Test Ride: Yamaha FJR1300AE

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Words: Jon Lewis Photos: Riles and Nelson, Yamaha

As the more observant amongst you will already be aware, CMG will shortly be the happy recipient of a spanking new FJR 1300AE as our 2006 long-termer.

The key word here is ‘shortly’ – as in not yet – and so when a last minute invite landed in our email box for the model launch of the updated standard shift (A model), as well as the new semi-automatic electric shift (AE model) in sunny San Diego, we thought it would have been simply rude not to go!

Okay, there’s also the golden opportunity to sample the riding delights of Southern California – all the more enticing since eastern Canada is seemingly trapped under a wet cold front right now. Oh, and how delightful they are.

As with all press launches, as soon as your arse has planted itself in the plush hotel room, it’s whisked away to attend the press meeting, where we were told about all the changes to the 2006 FJR – the most notable one being the option of the Yamaha Chip Control Shifting (YCC-S).

SLICK SHIFT WITH YCC-S

All those additional shifter bits only add 4kg.

According to Yamaha – and this one came as a surprise – when they surveyed FJR owners, the most common usage for the bike is the daily commute (and indeed is the case for all sport-tourers). As a result, one of the top three improvements requested by users was easier gear shifting, hence the introduction of YCC-S system on the AE model.

But just how does the YCC-S system work? Excellent question.

The standard five-speed FJR box is retained and fitted with two electronically controlled actuators, one to control the clutch, the other in charge of gear-changing duties. The actuators are controlled in turn by the shifter computer (ECU), which monitors engine speed, wheel speed, gear position and throttle position. When a gear change is made, the ECU crunches the numbers and then sends the appropriate command to the two actuators to enable the smoothest possible gear change.

Shift lever is built into the lhs switch assembly. Clutch lever not required.

With no clutch lever fitted, shifting is achieved by one of two options:

1) a shift-lever mounted within easy reach of your left index finger, which you push away for down and pull in for up; or, for the traditionalists amongst us,

2) a foot shifter is also fitted – although not the standard pattern – with neutral now at the bottom and all five gears up from there.

The foot shifter is the default and is always operative, whereas the hand shifter needs to be switched on first in order to activate it. The whole system adds 4 kg to the bike.

An interesting aside, since the YCC-S ECU is linked to both the engine management and ABS computers, Yamaha point out that they could have programmed automatic downshifting as well, but felt that would have risked losing some of the fun of riding. I have to agree with them – taking the effort out of controlling a motorcycle is a laudable aim – taking the involvement out is emphatically not.

UPGRADES FOR ALL

Now with ABS as standard.

The motor is a conventional across the frame 4 cylinder, with DOHCs and 16 valves, and although nothing too radical has been done, a host of minor changes have been made, mainly to ensure compliance with the Euro III emissions standards.

However, with the previous generation FJR being heavily criticized for subjecting the rider to excessive heat off the motor, Yamaha have revamped the venting system, with the addition of cool air vents outside each headlight and below the clocks. The mid cowl has also been tweaked, adding an adjustable vent designed to reduce the amount of heat reaching the rider’s legs.

Unified (linked) braking and ABS are now standard on the FJR. At the front, twin 320 mm discs are combined with 4-piston calipers, using a total of eight individual pads. The front lever operates six of these pads, the other two being operated by the rear pedal, which also brings into play the pistons of the rear caliper.

Other changes include the addition of a new adjustable seat, relocated passenger footpegs (lower, further apart and further forward) and a completely revised windscreen (increased adjustment, higher and reduced angle) and new adjustable handlebars. Oh, and the AE model gets speed-sensitive heated grips, and is distinguishable by its silver paint job – the standard model available in blue.


THE RIDE

SHIFTING EXPECTATIONS

Which one is the AE model? I’ll give you a clue – it’s not the blue one.

Yamaha U.S. had cleverly planned our test route to give us an expected 15 minutes of rush-hour traffic on our way out of San Diego. After 2 hours of trickling along the Interstate, it seemed we had all got more than we had bargained for! Kudos to Yamaha though, as it definitely reinforced the benefits of auto shifting in this type of traffic pain – albeit a little too forcibly for my liking.

The standard shift model, however, is by no means arduous – the clutch is reasonably weighty but not excessive, and the gearbox is beautifully precise. But then when you’re bashing between first and neutral 10 times a minute for 2 hours, even the slickest box can get a bit tedious.

Mr. Lewis hard at work on the SoCal roads.

So, how does the auto-shift feel then?

Once the motor is fired up (one of the brakes must be activated to start), use either the bar or foot lever to select first gear and you’re ready to go. Well, as long as the sidestand isn’t down, in which case you’re going nowhere. Doh!

The clutch starts to bite at around the 1300 rpm. To upshift, pull the bar mounted shift lever back, and job’s done. To downshift, you can use the optional thumb switch – but being so close to the horn it was easy to miss, so most of us decided to just push the shift lever instead of hooting at every down-change. When the engine drops below 1300 rpm, as if by magic, the clutch is disengaged.

