At one point during the press introduction for the 2016 Yamaha FJR1300, talk turned to how time flies. And how, as we get older, events that seem like just a few years ago in fact transpired a decade or more beforehand.
That’s sort of how it is with the FJR1300. It seems like “just the other day” overseas markets got the swoopy new sport-tourer while we had to wait. The FJR debuted in ’01 as an ’02 model but didn’t arrive on these shores until ’03. In ’04 it was upgraded with ABS, and the ’06 model year saw new styling plus the introduction of the AE auto-clutch version. There was another restyle along with the addition of throttle-by-wire in ’13, and then in ’14 came the ES version with electronically adjustable suspension.
The venerable Yamaha FJR1300 sport-tourer has been upgraded yet again for 2016. Two versions are available: the base-model A and the upgraded ES with electronically adjustable suspension.
That’s a roundabout way of pointing out that the FJR is now 15 years old, which makes it something of a senior citizen in motorcycle terms. So maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that it underwent major surgery. The biggest news is the addition of a sixth speed in the gearbox. That’s more complicated than it sounds, however, as to fit inside the existing engine cases the transmission had to be completely redesigned. Thus the gears are now helical instead of straight-cut, and rather than having dogs machined on the back of each gear there are separate dog gears in between. There’s a joke about dog years there somewhere…
The engineers didn’t just add an extra gear, either. First and second were made taller, while fourth and fifth were made shorter; only the third gear ratio remains the same. Sixth is a very tall overdrive that Yamaha claims equates to a 10 percent reduction in rpm at cruising speeds.
Also new is an Assist & Slipper clutch, which uses mechanical clamping force to help pull the plates together under acceleration and the opposite under decel. This allowed the previous single diaphragm spring to be replaced by three coil springs, which is said to reduce lever pull by 20 percent. Moreover, the Yamaha Chip Controlled Throttle (YCC-T) automatically raises the engine revs by some 200 rpm when the clutch lever is released at a standstill, easing engagement.
The FJR’s dash is newly redesigned and packs a lot of features in a fairly intuitive package. All functions along with cruise control are actuated via buttons and switches on the left handlebar cluster.
For 2016, there are two versions of the FJR1300 available: the A model with traditional suspension and the ES model with electronic suspension. The former uses new KYB (rather than Yamaha’s own) suspension components this year, yet retains the clever Hard/Soft lever that effectively changes the shock spring rate to compensate for carrying a passenger and/or luggage. The latter features a high-tech system that lets you change suspension settings at the touch of a button. Damping (compression and rebound on the fork, rebound only on the shock) can be adjusted on the fly, and you can choose between Standard, Hard, and Soft settings with +/-3 for each. Shock spring preload is four-position adjustable via the familiar helmet/luggage dash display, and you must be parked to adjust it.
Both models come with unified antilock brakes, the rear pedal operating one pair of pistons in the right front Nissin monoblock four-piston caliper in the interest of safety. There’s also (non-adjustable) traction control, two drive modes (T for Touring and S for sport), and fine-tunable heated hand grips (three settings with 1-10 for each). The windshield height is electrically adjustable over a range of 5.1 inches, the fairing side deflectors can be angled out 20mm, the seat can be raised 20mm, and the handlebars can be moved fore or aft 5mm. Color-matched hard saddlebags come standard, and it’s worth noting that they will not hold an adult-size full-face helmet. Full LED lighting—headlights, taillights, and turn signals—is another new addition, plus the ES version comes with sequential cornering lights that illuminate at 7, 11, and 16 degrees of lean angle. A new dash coating is said to reduce glare.
**Cornering lights are new on the ES model only, with each LED illuminating sequentially at 7, 11, and 16 degrees of lean angle. Both models’ headlights, taillights, and turnsignals use LEDs as well.
To sample the 2016 FJR1300, Yamaha invited the motorcycling press to Phoenix, Arizona, where we spent two days riding 250 miles to scenic Sedona and back. Both A and ES versions were available, and I spent one day aboard each.
