Yamaha is hoping the FJR1300 Sport Tourer adds to the 20% growth they have experienced over the past few years.
Over the past five years, Yamaha has been cranking out the hits like the Beatles in their prime. The tuning fork crew has been ace at anticipating the market and delivering exciting product by expanding class distinctions. For reference, remember bikes such as the "no-compromises" R1 and R6 sportbikes, the leading edge of four-stroke dirtbikes (YZ400/426F and YZ250F), and the stylish yet affordable Star cruiser line.
The result has been double digit growth for Yamaha, and in the process its market share has ballooned from 13% to 20%. Sales for April of this year may be a record result for the Blue Bike Group, according to Yamaha brass.
But Yamaha has been slow to set sail on the quickly-bourgeoning sport-touring ship, leaving that role to the sporting standard FZ1. Finally, though, the muscle-bound FJR1300 that was introduced in Europe more than a year ago is set to land on our shores as a 2003 model.
Yamaha says the FJR "explodes the sport-touring mold" to create what it calls a Super Sport Tourer. The formula is simple: Wrap an aluminum perimeter frame around a torque-laden monster Inline-Four (kind of like the FJR's spiritual predecessor, the FJ1200), transmit power through part of the shaft drive of a V-Max to sportbike-size rubber, add mighty brakes from the R1, and cloak it in a stylish, full-coverage fairing with matching hard bags.
And it's at speed where the FJR thrives, inhaling 70-plus-mph corners like Marlon Brando at the buffet table. A burly 48mm, fully-adjustable Soqi fork set at a lazyish 26.0-degree rake with 109mm of trail provides stable steering, and the FJR confidently devours fast roads at a rapid pace.
The 1298cc motor does not utilize the 5 valve design we have grown accustomed to seing on Yamaha performance bikes since it was first made popular on their 1985 FZ 750.
The core of this uber-tourer is its 1298cc mill, with dual counter-balancers smoothing nasty vibes. Cylinders cast integral with the crankcase serve as a stressed member for the alloy frame. A ceramic-composite cylinder coating aids durability, as do carburized connecting rods and forged (10.8:1) pistons. Tree huggers will like the closed-loop fuel injection, air-injection pump and dual three-way catalysts that help make the FJR comply with the stringent EU-2 regs until 2006.
The skin wrapped around this big-block heart is an appealing mix of razor-cut angles and sensuous curves coated with a Euro-look color Yamaha calls Liquid Silver. Dual headlights blaze the trail ahead, and an electrically-adjustable windscreen provides theoretical wind protection at all speeds. It automatically returns to its lowest position when the ignition is switched off, usually leaving bystanders with mouths agape.
The first clue of the beast within the FJR is its deep, baritone exhaust note upon start-up, which hints at the claimed 145 crankshaft horsepower and its substantial torque. The FJR feels compact and dense, a sensation aided by the lowish 31.1-inch seat height. The handlebars offer a sportingly neutral riding position, which is to say not too low or too sharply angled, a bit like Honda's Interceptor.
Those handlebars become important when you grab a handful of FJR throttle, as you'll be gripping them with white knuckles anytime full-throttle acceleration is sampled. As you'd expect from an engine with 1300cc, the well of power is nearly bottomless. Scenery begins to really blur once past 5000 rpm, building relentlessly to the 9200 rpm redline. At first I believed the silver flash to have a short power band because I was shifting quite a bit. This, I realized, was a false impression; the short duration between shifts is simply the result of revs piling on so furiously that it hastily becomes time for the next gear.
Have a closer look at the dual counter-balancers. Until you ride an FJR you wont understand how smooth these little guys make the engine feel.
Unraveling a tight, twisty road, however, is a greater challenge for the muscle-bound GT. A fairly rangy wheelbase of 59.7 inches combined with a 521-pound claimed dry weight tells us this is no R1, and indeed this bahn-burner exhibits heavy steering and a lack of communication from the front wheel.
The FJR's worst quality when making time is its abrupt response from the 42mm throttle bodies. American Yamaha tells us that fuel-injection glitches that hindered Euro FJRs had been sorted, but there's still work to do.
