Okay, so this bike is still a rocket with saddlebags. That much hasn't changed. What has changed are a number of significant components that add up to a much improved machine, overall.

Focusing first on the brakes, for 2004, you can order your FJR1300 with ABS. Our test unit did not feature ABS brakes, so I cannot comment on their performance, but this is clearly an option that many sport tourers are looking for, and Yamaha should be commended for responding with the availability of ABS in just the second model.

All of the FJR models (ABS and non-ABS) received significantly larger, and more powerful, front brakes this year. The front brake disc diameter is increased from 298mm to 320mm. Both bikes also received new front brake master cylinders, with larger bores (bore diameter increased from 14mm to 15mm in the non-ABS model, and to 16mm in the ABS model).

The 2004 FJR also receives a 40mm taller windshield (essentially, the optional larger windshield available last year is now standard). This electronically adjustable shield is still operated, of course, by the thumb button on the handlebar.

The suspension has also been revised, both front and rear. The front fork features a ten percent increase in spring rate after the first 91mm of stroke. In effect, the fork is still plush, but the suspension firms up as you use more travel. The front fork, just as it was last year, is adjustable for preload, compression and rebound.

The rear shock has also been revised -- featuring spring rates that are 15% higher than last year. The shock still features two-stage preload adjustment (operated by the simple flip of a lever on the left side of the machine) and rebound damping adjustability.

Other detail changes/refinements include a storage compartment in the front fairing (to the left of the instrument cluster), front headlight beam adjustment (with a wheel turned by hand underneath the front fairing) and integrated front turn signals (for a cleaner look).

All of the other features discussed in our review of the 2003 model are still present and accounted for, including the convenient saddlebags (which are standard equipment here in the U.S.), ergonomically correct seating position, and very thorough instrumentation.

As we said at the beginning, circumstances didn't allow us very much time on the bike, but the changes made by Yamaha are significant enough that you notice them right away.

The most dramatic change from the rider's perspective is the firmer suspension. The soft suspension, particularly the rear shock, that we complained about last year has been dramatically improved with the firmer spring rates.

While the bike still feels comfortable (even plush) cruising down the freeway, the rider always has a greater sense of control. The difference can be felt in the fork, but the difference in the shock is huge.

Last year, we frequently rode around with the shock in the firmer of the two preload positions, even while riding solo without luggage. The stock shock was way too soft last year. The firmer spring rates make a huge difference this year, and the bike feels perfectly balanced while riding solo with the preload adjustment in the softer setting (even hauling my 200 pounds).

We had a chance to ride the bike with two different passengers (one passenger weighing only 110 pounds, and the second passenger close to 160 pounds). The stiffer setting on the rear shock works very well with passengers this year (did I mention that last year it was way too soft?). Although we would still like to see a wider range of adjustment in the shock preload on any sport touring bike, the two stages selected by Yamaha at the factory for 2004 actually do a very good job of accommodating various loads you would put on this bike.

The other thing that is quickly apparent is the added protection from the taller windscreen. The electrically adjustable screen can now provide substantially more protection to the rider in its higher settings. I am only 5'10" tall, but I have a long torso and short legs (sitting about as tall in the saddle as an average 6'1" person). I played with the windscreen height quite a bit while droning along on a Southern California freeway, and was able to find a pretty comfortable position, which maximized wind protection and provided a reasonably low level of wind buffeting. Last year's screen simply didn't offer this for a rider my size.


Finally, the larger, more powerful front brakes are a welcomed change. The FJR may be relatively light for this class, but it is still a big bike. I was very pleased to see that Yamaha didn't just stick bigger rotors on the front wheel. They also redesigned the master cylinder and increased its bore size. The new front brakes are a massive improvement over an already-adequate system. Power and feel are quite good, and power is more than adequate even when carrying a reasonably large passenger. Another important improvement over the 2003 model.

Yamaha is also providing some accessories for the FJR1300 for 2004, including a touring trunk (color matched, of course), a touring seat (with optional passenger backrest), a heated grip kit, and an even taller (and wider) windshield. If you wanted an FJR last year and couldn't get one, the one year wait may have been a blessing. The suspension changes alone (the rear shock changes alone) make a huge difference, and the bike as a whole is a better package.

Story: Dirck Edge