Comparo – Honda ST1300, Yamaha FJR 1300, Kawasaki ZZR 1200 Part 1

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Words: Rob Harris Photos: Rob Harris, Richard Seck,

THREE OF THE BEST

Editor ‘arris chills out in a Pennsylvania convenience store during a local heat wave.

The new ST 1300, FJR 1300 and ZZR 1200 represent the cutting edge of modern sport-tourers, and although they excel and not-so excel in different areas, they’re all extremely competent when it comes to the long distance ride. By some freak of nature we suddenly found ourselves with these three sport-tourers, as well as three available test pilots (not hard to find), one photographer and a blazing hot long weekend in Pennsylvania. This was going to be fun.

However, since we have a lot to say about each bike, as well as how they compare to each other, we’ve decided to split this test into two parts. The first part gives a brief description of each bike, with part two (coming next Monday) rating each bike’s attributes in several handy tables.

Okay, sod the intro, what are they like then?


ST 1300 – “DOG KILLER”

The bike that most people want to know about of all three is the new ST1300 – the highly successful ST1100’s replacement. I’m not going to go into too much technical detail about it here because there isn’t the space and besides, we’ve already covered that stuff in the 2002 New Models section.

Oh dear. The ST grabs air on a roller coaster of a road in Penns … take #3.

At 276 Kg the ST is a porker and the heaviest of the bunch. However, anybody who’s ridden the new 1800 Goldwing will know that Honda has mastered the art of hiding weight, with the new ST feeling a good 40 Kg lighter than it actually is.

The motor is more compact and hung lower (a bit like myself) and wrapped up in a new aluminum frame that makes it a whole 15 Kg lighter than the old 1100. Also, by adding balance shafts inside the motor, it can now be solidly bolted to the frame, allowing for a stiffer and smoother set up.

And here the ST does not disappoint. When ridden hard through tight and bumpy turns, it holds the line perfectly and never gives any cause for concern, even when the asphalt was less than perfect. With the low down weight it almost feels regal, such was the ground hugging feel of the bike. This is a vast improvement on the 1100, which suffered from a distinctly top-heavy feel.

Indeed, as I was following the ST on the second day, it proved it’s rocksteadyness when a suicidal dog ran out from the bushes and straight under the rear wheel of the Honda. It didn’t even twitch, unlike Fluffy. In fact, the only criticism from our testers in the handling department was a slight lack of feedback, which in all honesty was only noticeable when jumping on the sportier ZZR immediately afterwards.

Then there’s that motor – Soooo smoooth and with gobs of usable torque. That torque curve must be almost flat because it will pull from any rpm, all the way to the 8,400 rpm redline.

The view from here.

There’s maybe a slight power spike at 6,000 rpm which is also where the motor seems to get buzzy, and remains so all the way to the redline. That’s not too much of a concern however, because you never feel the need to enter that zone unless your pushing really hard, at which point who gives a damn about some buzz (it’s the Fuzz you need to worry about)?

Although it’s only a five speed, fifth is a happy overdrive, which is ideal for gobbling up the highway miles. However, you’re also out of the roll-on power band here, requiring a prod back into forth for fast passing duties.

Carburation is now courtesy of fuel injection, which works very well, even from cold, and requires no fast idle at start-up. There is, however, a very minor glitch when trying to hold it steady at low rpms where it seems to want to either accelerate or slow down. But I stress this is minor and I only really noticed it when our route hit moments of gravel, where fine throttle action was a must.

ST sans bags looks okay from this angle.

Where the ST really excels is in the comfort department. I did the Toronto to Pennsylvania stint (flat, boring highway) on the ZZR and had literally broken my arse by the time we stopped. After that, getting on the ST can only be likened to a deluxe, and much needed arse massage on that cupped and well padded seat. It’s also adjustable for ride height, allowing the lankier of the group (me) to enjoy it at its peak of 805 mm.

The ride position is pretty well bolt upright, which works well especially thanks to the electrically adjustable screen (deluxe model only) which at full tilt punches a hole in the air such that you don’t even know you’re going 180, honest officer. At this height you are looking through the screen, but a push on the toggle switch drops it down enough for when the road turns all gnarly and you want a clearer view.

The suspension is a perfect compromise of not-too-soft for the sporty stuff and not-too-hard for the high speed/rougher road stuff. There’s even a BMWesque preload knob for the rear suspension, thoughtfully placed on the left hand side for on-the-road adjustment.

The brakes too didn’t disappoint, and were the best of all the bikes. Our deluxe model came with ABS which could only be momentarily locked up in lose gravel, but otherwise gave a seamless performance. There’s also the Honda linked braking system, which seems a bit redundant when you have ABS, but was welcomed by the older of our test riders who couldn’t be bothered to always operate both levers.

Thirty five litre bags were enough to carry a full face, although once detached, the bike didn’t look complete anymore thanks to their integration into the bike’s design. Thankfully, the 1300 retains the sticky-out crash protectors of the 1100, utilized when tester Seymour dropped it at a standstill at a particularly nasty steep junction, coming down a hill. Images of weeping Honda management soon evaporated after we righted it to find only slight scuffing on the left protector. Another testament to the amount of design thought that has gone into this machine, as well as Seymour’s wobbly stopping technique.

