Retrospective: Yamaha FJ1100/1200

1984: The year the market shifted from cruisers to sport bikes

This article was originally published in the October, 1996 issue of Sport Rider.

Nineteen eighty-four was truly a watershed year for motor­cycling. The pendulum swung fully away from the cruiser styling that dominated the market the previous six years and rocked unyield­ingly in favor of sport bikes.

While all of the Big Four made cruiser bikes, Yamaha seemed the most firmly entrenched in the genre. However, with several years of Grand Prix success behind them, Yamaha’s engineers designed the FJ1100 in ’84 in full paddock-chic: a full-perimeter frame, 16-inch wheels front and rear, box-section swingarm, Mono­­­cross rear suspension with multi-adjustable shock and anti-dive fork. The swoopy red-and-silver half-fairing and chin spoiler mark the FJ1100 as one serious sporting tool.

Looking closer, most observers were at once familiar and confused by Yamaha’s choice of engine: a seemingly old-tech, air-cooled, in-line four, which was a chain drive sister to the older 650/750/900 Maxim/Seca series, but shared dimensions, parts-bin trans­mission parts and other bits. The FJ’s real technological strides were from the head gasket up—Yamaha’s first four-valve head since the long-defunct XS 500. The motor’s displacement increase—coupled with the improved breathing afforded by revised carburetion (36mm Mikuni CV), large-volume 4-into-2 exhaust and the new head—made the engine a steamer that assuredly astounded even the designers. By any then-current measure, the 1097cc mill simply ripped. The FJ had low- and mid-range grunt unmatched by all but Suzuki’s GS 1150, and a stout top end that propelled the 570-pound 1100 into the 10s at the dragstrip.

Yamaha FJ1100/1200
The Yamaha FJ1100/1200 with styling inspired by the Grand Prix paddock-chic designs.Photo Courtesy of Yamaha

Chassis design was a chapter con­sidered closed by many Yamaha faithful, but the 1100’s square-section steel perimeter frame broke new ground for the marque and provided proof that racing does improve the breed. Con­sidered spindly by today’s standards, the FJ’s chassis, suspension com­ponents, wheels and brakes were models of rigidity, adjustability and function in ’84. The 41mm forks held a 2.75 x 16-inch wheel complete with dual radially vented rotors gripped by twin-piston calipers; the aforemen­tioned hydraulic anti-dive adorned both fork legs. Out back, a box-section aluminum swingarm, Monocross linkage suspension, 3.5 x 16-inch wheel and single disc got the call. Handling was described by most as a good combination of respon­siveness and stability, especially compared with such log trucks as the GPz1100 and GS1150. Honda’s VF 1000F and Kawasaki’s 900 Ninja steered lighter but were less stable, especially the Kawi. It seemed the big FJ was the best of both worlds.

The FJ1100 wasn't the all-dominant flagship Yamaha had hoped for, since Honda, Kawasaki and Suzuki all rolled out new superbikes that same year. It was not the quickest (Suzuki), best handling (Kawasaki), or most so­phisticated (Honda), but it managed to win praise for its jack-of-all-trades versatility and won Motorcyclist's '84 open-class shootout. Comfortable and powerful enough for the two-up weekend jaunt, the FJ was a bulletproof sport-tourer as well as commuter, bracket racer and canyon sledge­hammer. More than a few were roadraced.

Long-term assessment of the FJ’s hardware reveals some correctable flaws, such as a tendency to overheat when pushed hard, limited ground clearance and overly soft suspension action. A more serious problem is second-gear shift forks, remedied via some detailed shop work. As more sharply focused sport bikes entered the market in subsequent years, the once top-shelf FJ morphed into a true Gentlemen’s Express, more closely associated with sport-touring than cutting-edge super­bike supremacy. Enlarged to 1188cc in 1986, the FJ was refined into one of the absolute best bikes for racking up major mileage at high speed. During its tenure in the U.S. market, the FJ1100/1200 was blessed with such upgrades as a bigger fairing, larger oil cooler, 17-inch front wheel and ABS brakes. The same basic platform endured the entire 10 years of production, a tribute to the soundness of the design.

Any year FJ1100/1200 is worth owning if your budget can’t handle new-bike prices. A pristine ’84 might run three grand, a thrasher as low as a thousand. Prices increase steadily to the ’94 ABS FJ1200, currently going for five to eight large ones. As with any used purchase, it pays big dividends to hit up a competent local mechanic well versed in FJ-speak to advise on potential problem areas. The reward in finding a solid, well-cared-for FJ will be the grin on your face the first time you pin the throttle to the stop or realize you just traversed nearly 400 miles of sweeping two-lane, in five hours, with a passenger, and your butt doesn’t even ache. The beauty of the FJ1100 shines through regard­less of the mission, and is best appreciated from the saddle.