The harsh response is not just on closed-throttle inputs (as is typical on many injected bikes), but it's also abrupt when shutting the throttle as the EFI shuts fuel off completely to prevent unburned fuel dirtying exhaust emissions. Yamaha's new YZF-R1 has an EFI system that acts like a constant-velocity carburetor to alleviate abruptness when coming back on the throttle, but the FJR debuted before that technology was developed. Too bad for the FJR. The abruptness combined with a bit of driveline lash from the shaft drive can upset the chassis at inappropriate moments.
The trick, electro-windcreen also deserves some criticism. While we enjoyed having options (4.7 inches over a 20-degree sweep), the motorized screen was kept in its lowest position during most of our time on the bike, where air is deflected cleanly to a rider's helmet, not much different than a well-designed sportbike fairing. The medium position is almost useless, as turbulent air jostles a rider's head. The highest position is useful around town, offering an enveloping cocoon of still air at low speeds.
Open-class sportbike power and chassis performance meets a comfort level normally reserved for traditional touring machines.
High velocities combined with the upright position, however, cause extreme reverse airflow, with wind wrapping around the windshield and then coming back to press the rider forward! This massive "tailwind" is so forceful at 90 mph and above that you could substitute a warp-speed FJR ride for your daily push-up reps.
The 4-inch taller, 2-inch wider accessory windshield ( $94.95) Yamaha offers will likely provide better protection for those who take touring seriously. Iron Butt types will also want the optional 1.38-cubic-foot touring trunk ($514.90) and the heated hand grips with battery-saving regulator for (a rather steep) $299.95.
Long-range comfort is also compromised slightly by too-hard grips (which induced a cramp), and by vibration that seeps to the footpegs and gives the rider's feet "the tinglies" during a long ride.
Good stuff includes the firm but supportive dual seats, the low-maintenance shaft drive cleverly hidden in the stylish aluminum swingarm, 26,000-mile service intervals, and the sizable 6.6-gallon fuel tank that should deliver nearly 250 miles between gas stops at the 38-mpg pace we saw.
The FJR's rear shock has a two-stage spring preload adjuster that comes in handy when adding the extra weight of a passenger. Simply slide the lever and you and your honey are ready to go. A convenient knurled wheel on the shock provides quick rebound damping changes, which you'll need to accommodate the extra spring pressure. R1-spec brakes offer a solid feeling at the front brake lever, a bonus when you find out how quick this thing builds speed.
The FJR uses aluminum for its perimeter frame and detachable subframe, along with this alloy swingarm that incorporates the shaft drive.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the FJR is its $11,499 price tag, quite a bargain considering the bike's copious amount of features - which should make the 300-buck heated hand grips more palatable.
Yamaha blames the uncertainty of the sport-touring market as the reason why it waited to bring the FJR to America, adding that only about 3000 sport-touring bikes were sold in here in 2001.
Well, Yamaha has already pre-sold 50% more FJRs than it expected, demonstrating the strong demand for a sport-touring rig with deep reserves of power. Though the FJR won't be in showrooms until August, Yamaha cautions that if you don't have your deposit in by now, you might have a hard time getting your FJR until the '04 model that will begin delivery in the summer of 2003.
Aside from the fuel-injection quibbles, there's much to like about the FJR1300. But by waiting until this summer for its arrival, Yamaha has missed its opportunity to get a head start in the emerging muscle-sport-touring category. Kawasaki's new ZZ-R1200 (basically a heavily-revised ZX-11 for ST duty with optional Givi-made hard bags) is at dealers now, and early reports say its 145 horsepower is available at the rear wheel, not the factory-claimed 145 hp at the FJR's countershaft.
Yamaha says the FJR "explodes the sport-touring mold" to create what it calls a Super Sport Tourer with a realistic $11,499 price tag, which should be considered quite a bargain.
I guess it's a matter of how fast you need to get to your destination. There are several other bikes that hold more cargo and offer plusher accommodations. But if you think a Gold Wing is too much like a car and the teutonic-ness of BMWs isn't your style, the exhilaration of the FJR's acceleration will definitely haul the mail. And your rain gear, and extra pants, and toiletries, and camera and...
Perhaps a shootout to crown the king of this new segment is called for. Anyone interested in a SoCal-to-Monterey record run to the World Superbike races on these super-tourers?