|2004 FJR1300 – fixed?
Words: Rob Harris Photos: Richard Seck
Wow, what a difference a year makes!
Back in the summer of 2002 we had the good fortune of taking Honda’s ST1300, Kawasaki’s ZZR1200 and Yamaha’s FJR1300 down to Pennsylvania for an extended weekend’s blast. Apart from having one hell of a good time, we got to know all three bikes pretty well and produced what has become the most popular article of CMG’s history.
But enough back (and monkey) slapping, the point of this introduction is that although the FJR impressed us all, it fell short to the ST in the touring department and to the ZZR in the sport department, thanks to a few niggly problems that somewhat spoilt the package.
THE SUM OF THE PARTS
Now I’m getting quite used to telling the powers that be what they should be doing (and occasionally where they should go) and still not seeing any changes. However, Yamaha claim to have listened and even sorted out many of the niggles for the new 2004 FJR. They’ve even added an ABS option, only to have fallen short by claiming that it was all due to “customer feedback” and not CMG, which we all know it was. Well, you do now.
To save you having to go back and re-read the mother of all Sport-Touring tests, what exactly were these niggles that I speak of ? Fear thee not, here they are in a handy list (in order of appearance):
1 – Vague handling
Unfortunately the FJR had a tendency to feel like it was about to get nasty, mid-corner, while at a high rate of knots. I should stress that it never did, but it just didn’t give the right feedback required to push it any further.
2 – Bar positioning
A bit too high and with an uncomfortable bend for the other testers, although it seemed okay by me.
|Gear change bits.
3 – Gear change
Although Yamaha claimed it to be silky-smooth thanks to the shaft being supported on a roller-bearing, it proved a bit notchy and required a hard prod to get moving. Almost as if the clutch wasn’t fully disengaging – a possibility since the action of the clutch master cylinder was distinctly shagged-like.
4 – Front brakes
Who’d have thunk that the 298mm discs and calipers off the R1 weren’t enough? Well they were close, but they did need a sharp tug to be sure that you scrubbed off enough speed in those, err, faster-than-expected corner entries.
|I guess it’s in the eye of the beholder. Fugly?
5 – Fugly instrument panel
Big and loud. Bit like me really, but that doesn’t work in an instrument panel. Come to think of it, I’m not sure it works with me either.
6 – Windscreen
It just didn’t go high enough to punch a hole in the wind.
Yamaha reckon they’ve addressed most of these issues with the 2004 so we thought that another test was in order to see. And what better way to do that than another trip to Pennsylvania? This time with our long-term K1200GT in tow – so that we can also see how the two compare in the process.
|2004 gives total confidence in the corners.
1 – Although Yamaha say that the front and rear suspension have been merely “revised for improved comfort”, the vagueness that held me back in the corners is no longer. Sufficient to be able to hit the famed 666 at a good rate of knots without so much of a hesitation. Anybody’s who’s ridden the 666 and survived unscathed knows that this is high praise indeed.
The front suspension would still compress under heavy braking, but seemingly less-so than before and not enough to have to be wary of. Well done Yamaha, full marks.
2 – Since there’s no mentioning of bar positioning changes I assume it’s the same. However, this time I did start to notice the weird angle they pushed my wrists into – enough to cause some discomfort at the end of the day. I also seem to remember Mr. Seck saying something derogatory about them being too high and pivoted inward a little too much towards the rider.
3 – As for the gear change, although initially it was dire (I thought they’d actually made it worse for 2004), it turns out that it just required running-in on the fresh-out-of-the-box bike. The box was smooth by day two, making me wonder whether last year’s FJR did actually have a shagged clutch master cylinder after all.
|Bigger discs do the job.
4 – The 2004 gets the same R1 front brake calipers as before but now comes with 320mm discs – 22mm up from last year’s. This is seemingly all it took, as the previously required extra squeeze in tight moments was required no longer.
