‘Sports’ and ‘Tourer’. Can a single bike offer both? Alun Davies checks out the 2016 offering from Yamaha.
Right, let’s get straight down to it and dispel any notion that penning these reports simply involves swanning around on new metal, scribbling notes on fag packets and then dictating a load of garbage for a sub to knock into shape back at the office.
When it comes to writing motorcycle reviews, life under the ABR tarp is a fullon literary drama where I transcend to a heightened emotional plateaux. Whilst there I immerse myself in the essence of the build, its spiritual relevance to you, the reader, and how linked ABS is a direct path to the meaning of life. Mind you, if you caught me after a few pints, I’d admit to smoking too much and employing an overworked sub.
I’m hamming this up a touch, but when the riding stops and it’s time to put words on the page I never fail to feel a fleeting moment of self-absorbed preciousness where I consider myself a writer and demand complete isolation. Time has shown that to best engage the old grey matter I need solitude. I don’t ‘want’ to be alone, I ‘need’ to be alone. The alternative is missed deadlines and arm waving luvvie hysteria when interrupted.
That’s why I tend to choose the tranquillity of the ABR office on a Sunday morning, where I can kick start a feature in a tenth of the time it would take on a busy Monday afternoon. I can also pace the floorboards for added drama and read back the text Orson Welles style without the fear of being sued by the staff for constructive dismissal brought on by emotional trauma.
And that’s where you would have found me 30 minutes ago, sat peacefully behind a desk in the office on a bright, sunny Sunday morning looking at a computer screen and thinking where the hell shall I start this report. And then the phone rang and I threw the server out of the window.
I’ve calmed down now, though I’ve yet to retrieve the server from the car park as I’ve been too preoccupied with windshields. You see, the call was from an old mate who’s just bought a new bike (nota Yamaha) and been out on his 50-mile maiden voyage only to return with brain damage brought on by the level of buffeting, and that got me thinking about the FJR, its huge screen and the level of wind blast.
The FJR is deemed a ‘sports tourer’ and therefore, by definition I’d have thought decent wind protection would come as standard. Though try as I might, and I tried mightily hard, no matter what position I adjusted the vast electronic screen, I could not find a position where I could sit upright and think ‘touring’.
I mention this from the off as, in just about every other way, I thought the Yamaha a superb machine let down by a screen that, with a couple more inches of lift, would have had me raving about its long distance capabilities straight out of the box.
As it is, at 6’2” tall, I’d undoubtedly be looking for an aftermarket fix, which I’m equally sure is out there, it’s just a shame it doesn’t come as standard.
The original FJR made its debut in 2001 and has since been the subject of a few updates, with the 2016 model being the latest. Over the past 15 years, the bike has gained a reputation for excellent reliability, being hard-wearing on front tyres and holding on to its conservative looks.
I’ve also a few mates who are long term FJR owners who wouldn’t have a bad word said about them, though it has to be admitted they are both sub-6ft with Quasimodo’s body-lines and find the screen protection more than adequate.
For 2016 Yamaha have added a new sixth gear (the older versions came with five), along with new gear spacing for the lower cogs. The addition of sixth means that the lower gears can be spaced tighter for an improved riding experience, with the new top gear offering a relaxed overdrive.
Also new for 2016 is the ‘Assist and Slipper Clutch’, which offers both a lighter feel at the hand and prevents a ‘bunny hopping’ back wheel with over-aggressive downshifts. The top-spec AS model comes with full clutch-less gear change.
There’s also new LED lights all round (headlight, backlight and indicators), plus the AE model features three additional cornering headlights which engage progressively with the lean angle of the bike (they switch on at seven, 11, and 16 degrees). There’s also new suspension for the base model and the cockpit has been re-designed.
First impressions of the new FJR are good; I like the traditional styling and, with a seat height ranging between 805mm to 825mm, it’s easy to swing a leg over. The stance is classic sports tourer with a knee bend sharper than that found on adventure bikes and a slight forward pitch of the upper body onto the bars. It’s a tiny bit cramped for a 6’2” frame, but nothing to fret over.
In short, it’s not an overly aggressive position and during the course of a long day in the saddle I found it mighty comfy, but no doubt anyone moving from the more open and upright stance of an adventure bike would notice the difference.
The FJR allows for some rider customisation with just over five inches of movement in the electrically adjustable screen, the fairing side deflectors can be angled out up to 20mm, plus the seat can be raised 20mm and there’s 5mm fore and aft adjustment at the handlebars.
The cockpit screens are well laid out and easy to interpret with nothing more than a quick downward glance, something that can’t be said for many of the new hi-tech machines coming to market.
In addition, the screens have been treated with a very welcome anti-glare coating which works spot on in all but the most intense direct sunlight.
The mirrors offer unimpaired vision, but they do stick out a touch and as with most sports tourers, they don’t make for great filtering machines. You do get heated grips as standard and there’s a handy ‘glove box’ built into the fairing, a feature I always appreciate on a touring bike. This one-litre storage compartment is tucked into the top left of the fairing, it locks with the ignition and contains a 12v accessory charger. Spot on.