Despite not having ridden an FJR since 2012, I immediately felt right at home. The riding position is “just right” and only a tiny bit cramped from seat to peg—easily rectified by raising the seat to its higher position, an operation that takes mere seconds. The seat itself is plenty comfortable, and despite long stretches of highway I was never tempted to try the accessory comfort seat that Yamaha had brought along. That’s an important consideration on a bike with a 6.6-gallon gas tank. Wind protection is mostly excellent, but while there is far less buffeting than with the previous-generation windscreen, it’s still pretty noisy. I adjusted it to where it was quietest and left it there.
The unified braking system sees the rear brake pedal control one pair of pistons in the right front caliper. Those pistons are smaller (22.5 vs. 34mm) to optimize feel while equalizing pad wear.
One thing is for certain: The six-speed transmission is a godsend! The FJR has never really been buzzy, but shifting into top gear the motor is so smooth, it’s eerie. Cruising at 75 mph, the engine is barely turning 3500 rpm. Yamaha claims the helical gears make for smoother shifting and smoother running, and we’d have to agree. The Assist & Slipper clutch works very well, but I’m not completely sold on the engine revs rising without my consent. That seemed to me to make the clutch engagement less smooth, though it undoubtedly helps prevent the bike from rolling backwards while starting off on an uphill.
Exit the highway, point the FJR up a twisty mountain road like the one headed to rustic Jerome, and you’re in for a rollercoaster thrill ride. The Yamaha folks reminded us that the FJR1300A weighs 55 lbs. less than Kawasaki’s Concours 14, and it does indeed handle very sportingly, despite being remarkably stable and planted. It’s only when you push it hard into an off-camber, decreasing-radius corner that you’ll sense its heft and slight lack of cornering clearance compared to a sportbike. I had one scary moment when, while braking hard into a rippled right-hander, the ABS started cycling so aggressively that I crossed over the centerline. But that was on the ES version and I admittedly had toggled the suspension to the max, so the fork was likely packing up. Beyond that, both FJRs performed flawlessly.
In addition to the standard color-matched saddlebags, there’s also a 1-liter locking storage compartment with a 12-volt electrical outlet built into the left side of the fairing.
That said, I do have a couple of misgivings. First is cost: While the Yamaha folks stressed that the FJR1300ES costs $800 less than the base-model BMW R1200RT, it’s still priced at nearly $18,000—and the A-model costs more than $16,000. That’s a lot of money for a 15-year-old motorcycle, never mind how many times it’s been updated.
Second, while Yamaha added an Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU) to control the cornering lights, that’s not yet integrated with the antilock brakes or traction control, which is a major fail in today’s high-tech sport-touring market. Suffice it to say that while the hardware is now affordable, the R&D is cost-prohibitive—or at least failed to make it into this year’s budget. While no one from Yamaha hinted as much, I wouldn’t be surprised to see lean angle-sensitive ABS and TC incorporated in the very near future.
Until then the FJR1300 will remain somewhat dated, awaiting further refinement. As the bike’s own dash display says when powering down, “See you next time.”
||2016 Yamaha FJR1300A/ES|
|ENGINE|Liquid-cooled DOHC inline-four|
|BORE x STROKE|79.0 x 66.2mm|
|FUEL SYSTEM|EFI with YCC-T|
|CLUTCH|Wet, multi-plate with assist-and-slip|
|FRONT SUSPENSION|48mm inverted fork with adjustable spring preload, compression and rebound damping/43mm inverted fork with electronically adjustable compression and rebound damping|
|REAR SUSPENSION|Single shock with adjustable spring preload and rebound damping /single shock with electronically adjustable spring preload, compression and rebound damping|
|FRONT BRAKES|Dual four-piston calipers with 320mm discs, unified with ABS|
|REAR BRAKES|Single two-piston caliper with 282mm disc, unified with ABS|
|SEAT HEIGHT|31.7-32.5 in.|
|FUEL CAPACITY|6.6 gal.|
|CLAIMED WET WEIGHT|635/642 lb.|