fitted to our test bike's electrically adjustable windscreen. Basically an inverted airfoil mounted on top of a stock windshield, the Lip forces two paths of oncoming air to merge together, diffusing the net amount of turbulence and directing the blast higher. Indeed, it works as advertised, offering a larger, higher pocket of still air for the FJR rider. Equipped as such, the FJR's upper wind protection rivaled the coverage of the ST13's superior stock system.