Big. Comfortable. Powerful. A hoot. Yep, Yamaha has hit back hard in the large-capacity sportstourer market with the all-new FJR1300.
"It's been a five-year wait between Master Blaster Yamaha sportstourers for Aussie riders, but it's been a wait well worth it."
Those words completed my introductory yarn on the Yamaha FJR1300 after attending the world launch in Spain eight months ago. Now, after a more thorough, local-based sojourn on the all-new in-line four - as a 'touring' companion on our annual Tour of Duty - I'd suggest again that I couldn't have been more on the mark. And, apparently, so say all of us.
That's because the FJR1300 has just finished equal fourth in the annual International Bike Of The Year (IBOTY) award, the result of selected magazines from around the world - including AMCN - nominating their top three motorcycles for 2001. That's a real fillip, as ahead of the Master Blaster were bikes such as Suzuki's GSX-R1000 and Yamaha's FZ1; the type of thoroughbreds which traditionally poll well in IBOTY.
And, more importantly, the FJR1300 - available in blue, silver or black- appears to be striking a cord with the Aussie public, with 72 sold until the end of August - top-shelf going considering that it only went on sale in July!
The FJR1300 is the first big-bore sportstouring bike to appear on the Yamaha horizon since the ill-fated, fuel-injected GTS1000A and the popular FJ1200 (nee 1100) waved goodbye to Aussie enthusiasts six and five years ago respectively.
That's an eternity in self-imposed exile land, so for all intents and purposes it's like Yamaha is starting all over again, with the promise of a "machine that offers high levels of rider and passenger comforts as well as excellent luggage-carrying capacity." And something that is not a shaft-drive 'grand tourer' on the one hand, or a 'less suitable' chain-drive incarnation on the other.
ICING ON THE CAKE
Well, my one real chance to test those claims was after pulling the pin on Tour of Duty a day early so I could bee-line it home to Melbourne for a cousin's wedding - or that was the reason I told the boss anyway. With the remaining ToD mounts still required for active combat the next day, the 'leftover' just happened to be the FJR1300 - with heavy rain and cold temperatures on the horizon.
Well, after the three-and-a-quarter-hour trip, I'd have to declare that after riding hard-edged sportsbikes the preceding two days, the FJR1300 felt like a natural extension. That is, power and agility were still a part of the mix, with comfort and stability the icing on the cake.
Herein lies the keys to the FJR's ultimate success - I'm certain the bike's going to appeal to those fast-paced types who really enjoy sportsbikes, but may be on the lookout for something a little less hard-edged to whittle away the years. It's the perfect compromise - but for that privilege you'll have to fork out over $20K.
At $21,099, the FJR - which comes with panniers as standard fitment - is more expensive than the Aprilia Futura ($19,990) and Ducati ST4S ($20,995), but less than the higher-spec Honda ST1100 ($21,990) and the BMW duo, K1200 RS ($23,030) and R1150 RT ($23,225). And this market is about to lift a notch in intensity with the imminent arrival of the all-new V-four Honda ST1300 and Kawasaki ZZ-R1200.
The most poignant aspect of the shaft-driven FJR1300 is the brilliant 16-valve powerplant, which, funnily enough, was also the main benefactor of my praise way back in March. And this time the seamless performance felt even more refined, with the absence of any noticeable surging at low speed, which was evident on the launch bike.
With a claimed output of 145ps at 8500rpm, coupled with oodles of torque (12.8kg-m at 6000rpm), there's not too many frontiers that cannot be conquered on this fuel-injected bike. Aided and abetted by the generous torque, the FJR doesn't grab you - or have to for that matter - by the proverbials through the gears, but that's not going to be the case anyway with the widely-spaced, five-speed gearbox.
But that's a part of the deception process, for the FJR is just as capable at getting power to the ground as most race-bred sportsbikes - that was evidenced first-hand on the ToD. And it doesn't have to be screaming at or near the 9000rpm redline for that to happen - it's probably a waste of time anyway.