THE LEARNING CURVE

If you’re in a hurry, it’s important to let the clutch engage before pinning the throttle – whack it open too quickly and you’ll end up with a distinct jerk as the clutch suddenly bites. I found it better to ease the bike off the line, and once the clutch is fully home, then pin it. Very satisfying.

“A nice, swift shift with minimum loss of momentum was the result.”

Since there isn’t a clutch lever to modulate, the throttle position you choose when shifting has a profound effect on the smoothness – or jerkiness – of the shift. Rolling off the throttle entirely during an upshift results in a lurch; keep it wide open, and you’re likely to get some clutch slip. My experimentation led me to just momentarily ease off the throttle before the shift – a nice, swift shift with minimum loss of momentum was the result.

Downshifting is another learning experience: a closed throttle would give a long re-engagement time – specifically programmed by Yamaha to avoid rear wheel lock-up. After some experimentation, my eventual favourite technique was to keep the throttle open (not too wide though) during downshifts.

STILL GETTING HOT UNDER THE COLLAR?

A cloudy downtown San Diego kept us at a pleasant 64F – not much good for testing a bike renowned for excessive heat but oh, how quickly that changes in California. Shortly after leaving the Interstate we were tanking along the twisties and up into the mountains, having fun swooping through the impeccably surfaced bends, like a squadron of blue and silver bombers.

Adjustable side venting.

As we climbed the mountains, the clouds cleared and temperatures rose, and thankfully I never felt the heat coming off the motor to be excessive. Although it appears the extensive cooling/venting changes have worked, we’ll be sure to put our long-termer through the “feck, it’s well hot today, I’ll take the FJR for a spin” test to make sure.

Another issue addressed by this redesign was the revvy nature of the motor at highway cruising speeds – due to relatively low gearing. Overall gearing has been raised by 2.7%, which now gives 135 km/h at a less anxious 4500 rpm – while still offering plenty of acceleration without the need to gear down.

STRETCHED, LINKED AND ADJUSTED

A tad fat but quite agile. A bit like ‘arris.

Dynamically, the FJR is a surprising performer. Despite its substantial weight (268 kg) it feels well balanced at low speeds and deceptively nimble at higher ones despite its longer wheelbase, thanks to a new stretched swingarm. With 145 hp on tap, a lot can happen quickly if the mood strikes, reinforcing Yamaha’s claim that this is a sport-tourer designed with a younger rider in mind.

The unified (linked) braking system proved entirely unobtrusive in use – both brakes were nicely weighted, easy to modulate smoothly and possessed substantial reserves of stopping power. Thankfully the ABS remained untested.

The suspension, subtly tweaked from the previous model, had no trouble absorbing all that the Californian roads could throw at it – from the fast, flowing interstate sweepers to the nigh-on hairpins up in the mountains. Of course, how it handles Canada’s slightly less than perfect blacktop is another question that will be answered when we take delivery of our long-termer next month.

Slimmer.

The FJR is a well-appointed bike, with a set of hard bags, as per the previous model, which lock with the ignition key, fit well and look good. Yamaha have also redesigned the rear sub frame, making it narrower and reducing the width with the bags fitted by 50 mm.

The seat height is now adjustable to either 805 mm or a new, higher 825 mm position. I had the seat set in the lower position (perfect for a 5’9”, 32” inseam dweeb like me) and found that a two hour stint in the saddle was just dandy – no shuffling, standing on the pegs or any other posterior-paralysis-reducing act required – just plain comfy.

Passenger accommodation looks equally pleasant (although untested), with the rear footpegs relocated for a better leg position. Handlebars are now adjustable (with a hex key and screwdriver) to give you the last word in tweakability.

The electrically adjustable windscreen has been enlarged and given a greater range of height adjustment. It felt comfortable to me at either end of its adjustment range (short-arse again) but I would assume the real benefits of the extra height are for those of taller stature.


FIRST IMPRESSION

Yamaha have done what any manufacturer should do when updating an existing model – listened to the buyer and adapted it accordingly. They’ve tweaked the ergonomics, made ABS standard, addressed the heat issue and gone out on a limb with their new electric-shift gearbox.

Although it did take me a short while to get used to its particulars, Yamaha have come up with a well-integrated, auto-shifting function, but without removing one iota of rider involvement. Is this the future of sport-touring? I don’t see why not. We’ll let you know for sure when we have to hand back our long-termer at the end of the year.


SPECIFICATIONS

Bike

FJR1300AE/A

MSL

$20,999.00/$18,899.00

Displacement

1298 cc

Engine type

Inline dohc four, liquid cooled

Carburetion

Fuel-injection

Final drive

Five speed, shaft drive

Tires, front

120/70 ZR17

Tires, rear

180/55 ZR17

Brakes, front

Dual 320 mm discs with four-piston calipers

Brakes, rear

Single 282 mm disc with single-piston caliper

Seat height

805/825 mm

Wheelbase

1545 mm (60.6″)

Dry weight

268/264 Kg (claimed)

Colours

Silver/Blue

Warranty

12 months (unlimited mileage)

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