The FJR supplied to us was the ABS version (probably more of a Yamaha plan in an attempt to prevent a repeat of the YZF600R crash in Calabogie), and is as close to perfection as I’ve experienced. It’s similar to the BWM system in that it gives a noticeable pulsing at the lever when it’s kicking in. This is relatively subtle at the front, but quite pronounced on the rear – a useful difference to let the rider know when they’re on that limit via a big boot and not-so-sensitive foot.
Coming in hot into a corner was not a problem with the bigger discs, and the ABS proved very useful in one particular corner that I entered way too fast, complicated further when it got significantly sharper mid-corner. The brakes were subtle enough that I could apply more at the mid-corner, so much so that I got the ABS pulse too. I’ve never done that before, and quite frankly I’d be happy never to do it again. Suffice to say, I was impressed – and thankful – by both updates.
|Flat seat on the FJR is comfy but still allows for sporty arse-sliding techniques.
5 – Since the instrument panel is unchanged it’s still fugly, although it’s not as fugly as I remembered it. However, you do have to look at it all day and a dose of style shouldn’t be the hardest thing to do.
6 The windscreen is now 40mm taller with an additional 5 degrees of adjustment. And that’s all it takes to do the job. Fully extended meant that the rider was in a peaceful pocket of still air, without any of that annoying push on the rear of the head.
Getting sporty with the screen fully up would give some noticeable wind noise, but duck into it, poke yer knee out as you enter that sweeper, and all of a sudden it goes deathly quiet. It’s a bit surreal, but always fun.
Yamaha also claim to have revised the aerodynamics of the fairing, although they don’t say how – other than moving the front turn signals off their stalks and into the fairing. Should be good for an additional 1km/h.
Oh, there’s also a new storage compartment in the upper left side of the fairing. It’s a good place for widgets and watsits, but since we didn’t have any, we never used it. Except to be awed by the lock mechanism, which was nonexistent with the ignition on, but unopenable once the ignition key was removed.
Very trick and quite entertaining … for at least 20 seconds.
ET TU GT?
So, with all the well executed changes to the 2004 FJR how does it compare to our long-term K1200GT?
|Some of the CMG faithful even showed up for a blast up (and down) the Wycoff run. They also helped with the photo shoot – thanks guys.
The big difference between the two is mass. Although Yamaha give their figures as dry weight and BMW as wet, there’s at least 30Kg between them which shows itself with the bike’s agility, or lack thereof. However, hitting the bumpy road that is the 666 and the GT’s mass and excellent suspension meant that it merely absorbed all irregularities and never wavered.
Suspension-wise they’re both very good, but the telelever front of the BMW never fails to impress me, especially with almost zero dive during hard braking. However, it does have a heavy and slower steering front end as well, which becomes more noticeable in the twisties, consolidating its preference to the touring side of life.
Braking is good on both. Although it takes a while to get used to the servo-assisted system of the GT, once you know what to expect it’s an awesome set-up. Still, the bigger discs and ABS combo of the FJR are more than adequate and don’t require the rider to relearn their braking behaviour to boot.
|A quick twist of the wrist on the GT would get it through that hole in no time.
Although I didn’t notice anything during our rather chilly late-Fall ride, Mr. Seck did notice that a whole load of heat came off the FJR and onto the rider on hot days in city traffic. I have also heard this from other FJR owners, so he probably wasn’t lying.
Heat issues aside, the FJR is a torque-meister, but the GT seems to have more below the 3000rpm mark and manages to maintain it across a greater part of the power band. As a result I found that I would tend to use the box more on the FJR, especially when doing a quick pass within a small window of opportunity.
The BMW on the other hand would invariably just require a dose of throttle and slingshot itself forthwith. This is not to say that the FJR was inadequate, it just required a bit more rider interaction, which seemed apt as it also had a modicum of engine vibration. Nothing intrusive, but enough to give you an instinctive feel of where the motor was at. The BMW was super smooth making it the ideal lazy man’s tourer, but also meant that it was lacking in the sporty department …
THE SPORTY DEPARTMENT
|When things got sporty the FJR was the bike to have.