Maintaining the plot around the 5000rpm midrange mark will see major things happen - without any noticeable torque reaction from the shaft final drive.
Adopting a more cautious note on the open road, the FJR displays major spunk from as low as 3000rpm in top gear, which is basically an overdrive with a gear ratio of 0.929. Speaking of gears, the gearbox is quite brilliant, with the ringing endorsement holding for all the riders on this year's ToD strop through the Snowy Mountains.
A mix of hard open scratching and urban use saw the FJR record a one-up fuel consumption figure of around 15.0km/lt average, which is good for about 370km out of the huge 25lt tank.
I got over 16.5km/lt during legal 110kmh freeway cruising, and under 14.0km/lt during the spirited 175km gallop from Adaminaby to Corryong along the Snowy Mountains Highway and Elliot Way.
Those figures are quite impressive for a big 1300cc bike, although with a heftier payload the numbers would probably go into freefall quite quickly.
At speed, it's easy to forget that the FJR has a claimed dry weight of 237kg, although if you peel away the fairing you'll see where most of the poundage lies. Despite Yamaha claiming massive weight reductions with the new twin-spar hollow frame, it is still quite literally a monster, and one that dwarfs everything around it.
But the chassis must be doing something right, because it handles with some level of aplomb - far more reassuring (especially at the front end) and manoeuvrable than either the ST1100 or K1200 RS for example. That's also a function of the bike's top-notch suspension: 48mm conventional forks, adjustable for rebound and compression; and the rear unit, which is straight from Yamaha's now-superseded TDM850 twin.
With specially-made Metzeler MEZ4 hoops underneath it, the big FJR remains quite planted through a turn, without a hint of the dreaded mid-corner wallow. That doesn't mean it's always a breeze to change direction in a hurry, but at least it pitches and drives out without a hint of understeer - commendable for 1515mm of wheelbase and conservative steering geometry (26 degrees rake and 109mm of trail).
With such a low seat height (805mm), you really feel a part of the action on the FJR, and that's one of the major reasons why the bike doesn't feel so top heavy, which by rights it probably should with the huge fuel tank and other accessories piling up the kilograms.
All of the riding on this year's ToD was undertaken with the double-stage link-type rear suspension set on 'hard', courtesy of a lever on the left of the bike. That's because I found 'soft' was just that in Spain - the rear-end began to drag its arse just a little too much. Plus of course, on our three-day ToD strop through the hills the FJR was in the company of full-on sportsbikes like Suzuki's GSX-R1000 and Ducati's 996.
On the 'hard' setting, ground clearance is brilliant, with only the centrestand occasionally losing some of its outer layer. And the higher-set panniers - which feature removable inner bags - weren't susceptible to scraping either, which can't be said for a few of the bikes on our recent dualsport comparo.
Another nice touch on the FJR is not the panniers per se - it's what happens after you taken them off. Normally, when panniers are removed they leave gaping holes in the rear ducktail mounts, but Yamaha has supplied colour-matched plugs to fill the void until they are re-mounted. Neat.
BRAVE NEW WORLD
Protection from the elements is first-class on the FJR, even though the rider sits quite upright courtesy of the high-set handlebars. There's plenty of fairing 'space' to keep the legs out of the wind and rain, and the motor-controlled screen has 118mm of vertical lift to hide behind - more than enough, especially with the bike's low seat height.
The screen works a treat, although sometimes it gets a case of the shudders at higher speeds. But as far as minimising exposure to the elements, it's got all bases covered - and it makes things so quiet that perhaps a stereo with the lot would be a nice accompaniment on the long-haul. Instead of a nagging spouse...
With well laid out instruments to further enhance the bike's mandate for user-friendliness, there's not too much to grumble about on the Master Blaster - whether that be in the city, on the open road or scratching with your sportsbike mates.
With classy styling, above-average brakes and quality finish to complete the picture, welcome to the new world of big-bore sportstouring with attitude. It's quite captivating.
Story: Mark Fattore