Finally, although the mirrors, with their low (again BMWesque) mountings give a great view of all behind without need to crane your neck, slap a passenger on the back and half of your view is now taken up by their knees. Oh, and although the instrument dash is super sexy, the LCD section which tells you everything you ever wanted to know (average fuel consumption???) was a bitch to read in sunny conditions. I don’t know why that is, but where a “3” was being displayed you could still the two other bars that make the “8”. Minor, but an odd oversight.

Overall, the ST was the bike that would almost ride itself. It’s the one you want for extended days in the saddle and so well engineered and thought out it never gave cause for concern. BMW should be worried! However, engineering excellence also gave rise to its only real complaint – it did too much for you and as a result lacked that certain spice.


FJR 1300 – “LICENCE KILLER”

Three new mills stand out front of one old one.

The FJR 1300 represents the latest in the line of Yamaha’s luverly FJ series which started as an 1100, then grew into a 1200 and then, well, disappeared altogether. But better late than never, and although the FJR was released in Europe last year, it’s here now, albeit just. Again, there’s a technical overview available in the 2002 New Models section, so go there for that stuff.

Although the FJR is a giant leap over the old air-cooled FJ motor, there’s one thing that they’ve kept in common: arm-wrenching power. Where you’d expect an inline four to require some revs in order to start laying down the power, the FJR pulls like a tractor pretty well right off idle. The grunt continues till just short of the 9,000 rpm redline, dropping off around 8,500 rpm, requiring a quick upshift for more fun and games.

And why not? The FJR claims the highest hp (145 hp) and torque (93 ftlbs) figures of all the bikes, although available dyno tests show that a good 20 horses never make it from the claimed crank figure to the real rear wheel. This is thanks no doubt to the two 90 degree bends it goes through because of the shaft drive set up. Still, it’s enough to make the FJR a hoot coming out of a sharp corner at almost any rpm.

Fuel is supplied courtesy of fuel injection which is glitch free and starts without any nonsense, performing to everybody’s liking, even from cold.

The motor is wrapped up in a massive aluminum frame, which is somewhat ugly and thankfully hidden by an angular plastic coating. However, it does a pretty good job at holding everything together, responding well in mild twisties but getting a bit bent out of shape if you get into the real gnarly stuff. It didn’t do anything bad, just felt like it might. Likewise, at very slow speed, the weight becomes quite obvious – you wouldn’t want one of these swerving between a line of cones in a parking lot. However, get above jogging speed and it all clears up.

Although I didn’t mind the pullback positioning of the bars too much, the other testers were not happy, especially in sporty mode when they said that the bars were way too high and narrow in order to get into the required aggressive position.

The motor uses twin balance shafts to keep buzz at bay, allowing just a small amount of vibration through to the rider, but it’s not annoying and pretty consistent. Although Yamaha have gone to the trouble of mounting the gear change shaft on needle bearings, it’s the least smooth of the bunch. Each gear change required a thoughtful jab to get it to move, almost as if the clutch wasn’t fully disengaged, but once rolling would click into place very positively. Of course, this might not have been helped by the hydraulic clutch cylinder, which frankly seemed to be a bit shagged.

“What are we looking at then?” Posing for the camera in Allegheny Park.

The front brakes are pretty well identical to R1 stoppers and are amongst the best in the business. Although they worked well with the FJR, the extra mass that they had to cope with meant that a harder than usual squeeze was required to keep things in check. This also tended to cause a bit more dive in the front than we experienced with the other two, but there’s a whole bevy of adjustments on the FJR’s massive 48mm forks that can help you here (if you have the time and patience).

The baggage is the smallest of the lot (30 litres each) but Yamaha claim that they’re big enough for a full face lid. When it comes to riding with them on or off, they’re the most thought out style wise. Removed and there’s two small holes where the top mounts onto the frame, but sans bags the Yam is much more complete looking than the ST.

Instrumentation is functional but lacking on beauty. Bold heavy numbers in the dials look like something I’d design (not good) and the two massive signal warning lights are louder than an Hawaiian shirt in a library. Thankfully the LCD screen to the right is readable (unlike the Honda’s), but the whole schubang doesn’t exactly yell quality.

Much like the ST, the FJR is upright with maybe a slight bit more of a forward lean. The fairing is also quite far away from the rider, which might explain why at its lowest setting it allows the full blast of air to the rider, but when raised is not quite able to punch a complete hole in that wind blast. Actually, in fully up position it deflected the wind up and over such that it hit the back of your head, pushing it forward. While usable, it never quite found its happy place like the Honda did, although apparently there is a taller accessory screen available from Yamaha.

Barring the screen problem, the FJR is still a very comfortable bike. At least one of our testers favoured the big Yam at the end of the day when he wanted to take it easy and relax. Although it does have a list of niggley faults, it’s still a competent mile muncher, but maybe more on the tour side of the spectrum than sports, which isn’t exactly what Yamaha are claiming it to be.