Another feature that’s vital for a long distance tourer is a comfortable seat and I must admit I found the FJR luxurious from the off. After a couple of hundred miles, my opinion was unchanged. It’s one of the best and most comfortable perches fitted on a machine with two wheels. Full marks and ditto from the pillion.
The FJR is both bulky and heavy, but as I found out a few months ago on Dunlop’s private test circuit in the South of France, that size does not translate into unwieldy. One of the tests for the new Dunlop Roadsmart III tyres was a slow speed obstacle course. As it happened the new tyres were fitted to Yamaha FJR 1300s and I was suitably impressed with both the rubber and the superb agility of the big Yam.
The track was made up of tricky chicanes and sections with ultra-tight turning circles where you’d appreciate a small, lightweight bike, but I can tell you now the FJR performed with a level of composure, nimbleness and delicate balance that defies it’s 292kg bulk.
Setting off from the ABR office for a long weekend in the Peak District, it took no more than a couple of miles to appreciate the prime feature of this bike. The 1298cc in-line four engine has always been the main talking point, but when combined with the new gear ratios it really is a stonking ride.
The low and mid-range torque are both things of beauty and the smooth rush of power just keeps coming through the range. There are plenty of bikes on the market right now with exceptionally smooth and punchy engines and the FJR, in my experience, is right up there with the best.
Exiting the A46 onto the M40, the engine felt as if it was hardly turning at 70mph in the new sixth gear. Whatever Yamaha has done with the new helical gear configuration, I can confirm that their claims of a smoother ride are very true. I’ve had my say about the screen not being protective enough for my 6’2” frame, but if I lent forward into the air-pocket the cruising experience is remarkably stress-free and polished.
Motorway run complete and onto the fantastic Peak District roads (are there any boring roads in the Peak District?) where the exciting, sportier side of the FJR takes over. The words ‘stable’ and ‘planted’ apply in equal measure but this bike also possesses a sporty gene that’ll allow you to push on with all but the most aggressive knee scrapers on R1’s.
With good ground clearance, a superb, linked ABS braking system and that stonking engine the Yam performed flawlessly when being hoofed around tight turns and long sweepers and it’s only on bends that tighten up mid-corner do you ever feel the extra bulk coming into play.
On the touring end of the ‘sports tourer’ spectrum, the FJR is also happy enough when you’re plodding along in tourist mode taking in the scenery and riding the immense torque rather than buzzing up and down the box.
Sticking with the touring capabilities of the bike, the AE model on test came with a set of matching plastic panniers which complement the look of the bike but unfortunately were not big enough to fit an XL full-face helmet.
The 2016 version of the FJR is also top box friendly, with a new rack and box in the accessory range. By modern standards, the technology available on the FJR is a little underwhelming.
You get cruise control, ABS and non-adjustable traction control while the AE model comes with electronically adjustable suspension, plus you get ‘sports’ and ‘touring’ engine modes. However, I’d have liked to see the ABS being lean angle sensitive along with the traction control.
What you do get works very well with the suspension pre-load allowing solo, with luggage and with pillion adjustment and soft, standard and hard damping control. Plus, there are a further seven micro settings on the damping control to fine-tune the performance. In use, I’ve no complaints about the suspension which offers a silky smooth and comfy touring feel, plus an all round stiffer ride for when the red mist descends. In addition, changing modes is a simple, logical procedure.
All things considered, Yamaha has done a great job at focusing on both the ‘sports’ and the ‘touring’ features of the FJR and there’s a whole lot of satisfied customers on the road ready to back up that view. It’s a bike with proven reliability and with the exception of the screen, finding fault would be nitpicking. With prices starting at £13,299, it also offers pretty good value for money.
As a commuter
The FJR is a little wide and heavy to be considered ideal for regular city commuting, but the low seat does offer both feet on the floor stability. For longer commutes in less congested environments, it would be spot on.
As a weekend tourer
The FJR is a stress-free ride at legal motorway speeds when riding solo or when fully loaded with a pillion which makes getting to your bolthole a non-tiring event. It’s also a bike you’ll appreciate on the A and B roads at your destination, as I found out on a long weekender in the Peak District.
As an off-roader
Just one look at the FJR tells you all you need to know. Look elsewhere.
As a continental road tourer
My only concern with the big Yamaha is the performance of the screen. With that fixed – and there are after-market options – the FJR is going to be a long distance motorway mile muncher and a blast on the kind of roads you find in the Alps. First-rate.
As an RTW overlander
As with all sports tourers, they don’t look the sort of bike you’d buy for a round the world odyssey. However, circumnavigation does not have to involve any off-road adventures and the reliability of the FJR is legendary.
As a pillion carrier
The FJR gained full marks from the pillion. Long term comfort and confidence was top draw.