With the aforementioned engine feedback and more interactive power characteristic, the FJR was the big winner. It also felt infinitely more flickable thanks to less weight and a flatter seat, allowing the rider to slide off one side, then the other, pull hard on the brakes and off to the left as you duck forward and enter the eerie quiet zone, before slapping it down a cog for a blast to redline on the short straight and another sharp brake – just enough to feel a pulse of the ABS and it’s now off to the right, following just to the inner side of the double yellow line as you make the perfect arc around the perfect corner …..oh, I think I just wet myself.
Dampness aside, the FJR has enough sport characteristics to make it the obvious choice if you needed an adrenaline rush. Something that Mr. Seck noticed almost immediately but took me a while to be convinced of, was the ability to bring your ankles in on the FJR. The GT’s rear passenger brackets got in the way with the result being that you couldn’t fully get up onto the balls of your feet – required if you’re going to move that tush off that seat for better high-speed cornering.
Combine this with the engine’s need to be revved and it’s subtle rider-feedback and you have a sport-bike in touring clothes.
THE TOURING DEPARTMENT
|For gobbling up the miles, the GT has the edge.
What gives the FJR its sporty strength’s, act as its touring weaknesses, and so the edge here goes to the GT. The silky-smooth isolated motor, with instant roll-on power, complement the rock steady feel provided by additional weight of the BMW. Add to that a cupped seat and decent legroom (the FJR is a bit tight and does not come with an adjustable seat – like the BMW – to give more room for the lanky), to make it almost perfect for touring. I did close to 4000 miles last March on a trip from Florida to California on the GT – something that the FJR could do, but not nearly in as much comfort.
Bag wise there’s not much in it. Both machines come with colour-matched hard bags as standard. The Yamaha’s are a relatively measly 30 litres each, but the GT falls foul of its exhaust placement and loses a whole 10 litres for the lhs, resulting in 25 litres (left) and 35 litres (right). Although this totals the same as the Yam, it just irks me that BMW would place the exhaust in such a position so as to lose that 10 litres in the first place.
|Imagine a 39 litre touring trunk attached.
There’s also some of the finer things missing from the FJR such as cruise control, heated grips, a heated seat, and a power outlet for an electric vest. The battery is located in the right top of the fairing and is painful to access in order to fit the vest cable. Then you have to try and wedge it in the bodywork so that it exits on the lhs ready for the jacket plug. Life shouldn’t be this difficult.
Fortunately, Yamaha do offer the heated grips as an accessory, along with a passenger backrest, taller shield (additional 100mm!!!) and 39 litre touring trunk – although I think you might turn your sleek FJR into a fugly bus in one go.
Overall I was utterly impressed at how Yamaha had managed to make the FJR a whole different riding experience with a few simple updates. It was one of those bikes that the more I rode it, the more I liked it. It has its soul firmly in the sport side of life, but can still cruise the miles when asked.
|Ooh, I feel cold just looking at this. Taking a moment on a chilly ride home from Pennsylvania to make some notes.
The BMW is like an old friend now, having done so many miles together. So much so that I had to double think my thoughts on the FJR to make sure that I wasn’t introducing any bias. I think the bias that cannot be overcome is the familiarity of the BMW quirks, which are the first things that tend to piss-off the non-BMW fraternity.
Overall I found it to be a pretty even split between both bikes. The FJR sits firmly on the sport-side, while the GT sits firmly on the tour-side of the sport touring spectrum. However, the difference in price is substantial – almost $6,000 more for the GT. There is a better warranty on the GT, additional trinkets, and overall quality seems higher, and (as much as I hate to say it) resale would probably be better with the Bavarian, but that’s a wad o’ cash that only the real-life buyer can evaluate.
Many thanks to the entertaining gang at the The Towne House Inn for hosting us while we were in St. Mary’s, PA. The Towne House Inns
Thanks also to the good folks at the Ellicottville Inn in New York state for helping us to be better prepared for that painful ride back to Toronto on the QEW.The Ellicottville Inn