However, it did have one important element found lacking in the ST: character. Ironically, it’s imperfections demanded more rider input and as a result gave the FJR a personality.


ZZR 1200 – “ARSE KILLER”

Seymour explains his wobbly stopping technique to a captive audience.

The ZZR line has been alive in well for some time now in Europe, but for some reason not imported to Canadian shores for a while. The new 1200 is based on the 1100 model but with a complete redesign, including the obvious capacity increase. As with the ST and FJR write-up before, we have already covered a basic intro of this bike, which (surprise, surprise) can be found in the 2002 New Models section.

The ZZR1200 is about as far to the sporty end of the spectrum of sport-touring as is possible. Five years ago, it would have been the equivalent of Kawi’s super-sport bike, the ZX12. But times have been a changing and the happy result is a bike that doesn’t sacrifice all for an insane top speed that most of us will never use. Instead it can be used to gobble up the miles and turn a fast chunk of speed when the road finally permits.

Although maximum claimed power is five horses down on the FJR, the ZZR is the only chain drive of the bunch and so benefits by laying down an estimated 136 bhp at the rear tire (13 up on the Yam). However, a chain drive on a sports tourer also means that nasty maintenance schedule thing, which might spoil the party at the end of the day when your colleagues are all in the bar enjoying beers … or Martinis in Seymour’s case.

Mickey Mouse leads the way.

As one would expect from a bike derived from a sporty lineage, it’s fast, fookin’ fast. I’m not talking top speed here, although that’s mighty high, I’m talking arm popping acceleration that sees you in illegal land more often than not. Power is lardy below 3,500 rpm at which point it takes like a Doberman to a Poodle, revving freely (and very smoothly) up the rpms to the 6,500 mark, where another dose of horses kicks in all the way to the 11,000 redline.

The compromise to this power is a need to use the box more than the other two to avoid exiting the mountain bends below that 3,500 rpm mark and watching the two ‘mature’ riders on the ST and FJR cruise by you. However, it’s the wrong bike if your looking at keeping it in one gear for the whole day and the engine’s character makes the ZZR a more interactive ride. Talking of the box, it’s smooth and precise, although I did find one false neutral between fourth and fifth during urban duty.

The chassis holds it all together very well too, along with stiff suspension, the ZZR gives the most feedback of them all, encouraging corners to be taken with a good dose of aggression. Again, the harder set-up inflicts a price, especially on rougher roads when you had to be careful of being knocked off line. At a claimed 236 Kg, it’s the lightest too, if only by one Kg over the FJR, but it feels more than that. Even tootling around town was not a lardy-lifting experience.

ZZR avec bags (bit lardy guv’nor!).

However, exactly what makes the ZZR so much fun also limits its role as a true sports-tourer. I found it all a bit cramped, though the other shorter riders felt well at home. Occasionally my left knee would rest against the main spar of the aluminum frame (which sticks out a bit) and unless I was up at cruising speed, I started to feel some of the weight on my wrists. With a low fixed screen, a good chunk of air is directed at the upper torso which helps to support you, but which also proves tiring over the long haul. Also, there is a bit of inherent inline-four engine buzz, but the inbuilt balance shafts helps keep it at bay.

I know I’ve mentioned it several times, but that seat is not good for highway use. In fact it should say “not suitable for highway use” on it somewhere, as after two and a half hours I was done for. Although I was the main critic of it, I put that down to the fact that I did the most (non-arse shifting) miles on it, resulting in a tender rump for the remainder of the weekend.

Although the ZZR retains carburettors, they performed pretty well faultlessly, save for that annoying 5,000 rpm-or-bust start up on choke. There’s also ram air induction fitted which is claimed to boost power by a further 5%.

An here it is with our soft bags.

Brakes are good but probably the weakest of the lot. Not that they didn’t work, just that they required a harder pull to slow everything down. There was also a bit of squeal during the initial few days I had it for urban duty, although Pennsylvania use seemed to get them scrubbed back in pretty quickly.

Styling might not be to everyone’s taste, with the signal lights lapping into the mains at the front and rear giving an almost Mickey Mouse like profile. There are hard bags available, but I’d apparently forgotten to ask Kawasaki for them and so we were limited to a pair of soft bags for the weekend. Unfortunately the bag kit was not designed with the bike and so requires an external frame to be fitted, no doubt resulting in a wider arse than the waitress at McDonalds.

Instrumentation is the most basic of the lot, but also the most liked by all the testers, enabling a quick update at a glance of the amount of illegality you’re doing between scanning ahead and behind for those that would seek to gain from such adventures.

If you accept the ZZR as a sport bike with touring abilities than you won’t go far wrong. It’s also $3,200 less than the Yamaha and probably $5,000 less than the standard ST (when they finally get around to setting a price). With that extra cash you should be able to buy the bags (no price given) and a damn fine luxurious seat!

To read part 2, click here.


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